Indian Conception of Values: Fact and Value

The following essay (which will be published in five parts) is taken from the introduction to the book Indian Conception of Values by Prof. M Hiriyanna (Mysore: Kavyalaya Publications, 1975).

Value in General

The place which values occupy in life is so important that no philosopher, whose theme is the whole of experience, can omit to take account of them. But this does not mean that they will always receive from him the amount of attention which their importance demands. Thus in modern philosophy, ever since the time of Descartes and Locke, the theory of knowledge has usurped the place which is due to values; and it is only in recent times that, as a consequence of the total divorce of philosophy from life to which that practice naturally led, there has been a gradual shifting of interest from it to the problem of value. One of the distinguishing features of Indian philosophy is that, throughout its long history, it has consistently given the foremost place to values. In some early works, this problem receives almost exclusive attention. For example, the Upanishads speak more often of the final goal of life, the means to its attainment and the inner peace and joy which it signifies than of 'being' or of 'knowing', as such[1]. The recognition of its importance by Indian thinkers does not mean that they treat of value as the subject-matter of only a particular branch of philosophy; rather it inspires their investigation as a whole, and its influence is seen in every department of philosophic thought. Indian philosophy may, on this account, be described as essentially a philosophy of values. The purpose of the present volume is to give an idea of the values of life as conceived in ancient India. But, as in the case of the other problems investigated in Indian philosophy, there is here also much diversity of opinion. We shall therefore devote this introductory chapter to a consideration of the subject in a general way, not taking into account the distinctions in respect of it that are found in the several systems.


The meaning of value can be best indicated by contrasting it with that of another, viz. fact. The immediate result of all knowledge is to make us aware of facts. If we look about us we perceive some object or other. That is direct observation. We may also come to know of things indirectly, as when we hear a distant sound and connect it with its possible source. The object seen directly or known indirectly is what we mean here by a ‘fact’. It need not signify a present existence, as these examples may suggest; it may be what existed in the past or what will exist in the future. Ordinarily speaking, it is not even necessary that it should be a matter of certainty; it is enough if it appears, for the moment, to be so. All that is required is that it should not be known at the time to be unreal[2]. A knowledge of such facts may suffice, by itself, to satisfy our theoretic curiosity; but in everyday life it leads, as a rule, to action whose aim is the positive one of securing something we like or the negative one of avoiding something we dislike[3]. Either way, knowledge lights up for us the path of action which we pursue in order that some desire of ours may be satisfied. It is this satisfaction of desire or the achievement of ends, as the result of knowing facts, that is to be understood by 'value'. The Sanskrit word used for it means 'the object of liking' (इष्ट), and the term 'value' may therefore be defined as 'that which is desired'. The opposite of value or 'disvalue', as it is described, may, in contrast, be taken as 'that which is shunned or avoided' (द्विष्ट). For the sake of convenience in treatment, we shall hereafter generally refer to values only; but what is said of them will, with appropriate changes, apply to disvalues also.

There is one point in the above conception of value to which it is necessary to draw particular attention. It has reality only in its fulfilment, and needs therefore to be actualised before it can become truly a value[4]. This is the reason why we characterised it as the satisfaction of desire or the achievement of ends. If facts are apprehended, values are realised. It is only as realisable, or on the supposition that they are so, that we call them values. To state the same otherwise, an object of final interest does not usually exist already, but has to be brought into being by deliberate effort (साध्य)[5]. It is a ‘to be’ which is ‘not yet’. Existent objects are, no doubt, necessary for its realisation, but they merely serve as means thereto[6]. Since values are thus of the future, the question of their present existence does not arise. Unlike facts, they are not given (सिद्ध). But we have, instead, another question in respect of them, viz. whether they are feasible or possible of achievement (कृति-सिद्ध). Ordinarily speaking, the possibility of their achievement need not be a matter of certitude. As in the case of facts, it is enough if they do not, for the moment, appear to be unreal, so in the case of values, it is enough if they are not definitely known, at the time, to be impossible of achievement.

It will seem from what has been said, so far, that the cognition of a fact leads to the realisation of value, through arousing a desire for it. Strictly, however, the arousal of desire is mediated by an idea of the value to be realised.[7] That is, the cognition of a fact suggests the idea of some value, whose general nature we shall soon consider; and it is that idea which, through awakening a desire, leads in due course to its realisation. There is a point of much importance concerning this idea of value to which it is necessary to refer. It is always associated with a feeling of pleasure, owing to the past experience of the valuing subject; and it is that feeling which awakens a desire for realising the value in question[8]. That is, we should not only have an idea of value to seek it, but also prize it. In fact, a value is entitled to be called so only when it is thus prized or appreciated by us[9]. Thus while value, according to our definition is the object or content of desire[10], it is grounded in feeling[11]. It begins with an idea of value which, being tinged with a feeling of pleasure, arouses a desire for it; and that desire by prompting, in its turn, appropriate activity culminates in the realisation of value. Hence all the three aspects of the mind—cognition, feeling, and will—are involved in the process of value-realisation and they operate in succession[12]. But this should not be taken to mean that the mind is understood here as working compartmentally[13]. It is, of course, the whole mind that functions at every instant; only the Indian view signifies that its different aspects function predominantly at different stages of the process of value-realisation. (Note that, so far, we have not stated that value is pleasure.)

We should add that it is not always the end (इष्ट) aimed at which is termed a 'value'; the means to it (इष्ट-साधना) also are often described so. But, as subserving ends other than themselves, they can only be 'instrumental', and not 'intrinsic', values like them. That is to say, though the term 'value' is primarily applied to the ends that are sought, often the means to their attainment are also secondarily called so[14], such transfers in the use of words being not at all uncommon. Thus wealth is an instrumental value, while the fulfilment of any of life's needs to which it leads, is an intrinsic one. But the distinction between the two, except in some cases like a surgical operation which is desired solely for the result it is expected to produce, is not a hard and fast distinction, for the one may come to be conceived as the other by a change in the attitude of the valuing subject. Thus money, which is commonly taken to be a means, becomes an end in itself in the eyes of the miser. Contrariwise, the satisfaction of hunger, which is at first looked upon as of intrinsic worth, may come to be valued as a means to bodily health or power.

It is clear from the above that the notions of fact and value are closely connected with each other. If the idea of a value presupposes the knowledge of some fact, almost every fact, of which we become aware, is associated in our mind with some significance to life. Though thus interconnected, each remains distinct as shown, for example, by the circumstance that their appeal is to different sides of our mind, viz. the cognitive and the conative respectively. If a fact is given and is to be apprehended, a value is appreciated and requires to be achieved. Hence it is not right to attempt, as some do, to reduce either to the other. Modern pragmatism, for instance, tries to explain facts in terms of value saying that, when analysed, they all turn out to be values; and pure science does the reverse by virtually[15] eliminating values and retaining only facts. The truth is that both the conceptions are needed for a proper explanation of the world as we know it and the life we lead in it.


1 Cf. Nyayasutra Bhasya on 1.1.1, where the Upanishads are contrasted with the Nyaya in this respect.
2 The exact relation of value to existence will be considered later.
3 Cf. Bergson's Creative Evolution, p. 46; 'Speculation is a luxury, while action is a necessity'.
4 प्राक् भोक्तृ-सम्बन्धात् फलत्वानुपपत्तेः – Shankara on Brahmasutra 3.2.38
5 There are exceptions to this. For example, where a value has already been realised, effort may be required only to preserve it. Cf. the idea of योगक्षेम as used, e.g. in Gita, 2.45 and 9.22.
6 भूतं भव्याय उपदिश्यते – Shabara on Jaimini, 9.1.6. An existent fact may itself be the bearer of value, but we need not dwell on such details at this stage.
7 See Siddhanta Muktavali (Nirnaya Sagar Press, 1916) p. 467: फलेच्छां प्रति फल-ज्ञानं करणं.
8 सुखात् रागः – Kanada Sutra, 6.2.10. Cf. Yogasutra 2.7-8. This is also the significance of value as defined in Siddhanta Muktavali p. 467: यत् ज्ञातं सत् स्व-वृत्तितया इष्यते. I.e. value is that (or anything similar) which, having been experienced by oneself, in the past, is now sought (to be realised again). Cf. Vedanta Paribhasa (Venkateswara Press) viii.
9 If we describe this appreciation as a value-judgment it is clear that it is not the same as a judgment in the purely logical sense. To say, e.g. that sugar is sweet is not the same as saying 'I like sugar'.
10 Since the content of desire is always the same as the result to which it leads, value may also be represented as the product of desire.
11 We have represented feeling as preceding desire. This is a much-discussed point in modern value philosophy. According to Indian thinkers, who believe in the doctrine of transmigration, they form a beginningless series (प्रवाहतः अनादि), in the sense in which the seed and plant are-the seed producing the plant and the plant, in its turn, producing the seed. (Cf. Nyayasutra 3.1.25). But this is only to speak chronologically; psychologically, feeling is prior to desire.
12 जानाति, इच्छति, यतते, (Cf. Nyaya-varttika-tika, p. 41) See for a description of this process Nyaya-bindu-tika (Ed. Peterson) p. 5 and Panchapadika-vivarana (Vizianagaram Series), p. 190. Cf Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.5.
13 It may be so according to some like Nyaya-Vaisheshika. But we have here systems like the Vedanta which look upon अन्तः-कारण as one.
14 Vedanta Paribhasa viii. Similarly, it is not merely what is shunned (द्विष्ट) that is called a disvalue, but also the means to it (द्विष्ट-साधना).
15 Strictly science does not deny values; it only assumes a neutral attitude towards them.



Prof. Mysore Hiriyanna (1871-1950) was a renowned philosopher, author, and teacher. The corpus of his writings form some of the finest works about Indian philosophy in English. 'The Quest After Perfection,' 'Art Experience,' 'Indian Conception of Values,' 'The Mission of Philosophy' and 'Popular Essays in Indian Philosophy' are some of his prominent works.

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