“It’s worth it to me”
[March 2, 2003]
Tibor R. Machan
My gym accommodates a whole lot of different people with umpteen different goals, judging at least by what they look like and do while spending time there. On a recent visit, after my perfunctory – though helpful enough – work out (a row, a bike ride, a walk-run and a swim, as well as some pulling and pushing and the rest, all with great reluctance), I was about to shower and head home when this incredibly well built guy started to look himself over once or twice in front of the mirror right by my locker. I stood by silently as the fellow admired himself, probably checking for the latest improvements on his finely sculptured black physique, but then I decided to ask, “Is it all worth it?” Taking just a slight pause I got the reply, “It is to me.”
This short, pithy, and simple response brought much delight to me, I must admit. It was a perfect way to give notice that some things can be of value to one person that would not be to another, even without it being the case that it is only of value because one says so.
One of the most difficult things human beings have puzzled about throughout the history of recorded thought is whether values are subjective or objective. Is something valuable simply because someone so regards it is or is it valuable for good reasons? Philosophers have gone back and forth about this forever and are continuing to do so – any introductory philosophy, ethics or aesthetics course can tell us that much.
One appeal of the subjectivist position is that it makes room for a lot of different values, for a lot of different folks in a lot of different times and places; the liability of the view is that no one can ever tell whether anything is valuable except from someone’s claiming it is and conflicting opinions abound with no hope of ever settling them peacefully, through rational discussion.
In turn, the appeal of the objectivist position is that there can be reasons for making value judgments, good ones and not so good, and decisions could be reached among people who disagree by considering those reasons. The problem is that objectivism has often been seen as implying that what one person finds good, another must as well. But that is too often implausible.
The problem has been, I figure, that things were thought to be valuable to humanity at large, not to individual human beings. Individuals, however, possess features they share with all other humans, with a large group, with a small group, with just one or two and perhaps some values with no one else. Now these values are all objective – one can be wrong about them, but not because they are values for just some or even for one person.
Just think of clothing or medical care: there are general things about each that are good for us all, and then things get more and more complicated, so that some items of clothing may suit none but one person, just as some medical treatments work only for one patient and for no one else. It is not a matter of opinion, though, whether they are suitable or proper, even if they are a matter of individual traits and attributes.
My fellow gym member probably has a very different life from mine, with different talents and attributes that can be factors in deciding how he should live, what goals are proper for him to pursue. I do not know him at all, so I wouldn’t know. But it felt very good to encounter someone who had confidence in doing what he was doing even when it was clear that it wasn’t at all what most of the rest of us were doing, even there at my gym.
He seemed to know who he is and what were his values and that is inspiring.