The Heirarchy of Value

Written on July 13, 2008. Written by .

Boat Dock

Boat Dock
What are the fundamental values in life?
Photo courtesy of tearsandrain

What provides direct value to a human being? Some would answer along the lines of such things as money, love, and power. But to get at the true answer, we need to consider the nature of humans. We are an animal species that evolved as a result of natural selection of random mutations. When we consider other animals and living things, we can clearly recognize the efforts toward survival and replication. These genetically programmed efforts can easily be construed as the fundamental values of humans since we still live under their influence. However, humans have been endowed with a conscious mind that operates outside of direct genetic control. Our minds have a will of their own that allows us to contradict our genetic programs.

From the point of view of “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins, we are just survival machines for our genes, big robotic tanks that serve and protect our precious genetic masters residing in each of our cells. Our genes allow us to have willful control of our bodies only because competition made such compromises necessary, and even then only under stringent constraints enforced by pleasure and pain. Nonetheless, as an independent conscious entity, we have our own interests to seek, whether or not they coincide with the interests of our genes. The pleasure and pain responses are setup in an attempt to ensure that our interests will be compatible with those of our genes, but they cannot do so with perfect reliability. There will be cases where our conscious interests compromise our chances at replication, which our genes would never condone. It is tempting to think that such situations constitute a personal failure because one is failing at the task that they were made for. But we are not our genes, so a failure to satisfy your evolutionary purpose may actually be a success for your conscious self, which is what really matters.

So what can a conscious entity directly value? There is only one possible answer: experience. Survival and sensation are only valuable by virtue of the fact that they permit experiences to be had. People, possessions, and travel are only valuable by virute of the fact that they promote survival and sensation. Similarly, money, power, and fame are only valuable by virtue of the fact that they provide access to people, posessions, and travel. Therefore, we find the following heirarchy of values.

  1. Experience
  2. Survival and Sensation
  3. People, Possessions, and Travel
  4. Money, Power, and Fame

Why is it important to understand this heirarchy? Because many people don’t realize that lower values are worthless unless if they can be translated all the way to the top of the heirarchy. For example, money has no value unless you can think of a way to spend it that leads to positive experiences. Usually this isn’t too challenging, but people can overestimate their spending needs and force themselves through a torturous experience like dental school that will give them more money than they really need for optimal experience. When setting life priorities, this heirarchy is an important consideration.

Read more from the Positive Psychology category. If you would like to leave a comment, click here: 2 Comments. or stay up to date with this post via RSS from your site.

Leave a Comment

If you would like to make a comment, please fill out the form below.

Name (required)

Email (required)



2 Comments so far
  1. […] Life in Unreality 11 August 2008 I believe, as cspice elaborates in his article on Hierarchy of Value, that experiences, both personal and interpersonal, are of ultimate value.  We must not forget […]

  2. nspice September 16, 2008 6:54 am

    I don’t think that this hierarchy is set in stones…at least you arguement doesn’t seem to convince me fully.
    Instead of a hierarchy, I see it as a type of web. Numbers 2-4 all lead to experiences rather than just one to the other. I view consciousness as a way of chosing experiences…

© Copyright thrive by design - Powered by Wordpress - Designed by Speckyboy