Missing Axioms I – Explicit and Implicit Value

October 19, 2020

The notion of value is prolific in both thought and speech. It enables measurement of the world around us and appraisal of the state of things. Furthermore, it allows for the projection of both positive and negative notions through ideas and statements. The valuing nature of humanity has metaethical implications1. For example, attaching value to acts of charity implies an ethical ought regarding the status of altruism. It suggests we ought to act altruistically, that it is ethically right to act altruistically. In the metaethical context this elevates altruistic actions and denigrates selfish actions in an irreducible way. Irreducible in the sense that this would make altruism ethically good as a base principle, in virtue of itself.

Converse to such assertions, if we reject the metaethical game and claim that nothing intrinsically has value what remains is the abstract position of nihilism. Nihilism has been explored extensively, always attracting a unique anxiety due to the concern that it strips us of any objective or transcendent anchor point regarding evaluative statements and moral actions. The implication is that nothing has any value as such, that no state is more worthwhile compared to any other. Thus, the end result is an ethical landslide where intuitively immoral acts such as murder or rape are not only permissible but no worse than intuitively moral acts such as friendship or charity.


Explicit values are abstract. These are constructed of positive or negative assertoric statements. For example: ā€œIā€™m very altruistic.ā€. This statement contains explicit connotations.

Implicit values, however, arise from the connotations present within action. For example, the person who just extolled their explicit altruism could implicitly have never committed a charitable act. Under these delineations it seems that the thought and statements required of explicit values is, in some sense, cheaper than the action cost required of implicit values. You do not truly value something by statement or thought, value is only bestowed through the coronation of action.

One interesting thing about nihilism, as a potentially held position, is that in regard to our status as embodied human beings it is an abstract void of value. Abstract in the sense that a human being can explicitly state they are a nihilist but it is actually impossible to act implicitly nihilistic. Any action that could be taken: getting out of bed in the morning, engaging in a creative endeavour, cooperating as part of a team or even the simple decision to remain alive all invoke an implicit valuation. This is an inevitability of human embodiment whether it is cast on aesthetics, wealth or even the actions of life-sustainment. Even the acts of suicide or murder imply that the world without life is in some sense of higher value than a world with conscious life within it. Nihilism is a position that humanity, as a result of its embodied state, will never achieve in an aligned collision of implicit and explicit value.

You can be an explicit nihilist but you can never be an implicit nihilist.

  1. This is to say that the notion of value in relation to the nature of ethical truth (if there is any) as opposed to specific ethical judgement about a substantive states.
Missing Axioms II – Beyond Nihilism >