Mindaugas Kubilius. Kas yra vertė? (The Concept of Value)

Mindaugo Kubiliaus paskaita Vilniaus tarptautiniame ROTARY klube apie vertės kilmę. 


For all of us it is indispensible and equally much desirable to have “a good time”. Or rather: a valuable time. For this is exactly your wish of your coming here: to spend some valuable time. Some members of your club have not come to the talk today, because they have chosen a better possibility of spending valuable time. Maybe meanwhile someone of your club is having a lunch with a valuable for one’s business person. The option is based precisely on the expectation to accumulate and possess more value.    

We measure time according value we accord to it. We tend to choose what we know, believe or feel it is valuable for us. This is true with every human being: every breath we take, every move we make – everything we do is for the sake of sustainability of goodness in one’s life. This is what we value the most. Because of the reason, it is equally true that we tend to instantly compensate for any lack of the goodness.  Instants of wretchedness, unrest, and, most basically, fear for one’s goodness are the most faithful companions of our existence. These evil one’s never leave us alone.   

But do we recognize a nature of the basic lack, indeed, the evil? Truly, most people never ask the question. We tend to instantly flee the problem. We do everything not to feel it and not to think of it. So we consume and do it intensely to escape any instance of the basic lack. How many of us dare to think of its own wretchedness … in loneliness, in silence and in truth? Indeed, very … very few.  

But if the lack is an objective part of human existence, one cannot escape a question: how does it condition our perception of what is valuable for us? In other words, to what extent does the all permeating lack influence our judgment of what is valuable for one’s unconditional pursue for sustainable goodness of one’s existence. Moreover, one can also ask about the nature of value in an objective way, i.e. value which is not influenced by any move of subjective escape, but rather valuable possession of sustainable goodness for all and all time, the value per se.     


This challenge gives us a good reminder to question the very topic of the discourse: why not “a concept of value” but “the concept of value”? The title of the discourse presumes there must be a truly indispensible value; the value all humans should aspire to. But should they? Do humans really believe an objective value exists? No. In true, human preferences of what they value differ immensely.

However, it seems that the preferences converge in one essential and objective thing. People prefer something valuable because they aspire to escape the scary “basic lack”.  Subjective emotional moves might reveal what is objectively basic and natural. Let’s start with the fact that we ALL fear to lose goodness of one’s life.

If we ALL lack something, is this all-embracing “something” an objective fact of our existence, of our nature? What is IT that we all lack? … Could we get one answer? I would really doubt. People instantly think of all kinds of goods they lack in a given moment.

But if I ask what could be THAT something we all really fear; and shun IT … all of us … with extreme eagerness.  Most popular answer is death. A philosophical answer is the fear of extinction. 

We are too different. And our knowledge of what is good is equally too different to converge into one desirable good. Whereas, lack of different goods might lead to the discovery of the basic lack, i.e. the lack of life, and the most basic fear, i.e. the fear of total extinction.   

Total extinction, or rather nothingness, THAT which cannot be thought as something existing, is not welcome, in no way, in the company of humans. Human beings instinctively embrace life. We cannot stop projecting a perspective of our existence in all kinds of ways. We believe in afterlife, we believe in continuing living in our children, in good deeds, in good memories and so on. Ancient Greeks believed in glory. Glory of a hero should have engendered artful memories of fellow citizens, which would have proven existence of a hero in the beatific afterlife at the foot of Mount Olympus. 

The basic human relatedness to the nonexistence is certainly rooted in his basic relatedness to the existence. “To exist” is the absolute imperative and the object par excellence of our desires. “To exist” and never be struck by any lack means to live sustainably and well in the absolute sense. To desire “sustainable goodness” as the very principle of human nature is what it means to be human.  To put it into common language, we just want to be ‘forever young’.     

If it is true, we have discovered the concept of value, which is the existence in the absolute sense, existence which sustains us in being and living in the most desirable way. Truly, anything we want is the existence in the absolute sense. Now the question is – do we know what is THIS existence in the absolute sense?

A chorus of affirmative answer should have already resounded through the hall: “It is when I lack nothing”. But what does it mean ‘to lack nothing’? Well, it is certainly when we have EVERYTHING what one needs – a plenitude. Each of us indispensably pursues his own plenitude and in every way seeks to achieve it. We live in “my way” for the sake of “my good”, which is a certain individually imagined concept of plenitude. One’s concept provides meaning and motive power for one’s living “his life”. This makes sense to ALL of us.  We believe that one’s imagined concept, when necessitated in the reality, provides us with the most blessed feeling, namely, happiness.  This is the most desirable state for every human being in the absolute sense.  We aspire to it with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength.  

“Omnia bonorum tota simul et perfecta possessio” (perfect and instant possession of all goods), proclaims famous Boethius’ formula of plenitude and happiness.  

Relatively absolutely valuable things

Now as we know an objective formula of absolute value (though practiced in multitude subjective ways), we instantly suspect that there must be valuable assets to which our all-embracing desires aspire most commonly.

We also suspect that there must be SOMETHING which upholds our existence in the most sustainable and best way. In reality, we desire just absolute IT. Not only sustainable and good life, but the very reason of the life.  

Take an example. To be a member of the honorable club is more sustainable way to EXIST than to be a member of a criminal gang. Because civic “honor” is more valuable in an objective way than criminal “honor”. Because one believes that being a member of the club is fulfillment of the obligation to contribute to the common good of a society. The common good reflects what is good for human nature in an objective way via a certain identity of a given society. On the contrary, a criminal gang destroys the common good, which is dishonorable.  But even more desirable for any member of the club is to incarnate the good and be a part of the reason of distribution of the good for members of the society.    

Let us turn to THE asset, capo di capo of all of values. It is gold. Why has gold been most valuable asset for ages? Because we believe that gold is the guardian of value in the most sustainable way. Value of gold never fades (well, despite occasional fluctuations). For thus we believe: credo Aurum omnipotentem! But what is the basis of the faith?  Why do we believe that gold brings us sustainable existence?

Gold is shining, it does not rot. I believe, gold brings us reminiscences of the desired plenitude in the most evident way. So maybe it reminds us of the golden, shining and never-ending SOMETHING which we desire as the deepest human self. And this leads us to the question: what is the human self, what is the nature, indeed, the upholder of THE concept of value?

I believe, ALL of us will continue earnestly pursing the truth of concept.

Thank you for your attention.

Mindaugas Kubilius