The key concept, in the formation of a sense of life, is the term “important.” It is a concept that belongs to the realm of values, since it implies an answer to the question: Important—to whom? Yet its meaning is different from that of moral values. “Important” does not necessarily mean “good.” It means “a quality, character or standing such as to entitle to attention or consideration” (The American College Dictionary). What, in a fundamental sense, is entitled to one’s attention or consideration? Reality.
“Important”—in its essential meaning, as distinguished from its more limited and superficial uses—is a metaphysical term. It pertains to that aspect of metaphysics which serves as a bridge between metaphysics and ethics: to a fundamental view of man’s nature. That view involves the answers to such questions as whether the universe is knowable or not, whether man has the power of choice or not, whether he can achieve his goals in life or not. The answers to such questions are “metaphysical value-judgments,” since they form the base of ethics.
It is only those values which he regards or grows to regard as “important,” those which represent his implicit view of reality, that remain in a man’s subconscious and form his sense of life.
“It is important to understand things”—“It is important to obey my parents”—“It is important to act on my own”—“It is important to please other people”—“It is important to fight for what I want”—“It is important not to make enemies”—“My life is important”—“Who am I to stick my neck out?” Man is a being of self-made soul—and it is of such conclusions that the stuff of his soul is made. (By “soul” I mean “consciousness.”)
Is the universe intelligible to man, or unintelligible and unknowable? Can man find happiness on earth, or is he doomed to frustration and despair? Does man have the power of choice, the power to choose his goals and to achieve them, the power to direct the course of his life—or is he the helpless plaything of forces beyond his control, which determine his fate? Is man, by nature, to be valued as good, or to be despised as evil? These are metaphysical questions, but the answers to them determine the kind of ethics men will accept and practice; the answers are the link between metaphysics and ethics. And although metaphysics as such is not a normative science, the answers to this category of questions assume, in man’s mind, the function of metaphysical value-judgments, since they form the foundation of all of his moral values.
Consciously or subconsciously, explicitly or implicitly, man knows that he needs a comprehensive view of existence to integrate his values, to choose his goals, to plan his future, to maintain the unity and coherence of his life—and that his metaphysical value-judgments are involved in every moment of his life, in his every choice, decision and action.
Both essays are excerpted from “The Romantic Manifesto.”