In this course we apply scientific methods and principles to questions of value. By questions of value we mean questions about what each of us wants. Here we define "want" broadly to include both material and less tangible (e.g., ethical) aspirations, and to include both ends and means. Accurately discerning and effectively realizing value is how humans live and die well.
We speak pointedly of living and dying because these are ongoing in each of us, and we've evidence that acknowledging them as contemporaneous is essential to success in either. We address this topic because we consider other human concerns to be subordinate and derivative. We adopt a scientific approach because we've evidence that it is a uniquely sound means for shedding light on this subject, because we perceive few people to be aware of its qualification as such, and because we think it has vast yet to be tapped potential.
People live and die well by discerning and realizing value—by knowing and getting what we want, and by wanting what we get. Each of us does these less than perfectly: we sometimes get what we think we want and feel less satisfaction than we anticipated, do what we think sufficient and fall short, or fail to accept and embrace what is.
If we stop to reflect upon such disappointments we realize that current approaches to value are flawed. Again and again we think we know, only to discover that we're mistaken. Though we work to learn from experience, we rarely delve deeply enough to question underlying ideas about how we know. When we do, we're often quick to respond with long-held, well-practiced justifications that we’ve yet to critically examine, and that may be poorly able to withstand careful scrutiny.
We live in an era of unprecedentedly rapid, large, and novel changes—many of which we’ve instigated and continue to drive. Today more than ever before humans live and die well by cultivating proficiency in bringing to awareness, questioning, and evolving to be more adaptive information about value, especially that meta-information pertaining to how we can know and realize it. Only to the degree that we rely upon sound means for knowing what we want and how to get it can ideas about these things be basis for living and dying well.
As researchers in diverse disciplines, including history, philosophy, ecology, economics, sociology, linguistics, biology, psychology, and more synthesize an emergent valuescience, humans are acquiring an increasingly reliable method for discerning and realizing value. With this course we participate in this venture by studying its development to date, by extending that work with our own inquiries, by applying findings to evolve what we think, feel, say, and do to live and die well, and by communicating to others what we’ve learned so that they, too, may benefit.
We touch upon many topics, surveying diverse data and concepts important—even though some have yet to become widely known—to living and dying well. We aim for course participants to acquire at least rudimentary understanding of these, planting seeds that each can nurture with further study and practice for a lifetime. Though we explore possibilities of universal human values, even of values universal to life, we aim to be descriptive rather than normative, and to avoid even appearance of advocating any value or set of values beyond those implicit in valuescience. A successful participant—whether student or teaching team member—ends a quarter course asking more questions more persistently than s/he did at the outset, and practicing valuescience more consciously, competently, and consistently.
If you are engaged or want to engage in inquiry and practice we outline here, we welcome your partnership in valuescience.