Values and Experience

John Frederick Dashiell

IN a recent paper [2] I tried to indicate how scientific thinking is to be recognized as only the more reflective stage in man's vital enterprise of exploring and manipulating the rich world about him,

( 492) a world primarily not of facts, but of meanings. From the same standpoint I should like to touch on some questions raised during the past year on the subject of values.

Forsaking the vast accumulation of petrified data piled up by the more intellectual operations of man for centuries, and throwing ourselves (shall I say, by an act of intuition?) into the heart of ordinary nave human experience, we find ourselves in a world not so much of material persisting objects of brick and mortar as of weltering and stewing, promising and threatening, agents and forces. If nothing else, the world is one of change, or rather, of changes. Things are happening, coming and going, upward and downward, inward and outward, forward and backward. It is a dynamism of an incessant and unmistakable character.

It is not, however, a mere dynamism, but one that shows certain qualitative characters not connotated by that term. The agencies operative are agencies that throw themselves as it were into our attention. They stand over against us in a genuinely objective sense—threatening, appealing, coercing, attracting, repelling. They appear as good, ugly, bad, magnificent, wrong, beautiful, upright. In fact, they are just these : they are goods, uglies, bads, magnificents, wrongs, beautifuls, uprights. As such and only as such are they there at all. The original material of all human experience presents itself in this intimate and face-to-face manner. It is especially obvious in the more novel experiences of the adult and, we suppose, in the earliest experiences of the babe. The situation may be no further defined, but it has at least this romantic, this rich, this brimful character.

Moreover, if this be true of vague and novel moments, there is no warrant for maintaining that developed and intelligent moments are lacking in this character. The development and organization of the former into the latter involves no denial of the meaningful character—in fact, it requires the presence of it to furnish the very stimuli and clues to the development. This, now, is what we mean by the term "values." Generalizing, we may say that the world as experienced is a world of appreciative qualities, of value aspects. It is not an impersonal casing that compasses us about, but a multiplicity of guide-posts that may serve our human purposes and become linked with our personal fortunes.

A moment ago I called attention to the dynamic character of the world we live in. We saw it as an ever-changing flux. If, now, our interest in the value aspect of the world becomes a little reflective and we wish to look back into the experience to determine more accurately just in what this aspect consists, we shall find that our statement of the incessant alterations and variations must be modified.

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A most significant feature of this flux is that it is not entirely haphazard, chaotic, without direction. Some changes seem to have worked themselves up into systems of changes, more and more coordinated, more and more organized, and form concretions within the whole dynamic flood, vortices appropriating to themselves more and more of the surrounding changes and rendering them less haphazard, more unified and correlated. Definite directions have thus emerged. And as these innumerable vortices, these concretions, strike out their numerous paths, the welter of changes about them tends to be resolved into more definite agencies ranged in reference to these paths. We have, then, not a world merely of chaotic and turbulent curdlings, but a world of life striving to range its material in accordance with the developing life of its organisms. In such a world "progress," "interests," "purposes," etc., first have their meanings. If we call an hypothetical chaotic world "dynamic," how much more truly may we apply the term to a world in which organizations of changes are directing this dynamic character or even furnishing new modes of it themselves. We have a dynamism referable partly to the extra-organic, partly to the organic.

We, as one or a set of these organisms, find the agencies about us falling constantly into perspectives. The world presents itself inevitably in guise of friend or foe (whether faithfully or unfaithfully) and we observe ourselves constantly approaching this and. retreating from that, accepting this and rejecting that. This selective activity is guided by the relations of the actions of agents confronting us to the tendencies and interests of ourselves. Those phases of experience that lie ready to further and reinforce our natural tendencies we call good; those that thwart us we unhesitatingly denominate bad. In either case the relation of the given activity to ourselves and our own activities is what we understand as its meaning.

Certain danger we must guard against hero. To speak of the dynamic character of experience as divisible into organic and extraorganic does not imply any hard and fast distinction. The so-called "organic" end. of our contrast may refer at times to the larger or the more unified part of an individual human self as versus smaller or less unified parts; it may refer to the interests bound up with the life of social classes or of social institutions as versus the tendencies of other classes or institutions, or of their own component parts.

It has just been indicated that the relation and reference of an extra-organic activity or agent to the activities or tendencies of the organism is the source of meaning. More broadly, in so far as a content is experienced, it is a meaningful content, friendly or unfriendly, good or bad, attractive or repellent. And this, now, is just what we

( 494) mean by "value." In a word we may say: the term "values" is correctly applied to those phases of experience which by virtue of their dynamic relations to our selective organic life range themselves into a more or less personal perspective.

In the light of the foregoing we may now offer the proposition that experiencedness = meaningfulness. This amounts to the statement that the philosophy of pure or immediate experience implies and presupposes a value-philosophy. Now to put the general standpoint of this paper into a nutshell, let me convert this proposition, and trust to the remainder of the paper to justify it indirectly by showing what light is then shed on certain problems formulated during the past year. A value-philosophy implies and presupposes the philosophy of immediate experience.

One of the questions proposed by. Professor Sheldon last October[3] was whether the concept of value was unique, irreducible, ultimate, or could be reduced to terms of other categories. Compare this with the formulation by the executive committee last March,[4] namely, the relation of existence and value, and especially the detailed formulation of the four members, and it is obvious that we have here a fundamental problem.

The preceding pages have tried to show that value is primary in all senses of the word in any human experience, and that it is, therefore, a primary category in any construction of the world on the basis of experience. Had I time I should like to maintain at length that this human experience is the only possible adequate basis for such construction, that from it all intellectual enterprises rise and to it as their touchstone they return. All this, however, I shall have to presuppose.

One objection to my statement that values have been found absolutely primary in experience may run as follows: you find values primary indeed in nave experience, but in the reflective experience that turns back for examination of the former you resolve it into the reciprocal attitudes of two dynamic agents, the central one organic, the other extra-organic. Now this involves the old question as to whether subsequent analysis destroys the unity and uniqueness of a given content of experience. Surely there is but one answer: such later analysis does not destroy the uniqueness, it is only an hypothetical ideal dissection of the experience on the basis of partial likenesses and differences that we fancy we trace. Furthermore, the ubiquity of the value-character is nowhere better shown than in the fact that the products of an act of analysis are themselves functioning as values in a new enterprise. Be it remembered,

( 495) finally, that analysis is prompted by, propelled by, guided by, and tested by, the actual experiencing of values as uniquenesses.

The distinction between "values" and "things" is, after all, really a relative distinction. Values are what we really have, the original data. Objects, as I have tried to show elsewhere,[5] are the result of a gradual precipitation out of a solution of general meaningfulness. They are certain constancies of import that the eager mind has seized upon in its purpose of organizing a fairly well-behaved world to live in. The ease with which such constancies of meaning become petrified into static wooden objects is only too well shown in our philosophical terminology. But the relativity of the distinction is again shown in its application to the content of a given moment's experience. If we speak of the value aspect of a given object A, we are for the time setting one phase of the whole content over against all the other phases. This one phase is most closely and obviously linked with our temporary interests, while the others are lumped together in the form of the material data. We are separating "value" from "thing" when we consider the beauty-worth of the painting, as over against its worth as a house decoration, as a point-to-point duplication of the represented face or landscape, as the object of expensive purchase, as something of which to be proud, as an object with which to please friends, as a bit of color immediately attracting the eye, as a heavy weight upon the hanger, as being a short distance from the floor, as having a greater dimension horizontally than vertically.

Those who hold to a hard and fast distinction between "values" and "things," are to be accused not only of oversight of the relativity of the distinction, but also of having fallen victims to that dead hand out of the past, the concept of substance. Though its explicit, corporeal form in deliberate thinking has long since been laid, its ghost is still abroad and manifested in unintentional implications. It is doubtless a natural tendency of the human mind to wish its ordered material to "stay put," but to look behind manifestations to see what the core or ground is in which these manifestations inhere, is a fruitless and bootless project. It reminds one of an interest in hidden spirits in contrast with an interest in antecedent determinants. This concept of substance involves a striking petrifaction of the various active manifestations of this our active world. The dynamic is represented as static. And so we find at the root of the distinction between "values" and "things," an overemphasis upon the regularity and constancy and an under-emphasis upon the process and activity of experience.

A fundamental point in the formulation proposed. by the four

( 496) members is the place to be given consciousness in our study of values. This is not central to the questions offered by others during the year, but is plainly due to an interest in preserving continuity of discussion from year to year. As such it deserves notice. Let me recast the question asked to avoid other confusing issues. "Is consciousness necessary to the presence of values?" The answer may be put briefly: It is necessary in the same sense and degree and only in the same sense and degree as it is necessary for the presence of anything else—your "things," for instance. If we take the reflective point of view outlined above and consider the value-situation analyzable into organic agent striving for ends, vague or definite, and agents of the environment exerting pressure, favorable or unfavorable to these ends, we see at once that the real question is not as to whether consciousness is involved, but as to how much it is involved. Nobody knows just where the limitation between conscious and unconscious is to be drawn (if it is to be drawn). We may go into lower forms of animal life or into the complexities of human, social, and institutional life, and find on every hand cases in which the positive or negative attitude of the central agent toward surrounding agents is hardly to be called either conscious or unconscious. Whether the choice exhibited in the "motor-reflex or "avoiding reaction" of Jennings's paramcecia is to be called conscious in a rudimentary sense, who shall say? Whether the attitude of the Republican party toward the new tariff and the currency law is to be considered a conscious attitude is likewise difficult of answer.

The element of awareness, then, we may assume to be not the critical nor the characteristic feature of valuation. It enters more characteristically in the moment of e-valuation. The attitudes and processes involved in evaluation are usually more highly conscious. The proof of the real character of a doubtful value as well as the resolution of a conflict between rival values in immediate experience is accomplished by a more careful analysis and definition of the values that require greater attention on the part of the experiencer. This movement of evaluation is, indeed, the heart of all intellectual life.

One of Professor Dewey's questions last May[6] was whether valuation (or what I have called evaluation) modifies antecedent values and creates new values. The answer is an unhesitating affirmative. It would seem like uttering a platitude to call attention to the fact that all the work of education in its manifold branches is directed largely by this efficient interest in modification of old values and in direct production of new. To return to the point of view of reflective analysis of human experience, this modification and creation of

( 497) values involves modification on both sides of the value-situation, both organic interests and extra-organic environment. Education taken in its narrower sense as training the individual student to use his powers and to develop them, emphasizes the former; education taken in a broader sense as including the constant tendency to investigation and experiment and the constant work of remolding great moral and social ideals, emphasizes the latter; and yet the distinction is truly a matter of emphasis.

Here now we have a hint as to the essential nature of the distinction of subjective-objective. If, in the interests of evaluation, of reconstruction of our ideals and ends, we abstract for closer scrutiny those elements of the original value-experience that are most unmistakably connected with the organism's share—that is, with feelings, or desires, or judgments, or dispositions, or presuppositions, or the like—we are giving a statement of the subjective elements of the whole value. On the other hand, if we abstract those elements distinctly referable to the extra-organic. part—that is, economic commodities, gods, the Altman collection, strawberries in March, posterity, the greatest good of the greatest number, etc.,—we are giving a statement of the objective elements of the whole value. Be it remembered that we are not making the whole real value, either subjective or objective : we are only analyzing it and abstracting different elements for closer scrutiny, and these elements are not and can not be called the value. To have the value as a true value we must have it again in all its unanalyzed dynamic simplicity and immediacy.

It should be remarked. that another use of "subjective" is certainly legitimate, namely, its application to the great class of facts found useless, hindering, confusing, and hence not entitled to pews in the congregation of the real. But this use, by emphasizing the personal equation, is really a twin brother of that just given.

In conclusion, then, we may say that a value is neither wholly organic nor extra-organic, but is an experience later analyzable into the two and their interrelation; and that however analyzable, a value still remains a fact as unique and primary and important as ever.



  1. Read at the annual meeting of the American Philosophical Association, New Haven, December 29, 1913.
  2. Philosophical Review, Vol. XXII., pages 520-538.
  3. This JOURNAL, Vol. X., pages 587-588.
  4. Ibid., Vol. X., pages 167-168.
  5. Philosophical Review, Vol. XXII., pages 521, 525, 531.
  6. This JOURNAL, Vol. X., pages 268-269.

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