What is axiology and why is it so important for happiness?
Axiology helps you understand what you value more so you make better decisions on what's of priority and importance to you.
Why is axiology so important? Sometimes called "value theory" or "the theory of value", it's the philosophical study of value or goodness.
On a personal level, it relates to understanding your intrinsic values and knowing what drives how you make decisions, how you prioritise, how you lead and the people you attract.
In this article, I'll cover:
- How I turned to axiology after getting myself into a bit of a mess earlier in my life and career
- How we come up with value judgments
- How you can find your own values
- How "formal axiology" affects your business decision-making and judgments
- How I discovered my values and what they are
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The funk I got myself into as a young man led me to axiology and value theory
As a business growth expert, I've always wanted to better understand client motivation.
What motivates business leaders? Why is leading a business so hard for some to the point where they can't manage their work and home life? And why do some sail through such things?
I have always been a goal setter. Jim Rohn and Zig Zigler in my teens influenced me hugely, especially the following two statements:
- "The most valuable lessons lie not in the destination, but the journey”
- “Without clearly defined goals, you simply can't achieve the success you want”
I was always driven and ambitious but, for large parts of my early career, it did me no favours. I yo-yoed between exercising and sporadic reflection. I binged sugar and alcohol. There was something quite schizophrenic about my life. I knew what actions I had to take and I was making progress toward my end goal.
But I didn’t feel calm or settled.
In hindsight, my business leadership was closely related to my erratic self-leadership too. My extreme behaviours became normalised in the workplace and I was the very model of bad habits to my employees.
During one sabbatical, I had time to reflect. I decided to work with a coach and started this voyage of discovery.
How do we come up with value judgments?
What are values? A list of desired employee characteristics and behaviours would be difficult to create and it's all a bit too corporate for me.
People often confuse value with values. Values are what people stand for, believe in, or deem important. They are things to which we assign meaning and richness and are intrinsically valuable to us.
In axiology, we ask ourselves what we find good and how people determine the value of different things. By doing this, we set priorities.
For example, I choose to prioritise celebrating special moments and events with my family over work and a night out with the boys. Given a choice between a business meeting, a glass of Malbec with my friends and driving my son to his prom day, my son is always going to win. No contest.
It's a fundamental part of human life and existence that we assign a higher intrinsic value to some things over others. We do this in a way that is consistent with ourselves as individuals as how we filter, process, store, and analyse data - in other words, our thought process. How we think about and assign value is called our "value structure".
So axiology is not about what your values are but rather how you value things.
Recommended - how you can find your own values
On my journey, my coach led me to the work of Dr John F. Demartini and, in particular, his thirteen-step determination process.
Dr Demartini believes that our values derive from what's most missing in our lives at either a conscious or unconscious level. That which we miss the most is also that which we want and value the most.
We apply greater order and discipline to the actual things we want the most but we suppress our inner genius if we choose not to pursue it.
Being clear on what we value and want the most is the key to creating a fulfilled and inspired life. Through thirteen questions, his system helps you discover the set of values unique to you.
Axiology and making business decisions and judgements
In my research into axiology, I came across the work of Dr Robert Hartman, a German-American logician and philosopher who was the original proponent of formal axiology, sometimes known as scientific axiology ("the science of value").
His specific inquiry into axiology led to the belief that people have greater value than tasks and that tasks have greater value than systems. In other words, people use systems and structure as support when solving problems.
How well we as individuals assign value to these value categories affects how we make decisions and our judgements.
So placing the wrong value on either people, tasks and systems, their judgements and decision-making capabilities are impaired and the impact of this becomes observable.
Think about your own business and whether it reflects Dr Hartman's belief in people then tasks then systems.
In a graphic design business, it makes sense to prioritise people because you rely on their sparks of genius to produce visual or written content for your clients. But should systems come second (i.e. workflow management and graphic design software) because the tasks your staff carry out rely on the software to carry out their tasks?
In an e-commerce business, should people be your number one priority if they're reliant on a system and the tasks you and the system demand to get parcels out to the delivery trucks? Or do you believe that well-being of your people has a greater effect on the speed of turnaround than your systems and tasks?
Which is the right order of priority for your business? And does this order affect how well you run the business and your ability to deliver results?
Axiology is a fascinating subject and I encourage you to find out as much as possible about it from pluralist theories to value monism. I'd recommend the following books and chapters in their own right:
- “Research Methods for Business Students”, Pearson Education Limited
- "Error theory of ethics". Macmillan Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- "Value pluralism", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (link)
- Evaluative Vs. Deontic Concepts within "International Encyclopedia of Ethics", Wiley-Blackwell.
How I discovered my values and what they are
I came to a realisation on the concrete and abstract things of instrumental value to me on my journey.
As I change over time as a person, these things change but, as of now, they are:
- Surrounding myself with objects of creativity like books full of beautiful photographs across time and of my formative years related to my experiences in football, music and peer groups.
- Music. I have it on 75% of the time because of the massive energy boost it delivers to me.
- Self-development. I am never 2 feet away from my journal or at least 1 self-development book.
- My family. I have something that reminds me of my wife and 3 children in my possession at all times and I spend a lot of time thinking about their lives and how I can influence them positively (not always a good thing!)
I realised I didn't value income and money as much as I thought. I rarely spend time checking trading accounts or looking at new ways to earn income and am satisfied to let it ride.
I remembered how important and valuable communicating with friends was. The more I became interested in them and their lives, the more they gave back to me and my friendships have never been healthier or more enjoyable.
Simple things like these have a massive impact on our lives and I wouldn't derive the enjoyment and fulfilment I get from life without prioritising what's of the greatest value and importance to me.
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