Subjective Value Theory and Christianity
James R. Bracy
How do we bring together the subjective value theory and Christianity? From the outset is seems as though the scientific approach of praxeology leads us to the result that there is no ultimate judge or yardstick that can ever be applied to mankind and that in the end all that maters is that man has attempted to achieve what he has valued. Yet science itself does not care to make the judgement about what does matter and what does not matter. Instead the source of this judgement must come from outside science and even man himself. Man is unable to analyze any action outside the reference of his own value system. In Christianity the doctrine free will, which has been given to every man, gives man the ability to make his own value judgements. He is free to set his heart on whatever he pleases, wether that be “an idol in the form of anything in heaven or on the earth beneath or in the waters below” 1 or God himself. Man is free to give his life in service to anything he pleases. Praxeology is only a science and does not concern itself moral or ethical questions, it only seeks to establish laws of human action that come from observation and experimentation. Religion on the other hand does concern itself with the moral and ethical questions of mankind. But just because the subjective value theory implies that no man can judge another person's decision does not mean that there is not an ultimate judge or yardstick that man may one day be measured against. The fields of science can not even reason with an all knowing, all powerful judge in the same way that man himself will never understand God.
All that is required for man to act is that he believe that a certain ends will satisfy him and that he have the power to affect his current state of being. It matters not if the ends will actually satisfy him or if the way he goes about achieving the ends is flawed. For praxeology this is enough, but for the man looking for the ultimate state of satisfaction it is not. Many value money, fame, power, relationships and sex. Yet as humans we will never find satisfaction in any earthly or material thing. Can science prove that man will ever be satisfied? Man must continually work for what he values. Every time he comes back to his idol again, more is necessary in order to be satisfied. Man must fight the law of diminishing marginal utility. What human could even claim to be fully satisfied unless he had complete knowledge of the world and had infinite power to attain any ends that he wanted? No such man exists. If such man did exists he would instead be a god. Man continually works for nourishment, if he could be in the state of ultimate satisfaction, he would not be looking to feed himself.
Science will never tell us if a man will be satisfied by a certain ends. That knowledge is only given to the man who has achieved his end. Instead we must seek a different source of knowledge to understand human nature and how man can even hope to achieve satisfaction. This is the realm of religion. What of the judge who handed down his commandments to Moses atop Mount Sinai?
Following the economic crisis of 2008 I was surprised to find that the CFO of Freddie Mac hung himself in his basement and that several other executives of real estate companies, investment firms, and bankers had committed suicide. It is not just those who value money and wealth who find themselves depressed to the point of suicide. How many people struggle with the need to be in a relationship and often find themselves struggling when they are in one? This applies to any idol in the world. “The incomplete joys of this world will never satisfy [the human] heart” noted Alexis de Tocqueville.
It is hard for human nature to recognize its own idols. Idols blind. Idols are the what we value the most. As humans we each have decided what the idol we value the most, and we can not look away because we are under the illusion that the idol can bring us to a state of satisfaction. It is valued so much that it can causes to cross moral and ethical bounds we would not normally cross. The satisfaction that brings is only temporary. It is likely that we will return once again to our idols seeking more and more. It can be more money, more power, or more affection.
If there is nothing in the world that can satisfy us what is left? The one thing the Lord commanded was that he be first in life. “I am the Lord your God… you shall have no other gods before me.” 2 All the other worldly focuses like fame, security, and prosperity can serve as an idol and a temporary source of happiness that in the end will fail. None of these things are bad, but when they replace God himself man will never find peace. It is great to be famous, it is great to be safe, it is great rich, but it is only satisfying when God is first.
God allowed every person to value what he wants. It is your life to live, free to make your own decisions. But God has warned us that the idols of the world will not satisfy in the long run. Put your heart where you will, but it will only be satisfied in Christ.
- Exodus 20:4
- Exodus 20:2-3