Are Values Objective?

Q: Dr. Hurd, how can you say that values are objective and not relative? Isn’t this like saying that chocolate is the right flavor, and vanilla is the wrong one? Or that being a surgeon is the right career and being a musician is wrong?

A: To say that values are objective is to claim that a value either serves your interest or it doesn’t; that it either advances your life, or it doesn’t. This is what I’m claiming. Being a surgeon might advance YOUR life. If you have the ability, the tenacity and the intelligence to take this on, and you really are committed to it, then, objectively speaking, it’s a rational choice for you. If you flunk all the medical school entry tests and get sick at the sight of blood no matter how hard you try, then becoming a surgeon is an objectively wrong choice for you.

When I state that values are objective and not relative, what I mean is that values are not determined in relation to other people. They are only determined by facts relevant to the individual who is doing the valuing. For example, if most people think that something you value is irrational, yet you have objective evidence to the contrary–then you go with that evidence, not “most people.”

Also, motivationally speaking, an individual should be concerned primarily with the facts of a situation, not how well he or she is doing in relation to others. If you have the ability and desire to do everything it takes to become a surgeon–or a musician–then you ought to do so, whether you scored as high on the entry test as others, or whether your music is as well-received in certain circles as others, or not.

People who look at facts and evidence in forming their values are individualists. People who look elsewhere are going by relative standards, rather than objective ones–and tend to fall into the trap of looking to others to tell them what to do. They become the psychological equivalent of sheep.

I’m providing some of the method here for preventing that from happening.