Life-Value Onto-Axiology and Life-Ground Ethics | Prof John McMurtry

“I endorse, outline and apply John McMurtry’s life-value onto-axiology, which is in all probability the most articulate theory of value developed by any philosopher in the 21st century.”

— Martin Gren, ‎Edward H. Huijbens – 2015 – ‎Business & Economics

Life-Value Onto-Axiology
Life-Ground Ethics

The Primary Axiom of Value is the unifying solution to the open question ‘What is Good? What is Bad? The Value of All Values across Time, Place and Theories’ by John McMurtry, Philosophy and World Problems, Volume I, UNESCO in partnership with Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems: Oxford, 2004-11. It defines the ultimate first principle/s of Life-Ground Ethics, and more comprehensively, Life-Value Onto-Axiology.

In traditional terms and terrestrial parameters, the Primary Axiom provides the unifying criterion and measure of the Real, the True and the Good.

The Primary Axiom of Value

X is value if and only if, and to the extent that, x consists in or enables a more coherently inclusive range of thought / felt side of being / action than without it.

Conversely: x is disvalue if and only if, and to the extent that, x reduces / disables / destroys any range of thought / felt side of being / action.

Definitions of the ultimate fields of value:

thought = internal image and concept (T)

felt side of being = senses, desires, emotions, moods (FSB)

action = that which can feel pain in animate movement across species and organizations (A)

the good will = T-FSB-A unified to realise the Primary Axiom

truth or knowledge = inclusive consistency with facts, inferences, and life requirements = the life coherence principle

value measure = more or less ( > or < ) life value in the T-FSB-A fields of life of any practise or process with respect to any other e.g., Poetry is of more value than pushpin because, and to the extent that, it enlists more thought and felt side of being in its composition.

value metric symbolically expressed:

+V = > LR + and −V = < LR where LR = Range of TFSBA and / = and/or for any reference body past or present.

Together these defined elements and principles of the Primary Axiom constitute what may be called the Life Code of Value. More specifically, this life code of value may be defined by the formula: Life → Means of Life → More or Better Life (L → MofL → L1).

Choice Space

Thought, felt being, and action always admit of some choice space to open or close to different possibilities within the same circumstances. The first principle of Vedanta and Buddhism – “What is one’s thought, that one becomes, this is the eternal mystery” (Maitri Upanishad, Verse 34) – asserts the defining significance of this choice space through time.

Yet unremitting attempts of modern scientism to reduce conscious life to quantum-theory states or behaviors alone has denied this ground of life-deciding responsibility by a foundational confusion. It converts what is externally observed and redundant into what is in principle neither externally observable nor redundant – the inaccessible flows of internal thought and the felt side of being without evident bounds. This is the externalist fallacy of modern reductionism that life-value onto-axiology supersedes.

The confusion of first-person and third-person points of view – the confusion of being a person with an internal consciousness to which no limit can be found and externally observing a person’s outer behaviour or redundant physical mechanisms – is dissolved by grounding in the direct experience of the fields of life themselves. The difference is as deep and ultimate as being a life versus observing a body. It applies not only to human persons, but to all sentient beings.

Only by this ultimate distinction, a first principle of life-value onto-axiology, can the felt side of being be accessible or valued. The untold suffering caused to non-human beings because their felt pains are not externally provable is thus no longer blinkered out, but brought into frontal moral view.

Moral Obligation

In moral theory, a binding obligation arises when an ought-to principle is prescribed whose violation is deemed blameworthy and deserving of shame or punishment e.g., thou shalt not kill. Other principles of value, like aesthetic value, have no such entailment. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

Moral prescriptions are distinguished as unconditional ‘oughts’. They override other considerations. Yet their supreme authority is unsettled, and is attributed to different sources. God or the ancestors command them. Rationality deduces their sovereign imperatives. People intuitively know what their duties are. Traditional ways of the past define a society. Economic necessity demands them as a law of survival.

What distinguishes these meta-ethical positions is that they prescribe how to live with no proof of their life value. All may assume or claim their goodness for life, but no life-serving function is required by any known morality. The goals of utilitarianism – pleasure and avoidance of pain – seem to provide this life-enabling function. But something may be pleasurable but not life enabling (e.g., a consumer commodity); and something may be painful, but life-serving (e.g., exceeding past or normal limits). ‘Thou shalt not kill’ clearly appears to enable or serve life. Yet killing and maiming of designated enemies is still allowed by moral systems invoking this commandment, and usually targets the otherwise innocent and ablest young men while laying waste to built and environmental heritages. If the moral command is to kill no human ever, it still permits killing of all other species. And if it commands no killing of life at all, it is impossible to obey (as even the Jainist Gandhi realised with breathing in ‘tiny microbial things’).

No received moral ‘ought’ is yet conditional on enabling life itself. The tendency of unconditional moral dictates to, on the contrary, straitjacket life is very widespread – thousands of rules of conduct and comportment from Israel-Islamic codes to Confucian propriety to, most of all, nations aspiring to highest moral goals, but with no defining condition of enabling life, or against disabling it. Seek to find an exception.

In the face of such paradoxes, centuries of philosophical perplexity focus on the ‘logical status of ought’ – how it can logically bind us to moral commands. An endless succession of arguments of one meta-ethic against another follows with no common life ground. Life-value onto-axiology resolves the ultimate problem by making all normative ‘oughts’ whatever conditional on enabling life as the test of its validity. This is the life code of value in all things, and life-ground ethics / live-value morality in matters of universal prescription or command. The Primary Axiom is the logical scaffolding of all spelled out step by step.

Although ‘the free market’ value system1 is widely supposed as maximizing goods – ‘the moral science’ – it recognises no life or life support system as of any value in itself. Private money-value gain is its sovereign life-and-death imperative, with severe market punishment for not obeying its iron laws. It is an invisible-hand religion of the market God in place of extra-terrestrial Deity.

The evidence is clear that ‘market laws’ here do not mean what is necessary for the individual’s and society’s survival or development (as assumed since Malthus). For no economics has a place for life need or necessity in any of its laws or models.

For the term ‘ought’ to be life coherent in its prescription, it must enable life to justify it. Consider a mundane pre-moral example. “If it is going to rain”, one advises another, “you ought to bring an umbrella”. The ought is grounded in a set of life conditions – the probability of rain and of being soaked without it, and these conditions are further grounded in the need to remain dry for life functions and continued health.

Self-interest alone is assumed sufficient to act on such prudential ‘oughts’ which are taught to every child in matters of dress, foods, sleep, and so on. Moral ‘oughts’, in contrast, go beyond self-interest for what is always assumed to be the greater good of some kind. Yet no known moral or ethical doctrine has life enabling conditions for its ought-to claims. None has any life-value test of its validity. Moral obligations can demand any mortification of life in the name of purifying or uplifting it, or killing other forms of life as a duty of god, honour or progress.

Life-value moral understanding resolves this age-old problem by a new and self-evident method. It requires the compossible enabling of life as its condition of validity. The sole and sovereign moral, ethical or normative issue is enabling rather than disabling life in accord with the criteria of the Primary Axiom. Once we so re-ground values, norms and obligations, every moral or normative problem is soluble, and only life flourishing is affirmed.

The Unlimited Validity of the Primary Axiom

While the last century of learned thought has been dominated by scientific claims of ‘value-free neutrality’, this is a false assumption that has come at the price of moral and ethical life. For scientific method is itself a rigid value system of valid versus invalid claims, leads vast assaults on human and natural life by its agency and claims, and dominantly serves private and military funding – perhaps a moral monster.

We should not forget Galileo’s research launching the modern age was into speed, velocity, momentum, and pathways of falling objects, missile-projectile motions, and military compasses. Galileo’s science was not just the refutation of Church cosmology, but more deeply, the first modern science of warfare which is the most lavishly funded science today. Life value counts for nothing in these calculi. Science requires life-value onto-axiology to be life grounded and guided.

The humanities and social sciences have, however deepened the moral disorder by attacking the very idea of objective or universal values as oppressive and irrational. From linguistic idealism to postmodernism to reduction to positional contexts and relations, all collaborate in repudiation of any unifying value bearings across domains by a two-part false assumption: (i) there is no ultimate and unifying ontological, epistemological, moral or value theory or principle possible without (2) claiming an infallible or ‘god’s-eye’ view which rules out diverse viewpoints and freedom.

Volumes I and II cited above2 refute (1) and (2) step by step. But the issue can be more readily resolved. The unlimited validity of the Primary Axiom is testably demonstrated by what anyone can check for oneself:

(1) self-evidence insofar as denial of the value of thinking, feeling and acting is a performative self-contradiction;

(2) universality across all domains and issues of value judgment insofar as there is no domain of value to which it does not apply;

(3) presupposition in value judgments and conflicts across points of view;

(4) objectivity insofar as its value is independent of anyone’s recognition, position or context;

(5) impartiality insofar as it cuts against or privileges no common life interest;

(6) completeness insofar as it includes every life form, domain, or change to ill or better in distinct or holistic comprehension;

(7) sovereignty in that it properly overrides any other value in cases of conflict;

(8) measurable in degrees of value insofar as greater / lesser ranges of thought, felt being and action can be decided in any case from any given reference body of comparison;

(9) individually and collectively choosable in progress or regress by enabling or disabling life capacity increase or decrease through time;

(10) showing contingent pattern of long-term development through ecological and historical time.

Freedom of the Individual by Collective Life Support

The Primary Axiom uniquely recognises and enables individuality and personal freedom insofar as it valorizes ever fuller ranges of thought, felt being and action as the measure of good, and their deprivation or reduction as the measure of bad or evil to the extent of the life capacities / life capital lost or destroyed.

Because all fields of life and value and their ranges of enjoyment are taken into account – notably the felt side of being which has been traditionally repressed and opposed to rationality – life-ground ethics also uniquely affirms the full spectrum of individual expression and freedom.

At the same time, it affirms shared or collective thinking, feeling and action as ultimate fields of value – as in scientific teams of higher research, community celebrations of felt sacred bonds, and co-operative organisations for action. As in all matters, that which enables / disables more coherently inclusive capacities of life is good / bad to the extent it does so in the individual and the larger community.

In contrast, the long opposition of the individual to the collective is the profoundest bias of the modern epoch. For the freest individual is only possible so far as surrounding conditions enable it in the long run – in the shared language spoken and the evolved knowledge received; the surrounding society’s nutrition and health practices without which life capacities cannot grow; the life-protective law and security of person no individual can reliably ensure alone; and the forms of excellence and creation available to excel at which any individual requires to distinguish the self. Every life capacity and enjoyment requires the sustaining conditions of the wider life community to exist and flourish, including most basically the collective life support systems of Nature from the planetary host through other species and habitats to teeming soil and gut bacteria.

Yet the dominant economic and political models of philosophy and social sciences over the last 150 years have under the title of ‘methodological individualism’ ruled out and vilified the very concepts of collective thought, felt being and action, including of the rest of Nature. It is, ironically, not recognised that what is called ‘methodological individualism’ is the opposite of individuated – a mathematical atomism of quantifiable homogenous units and aggregates in which individuating properties are necessarily erased in order to count them. One false assumption leads to another. What cannot be aggregated into uniform number counts is assumed to be suspect or non-existent, including internal consciousness itself without observable behaviors.

More sinisterly, aggregates of atomic selves are claimed by lead economic and political theorists to be ‘public choice’ or ‘society’s will’, thereby invalidating the very idea of people thinking, feeling or acting beyond selves. The shadow consequence is incessant warring upon any group prioritizing the common life interest from unions to political parties, poorer societies declared as ‘communist’, a ruling term of hatred and often a death sentence.

It is in this way that a deeper reverse of social evolution occurs beneath conscious understanding. The civil commons of socially evolved healthcare, public education and communications, collectively enforced life standards, public lands and resources are blinkered out of view or expunged from acceptable status. The emergent social state is de-invested and reversed towards collectively armed private money-sequences multiplying across domains and borders. The evolving social immune system of mutually life-protective customs, rules, practises, and scientific infrastructures is liquidated by full-spectrum profitization of public health, regulations, institutions, knowledge and research funding.

Only private selves, consumers, producers and voters are recognised as valid within the ruling value system. No value is accorded to collective life goods of thought (as in public knowledge), felt being (as in profit-free civil spirit), or animate action (as in transnational organisation of life-protective law to regulate ‘the free market’ to protect shared global life support systems). All are variously stigmatized as ‘collectivism’, ‘communism’, ‘socialism undermining individual freedom’ when, in fact. they enable individual life freedom through generational time for the lives of the majority who are otherwise deprived of in the means of life required to be a free person.

The common life interest has as yet no recognised value or moral meaning, nor a collective will guided by it. Yet thinking, feeling and acting in common for universal life requirements can alone overcome exponentially self-maximizing money multiplication cumulatively consuming and wasting the biodiverse carrying capacities of the planetary life host.

Most unconceived are the organising principles of a universal life economy whose unifying substance is life capacities that produce more life capacities without loss and cumulative gain (life capital evolution). It is by these organising principles that the private money-value system is re-set to cohere with rather than despoil evolved social and terrestrial life organisation itself.

The Universal Human Life Necessities
Laws of Their Provision

The Primary Axiom is operationalized in the world by:

(1) what human life capacities always require to reproduce and flourish – the universal human life necessities such as terrestrial air, potable water, adequate nutrition, and community language;

(2) the laws or principles of their life-coherent provision that enable compossible life reproduction and flourishing of persons, communities and species across place and time.

The Universal Human Life Necessities and The Laws of Their Provision follow from the Primary Axiom. Together they define the criteria of validity for all standards and norms of human and planetary life and evolution (including religion and morality, the rule of law, scientific technology, economic sustainability, personal and public health, and social justice).

More formally, they spell out the general laws of a life-sequence or life-capital economy, Life → Means of Life → More or Better Life or L → MofL → L1: as ethically sovereign over the private money-sequence or money-capital economy, Money → Life as Means → More Money, $ → LasM → $1.

‘Means of life’ are distinguished from wants or desire objects as universal human life necessities, while their general laws of provision are not market laws but ultimately governing principles of human flourishing.

In the simplest terms, any standard or norm either inclusively enables thought, felt being and action by its regulators, or it is invalid / bad to the extent it disables them (as defined by the Primary Axiom).

Truth requires testability of its claims. Any step of the Primary Axiom and Principles 1 to 7 below is testable by seeking exception or counter-example to its governance for the common good of all life.

Each principle is at the same time an invariant ‘law’ in both normative and the scientific senses. That is, it cannot be violated consistently with the values or the facts of universally flourishing human and planetary life.

Regulating concepts determine action, and governing rule-systems determine how we live. In the currently ruling market value system, concepts of private money-value and self-maximizing rationality determine how we live. Private money aggregates decide ‘Demand’ while ‘Supply’ is private commodities priced for sale and profit. All alternative forms of ‘economy’ to ‘the free market’ are proscribed as ‘despotic’, ‘statist’, or ‘socialist’.

More deeply, the life needs of humanity have no place in this system. The universal life necessities and carrying capacities of the planet are assumed away a-priori. The role of government is to serve the security and growth of this market system and not interfere in its free exchanges. No collective life goods exist in its money-value calculus.

In contrast, the Principles of Universal Human Life Necessities and the Laws of their Provision begin with what the market value-system nullifies: the life needs and goods of all, and the life capital and laws of their supply through time.

While these ultimately regulating principles do not exist in received models of economics, technology, ethics and justice, they do evolve beneath academic, business and state categories. The emerging ecological household economy is the ongoing micro economics of the life economy. More generally, the civil commons infrastructures of social evolution are the unseen macro economics of the life economy. They supply such universally accessible life goods as clean water, public health, life-protective law, social security, universal education, energy formation, public parks, libraries and travel routes without which the surface market economy of private commodities and profit cannot exist.

Together, the laws of the life-capital economy define the ordering imperatives of life-ground ethics which answers the ancient question of ‘the good life’ or ‘how to live’. Again, each principle defined here can be tested as to whether it fulfils the requirements of ‘the good life’ or ‘how to live’. Is it too broad? Or is it too narrow? These questions can be posed to each principle as well as to all together. If there is nothing shown to be missing, or nothing there that should not be, then each and all is so far confirmed.

At the highest level of guiding meaning, the universal human life necessities and laws of their provision govern life reason and measure across thought, felt being and action as an axiological covenant of life on earth. The life support systems and carrying capacities of humanity and other species are built into its principles which have long been tested across domains, disciplines and everyday problems across cultures.

With each Principle, a Converse follows showing that the money-capitalist system drives increasingly degenerate outcomes for organic, social and ecological life organisation.

Life-Ground Ethics is the umbrella name for these Principles and the Primary Axiom from which they derive.

Principle 1: The ultimate organising principle of any life-coherent society through generational time is secure access to means of life / life goods otherwise in short supply (i.e., the production and distribution of goods and the protection of ecosystem services in accord with Principles 2 through 7).

Converse: Any social or economic system succeeds / falls short / fails to the extent that it does / does not so secure, produce, distribute means of life / life goods.

Principle 2: A means of life is a means of life if and only if it enables life capacities / abilities not possible without it (e.g., food, water, shelter and literacy education).

Converse: Claimed ‘goods’ which disable or do not enable life capacities / abilities are not means of life (e.g., junk commodities).

Principle 3: The complete and universal set of means of life which all humans require to flourish as human are:

∙ breathable air, sense-open space, and daily light
(atmospheric means of life)

∙ clean water, nourishing foods and self-waste disposal
(bodily means of life)

∙ shelter space from the elements with ample provision to retire, sleep and function
(home means of life)

∙ environmental surroundings whose elements and contours contribute to the whole
(environmental means of life)

∙ intimate love, social inclusion, safety and healthcare when ill or infirm
(caring means of life)

∙ activities of language-logos / art-play to choose and learn from
(educational / recreational means of life)

∙ meaningful work or service to perform
(vocational means of life)

∙ self-governing choice in each’s enjoyment consistent with each’s provision
(social justice)

Converse: Any priced commodity which does not directly or indirectly provide means of life / life goods for these needs is dyseconomic to the extent of life resources wasted on the commodity’s production and consumption (e.g., debilitating and addictive products).

Principle 4: The provision, or the deprivation, of each and all of these means of life / life goods is measurable by greater / lesser sufficiency for individuals or societies (e.g., of clean water, living space, and work hours contributing to wellbeing rather than ill-being).

Converse: Willingness to pay prices for commodities does not measure their value, but increasingly their hidden disvalue for all (e.g., leisure-time power motors and junk foods).

Principle 5: The true measure of the overall performance of any society or economy is its civil commons development i.e., all social constructs enabling universal access to means of life in comparison to a previous state of the society or another society (e.g., greater / lesser nutritional sufficiency, clean water accessibility / inaccessibility, more / less bio-diverse environment, literacy gain / loss, life expectancy rise / fall, livelihood participation / exclusion, more / less free resources and activities of art and play). The life-protective dimension of the civil commons – the social immune system – is all social constructs safeguarding human and environmental life such as public knowledge, law, regulations and enforcements (e.g., of clean water sources, recycling of wastes, workplace safety, security of the person and disease prevention).

Converse: Growth of aggregate commodities sold in a society (GDP) is not an accurate measure of a society / economy’s development unless it corresponds to the access of its members to life goods (e.g., nourishing food, life-serving work, universal education, art and play areas, and biodiverse green spaces).

Principle 6: The primary capital of any society or economy is life capital or the wealth of means of life / life goods that produce more without loss in cumulative yield through time (e.g., the life capital of public knowledge bases, physical fitness and health, clean air and water, biodiverse forests, fisheries and species, and other universal goods of life of Principle 3 without loss and cumulative gain through generational time).

Converse: Claimed “capital” which does not directly or indirectly produce these means or goods of life through time but only more private money demand is life-blind capital, and is inefficient in proportion to its allocation of scarce economic resources to life-destructive growth (e.g., exponential money-capital growth by currency and derivatives speculation and production of ever more life-disabling consumer commodities).

Principle 7: The efficiency of any product, tool or process increases, and only increases, to the extent that rationing to life need is achieved by:

i: inputs and throughputs function to enable the provision of life goods with diminishing waste and externalities (e.g., organic farming methods, industries directed towards 100% or circular recycling) = Ecological Efficiency

ii: reduced inputs of materials / energy / space / mandatory work time produce same or greater means of life outputs (e.g., wheel and pulley structures, cooperative organisation of work / leisure requirements, lower labour / fuel-per-unit machines) = Physical Input-Output Efficiency

iii: capability development of productive agents enables more life goods, life-time, and/or life-range choices than before (e.g., by education, healthcare, and vocational work) = Human Development Efficiency

Converse: Insofar as multiplying private-profit capital does not produce greater ecological, input or human development efficiency, but cumulatively consumes, pollutes and destroys life capital, it is carcinomic money-capital (e.g., private money fortunes gained by slashing work forces, environmental controls, and public taxes while demanding more public wealth privatizations and subsidies for more profits, pollutions, and wastes as in the US-led ‘free world’ since 1980).

Principles 1 to 7 define a complete set of the ultimately regulating laws and values of the Universal Life Economy. The search for disconfirming evidence or counter-example tests each across domains. Unlike previous moral and economic models, the principles are not anthropocentric. Protection and reproduction of the life support systems and carrying capacities of all species are built into Principles 5, 6 and 7. The intrinsic value of all that lives each is also defined and appraised by the life-value measures of the Primary Axiom – ‘the felt side of being’, ‘animate action’, and ‘image and conceptual thought’ where applicable.

This life-ground ethics provides ultimately regulating life principles, coordinates and measures which do not exist in prior theories, including of Karl Marx or any school of economics or politics, as well as the life-value philosophies of Nietzsche, Schweitzer, Whitehead, and Perry. While religious branches of Vedanta, Christianity, Buddhism / Zen and Sufi Islam may lay claim to a first principle of life value, there is always a more primary and higher source of value above life itself to which it may be sacrificed.

In life-ground ethics and onto-axiology – in contrast to all of these theories – life value is the only value there is, and in all its variations of value in accordance with the measures of the Primary Axiom. Terrestrial life’s compossible flourishing in ever more biodiverse and mutually enabling life capacity enjoyment is the historical and evolutionary direction and goal of all true morality, ethics and norms, individual or collective in nature.

This may seem impossible for most people to conceive in such overarching meaning when even our dominant sciences of evolutionary biology and economics construe self-maximizing genes and preferences as the only viable course and meaning of life on earth. Yet the long existing fact is that shared life-goal is implicit across cultures in the simple counsel of “making the world a better place” beyond the self alone. The problem is that this transcultural aspiration lacks any sound criteria of value meaning or action.

This is why the logical status of ought has been such an insoluble problem for moral theory and second-order analysis of values. The force of ‘ought’ is reduced merely to a command, an empty claim of willing it for all, a metaphysical fiction, a relativist norm, a religious holdover, a ruling class construction, a terrorism of the universal, and so on.

Yet in the real world what one ought to do is normally already decided by the boss at work, the patriarchy at home, the community’s traditions, the criminal and civil codes, or most elementally, the owner of the property one is on or serving as employee.

The upshot of all this is there is no objective source of ‘ought to’ that is known or agreed to by all. Not even killing another human being is ruled out if ordered by the state.

For life-ground ethics and onto-axiology, the primary axiom and universal life necessities and their laws of provision provides the general condition to be satisfied in all ought-to statements. For example, one ought to ration one’s consumption towards life need insofar as it satisfies the condition of sustaining the common life base of the planet for all species, rather than running it down needlessly.

Extra-terrestrial fantasies of gods or outer space colonies are escapist downgrades of the living world for logistical impossibilities. Life-coherent consciousness has not yet superseded divisions and mass morbidities of self-maximizing egos, parties, doctrines and, most of all, exponential private money-demand multiplication which none few know for what it is.

Despite the eco-genocidal chaos of the age we live in, there are deep movements of public health science, organic production and fair trade, and ecological-biodiversity awareness that steer the world against and beyond the carcinomic money-capital system. Here as well Life-Ground Ethics provides the unifying framework and obligations at work beneath received theories. And Life-Value Onto-Axiology is the second-order logic of value at the highest level of unifying principles across the domains of terrestrial and human evolution which can always go wrong.

Principles 1 to 7 denote collective as well as individual agency, unlike the atomized individuals and aggregates to which received economics, social sciences and normative theories are confined. In these systems of understanding, there are only separate and homogenously self-maximizing, market consumers or investors (economics), citizens aggregating in elections (democratic politics), or fictive social contractors deciding what is right and what is just by what ultimately serves one’s self-interest in any position (social contract theories of morality and justice).

What underlies all of them is blinkered out in principle: evolving collective life capital and civil commons formations preceding all individual agents over generations of shared development and use – from pathways, sacred arts, stories and water sources of first peoples to public parks, literacy and libraries and clean running water accessible to all in contemporary societies worthy of the name. All that is unpriced is blinkered out from received economic science which is confined to atomic multiplying money-value assets and exchanges. The unpriced natural and social life capital bases supporting all and evolved over centuries do not exist to the market system and are privatized and mined for profit without limit (as in the Converse Principles above). Collectively formed concepts, principles and plans are monopoly copyrighted so that public knowledge bases no longer evolve within the society (as demonstrated in the Covid-19 pandemic).3 Laws and customs enabling and protecting life are overridden to enable and protect private money gains across borders even as cumulatively eco-genocidal results predictably grow.

Life-Ground Ethics: From Theory to Practise

Life-Ground Ethics asserts that the Primary Axiom of Value and Universal Human Life Necessities and their Principles of Provision define comprehensive life standards to govern individual and collective life. They are not mere ideals, but have evolved beneath notice beyond the dogmas of exclusionary individual-gene competition and private-money capitalism within which evolutionary biology, social science, and contract theory have long been locked (as their common model of game theory reveals).

The Primary Axiom and Universal Human Life Necessities and Laws of their Provision identify all that is lost to view, and define the Converse Principles of the ruling private money-value system which select them out. This is the moral science made coherently life-grounded and sustainably growing through time. At the most general level, life-value onto-axiology, of which life-ground ethics is the practise, defines the regulating baseline and compass of life-coherent reason and life-value judgment across the spectrum of planetary existence – a secular covenant for life on earth with whose laws the private money-value system must comply if life on earth is to survive and evolve.

Principles of collective life value overriding the self-maximizing mind-lock and omnicide of the market-capitalist world and academy timelessly governed tribal and village community maintaining common life support systems over thousands of years across continents and cultures.

For concrete example, the criteria of life goods and efficiency defined by these principles validate and only validate life-protective rules of law and criminal codes, and invalidate as wrong laws punishing non-harmful deviations from social mores. By the same life standards, these principles validate commodities to the extent that they enable life capacities without loss; but invalidate them to the extent they pollute, degrade or destroy them in process, product or wastes.

How can such life standards regulate private powers over an economy whose rationality is to maximize profit and self-gain alone? This system always and increasingly depends on public infrastructure, investment, enforcement, and subsidies in myriad forms, as is publicly allowed and subsidized today. If only the public licensing and subsidizing of life-destructive commodities were withheld, they would be selected out with no force.

In accordance with Life-Ground Ethics, only life value and life capital are validated in all matters whatever. This is already an inchoately underlying principle of human evolution. What true moral or scientific advance of the human species – individual or community – is not in alignment with the Primary Axiom, Universal Human Life Necessities, and the Laws of their Provision?

Thought experiment can test and confirm this alignment through every step. This might be called the life-coherence principle test.

Why is there such resistance? The Principles are not yet conscious, connected or defined. This is why the Primary Axiom and Universal Human Life Necessities, and Laws of their Provision are required to define what has been historically blinkered out. What are the blinkers? They are the pervasively competing absolutes and partialities of religious doctrines, proprietary social norms, imperial political-economic models, and one-sided moral and meta-ethical analyses.

The unifying collective agency of life coherent consciousness is not comprehended or defined. Public health science, organic production and fair trade, and ecological-biodiversity movements come ever closer. Yet the ageless quest for ‘how to live’ and ‘the good life’ has never made its way past slave-society ideals in which the universal life necessities are assumed away; or – at the revolutionary end – has imagined that the private money-capitalist system will necessitate its own demise to give birth to its opposite by its own life-blind mechanisms and wage-slaves.

Today life-value understanding has been ruled out a-priori by ruling neo-liberal dogmas of austerity capitalism, relativist, anti-foundationalist and postmodern intellectual fashions.

Human evolution at the familial and community levels of cooperation has long worked through life-coherent principles of organising for inclusively coherent and compossible life flourishing with none sacrificed on the wheel of self-maximizing greed for the spoiled few (a wheel that modern literatures everywhere expose but never name).

Yet these principles are not past. They are scientifically updated and implicit in the emerging ecological household economy across the world and, more generally, the civil commons infrastructures of humanity’s very social evolution (the micro and macro systems of collective cooperation which are organized to enable the supply of universally accessible life goods like clean water, public health, life-protective law, social security, education, collective energy sources, public parks, libraries, architecture, and travel routes to established communities).

The Problem of an A-Priori Life-Blind Value Calculus

In such ways, private money demand becomes the measure of all value – “a man’s value is his price” and the worth of anything is “what the market / buyer is willing to pay for it”. Life’s value itself becomes only what individuals are able to pay for it, the doctrine’s only objective freedom. It follows that those without money demand have no rights, with social death for transgressors of this unstated law. The life-ground itself disappears from view, measure and worth.

None of these entailments are stated. Rather the political rhetoric of Locke on individual rights and freedom enters the revolutionary American and French Constitutions circa 1790 as sacred writ. Subsequent to the Marxian heresy, the algebraic formulae of neo-economics one century later erase natural language and life itself from any economic meaning, and this a-priori blindness to life and life value continues into the present day.

What is not morally or ethically noticed is that this private-property money-value system is a-priori life-blind in principle. No life has any value place within any sequence of money-value exchange and gain. Money is rather invested in what consumers are willing and able to pay for, and all compete for private money-value – including one’s life work to sell, rent of public resources to strip-mine, or artificial foods and addictions of all varieties, everyone seeking most money-value for themselves. All people, it is assumed, are consistent self-maximizers of private money-value in their choices – the only meaning of ‘rationality’ in this value system. Yet at the same time, all are assumed to benefit in the ‘optimal’ or best of possible worlds’ created by ‘the invisible hand’ of ‘the free market’. This is the immanent God of this ruling value system. Adam Smith, the founder of this doctrine and a Professor of Moral Philosophy, was a Deist who understood this implication, and no market economist or politician has overtly rejected it.

The logic of value seems irrefutable when most are able to get what they want in consumer items called ‘goods’ if they have money to pay for them. Yet because it has no life coordinates or necessities within its value system, life reality can go cumulatively very wrong with no indicators in market prices and sales. All life capacities, needs and life carrying capacities are simply blinkered out, and all systemic violations of organic, social and ecological life organization are externalities to this ruling value system. The game is to gain money value with no limit of how much or how little anyone gets, with no right to life of anyone without private money demand to pay for it. ‘Government intervention in the free market’ can enable universal life goods to exist for citizens like clean water, money subsidies to buy food, public health systems. But such ‘interference in the free market’ is despised in the ruling value-system, so that the richest society in the world still has no public health system and cuts back hard on food stamps.

The Primary Axiom of All Value defines what these universal life goods are across time and place, and the Universal Human Life Necessities and their Laws of Provision above explains all the norms required for the flourishing of human and terrestrial life. But none of it exists within the ruling value system which rules out all of them, and wars upon those which have been historically instituted in ‘socialist’ societies.

The Game Theory Paradigm of the Ruling Value System

Since 1945, ‘game theory’ has become the master model of the ruling value system in high circles of the academy. its rigorous but unexamined presuppositions lay bare the calculus that now rules strategic rationality across domains – not just the global corporate market proper and its military-war extension, but the strategic rationality core of evolutionary theory, political contest, mathematical psychology, and historical meaning itself. All assume self-maximizing preference with no limit of dispossession or gain as the ultimately ruling motivation of individuals, nations and species (just as in empires, spectator games, and nature documentaries). Nothing else counts in this reigning value system. It is thought to be the ‘laws of nature’.

However ruinous the ‘externalities’ of death, disablement and extinction become through time, they are not registered to view. Nor is any feedback circle instituted to recognize or correct them – with the exception of the ozone layer over 30 years ago. Today the despoliation of collective life capacities of oxygen, clean air, water sources, soil mantle, forest cover, sea beds and habitats, and social security systems – all continue unabated. They simply do not compute to any account or bottom line of the ruling market model of how to live.

Game theory is its master template of rational choice. It crystallizes the assumptions built into the ruling value-system, although the dots are not joined and regulate beneath conscious understanding. Life and life support systems are stripped out beneath recognition. Rationality means only to maximize self-gains at least cost. The Universal Human Life Necessities and Laws of their Provision do not exist and cannot compute. Life capacities and needs but are overridden at every turn. This process and its effects wage an unseen one-way war against life and life conditions in any other form but private money-capitalist exploitation. The underlying assumptions regulating choice and action across this ruling global game are life-blind in principle, but unexamined:

(1) All agents seek only to maximize their own position.

(2) This goal is fixed and inalterable, whatever extremes of wealth and poverty result.

(3) One’s competitors in the game are given not chosen.

(4) No standard of justice or right external to this game objective is valid;

(5) Each position is decided independently of life necessity or need;

(6) Original positions are not open to question or redistribution.

(7) The ordering of payoffs and losses is ruled out except by transactions within the game.

(8) No concern for any other life or its interests computes except as impact on one’s own payoffs or losses.

(9) No decision is related to any relationship beyond the game to humanity or fellow species or life on earth (except by private charity outside of it).

(10) No payoff or loss within the game relates to any life capacity contribution or need.

Once these underlying presuppositions are exposed, we see the dominant model is a-priori blind to the carrying capacities and requirements of human and ecological life. It follows that this ruling value system can cumulatively override, loot and pollute all life-carrying capacities of society and ecosystems and the human organism itself.

One may put a proletarian worker or a tenured philosopher or a global corporation into the choice spaces, and all are expected always to prefer more to less money; to compete in the market with whomever desires what one also wants; to know that there is no standard of value that can overrule the rules of the game; to accept that one is born into it and goes where one is assigned with no moral claims beyond its order; to accept the options and outcomes as they are set to maximize one’s own position; to hold one’s course of choice consistently to succeed; to not worry about others or what is not your assigned job; and to stick to one’s place within the given order. This regulating framework of ‘rationality’ rules out everything required for healthy and flourishing human and ecological life. Every regulating principle of how to live is a principle of life-blind assumption. Since it regulates academic careerists as well as business executives, the man in the street as well as politicians, we may discern here the inner logic of what we increasingly experience as the collapse of the world at organic, social and ecological levels. All seek lost bearings within the moral and ecological chaos of the de-regulated money-sequence value system which rules as ‘laws of nature’.

What if all science itself is increasingly employed by the global game’s dominant agents to do what serves its supreme goal – lower costs and higher revenues for borderless investors? How else then can scientists receive funding for their labs, investigations, hypothesis testing and validating operations which do not privately profit wealthy investors?

Confusion is conventionalized across domains. Today enforcement of one dominant game’s rules across borders and cultures make their man-made prescriptions appear as universal, inexorable, necessary, and even eternal.

The market is a game in which all players self-maximize, the general outcome is the optimum or best of all possible worlds, and so all must self-maximize by rational strategies by definition.

In A Theory of Justice, for example, John Rawls accepts the self-maximizing principle of rationality a “principle familiar in social science” and explicitly specifies its meaning “to want a larger share for oneself” in the “original position” of deciding principles of justice (p. 143).

Co-operative unities of persons deciding from common grounds of universal life interests are ruled out in principle. Environments and civil commons infrastructures which enable universal access to life necessities are abstracted away a-priori. Relational social ties and human concerns are voided. The ruling rationality is inhuman by nature, but that is its unseen function in a dehumanized world.

The supreme goal and rules of the transnational corporate market system which increasingly govern economies across the world are written by corporate lawyers, prescribed without any prior test, imposed as treaties across borders outside elected legislatures, signed by chiefs of state in all-or-nothing form, enforced by appointed corporate-lawyer tribunals whose proceedings are secret, and enforced by unsustainable fines to public governments. Thousands of pages of a-priori regulations and appendices serve transnational investors as the sole overriding goal with no trial of operations or consequences on organic, social and ecological life systems.

In its Pareto-principle prototype, for example, the best of possible worlds or ‘optimum’ is perfectly consistent with (1) few having all the assets and the rest having only debts and debt payments, as well as (2) cumulative degradation of the world’s life support systems – the air, the water, natural life habitats, public resources, and climate stability. Amartya Sen comes closest to moving beyond this mind-lock in his article “Rational Fools” (1978). But he does not break the closed circle of life-blind atomic exchanges, nor do his successors. Sen argues only that “self-maximization” for individual choosers admits of other alternatives than more pecuniary payoffs to oneself. But he does not modify the concept of rationality to ensure against fools.4 Moreover the most progressive of formal theorists continues to conceive of society as still private selves maximizing in their own way. When Sen comes to win the Nobel Prize for Economics, he remains within aggregates of private choosers and benefits in explaining “Social Choice” itself. That social choice can be a matter of a society or its representatives choosing in the common life interests of all citizens – for example to ensure clean water and air – is ruled out a-priori. Astonishingly, no-one evidently notices. Self-maximizing rationality has no theoretical resources to recognize the collective good. Two instituted errors of rational choice and comprehension are thereby bound into ruling conception: (1) A fallacy of division is built into the reigning framework of rationality which cannot be detected from within it (i.e., social choice is fallaciously reduced to the sum of the choices of individuals constituting the social organization); while simultaneously (2) social life standards to rationally regulate choices to cohere with collective life support systems are blinkered out in principle. The result is an instituted insanity!

The Ultimate Moral Choice Space: Life or Death for the Planet

An ultimate issue across evolution and history emerges when the life or death of the species and the planet confronts us, whether we know it or not. The ultimate choice follows from a global money-capital system of values which is falsely conceived, in turn, as driven by laws of nature, physics, or biological evolution.

This ruling value system has long concealed its normative origins and driver – a long historical construction whose every form is driven by one underlying, unifying value command of what private money wants from those who must sell to it to survive. For this command to appear and take the form of “freedom” or “free market exchange”, those who sell their hours of work, the great majority, must have no other form of income to buy their means of life, the real life value with no place in this ruling value system.

What enables life as opposed to disabling it matters not to any market or profit calculus. Those unable to buy their means of life do not count, and it makes no difference to any market ledger whether they live or die, or whether those who can buy are malnourished by their priced consumables.

‘Freedom’, ‘consumer sovereignty’, ‘the engine of private profit’ are each and all slogan expressions of this undeclared supreme imperative. It is overriding and unlimited in its demand over life forms and supports, and disobedience to it is punishable by ruin or death – the markers of an absolutist morality. But portraying it as inexorable laws of Nature’s ‘struggle for survival’ makes its system dictates appear as inviolate as the laws of gravitation and motion: whose model is imitated by Economics in the form of nineteenth-century liquid mechanics and the infinitesimal calculus over the last 130 years.

The fact that no value, concept, measure or regulator of this private money-value system can be found anywhere in Nature is militantly avoided. Yet a value-system which did not before exist, is forcibly prescribed to all, and since is unfalsifiable by any evidence, is not a science. It is in principle a pseudo-science. Its logical status is that of a prescribed value system with no limits to its domains of control – a totalist moral doctrine.

As moral philosophy recognises, whatever value system is declared as obligatory, universal, and overriding is a moral doctrine, right or wrong. This prescriptive morality cannot be acknowledged by economists, however. For they pretend scientific status and physics-like laws given by God or Nature and not changeable by the societies governed by them. However democratically decided such social changes may be, they are attacked by embargo and force of arms, as centuries of eco-genocidal wars against first people communities and socialist societies demonstrate beneath official recognition.

Yet a dramatic progression of technological powers cannot be denied throughout this process – the essential insight of Karl Marx. Ever-increasing powers to produce consumer commodities as well as homicidal weapons and externalities are forged in the competition among ‘first-world’ nations and corporations to win the global struggle of contending money-backed parties – the ultimate meaning of ‘freedom’ in this ruling value system.

Marx and Marxists have been certain that this historical process would bring world community by mass productivity outgrowing private property. But the destruction in the meantime of the planetary life-ground itself has raced ahead of political and economic doctrines. Only life-ground ethics re-sets governing system deciders to life value itself all the way down, as the Primary Axiom and Universal Human Life Necessities and Laws of Provision explain step by step.

The life-and-death choice space humanity now faces has deep historical roots of thought, felt being and action.

The money-capitalist doctrine begins as a treatise on private property right published by the prosperous slave-investor John Locke one year after the ‘Glorious English Revolution” of 1688. Locke justifies private property fenced off from the community commons by three conditions: ‘mixing one’s labour’ with it, ‘good enough left over for others’, and ‘non-waste’ of its product. These amply justified provisos for private property right are, however, annulled in one sentence by the ‘introduction of money’ by ‘tacit consent’. Since money can buy labour and land by tacit consent and is not subject to material decay, it can substitute for each and all, and does so by the community’s ‘tacit’ agreement in its use.

The underlying but unspoken logic of this argument for modern ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’ is that private money right is sovereign with the state’s defining purpose to protect it as the founding agreement of legitimate government and rule. Men exchange their ‘natural right’ to kill violators of their private property (including in wars of conquest to seize this property including slaves) only so long as their property is so protected. Revolution by armed force is justified when the state does not serve this purpose, invoking God as witness and sanction.

The Dynamic Metaphysics of Life-Value Onto-Axiology

substance = life capacities that produce more life capacities without loss and cumulative gain = life capital evolution

soul = the infinite within opening life to more coherently inclusive thought, felt being and action = the ultimate elective space

God = all-inclusive being becoming more all-inclusive being (process theology)

Love is proven by objectively enabling the life of the other as life needed, the minimum constant.

JM REVISED as social immune system guide (Spring 2020 during Covid-19 pandemic)

John McMurtry Ph.D (University College London)
Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada
Professor of Philosophy
University Professor Emeritus
University of Guelph Ontario, Canada NIG2W1
Philosophy and World Problems
Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS)
UNESCO, Paris-Oxford


  1. Value-system: Any stable set of regulators of judgment and action, whether or not the value deciders are recognized, and

    Social Value System: A society’s value-system which is normally presupposed by those governed by it and which ultimately regulates the decision norms and goals of a society’s dominant social institutions, the individual roles within them, and the thought structures of those internalizing its regulating assumptions and conclusions.

    Source: What is Good? What is Bad? The Value of All Values across Time, Place and Theories’ by John McMurtry, Philosophy and World Problems, Volume I-III, UNESCO in partnership with Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems: Oxford, 2004-11. 

  2. What is Good? What is Bad? The Value of All Values across Time, Place and Theories’ by John McMurtry, Philosophy and World Problems, Volume I and II, UNESCO in partnership with Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems: Oxford, 2004-11

  3. The Covid pandemic has me taking notes continuously, observing in macro the Supply-Demand, Income and Collective Knowledge Base requirements only manageable by public authority, and only with private market under this macro direction, and all the cumulative stresses issuing in the public health crises proceeding from private market / money sequence defunding, deregulation, and life-blind allocation of resources.

    Life capital / UHLN laws as necessary regulators of money issue and market starting with simply public money investment in public subsidies and infrastructures comprehensively conceived, including of course oil and medical infrastructure subsidies and regulations to collective life capital and standards. Just stop the pervasive public support of the private / csc money sequences and you stop the worst system disease and occupation.

    Public money that is used not as a measure of wealth or value but as measure of life-capital need-provisioning book-keeping for M&E and R&D to guide policy, programs and practice is what is missing and where we need to go.

    The only way to overcome the stresses causing the public health crises is through the knowledge inherent in the civil commons. As the source capable of fighting the money code’s continual life-blind defunding of resources, the collective knowledge inherent in the commons enables the systemic support for life and against its devaluing.

    Life capital is the regulator of the ways in which public money should be invested in medical and other infrastructures. If, and only if, public support for the cancerous private money sequences is stopped, the spread and occupation of the disease will be lessened by the social immune system of the civil commons.

    For example, the amount of public money that is spent to maintain civilization during a pandemic can be compared to the cost required to prevent it, in terms of needs satisfied and deprived. In this case, the waste / gain of life capital in terms of treatment can be compared with prevention / protection strategies.

    Since there is no profit to be made from protection / prevention such as in health, peace and harmony, there are perverse incentives towards more life-disablement rather than life-enablement based on money-value / capital / capacity / capability maximization. Fully coherent and full life-capital needs-provision accounting at each level of life organization and over short, medium and the long term will provide the most accurate book-keeping actuarial accounting that we can image.

  4. Amartya Sen (1977), “Rational Fools”, Philosophy and Public Affairs (6:4) 317-44

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