Eastern/Western Views


The Two Systems of Values

The basic philosophical question about ‘ good '  and  ' evil '  paved the way for a wider investigation about human  ' values ‘.    

Values are perceived as being important, worthy, and desirable in daily experience.  Despite the great number of qualities, which can be defined as valuable, a shared view - in both Eastern and Western philosophies - considers three values as the most influential in people’s life.  

The Neo-Kantian  System of Value

Western thinking was greatly influenced by the 18 th century philosopher Immanuel Kant, whose work focused on ethics, morality and virtue. Further development of his work led philosophers to adopt a neo-Kantian system of 3 basic values (1) , being:  

Beauty, Goodness, and Truth

as what essentially influence and motivate people.

This widely accepted triad of values was questioned by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, a Japanese educator who started his observation of the subject of values from his concern about the aims and values employed within the Educational System in Japan prior to the II WW.  Makiguchi carefully examined the relationship between ‘knowledge’ or ‘truth’ and ‘value’.  

In his investigation, Makiguchi argued that the word “Value” characterises human creative activity.  For example, action of “Goodness” and developing artistic products of “Beauty” - can be created by people.  Therefore, Goodness and Beauty can be considered as essential values. However, “Truth” cannot be ‘produced’ or ‘made’ by human activity.  “Truth” reveals objective facts, while “Value” - on the other hand - relates to a subjective human dimension.

To illustrate: a statement of fact - such as: “this is a horse” describes an objective “truth” (about a living organism, we call a ‘horse’), while a statement of value, that: “this horse is beneficial and helpful” describes a subjective impression.

Makiguchi’s contribution to the system of values was in clarifying that: truth becomes valuable only when we employ it to create benefit - or to create a shared gain - in our human reality.

Makiguchi’s  System of Value

The three essential values recognised by Makiguchi’s system of values are:

Beauty, Goodness, and Benefit

introducing thus the concept of ‘Benefit-to-society’ as the third value.  Benefit (or gain) is understood as actions leading to progress and advancement of individual’s and society’s life.

According to Eastern philosophical perspectives, “value” has a human dimension, and therefore can be created and developed.  Buddhist philosopher Dasiaku Ikeda defined the creation of value as:

the capacity to find meaning, to enhance one’s own existence and contribute to the well-being of others, under any circumstance.” (2)

The ideal of “contributing to the wellbeing of others” and “bringing benefit to humanity” - is at the core of the concept of value in Makiguchi’s system of value - instead of regarding the “truth” as a value.  Regarding ‘truth’ as a value-in-itself was questioned and rejected by various philosophers such as Hermann Cohen and Bertrand Russell:

“When we assert that this or that has ‘value’”, says Russell, “we are giving expression to our own emotions, not to a fact which would still be true if our personal feelings were different." (Russell 1949, 230) (3)

In the Eastern perspective of values, ‘truth’ is replaced by ‘application of the truth’ – application aimed at creating benefit.

Benefit is gained out of applying truths for the purpose of creation of something desirable. This can be observed in the essence of all inventions of various devices.  The example of the invention of a practical light bulb for homes by Thomas Edison in 1879 - indicates that applying the truth (the facts of the laws of electricity) to reality – results in a product, which manifests the value of benefit.  All laws of physics, in particular electricity, and the conversion of electrical energy into heat and visible light – were known (truth) long before the invention. But only after Edison, through steady efforts, applied the truth of the laws of physics to a durable conductor – this remarkable application of knowledge through consistent efforts resulted in creating benefit for self and others.

The Impact of Values on Society

Motivated by Goodness, Beauty and Benefit, people’s activity influences their lives and that of others. Because of the interconnectedness of individual and society, the goal of creating benefit for social good cannot be maintained by denying or overriding the benefit of individual (such as the implication of Utilitarianism, which can lead to preference or bias towards the benefit of ‘the majority’ of people on account of many individuals from social minorities).

To explain the meaning of the ‘value of benefit’, and to clarify its impact on the mutual relationship between the individual and society, Ikeda explains that, while the individual is important, ‘benefit’ becomes a value only if it includes the wellbeing of others:

“Of two people making comparable efforts, the results will differ greatly if one person is motivated by a value that transcends the self (good, beauty, the well-being of others) — while the contrary is motivated by ego”. (4)

  “In his theory of value, President Makiguchi … clearly stated that gain that does not benefit the public interest is evil and anti-value.  Without a system of values to guide economic activities, economics becomes devoted to nothing more than making money… There is a danger that such a situation will spin out of control.” (5)

The Value of Benefit-to-self-and-others expresses harmonious relation between the individual and society.  Seeking to benefit only oneself is an expression of ego, while completely denying self can be seen as a sacrifice.  A true value lies in behaviour and action that is neither ego nor sacrifice - but seeking the benefit of self-and-others in what makes life better.



(1) “ Truth, Beauty and Goodness ”  in the Philosophy of A. N. Whitehead. A. H. Johnson, Philosophy of Science,  Vol.11, No.1, Jan. 1944.  http://www.jstor.org/stable/184887?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

(2) Makiguchi and Value Creation” Daisaku Ikeda https://www.worldtribune.org/2020/daisaku-ikedas-philosophy-of-education/

(3) Bertrand Russell, Ethics, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy http://www.iep.utm.edu/russ-eth/

(4) Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth and Death, p. 117. Daisaku Ikeda.

Published by MiddleWay Press, 2003,  

(5) The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, Vol.6 p. 127