Value and Representation (1st Draft)
December 29, 2015
Stuart W. Mirsky

We see the world and talk about it using the mechanisms in our language to characterize its elements, distinguishing phenomena according to the different observable relations which they present to us, their observers. That is, we can refer to the world in a myriad of different ways, depending on the different relations we can discern between observables.

Things that are red aren't blue, large things aren't small, fast things aren't slow, soft things aren't hard, etc., etc. Of course there is relativity in relation. Being soft or hard, fast or slow, red or blue depends on the contexts in which the observed qualities present themselves. Lighting conditions affect observations of color, textures and firmness are recognized in terms of our expectations based on other experiences, on what else is around to compare against. Something that feels hard is that only to the extent that there are things that it is harder than. The features of observed things are themselves observables: observed things. But the occurrence of observables implies the phenomenon of observation and thus, observers. The world before us is a world of referents, of things we can see, count, report on and so forth -- but it also includes us, the observers, the counters, the reporters.

The means we have for doing the things observers do (for observing, counting, reporting, etc.) include our sensory faculties, of course, but also the systems we make use of to communicate with others about what we see or feel, touch or hear, smell or taste . . . about what we know. Language and mathematics are systems which enable us to organize what we know, to know things at all in fact, for knowing implies organization within a broader framework of knowns. Language and mathematics organize the inputs we receive as observers and, organizing them in various ways, makes them known by us. Knowing assumes the apparatus of our sensory faculties which give us the capacity to gather and make use of what we observe. But language and mathematics enable us to utilize what we observe. Within the parameters provided by our linguistic and mathematical capacities we develop and maintain conceptual schemas, pictures of the world in which we stand. Logic consists of the rules of conceptual relation which language rests on just as mathematics consists of the rules of relation which counting rests on.

In language, logic is those rules by which we combine and arrange information gathered by the senses (by observation) to represent the world that is observed. But logic alone does not exhaust the rules of language use for there are other conventions, other practices we follow, to make language operate as it does, as a means of communicating between ourselves and other language speakers. All the rules together, the rules of logic and of practice, render language more than merely the reporting mechanism it often is for us for language also communicates feelings between speakers, warnings, needs and desires, etc. But through the discursive functions enabled by the dimension of linguistic rules represented by logic, language becomes one of the primary tools we have for picturing the world. But it doesn't do it on a single dimension alone, or by merely abstracting observations from what we observe. Language creates the world in which we see ourselves as much as it reflects it.

And language accompanies mental life in speakers. It does its job of enabling the exchange of information between speakers by prompting in the speaker, and by reflecting in the speaker, mental pictures which speakers have of their world. Such pictures are a kind of functional echo of the sensory observations the speaker is capable of making (and makes). They are echoes of the visual images, sounds, smells, tastes, etc., which speakers have. When a speaker uses a word, or hears or reads one, he or she does so through an assortment of mental images conjured up through that use. The meanings to the speaker of the word are then embodied in the panoply of images, of mental pictures, which the words kick up for the speaker.

Understanding happens when sharing of mental images happens. Such sharing between speakers occurs to the extent there are sufficient similarities in the network of associated mental images created in each speaker by his, her or its apprehension of the language terms in use between the speakers in question.

That is, language works when there are shared rules of use between speakers, rules which both speakers are capable of following and do follow and which thus allow (and enable) two or more speakers to make the needed connections to common mental images. Understanding happens (i.e., linguistic meaning or semantics occur) when there is enough commonality in the web of mental images so prompted in each speaker to enable them to act in ways which are in harmony. If there is no understanding, then the speakers' behaviors will seem discordant to each of them but if there is understanding, it will be manifested in a continued sense of familiarity in the behaviors evidenced by the speakers in question. The speakers will recognize the behaviors of the other and react in ways the other will recognize in them. Thus language may be understood to stand on rules of use; and understanding to stand on sufficient commonality in the mental lives of each of the speakers, a commonality which is demonstrated by the coherence of the speakers' behaviors.

The rules of language consist of its logic, which determines the rules of representation of the speakers' observed world, but will also consist of its practical rules which determine how the language is deployed behaviorally, both in terms of shared conventions of use and as a signaling mechanism between speakers. That is, while some elements of language depict, others serve other functions, e.g., expressing, calling, greeting, directing, etc.

Depicting, a prime function of language, is essential to conceptualization and conceptualization, in its turn, is essential to reporting on the observed world. To report on the world we must do more than react to it (where our reactions are taken as signals, by other members of our species or members of other species). Logic is that set of rules that enable depiction in a systemic way, allowing us to represent when a thing is this but not that, large, not small, here, not there, transparent or opaque, etc. All the phenomena of observation, of which we are aware, must be capturable in the logic of our language if we are to depict what we observe successfully, therefore an effective language will comprehensively capture the potential relations in the observed world (although what is potentially there may be greater than we know -- this will make itself known in evolutionary terms, occurring and being passed on according to its contribution to species survival).

But the world we observe is more than just the externalities of our senses, that which is observed, for we are also present in the world we are observing and our presence is manifested by the very act of observing. The observing subject is, therefore, also an object of reference for the reporting subject (even when the reporter is itself). It is part of the world it depicts. This implies at least two dimensions in the picturing function language enables:

1) The set of possible horizontal relations which occur within the observed world (those relations which delineate and distinguish all possible observables); and

2) The set of vertical relations which occur between the observed world and the observing subject.

The language of reporting is geared to capturing information that represents the reported phenomena of the world, its logic being that which determines when things are the same, according to their observed features, and when they are different, and how. The logic of difference, of the "hows" contains all the possible logical connectives: "and", "or", "if/then", "existence" and "negation", etc. All reportable facts stand on the different ways in which observed phenomena can exist in relation to other observed phenomena according to these possible relations. That is they reflect and exhaust the logical possibilities. But the logic of reporting is only one dimension in this picture for there is also the logic of observing, itself, that is the logic which captures the observer's relation to the observed.

Observers, to observe, must have a mental life, for observation implies awareness (whatever makes this possible) and so the relation to the observer of the observed cannot be excluded from this picture. Observers, through the complex conceptual apparatus made possible by language, become observed things, too, part of the picture constructed conceptually out of the panoply of all observed phenomena. This picture, as it becomes more sophisticated, adds to itself pictures not only of what is actually observed but of what may be, i.e., of observables (real and potential). Implicit in the observer, then, is the mental life, consisting of not only that which is observed but also of that which might be; and included in this are also pictures of what moves or may move the observer, i.e., what prompts observers to action.

This implies a dimension characteristic of reporting that is not, itself, just reporting. It implies the dimension of valuing. That is, objects of observation, referents, exist not only as observed things but for the observers observing them. They occur as observed phenomena, that is, in more than a merely neutral way. They occur in a way that connects them to the observer in terms of their potential to draw the observer's attention or prompt his or her action (to approach or to flee from them, to consume or reject them, etc.). That is, they are something for the observer, not merely something observed. And this means that the observer cares about what it observes -- if not about everything observed, at least about some things observed -- and it is this caring about which focuses the observer on some observables but not others.

Valuing requires, as its foundation, caring observers. But caring isn't enough to make this valuing for animals may care yet it never seems right to speak of them as valuing or having values. For valuing we need the capacity to conceptualize as well, that is, to organize the observed world and sort it according to its elements of desirablity, according to our preferences. Animals without the capacity to conceptualize can care because they can have preferences, but to the extent that they cannot sort, they cannot be said to value. Valuing requires the capacity to arrange and organize phenomena according to degrees of preferability. That is, to value anything, we must also be able to think about it in a conceptual way that allows it to be considered in terms of its preferability against other possibilities. For this the valuer needs the ability to conceptualize its world in terms that go beyond the immediate moment and place in which it finds itself.

But if observation implies observer, the capacity to conceptualize the world implies the observer's participation in it as an observer. And this further implies the observer's presence as one more observable phenomenon, one more observable in a world of observables which exist beyond the observer itself. That is, valuing will be seen to be that function in our conceptual apparatus which occurs when we can see our world at a certain level, i.e., in terms of more than immediate experience, in terms of a pictured world that extends beyond this immediate moment in space and time. For valuing to occur, we must be able to sort as well as report on what is going on and to sort we must have a complex conceptual picture of a world that goes beyond any particular moment's experience through the senses. This capacity is not available, as far as we now know, to other species on the planet.

Thus, an observer may be said to value when he or she (or it) can hold a complex conceptual picture of the world in its mind, a picture which includes itself. This requires certain cognitive capabilities which, in creatures like ourselves at least, seem to require language of the sort we have (i.e., a system of communicating that is more than just intra-species signaling capabilities). Language that enables valuing must depict observables by enabling construction of its depicted elements within a broad, complex and unified array of elements that can be examined by means of introspective consideration, i.e., an array of facts that is characterized by a range of possible relations. It must enable the holding in the observers' minds of a world picture, or view, of what and how things are.

Thus the logic of depicting enables us to represent but this representing must also involve the depicting of the observer-observed relations themselves which, when so depicted, become the valuing function. Thus logic, to the extent it just is the system of relations of our observational possibilities (observables both real and potential), as captured and conveyed through language (shared communicating systems), implies another depictable relational mechanism: valuation.

Logic may be the tool we have for conceptual construction from observed phenomena, a construction which makes our kind of mental life possible, but it cannot do that without also taking account of the observer-to-observed relations which make language and the logic that underlies it a reality and which characterizes our mode of being in the world. Logic without the value dimension is nothing but blind relations between things, cause and effect connections which have no use or purpose beyond themselves. But with the advent of a user of logic, of an observing subject with a certain cognitive capacity, i.e., the observing entity, the added dimension of value becomes possible as a tool for manipulating the world.

Here logic and value unite in the cognitively capable subject to establish the dimensions of knowledge, i.e., the horizontal relations between things observed, which determine what's possible in the world, and the vertical relations between observers and observed. Without the possibility of horizontal relations there is no world and without the vertical there is no observer to see it.

With both there is the knowing, desiring subject. Where logic enables what we know to be known, valuing enables what we know to matter.

It is this dimension of cognition, the capacity to value, which is as intrinsic to a knowing subject as the logic of truth relations which enable us to distinguish and report on our world. As such, valuing is not alternative to facts (the things we can know) but a co-equal element in the underlying capacities which make assertions about fact and value possible. Because they are co-equal in this fundamental way they cannot be reducible one to the other, even though we can assert facts about values and value facts.

Update on January 13, 2016 by Registered CommenterStuart W. Mirsky
An interesting addendum: After recent exchanges here, I noticed a paper at entitled Are Emotions Judgments of Value? by A. W. Price at Birbeck College, University of London. In it Price is examining Martha Nussbaum's claim that emotions just are our value judgments. Near the end of his response to Nussbaum, Price concludes:
The knight isn’t passionate about his lady because she matters to him. The case is not that his valuing her as important to him constitutes his passion for her, but that his awareness of his passion for her constitutes his valuing her as important to him.

In other words, while valuing depends on our feelings (it's the fact that we have feelings of attraction and aversion in many registers with regard to the things of this world that we encounter that prompts us into valuing relationships with those things), it is not just the same. Nearby Walter Horn had offered a response which seems to me to make mincemeat of this distinction. While he explicitly states that he doesn't think valuing and liking (feeling attraction and repulsion and all relevant variations) are the same, he persistently collapses this distinction in his other remarks, even, at one point, paraphrasing a claim I had made about valuing by substituting the term "desire" where I had distinctly and explicitly used "valuing". At another, he urged that liking is a form of valuing, which quite naturally lends itself to the interpretation that it is the same thing, at least it must be the same as that kind of valuing of which it is a form.

My own position here seeks to make a distinction between feeling (liking, wanting, desiring, etc., etc.) and valuing in order to recognize the different uses we put value words to compared to the use we make of feeling or emotion words. It's not, I would argue, that they are completely separate because my view is that feeling/emotion is a requisite of valuing. It's just, I argue, that they are not the same kinds of thing. Feeling/emotion reflects how we experience things within the subjective, in terms of our mental lives, while valuing is how we think about those experiences by integrating them into the other experiences of the world that we have as subjective creatures.

Price ends his piece by noting that "the relation of emotions to values is intimate, but variable." I think he is on the right track.

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