The Royal Canadian Mint has a neat website about the medals from the Vancouver games. It helps drive home the huge variety of perspectives from which an Olympic medal can be valued. Wacky goldbugs are focused on the exchange value of the underlying metals. For the artists who designed them, they’re the fruits of creative labor. For the mint workers who solved a series of technical problems to realize the artists’ vision, they represent the height of their craft. For the athletes who win them, the enduring proof that grueling years of training left them the best in the world at what they do. For people who attended the games, a short-hand reminder of a rare experience.
Quickly and crudely, anti-realist views about value are a family of views that maintain that, at the end of the day, things are valuable just because we value them. Contrast with realism about value, which holds that when we value something appropriately, we are responding to something valuable– valuableness is something that exists independently of us.
Back to gold, silver, and bronze medals: the huge variety of ways to value Olympic medals makes them a nice illustration of the kinds of intuitions that drive anti-realists about value. It sure looks like the artist, the minter, the athlete, the spectator, and the goldbug are projecting different values onto the same object.
Four Faces of Moral Realism
By Stephen Finlay, USC (October 2007)