Axiology – What is it?

If you have ever walked through an art museum or gallery, you might have looked upon at least one exhibit and thought "that is just not art." Or, perhaps you had a heated conversation with a friend or colleague about something you thought was immoral. For example, maybe one of you thought that eating meat is immoral or the death penalty is a bad thing. If you have ever found yourself in situations like this, then you were thinking about value. Considering whether something is art or why an action is wrong requires us to ultimately address, or assume for the sake of argument, fundamental issues about value. Even without being acutely aware, most people have made at least an informal foray into axiology.

Axiology is the study of value. Its goal is to answer questions related to both ethics and aesthetics. Questions about what is ultimately good, bad, right, and wrong pertain to ethics. Questions about what should be considered art, what is beautiful, and related issues pertain to aesthetics. More than just stating what is valuable or nonvaluable, those who study in these fields try to set forth reasons for why things have value or not. For instance, if the death penalty is wrong, why is it wrong? Is it because this type of punishment is unjust? If so, why is it unjust? If it is because human life has value such that it should never be purposely taken by another human, then what (if anything) conveys this value? Does society or culture give this value? Or, put slightly different, is there any way to ground (i.e. to set forth an immutable principle underlying certain rationale) our value claims? There is widespread disagreement about many aspects of axiology, but it remains a compelling and lively topic.

Despite the lack of consensus, axiology is valuable to study because it helps us think reflectively about value itself, what we take to be valuable, and why. Ideas have consequences, as we can easily witness from the laws we create and the structure and function of our society. Unfortunately, most conversations about contentious value issues degrade quickly due to the cursory way positions are usually developed. Further, emotion and reason are not often kept in proper balance. Reading and thinking deeply about the position you hold on a certain issue will make you a better advocate. For example, if you think that certain types of music containing adult language should be kept off the radio, then developing your position based on axiological precepts would be very beneficial. If curse words render certain types of music non-artistic, or if it is unethical in principle to subject young listeners to such language, then a better case can be made for removing it from the airwaves besides "I just do not like it." Ultimately, axiology helps us differentiate facts about the world from opinions.

Axiology is found throughout the Bible. Value itself is rooted in the very nature of God, who causes all things to be (Exodus 3:14; Hebrews 1:3). In Christianity, there is an objective ground for moral values and duties in addition to an objective ground for aesthetic value. This ground of goodness and beauty is knowable to all (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:18–20). We know that humans have intrinsic worth because they are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27; 9:5–6). The value of humans is also demonstrated in God's merciful redemptive work to save humans from sin (John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:21). We also know that all other things in the created order have value because God created them, made them for a reason, and gave humanity stewardship over them (Genesis 1:28; 2:15). By His very nature God always acts for a purpose. This means that even the things that seem insignificant to us are valuable to God; He regards them and cares for them all (Matthew 6:26–33). God has created things for us to enjoy and they all point to Him. We have a principle of justice because God is just. We have a standard for beauty and art because of how God has ordered creation.

In Philippians 4:8, the apostle Paul writes, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." James 1:17 tells us, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." There are many other verses in the Bible that speak to us about value, worth, goodness, and beauty. Consider the poetry books, such as Job (see chapters 38—39), the Psalms (Psalm 8:1–4; 89:5), or Song of Solomon. These books articulate value and beauty in various ways, showing God as the source of it all. Throughout the entire Bible, God shows us that He loves us, values us, and wants us to be with Him. The first and best place to study axiology is God's Word (the Bible).

Related Truth:

What is absolute truth? Does absolute truth really exist?

Is truth relative?

How does Christian ethics define morality?

What does the Bible say about things with true eternal value?

Does the Bible say anything about art?

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