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  • Yury Tikhonravov,

The Modern Existential Crisis and New Final Values


Why does the ruling class in all countries of the world today act so weirdly and sometimes

completely irresponsibly? Why, when people talk about the darkest perversions in its midst, this is easy to believe.


Because they are all bored. They are terribly bored; they feel downright dreary. And boredom leads to disorientation. You're bored, too, but you still have the struggle for survival and endless routine problems.


Not knowing what to do with one's life, the blurring or lack of ideals, the resulting insecurity, fear and dithering—against a background of general material prosperity—is what the modern existential crisis is all about.


Even ruling class people don’t know what to do with themselves, or what to do with their power. Imagine that you have achieved everything and tried all known pleasures. You've seen it all. You are not interested in art history; this is for nerds. You have no extreme affection for your offspring. You don't believe in life on the other side. You believe only in power, in physical efficiency and physical pleasure. All this you will inevitably lose in a couple of decades, if not sooner. All that awaits you is physical decline, infirmity, pain, and death. How do you distract yourself from thinking about it? How to entertain yourself on the way to it?


The deepest cause of this modern crisis is the lack of new ideas. First of all, ideas that justify your life and death, ideas that allow your power to unfold, and finally ideas of how you

can entertain yourself. These ideas are called final values, final goals, final goods, human life ends, meanings of life, reasons to live, etc. Philosophers and psychologists pick out from five to twenty known final values that cannot be reduced to one another. If you believe that there is more than one final value, it means that you are a proponent of list theory, or objective list theory. The list theory is a form of value pluralism.


Final goods are first and foremost goods that can be valued in and of themselves, not as a

means to achieve other goods. For example, you need money just to spend it on something, so it is not a final good. But, for example, you may need knowledge solely for the sake of knowledge itself, not for the sake of something else. Many animals die because of sheer idle curiosity. This is only one of the signs of final value, though it is the most popular among philosophers. I distinguish sixteen such attributes.


Objective list theory essentially boils down to two points: (1) there is more than one final good (e.g., pleasure), and these goods are not reducible to each other; (2) the final goods are such whether or not you know about or aspire to them. For example, freedom from addictions, the limit of which is Buddhist nirvana, was first recognized by people as a final value two and a half thousand years ago, and today not everyone is aware of it or strives for it. Nevertheless, it fulfills all the attributes of a final value.


The objective list theory makes it possible to talk about final values of which we know nothing yet. Perhaps right under your nose are some essential aspects of your existence, without which you will never feel the fullness of being, on which your fate depends, and you have no idea about them. Isn’t this what causes such urges as sehnsucht or sodade—the need for something of which you don’t have the slightest idea.


In this regard, it makes sense to support Chappell’s ‘Dynamic Thesis,’ according to which the list of basic goods ‘couldn’t be completed.’ Chappell says, ‘It’s not merely possible for humans to discover (or create) new instances of basic goods. They can even discover new types of basic goods’ (Chappell 1998, 44).


If there are goods that are appreciated and valued by some but not yet known and valued by others, then there are also goods that no one yet knows or appreciates. They may or may not already exist; they may or may not already have a secret effect on our lives, but they are

potentially supreme—they can change our whole life and fill it with hitherto unknown happiness and bliss. Each new value is a new angle, a new perspective; it is new sensations, new types of relationships, new social institutions, new styles of art, new images and plots, new deities, new strategies and life scenarios, new music, new worldviews, new dimensions of being. It’s a whole new world.


It is not uncommon today to hear about humanity’s existential crisis. At the same time, the existing final values are not at all obsolete (otherwise they would not be final values); they still work. But the final values system itself is outdated and has not been updated for a long time. In what sense is the system obsolete? The point is that every ideal needs a mirror, another ideal, and a comparison with it. This comparison allows you to look at your own ideal from a

different perspective, to find something in it that previously eluded you or seemed to be self- evident. Encountering a new ideal always awakens creativity and often gives birth to new forms. But it is enough just to look at a different ideal to return to your own with a renewed understanding. Sometimes you need to delve deeply into another teaching to turn to yours with a new passion, and sometimes you just need to know that there is something else out there.


The history of any worldview relies as milestones on serious contacts with other worldviews. But here all contacts have been made, and it is as if nothing new is expected. All other ideals have long been known; the comparison with them has exhausted itself; even our own, native ideal turns out to be just one of them, just a brick in the prison wall, from behind which there is no way out. The principal impossibility of a new value seems unbearable.


It turns out that a person is built in such a way that you always need some new perspective. Otherwise, all previous meanings are devalued. Even the most radical, breakthrough, defiant, revolutionary final values eventually become routine, turning into a cultural fossil or a marginal

subculture. Thus, all already found final values need new perspectives, new final values.


The more final values we know, the richer our culture is, the freer we are and the more expanded (more flexible, sophisticated, etc.) our consciousness is. Expanded consciousness is

that and only that kind of consciousness that has been given more final values than we have now.


Expanded consciousness is precisely the expansion of the range of possible life strategies and

life scenarios. Otherwise it is not an expansion of consciousness, but at least a marking time. You can often hear that every person can have their own meaning in life, their own individual final goal. As if these goals were really infinitely varied. But in fact, no matter what one comes up with, it always turns out to be the same. No one goes beyond the half dozen or so variations known to history, or even the five most popular ones.


We also see this in art, which is essentially a modeling of our life. The same characters are

trying to fulfill the same final values, experiencing the same peripeteia for the umpteenth time.

In order to get new characters and new stories, you have to combine a dream factory with a

philosophy workshop. They could use anything to find and test new final values—intellectual

games to work with the imagination, surrealist techniques to work with the unconscious, visionary art to work with altered states of consciousness, etc. For the sake of final values, all

means are good.


Sources:

Chappell, T. D. J. (1998). Understanding Human Goods: A Theory of Ethics. Edinburgh:

Edinburgh University Press.


Fletcher, Guy (ed.). The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Well-Being. London and

New York: Routledge, 331–343.


Rice, Christopher M. (2017). Minor Goods and Objective Theories of Well-Being. The

Journal of Value Inquiry. 51, 221–231.


Scanlon, Thomas (1998). What We Owe to Each Other. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of

Harvard University.


Tikhonravov, Yury. (2022). Thoughts on the List Theory. URL:

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