{This paper is from the historical collection of Dr. Graves work and has been reorganized from the original abstract. The content of this particular paper was revised in Dr. Graves' later work.


Temporary versions of diagrams and figures  in Acrobat .pdf and MS Word .doc formats are linked in the text.}

Prepared by William R. Lee                                                                                                  November, 2001 






Clare W. Graves
Department of Psychology
Union College
Schenectady, New York

(Presented at the IEEE Systems Seminar, Cybernetic Corporation,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, October 1969.




A framework for understanding human values is presented and discussed. The framework is developed around the General Systems concepts of open system, steady states, hierarchy and centralization. The framework is utilized to suggest that many valueproblems of man are not signs of decay but are signs of reorganization for operation at higher levels of human existence.


Today, everywhere they look, people seem to see a breakdown of man's values. They see it in the crass materialistic values of some and the adherence to conformity of others. It is seen in the psychedelic behavior of youth and in the older generation's price fixing activity, shoddy merchandising and callous exploitation and pollution of our environment. Many see the confrontation of authority and our riots as the devil's handiwork while others see a satanic hand on those who act with and for authority. Elsewhere in the world people see value disintegration in Red Guard behavior, the Russian invasion, nationalistic property expropriation and the dispatch, by black men, of one black leader after another. Is this what these occurrences are or is there another point of view?


One could easily agree that such problems are reason for despair if his views were determined by the premises of those who so see the behavior. But before one agrees he might question whether such inferences are drawn from a limited perceptual field - a field of view reduced by constricting premises and narrowed by fear. He might look for some other point of view.


Suppose, instead, that in another framework, just as tenable, these actions could be seen as a healthy sign, as a sign of growth rather than as a sign of decay. Would not such a framework be interesting to explore?


Today this is strong stuff. It borders not only on heresy but on the brink of irresponsibility and has within it more than a twinge of the crackpot. But be that as it may, this paper does present a framework for understanding values which suggest that such problems may well signify that man is reaching for higher and better forms of existence rather than showing the worst that is in him. 


The conclusion which so many draw today that man's present is bleak and his future is black seems to be based on a three part premise.


I. That beneath it all man is a beast driven by his original sin, his agressiveness, his death instinct.


II. That civilized human behavior, good values, can only be superimposed on man and therefore must be constantly imposed upon him lest his animalism override his humanism.


III. That these good values, Judo-Christian ethics or the like, have been revealed to man and are the prime tenets by which he should live.

Logically within this three part premise man's current problems represent a break-down of his values. But this is not the only premise from which we can look for understanding. There is another, rapidly developing point of view, based on a different three part premise, which casts quite a different light upon our value problems. It is the humanistic, the organismic, the systems or as I call it, the Level of Existence point of view.


This premise says:


I. That man's nature is not a set thing, that it is ever emergent, that it is an open system, not a closed system.


II. That man's nature evolves by saccadic, quantum like jumps from one steady state system to another.


III. That man's values change from system to system as his total psychology emerges in new form with each quantum like jump to a new steady state of being.

My version of this point of view is a revised, enlarged and, in certain critical aspects, new version of this developing point of view. Particularly, it is a hierarchical systems point of view which is infinite rather than finite in character.


According to my view:


The psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding or emergent process marked by the progressive subordination of older behavioral systems to newer, higher order behavioral systems. The mature man tends normally to change his psychology as the conditions of his existence change.


Each successive stage or level is a state of equilibrium through which people pass on the way to other states of equilibrium. When a person is in one of the state of equilibrium, he has a psychology which is particular to that state. His acts, feelings, motivations, ethics and values, thoughts and preferences for management are all appropriate to that state. If he were in another state, he would act, feel, think, judge and be motivated in a different manner. A person may not be genetically or constitutionally equipped to change in the normal upward direction if the conditions of his existence change. He may move, given certain conditions through a hierarchically ordered series of behavior systems to some end or he may stabilize and live out his lifetime at any one or a combination of levels in the hierarchy. Again, he may show the behavior of a level in a predominantly positive or negative manner, or he may under certain circumstances regress to a behavior system lower in the hierarchy. Thus, an adult lives in a potentially open system of needs, values and aspirations, but he often settles into what approximates a closed system. When he is in any one level, he has only the behavioral degrees of freedom afforded him at that level.1

According to my research2, adult man's psychology, which includes his values, develops from the existential states of man. These states are defined by the intersection of two mental components which grow by periods of spurt and plateau, Figure I. As man solves certain crucial problems for existence, N. P. Q the growth rate of the components change and as they do higher order neurological systems A, B, C are switched on in the brain.


The first existential state is the A-N state that exists when man is living in conditions where he spends most awakened hours attending to that which will satisfy his basic physiological needs. The states which emerge later B-O, C-P, D-Q, etc., arise as each different and ordinal set of human problems are resolved. As the two components, adjustment of the organism to the environment and adjustment of the environment to the organism develop in their spurt like, plateau like fashion, higher and higher psychological systems emerge. The alteration of the components produces a cyclic emergence of existential states which dictates that the psychology, and thus the values of every other system, is at one and the same time like and unlike its cyclic partners - an aspect of human existence and human values which if not understood leads to much confusion when so called value problems are discussed.


As each system emerges man believes that the problems of human existence are the problems with which he is faced at the level at which he has arrived. He develops, therefore, a general way of life, a thema of existence, including a thematic value system appropriate to his current existential state. This thema is specified into particular schema for existence as a result of individual, group and environmental differences.


When man's existence is centralized in lower level systems, the subsistence levels, Table I, states A-N through F-S. It is characteristic of him to believe that there is something inherently wrong in a man or men whose values are contrary to what his existential state dictates human values should be. Thus what man values when at the subsistence levels will lead him to abhor the values of a man who is at or striving for any other level for existence.


According to this conception, each system consists of two kinds of values. There are those which dominate in earlier appearing systems, which modify and wax and wane with time on a curve of declining importance. Valuing the traditional is a prime example. It dominates the A-N system. It reassumes a central but less strong position in each odd numbered subsistence level until it becomes subordinated and quite weak in the being level systems. The other types of values are the reverse. Valuing the individual is one of this kind. In the A-N system it is almost totally subordinated. For example, the weaver of a Navajo blanket is allowed but a little personal touch upon it. Yet, with time, as sit too modifies and waxes and wanes from even numbered systems to odd numbered systems, genuine valuing of all individuals increases. But these are only minor points in the thesis of this paper.


Figure II depicts its major point - the point that so called value breakdown can be seen as a reorganization for higher level values rather than as decay of a time and lasting value system. It depicts how values change in a regressive-progressive fashion when each set of man's existential problems are solved and presage movement to higher level psychological systems. Points a, a', a" are points of value crisis. At these points man's values are no longer appropriate to his new existential state. They appear to break down as he searches regressively for a new value system more congruent with his new state of being.


When he develops a glimmer of insight into his new value system, points b, b', b" behavioral crises such as riots and confrontations develop. At these points he fights his establishment, his older generation, the old value system he is striving to go beyond. And there the establishments resist man's putting his new, but embryonic ways of thinking into operation.


Then, as time passes, man overcomes the values of the past and develops his new values at points c, c', c" and consummates his movement into his next steady state value system.


Thus my basic position is very simple. It is that adult man, as he grows psychologically, moves saccadically from a value system appropriate in restricted living circumstances infinitely on to higher and higher systems appropriate to his being when life is better for him. The position is that man, as he and his societies develop, must subordinate old values if ever he is to develop those values appropriate to his new state of existence. Develop and discard, retain and rearrange, this seems nature's way of handling all things. Should this basic ordering be different in the values realm? I suggest that perhaps the answer is no. But to say no is not enough. One must buttress his position with his evidence.


My research suggests that seven major value systems have emerged to date. They are, Figure II, the phenomenistic, the heroistic, the sacrificial, the materialistic, the sociocratic, the problematic and the impressionistic value systems. 


First level values, phenomenistic values are consonant with the A-N existential state. The characteristics of man in this state are that he is motivated by basic physiological needs, that he lacks a true awareness of his existence as a separate being, that he learns by the classical conditioning system and that he has a barely operant cognitive system. In this state man's awareness is centralized around those needs imperative to his and the species existence. Therefore, he values that which is related to their satisfaction and that which, in the peculiar Pavlovian way, has become associated with the presence or relaxation of physiological tension. Whatever brings him pleasure, the reduction of tension, and all associated with it is positively valued. Whatever brings his pain, increased tension, and all associated with it is negatively valued. Thus, first level values are reactive and phenomenistic in character because they arise from the Pavlovian association between physiological state, sensation and experience and not from intuition or thought.


The prime value at the first level is tradition. It is valued because here man's ancestors have learned what seems to bring pleasure and what seems to bring pain. Thus man's thema for existence at this level is "one shall live according to the ways of one's elder's," and his values are consonant with his existential thema. But the schematic form for first level existence and schematic values are singularly tribalized due to different past experiences. Each traditionalistic set of values are group centered, concretistic, syncretic, diffuse and rigid. The group member is locked into them and cannot violate them even though the valuistic attitudes contain several meanings because of the conditioning principles of generalization and differentiation. They are not broken down into their parts and they truly tie the person to their meaning for him. They force him into a magical, superstitious, ritualistic way of life wherein first level man values what tradition ways will bring his spirits favor. He shuns that which tradition says will raise his spirits ire.


Though these values are peculiar to higher level people, they do order man's physiological existence. But the day comes when they leave energetic youth who has his physiological problems solved - no problems to attack. This state of boredom and frustration provokes generic man's first attack upon the values of the establishment and ultimately moves him to the second level of human existence.


Second level values derive from the B-O existential state, the state where egocentric man comes to be. At this level the energy previously devoted to satisfying man's physiological needs and ritualisms awakens him to the recognition that he is a separate and distinct being. It bring to stage center his need for survival, a need which cannot dominate man until he is truly aware of his existence. In this state cognitive capacity has increased, but is still limited, and the operant conditioning system has emerged as the dominant way for learning. Here man begins to intentionally manipulate his world rather than passively accept it. And from this mix his second level values develop.


Driven by the need to maintain his existence, he manipulates his world and egocentrically interprets the reward or punishment feedback so as to foster his survival. He perceives that many try but few succeed. He comes to believe the extraordinary, the Homeric, the heroic deed is the means to his survival in his epic struggle. So he comes to value heroism as the prime value. To the victor belongs the spoils for he has shown through his deeds that it is he who is worthy of survival. From this develops a world of those who have and those who have not, a world that becomes one of authoritarian submission control. He who wins has a right to loot the world to his own ends. Those who lose have right only to the scraps he will toss their way. Might is right.


This condition for existence produces a fearful insecure world for all. It is a world ruled by man's lusts, a world noteworthy for its lack of a "moral sense." It leads man to value the ruthless use of power, unconscionably daring deeds, impulsive action, volatile emotions, the uncalculated risk, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. It leads him to value conquest in any form and war as the heroic effort, as the entrance to Walhalla, not a particularly petty value system from other frames of reference.


Yet for all its negative aspects, is viewed from other levels, this value system is a giant step forward for man. Some men, in their heroic pursuits, do tame the mighty river, to provide the leisure for beginning intellectual effort, do build cities, do assign occupational positions that directly improve their personal lot, but indirectly spill off to the betterment of the miserable many. But this way of life and its heroic value system creates a new existential problem for man. The winner cannot but die and the loser cannot but wonder why - - why he is doomed to his miserable existence. Now both the have and the have not must explain why these states have come to be. And as they strive to do so they build man's third form for existence and his third thematic value system.


The third level of human existence arises from the C-P existential state. At this level man develops a way of life to explain the have and have not condition, the life and death world that has come to be and he develops a value system consonant with his explanation. He explains his have and have not world, his life and death condition as part of an ordered plan. It is meant that some shall have, that others shall have less and that many shall not have. And there is meaning in why man shall live, why roles are determined and why men
shall die. Life is a test of whether one is worthy of salvation, be this salvation occidental or oriental in flavor.


This state gives rise to the third level thema for existence, "one shall sacrifice his desires now in order to get reward later." And it gives rise to its associated value system, the sacrificial system.


At this level man accepts his position and his role in life. Inequality is a fact of life. He believes that the task of living is to strive for perfection in his role, absolute perfection. He believes that salvation will come ultimately to he, regardless of his original position, who lives best by the rules of life prescribed for him. What one wants, what he desires is not important. What is important is that he discipline himself to the prescription of his world.


Thus the prime value of third level man is self sacrifice. He who sacrifices best his wants in the way authority prescribes is most revered. The leader values the life that enables him, if necessary, to sacrifice his self in the protection of the led. The led values sacrificing self in support of the leader.


Third level man values the suppression and repression of his inner life and a rigid ordering of the outer world. He values denial, abstinence, modesty, deference, self-sacrifice, no self indulgence, harsh self discipline, fealty and loyalty, service and noblesse oblige. Kindness to his kind is valued and tolerance toward the unbeknighted is expected. He values his absolutistic moral laws and the words should and ought. Life is a serious business here. Only institutionalized pleasure is permitted. Rules are black and white and only his authority has the proper word. His authority defines both virtue and sin. Thus this system has much in common with the A-N system but now it is man's higher authority that sets the rules for life instead of man's elders. But once third level values bring a modicum of order to man's world he is confronted by his fourth existential problem.


The time comes when some people question the price of sacrificial values, the price of the saintly existence. They ask why can't one have some enjoyment in this life? Why must life be only a time of denial? When this question arises in the mind of man, the sacrificial ethic is doomed to decay and readied for discard. But man cannot move on until he perceives his next set of problems. He must perceive that he cannot have enjoyment in this life so long as he is at the mercy of an unknown world so long as he is the servant of the universe rather than its master. Concomitant with this perception the adjustment of the environment component spurts and man begins another tortuous climb to the D-Q level.


At the D-Q level man perceives that his life is restricted by his limited control of the physical universe and his lustful human drives. To satisfy the latter, his materialistic aim, he must conquer the first. Thus rationalistic man who "objectively" explores his world comes to be. The thema for existence is "express self in a way that rationality says is good for man now." This is the dominant mode of existence in America today.


Fourth level materialistic values derive naturally from this thema. They are the values of accomplishing and getting, have and possessing. The prime value is achievement, achievement of control over the physical universe so as to provide for man's material wants. Here he values equality of opportunity and the mechanistic, measuring, quantitative approach to problems, including man. He values gamesmanship, competition, the entrepreneurial attitude, efficiency, work simplification, the calculated risk, the scheming and manipulation. But these fourth level, self centered values are not the "to hell with the other man," egocentric values of the second level system. Here he is careful not to go too far. He avoids inviting rage against him. He sees to it that the loser gets more than scraps but never as much as he.


Fourth level values improve immeasurable man's conditions for existence. They create wealth and techniques. They lead to knowledge which improves the human condition. But to third level man they are akin to sin, to the fifth they are the crass materialism of "The Status Seeker," However, in this frame of reference they are not values to condemn. They are values we should strive to enable lower level man to experience even though they are not values that have come to stay as the major establishment in America today seems to believe. They too give way because they create a new existential problem for man. He has learned how to live with want and how to live to overcome it, but he has not learned how to live with abundance. Now he has a new problem and now he must seek a new way of life and a new value system.


In the E-R existential state man has fulfilled his material wants. His life is safe and it is relatively assured but what of other men? Now he feels the need to belong to the community of man, to affiliate himself rather than to go it alone. The belonging need arises as the adjustment to the environment component ascends to the dominant position. And the thema, "sacrifice some now so that others can have now" comes to be. Again, he values conformity but not to his elders wishes, not to his authorities prescriptions but to the wishes of his contemporaries whom he values. He values pleasing his others, being accepted by them and not being rejected.


On the surface sociocratic values appear shallower and less serious and even fickle in contrast to values at other levels because the surface aspects shift as his group's values shift. But the central core of this system is a very solid thing. Fifth level man knows as well as any other what he values. It is being with, in with and within his valued others. He values interpersonal penetration, interpersonal communication, committeeism, majority rule, the tender, the subjective, the non-ordered, formal informality, the subjective approach, avoidance of classification, the tender touch and the religious attitude but not religious dogma.


To many such as Ayn Rand, these values signify the appearance of man's most regrettable weakness, his tenderness. When "Organization Man" tries to fit in rather than take over, those who see values from other frames of reference despair of this value system.


When electrical executives contrived to allow all to live, rather than kill off the enemy as in the second level "Robber Baron" days, or price them out of business as at the fourth, other value systems sent them to jail. But don't misunderstand my point of here. These are still lower level values. The company executives did not think of all others. They thought only of their valued friends which is the keystone of fifth level values.


At this level many feel that man has lost his self, that he has given it up for social approval. But my frame of reference says that this conclusion is an error. It says that man has simply subordinated his self interest for the time being and that self interest will return again in a new and higher form.


Fifth level values are a great step forward for man. They reflect the beginning of man's humanism, the demise of his animalism. But he finds that sacrificing self to obtain the good will of others takes from him his individuality. This is a price too high to pay. Thus man strives on seeking a new value system by which he can be a more inclusive man. By now he has felt many times that he has arrived, but arrived he has not, nor will his arrival ever come to be. His forms for existence to date have required of him less than he has to give, his cognitiveness. He has not arrived because all previous forms of existence, all previous value systems restricted his most typically human characteristic, his cognition. But now with five basic existential problems solved the cognitive realm opens wide and enables the leading edge of man to capture a glimpse of the future modes of life and values for mankind.


Western man at this moment in history is approaching this great divide, the landmark between subsistence level systems and being level systems, Table I. Across this psychological space man will come to the end of his first value trek - - the trek which favored the existence of the action prone man, the more animalistic man. If man, in mass, can span this space, and truly establish his sixth form for existence, then for the future of mankind, an amazing process will be uncovered. Theoretically, my data says, from the character of the seventh level system, which is more like the first than any other, that man will move on to repeat, on a higher level, his six psychological stages centralized around intellectual man, Figure III. And then again he will repeat the process through the emphasis of compassionate man. And by then, in all probability, man will have changed his self and will move infinitely on. But space does not permit the development of this part of my data so we must return to man at the sixth level of being.


The F-S state develops when man has resolved the basic human fears. With this a marked change in his conception of existence arises. Cognition, previously hobbled now becomes free, and with fear relatively gone he energies are freed for cognitive roaming. Lit up in devastating detail is man's failure to focus upon the salient aspects of life. He sees now that he has the problem of life hereafter, not the after life, but the maintenance of his world so that life can continue to loom up before him. The most serious problem of existence to date is now his existential problem.


Thus, I call the sixth level the problematic existence because now man truly sees the problems before him if life is to continue. His thema for existence is "express self so that all others, all beings can continue to exist." His values here are very different values. Values at the sixth level come not from selfish interest but from the recognition of the magnificence of existence and from the desire to see that it shall continue to be. To sixth level man the prime value is life and thus he focuses on the problems that its existence creates. This is why the prime need is for existence, existence of life not self. And it is here for the first time that man is able to face existence in all its dimensions even to the point of valuing inconsistencies, oppositions and flat contradictions.


Since he values "life," he looks at the world in respect to the many problems that its existence creates, different wants in different species, different values in different men. He sees the world and all its things, all its being and all its people as truly interdependent. He sees them entwined in a subjective-objective complex. So he values pluralism. He values that which will enable all animals, all plants and things to be, and all mankind to become. His ethics are based on the best possible evidence as to what will benefit all, the majority, the needy or the desiring is not enough. He values that which will do good for him and all the universe but the peripheral aspects of what he values today may change tomorrow because as he solves one set of problems he seeks another in its place.


Oddly enough this value system is seen as decadent by many. It is seen as decadent for it values new ways, new structurings for life, not just the ways of one's elders, because it values others as well as self, because it values the enjoyment of this life over and above obeisance to authority, because it values others having just as much as me and because if value all and self not just the few selected others. but as magnificent as this value system may seem to those who can feel it, it is not, as so many have thought, the ultimate for man.


Beyond it lies another value world that few men have yet to know. For those men who have come relatively to satisfy their need to esteem life, a new existential state, the G-T state is just beginning to be. It emerges when problematic man truly realizes that there is much he will never know about existence. This insight brings man to the end of his first ladder value trek because now man learns he must return to his beginning and travel again, in a higher order form, the road by whence he has come. A problem solving existence is not enough. It must become subordinated within a new form of autistic existence. This I call the intuitive existence after the seventh level thema of existence, "adjust to the reality of existence which is that you can only be, you can never really know."


The seventh level values are call the impressionistic values. Here man values those "vast realms of consciousness still undreamed of, vast ranges of experience like the humming of unseen harps we know nothing of within us.3 He values wonder, awe, reverence, humility, fusion, integration, unity, simplicity, the poetic perception of reality, non-interfering perception versus active controlling perception, enlarging consciousness, the ineffable experience.4


Since seventh level man need not attend to the problems of his existence (for him they have been solved) he values those newer, deeper things in life which are there to be experienced. He values escaping "from the barbed wire entanglement of his own ideas and his own mechanical devices."3 He values the "marvelous rich world of context and sheer fluid beauty and face-to-face awareness of non-naked-life."3


These seventh level impressionistic values are only beginning to emerge in the lives of some men. If the conditions for existence of man continue to improve, the day will come when they will be the dominant value system of man. The time will come when all other values will be subordinated within their supra-ordination but they too will pass away. And when the time comes that the leading edge of man finds seventh level values wanting, some men, somewhere, sometime, will accuse these new venturers of a breakdown of man's values.


Acknowledgements and Notes:


1.  C. W. Graves, "The Deterioration of Work Standards," Harvard Business Review, Vol. 44. No. 5, p. 120, Sept.-Oct. 1996.


2.  The research of the author, referred to in this article, will be published in a book in preparation.


3.  The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence, edited by Vivian de Sola Pinto and Warren Roberts, Vols. I and II, The Viking Press, New York, New York.


4.  The reader will note the similarity of the seventh level values to some of the thoughts of Abraham Maslow. And he will note that this work is a revision and extension of many of Maslow's writings..

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