Teleological Measurement

  • Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology

    In regard to the concepts pertaining to evaluation (“value,” “emotion,” “feeling,” “desire,” etc.), the hierarchy involved is of a different kind and requires an entirely different type of measurement. It is a type applicable only to the psychological process of evaluation, and may be designated as “teleological measurement.”

    Measurement is the identification of a relationship — a quantitative relationship established by means of a standard that serves as a unit. Teleological measurement deals, not with cardinal, but with ordinal numbers — and the standard serves to establish a graded relationship of means to end.

    For instance, a moral code is a system of teleological measurement which grades the choices and actions open to man, according to the degree to which they achieve or frustrate the code’s standard of value. The standard is the end, to which man’s actions are the means.

    A moral code is a set of abstract principles; to practice it, an individual must translate it into the appropriate concretes — he must choose the particular goals and values which he is to pursue. This requires that he define his particular hierarchy of values, in the order of their importance, and that he act accordingly. Thus all his actions have to be guided by a process of teleological measurement. (The degree of uncertainty and contradictions in a man’s hierarchy of values is the degree to which he will be unable to perform such measurements and will fail in his attempts at value calculations or at purposeful action.)

    Teleological measurement has to be performed in and against an enormous context: it consists of establishing the relationship of a given choice to all the other possible choices and to one’s hierarchy of values.

    The simplest example of this process, which all men practice (with various degrees of precision and success), may be seen in the realm of material values — in the (implicit) principles that guide a man’s spending of money. On any level of income, a man’s money is a limited quantity; in spending it, he weighs the value of his purchase against the value of every other purchase open to him for the same amount of money, he weighs it against the hierarchy of all his other goals, desires and needs, then makes the purchase or not accordingly.

    The same kind of measurement guides man’s actions in the wider realm of moral or spiritual values. (By “spiritual” I mean “pertaining to consciousness.” I say “wider” because it is man’s hierarchy of values in this realm that determines his hierarchy of values in the material or economic realm.) But the currency or medium of exchange is different. In the spiritual realm, the currency — which exists in limited quantity and must be teleologically measured in the pursuit of any value — is time, i.e., one’s life.