In the Beginning — Value
Axiology is the branch of philosophy that investigates the nature of value, as well as valuation itself. As Samuel L. Hart explains, axiologists ask things like —
What is the common nature of values? What is the status of values? Are they mere responses of man to a value-neutral nature or are they results of an ongoing interaction of reality and man? Is the scientific method of inquiry applicable to value judgments? What is the distinctive nature of value propositions? Are values relative to the social environment which sanctions certain valuations or do we have a standard of values which transcends given individual and social idiosyncrasies? Can there be a gain in knowledge of values?1
Among axiologists, the answers to these questions vary widely. Some philosophers think that an object’s value is determined by the subject, others by the object itself, and still others by the relation of the subject to the object.2 What they all have in common, however, is the assumption that objects are either intrinsically valuable, instrumentally valuable, both, or neither.
Now while we can hardly deny that most objects are instrumentally valuable and others are not, we cannot affirm that this is the only kind of value that they possess. If x possesses instrumental value, it possesses that value as a consequence of its intrinsic properties of (a.)existing and (b.)serving a particular function relative to the subject. Instrumentality, in other words, is impossible apart from existence, which necessarily implies that x is intrinsically valuable as a potentially instrumentally valuable object.
While not all object possess instrumental value for us, then, this does not render them intrinsically valueless. Rather, we see that intrinsic value precedes instrumental value. This is a truth we also learn from the very onset of the Bible. Genesis 1 uses the word טוֹב (ṭôḇ, pronounced tobe) a total of seven times, identifying all that God has created as “good,” and does so in ways that are informative as to what kind of goodness they possess.
In this short introduction to axiology, we will be looking at what the Scriptures mean when they declare creation to be good, and how that ought to inform our thinking about objects and the value they do or do not possess.
Chaos & Order, Darkness & Light: Intrinsic and Functional Goodness
“In the beginning,” the Holy Spirit tells us, God created the heavens and the earth.3 In verse 2, we are told that the earth was “without form and void, and darkness covered the deep.”4 God’s act of creation addresses these negative descriptions, as he creates light,5 forms the earth,6 fills the earth with ample vegetation,7 fills the earth and sky and sea with animals,8 places luminary bodies in the heavens,9 and, finally, gives man the task of reflecting his image in further bringing order and fullness to the earth.10
Though the word “good” used here is used in a moral sense elsewhere, in this foundational passage creation is good for two reasons —