Existential Beliefs and Values

Journal of Business Ethics (2010) 96:369–382 DOI 10.1007/s10551-010-0472-7 Existential Beliefs and Values ABSTRACT. Research on values is extensive. Values and value systems are concepts that have interested researchers across domains such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology. However, antecedents of values have not received sufficient attention. In this study, we develop and assess a personal value system from the ancient texts of India. The texts describe a system of existential belief
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  Existential Beliefs and Values Niranjan NarasimhanKumar Bhaskar Srinivas Prakhya ABSTRACT. Research on values is extensive. Valuesand value systems are concepts that have interestedresearchers across domains such as psychology, sociology,and anthropology. However, antecedents of values havenot received sufficient attention. In this study, we developand assess a personal value system from the ancient texts of India. The texts describe a system of existential beliefs andvalues or prescriptive beliefs. Existential beliefs are con-cerned with the nature of reality. Prescriptive beliefs or values follow from these existential beliefs, and behavior isinfluenced by values. The content of existential beliefsand the implied values or prescriptive beliefs are extractedfrom the texts and a conceptual model of the belief systemis developed. Scales are constructed and administered to asample of subjects. Responses from the survey are ana-lyzed using a structural equation modeling framework.Confirmatory factor analysis is used to assess the scales andestablish their adequacy. The nomological net of exis-tential beliefs and values is empirically assessed, andconstruct validity is examined. Results support the belief system described in the texts.KEY WORDS: existential beliefs, nomological net,self, reality, values Introduction Values and value systems have interested researchersacross disciplines such as sociology, psychology,philosophy, and political science. For instance, val-ues and value systems have been useful in under-standing subjective well-being (Diener, 1984, 2000), psychological well-being (Ryff, 1989), and individ-ual psychology (Taylor, 1988, 1989). In manage- ment literature, these concepts have enhancedunderstanding of work values (Hofstede, 1980; Roset al., 1999; Schwartz, 1999), organization behav- ior (Meglino and Ravlin, 1998) and organizationculture (Schein, 1985). In this article, our interest isto study the notion of human values. What doesbeing a human essentially mean and what should ahuman being strive for? What are the antecedents tovalues? These questions have perennially interestedmankind and philosophers in particular. Spiritualtraditions across the world are also primarily con-cerned with these questions. We turn to the ancienttexts of wisdom in India to look for answers. Whileliterature on values is extensive, antecedents to val-ues have received less attention. Our attempt in thisstudy is to construct the belief system comprisingvalues and antecedent beliefs.In the Indian tradition, the primary sources of wisdom about human nature and evolution are intwo categories. The first category, which includesthe Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita,deals with the fundamental nature of the ultimatereality that transcends time and approaches thatfacilitate experiential awareness and knowledge of this reality (Griffith, 2005; Radhakrishnan, 1973, 1994; Radhakrishnan and Moore, 1957). The sec- ond category, which includes the epics  Mahabharatha and  Ramayana  (Ganguli, 1883; Griffith, 1915), rec- ognizes the contingent nature of how beliefs aboutthe nature of reality translate into values andaccordingly dwells on delineation of values accord-ing to place and circumstance. The epics, thoughancient, are well known and disseminated. Theseancient texts contain detailed descriptions of philo-sophical systems clarifying ontological and epistemicissues with direct implications for values andappropriate modes of action. A study of these textsenables a complete description of a personal belief system.The article is organized as follows. In the fol-lowing section, we briefly review literature on values  Journal of Business Ethics (2010) 96:369–382    Springer 2010DOI 10.1007/s10551-010-0472-7  and philosophical thought that is most relevant tothe worldview embedded in the ancient Indian texts.The content of existential and prescriptive beliefsembedded in the texts is detailed in the next section.Linkages between these beliefs are examined todevelop the system of beliefs. An empirical assess-ment of the constructs and the belief system usingsurvey responses is then presented. Finally, we dis-cuss implications of the belief system for ethics anddirections for future research. Overview of background literature Kluckhohn (1951, p. 389) defined a value as ‘‘aconception, explicit or implicit  …  of the desirablewhich influences the selection from available modes,means, and ends of action.’’ England (1967) viewsvalues as being composed of a relatively permanentperceptual framework which shapes and influencesthe general nature of an individual’s behavior. For Williams (1968, p. 16; 1979, p. 16), the core phe- nomenon is that values serve as ‘‘criteria or standardsof preference.’’ According to Rokeach (1968, pp.124, 160), values are global beliefs that ‘‘transcen-dentally guide actions and judgements across specificobjects and situations.’’ Posner and Schmidt (1996,p. 277) describe values as lying ‘‘at the core of per-sonality, influencing the choices individuals make, … and the way individuals and organizations alikeinvest their energy.’’ Behavior is the manifestation of one’s fundamental values (Ajzen and Fishbein, 1980;Fazio, 1986). Many researchers argue that values arepredictors or at least antecedents of actual behavior (Connor and Becker, 1994; Homer and Kahle,1988; Stackman et al., 2000). A clear definition of values has been elusive anddespite the popularity of the construct, there is a lackof consensus on the nature of values themselves(Hitlin and Piliavin, 2004; Meglino and Ravlin,1998). Values have been conceptualized in differentways. Values have been considered as needs, per-sonality types, motivations, goals, utilities, attitudes,interests, and non-existent mental entities (Meglinoand Ravlin, 1998). This lack of agreement has cre-ated problems in interpreting the results of variousstudies (see, e.g., Kluckhohn, 1951; Williams, 1979). However, there seems to be considerable agreementamong researchers on the importance of values ininfluencing behavior. Values are believed to have asubstantial influence on the affective and behavioralresponses of individuals (Locke, 1976; Rokeach,1973). Values directly affect behavior in that, theyencourage individuals to act in accordance with their values (e.g., see Rokeach, 1973; Williams, 1979). Because values specify modes of conduct that aresocially desirable, the threat of social sanctions (e.g.,shame, punishment) will induce individuals to con-form to dominant social values in their public actions(Kluckhohn, 1951). This inducement would bepresent whether or not an individual’s internalizedvalues conform to dominant social values. Themechanics that operate in the case of privatebehavior is a form of self-sanction. An individual’sinternalized values function as personal standards of conduct. Thus, any actions that are inconsistent withthese values are likely to result in feelings of guilt,shame, and self-depreciation (Kluckhohn, 1951).The enduring scholarly interest in values is probablydue to the strong linkage between values and action.However, the link may not be direct as personalvalue systems along with related constructs such asworldview and ideology give meaning to action(Rohan, 2000).Research in values gained an impetus with thestudy of Schwartz and Bilsky (1987, 1990) who examined the question of motives underlying values.Summarizing earlier research, they reiterate thatvalues are enduring beliefs or concepts about desir-able goals and modes of action; they are trans-situ-ational and influence behavior; and they providerelative ordering of competing beliefs and modes of action and behavior (Schwartz and Bilsky, 1987,1990). Further, unlike the early studies of Allportet al. (1960) and Rokeach (1973) which provide a listing of values and elicit relative importance toarrive at a value system, Schwartz and Bilsky (1987,1990) provided a theoretical basis for the structure of value system by examining the motivation under-lying each value. Here, ten value types (power,achievement, hedonism, stimulation, self-direction,universalism, benevolence, conformity, tradition,and security) are arranged in a two-dimensionalstructure. The two dimensions are bipolar and rep-resent the tension between the motivations of (1)openness to change and conservation, and (2) self-enhancement and self-transcendence.370  Niranjan Narasimhan et al.  While there has been considerable interest amongresearchers on value typologies and implications for behavior, literature on antecedents to values is rela-tively sparse. A recent stream of literature in socialpsychology focuses on the beliefs that are antecedentto values (Bernard et al., 2003; Maio and Olson,1998). Maio and Olson (1998) suggest that values, though widely shared, lack cognitive support andhence function like truisms. The concept of truismsis traced to McGuire (1964) who proposed wideagreement and lack of cognitive support as the twodefining characteristics of truisms. Bernard et al.(2003) provide further evidence for values as truismsby considering a larger set of values. The approach inthese studies is to experimentally examine the effectof introspection on values; a change in values implieslack of cognitive support. Leung et al. (2007) con-duct a cross-cultural examination of the relationshipsbetween social axioms and values. Social axioms aregeneral beliefs about the social world. Bain et al.(2006) unravel further the role of beliefs in thedetermination of value importance, value trade-offs,and responses to value-laden rhetorical statements.They provide evidence for the centrality of the roleof human nature beliefs in the psychology of values.This body of literature underscores the importanceof beliefs of different kinds when tracing the ante-cedents of value systems. The self has providedanother important direction in understanding whyvalues arise. Hitlin (2003) argues that values form thecore of personal identity which leads to the forma-tion of role and other social identities. Relevantframeworks include identity theory (Stryker, 1980)and social identity theory (Tajfel, 1981) whichdevelop the linkages between the individual and thesocial world.Philosophical discussion on human values hasfocused on the fundamental question of whether there is an essence to human nature. A related issue iswhether the question of what is good for the humanbeing can be objectively defined or addressed at allthrough rational contemplation. There is a sharpfocus on this issue in the body of philosophicalthought known as existentialism where the personalconcrete experience of the individual is givenimportance. An implication is that a person has nopredetermined nature and hence there is no suchthing as a value to start with. The individual createshis own values and through his actions constructsmeaning in life. This is one of the implicit themes inthe studies of both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche whoare considered posthumously as the founding fathersof existentialism. However, the two also differed inmany ways, most notably in that Kierkegaard was adevout believer in God while Nietzche was atheistic.Nietzcheadvocatedaffirminglifehereandnowinthematerial world and was dismissive of all notions of hereafter. Kierkegaard’s works too reflect a focus onindividual and personal choices to be made in exist-ing. He described the evolution of a human being assequentially progressing through aesthetic, ethical,and religious stages. The term existentialism was notexplicitly used either by Kierkegaard or Nietzche.Widespread use of this term possibly originatedwith Satre’s famous statement in  Existentialism is aHumanism  that ‘‘existence precedes essence’’ sug-gesting that choices rather than a predeterminednature constitute the person. Satre referred toHeidegger’s position in  Being and Time   as exemplifiedin the statement ‘‘The essence of human-being lies inits existence.’’ The debate on whether primacy is tobe accorded to essence or to existence goes back atleast to Aristotle, Socrates, and other philosophers of ancient Greece. The discussion on values and thepurpose of human existence has proceeded withrenewed vigor after Kierkegaard and Nietzche. Joas(2000) adopts a hermeneutic approach to assess theviews of modern philosophers such as William James,Max Scheler, John Dewey, Georg Simmel, andCharles Taylor to understand the nature of values andhow value commitments arise. He finds the questionof the genesis of values more interesting than devel-oping a typology of values and suggests that valuesarise in the context of self formation and self tran-scendence.The literature on values is vast, and we havebriefly reviewed in this section works that are rele-vant when examining the view embedded in theIndian tradition. In the ancient texts of India, theprimary purpose of human existence is defined asimmediate experience of the ultimate reality andvalues and value commitments arise in the context of this quest. Further, we find that beliefs about theultimate reality and the self are central to the expe-rience or lack of experience of the ultimate reality.The basic thrust in these texts is on examination of the nature of the self across the waking, dream, anddeep sleep states. Such an examination leads to the371 Existential Beliefs and Values  source from which the self arises. Once the self istranscended there is direct experience of the ultimatereality. The question then is not whether existenceprecedes essence or vice versa but what is the sourcefrom which the everyday experience of existencearise and into which it subsides. In the next section,we extract the content of existential beliefs andvalues from these texts, examine the linkages, anddescribe the belief system.  Existential beliefs The primary theme that pervades the ancient Indiantexts is that of non-duality or oneness in existence of the individual Self and the ultimate reality. This viewis concisely expressed in four statements in theancient texts (1) Consciousness is  Brahman , (2) ThisSelf is  Brahman , (3) Thou art That, and (4) I am Brahman  (Aitreya Upanishad 3.3; Mandukya Upani-shad 1.2; Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.7; Brhadaran- yaka Upanishad 1.4.10). Here,  Brahman  is adesignation of the ultimate reality from whicheverything springs forth. The root meaning of thisword is ‘‘to expand.’’ The texts describe  Brahman  asexistence, consciousness, and bliss and postulate thatit is the basis for time, space, being, and the entirechanging universe. In this view, diverse names andforms are part of a fullness that retains its fullness andcharacteristics of existence, consciousness and blisseven as it separates into many (Ishavasya Upanishad).The seemingly separate existence of the individual isdue to a veiling of reality which creates and sustainsthe experience of a being in time. These statementssharply focus on the identity of the individual, hisfundamental nature as consciousness, and the ulti-mate reality. The primary goal of human existence isto experientially realize the truth of these statements.One fundamental characteristic of this transcendentalultimate reality is described as  Sathya  which translatesas truth, and is elucidated as ‘‘truest,’’ ‘‘unchange-able,’’ ‘‘that which has no distortion,’’ ‘‘that which isbeyond distinctions of time, space, and person,’’ and‘‘that which pervades the universe in all its con-stancy’’ etc. Non-duality means that  Sathya  is alsothe ‘‘truth of being’’ and is the individual in his realnature as supreme consciousness in contrast to thelimited self in waking and dream states that arerooted in duality. In these states of duality, the oneultimate reality appears to have manifested as theknower, known, and knowing.The ultimate reality is transcendental or a priori tothe body and mind and yet the individual inhabitingthe body and equipped with a mind is the ultimatereality itself. It always exists as the true Self, thoughshrouded by the individual’s mistaken identificationwith the mental and physical layers. The most directway then for assessing the truth of this claim of oneness is to look within and examine the currentnotion of self where existence and essence seem toarise together. What really is the self that experiencesexistence and whence does it arise? The texts aver that the individual who enquires thus is able torecognize the transient nature of the physical andmental layers of identity and experience the sourcefrom which these arise – the transcendental Self which is the ultimate reality in its all pervasive nat-ure. The individual then transcends duality and gainsknowledge of oneness as an experiential reality. Aknower of this truth abides in this state of oneness.This path of knowledge through self enquiry isadopted by very few. In most cases, the starting pointis an individual who firmly believes in his ownseparate existence, is outward looking, and findshimself in the midst of a collective. The ancient textssuggest that such an outward looking individual toocan progress toward experience of ultimate reality byaligning with the order underlying the transientworld. When the idea of non-duality or oneness isexamined not from an individual identity perspec-tive but from that of the world in all its diversity, thenotion of   rta  takes center stage.  Rta  refers to theunderlying order or natural law and is described asthe ‘‘truth of things’’ (Rig Veda II 6.10; IV 5.5).This order, while changeless, is the basis of allchanges in nature and life.  Rta  is considered to be afundamental characteristic of the ultimate reality; it isthe manifestation of   sathya  in the objective universewhich is rooted in duality. A more specific versionof this idea is  dharma . The meaning of the root of thisword is to support, sustain. This concept is expli-cated in many ways, as it is applicable to individualsand collectives. The word refers to the innate natureor characteristic of any entity in the universe. For instance, the  dharma  of fire is to burn.  Rta , which canalso be translated as ‘‘the course of things’’ (Rig VedaI, 1.8, 23.5), is a concept that is very similar to372  Niranjan Narasimhan et al.
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