I endorse, outline and apply John McMurtry’s life-value onto-axiology, which is in all probability the most articulate theory of value developed by any philosopher in the 21st century.
— Martin Gren, ‎Edward H. Huijbens - 2015 - ‎Business & Economics

The Primary Axiom of Value / Universal Human Economy

The Primary Axiom of Value is the logical core of the volumes ‘What is Good? What is Bad? The Value of All Values across Time, Place and Theoriesby John McMurtry, Philosophy and World Problems, Volume I, UNESCO in partnership with Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems: Oxford, 2004-11. The Primary Axiom is the first principle of Life-Value Onto-Axiology - the inner logic of ‘the Real’, ‘the True’, and ‘the Good’ –realised across terrestrial domains by the Universal Economic Paradigm (pp 2-4)

The Primary Axiom Of Value:

X is value if and only if, and to the extent that, x consists in or enables a more coherently inclusive range of thought/feeling/action than without it.


x is disvalue if and only if, and to the extent that, x reduces/disables/destroys any range of thought/experience/action.

Definitions of the three ultimate fields of value:

  • thought = internal image and concept (T)
  • felt side of being = senses, desires, emotions, moods (F);
  • action = animate movement across species and organizations (A)

governed by:

  • the good will = T/F/A as one to realise the Primary Axiom
  • the true = progressive consistency with the P-Axiom, or the life coherence principle

Symbolically expressed:

+V = > LR + and −V = < LR where L = Range of T-F-A and / = and/or.

The unlimited validity of the P-Axiom across time, place and domains is shown by its:

  1. self-evidence insofar as its denial is nonsensical;
  2. universality across all domains and issues of value judgment insofar as there is no domain of value to which it does not apply;
  3. presupposition in value judgments and conflicts across domains;
  4. objectivity insofar as its value is independent of anyone’s recognition;
  5. impartiality insofar as it cuts against or privileges no common life interest;
  6. completeness insofar as it includes every life form, domain, or change to ill or better in distinct or holistic comprehension;
  7. sovereignty in that it overrides any other value in cases of conflict;
  8. measurable in degrees of value insofar as greater/lesser ranges of thought, felt being and action can each/all be decided from any given reference body of value;
  9. contingent pattern of long-term evolutionary and historical development.

The Primary Axiom is realised in the world by the following complete set of universal human life necessities and their axiomatic criteria/measures of life goods, capital and efficiency which govern the Universal Human Economy (”the missing alternative paradigm”). In normative terms, these principles govern as Life-Ground Ethics (including Moral Theory and Aesthetics on collective as well as individual levels).  In legal and policy terms, they provide the framework of assessing the validity and legitimacy of any law. In social contract terms, they constitute the L-V O-A Covenant of Life on Earth to prevail over all conditions of ruling system or habit disabling life coherent realisation of the good will in social, group or individual action.  

Principle 1:

The ultimate organising principle of any life-coherent society or economy through generational time is secure access to  means of life/life goods otherwise in short supply (ie., the production and distribution of goods and the protection of ecosystem services in accord with Principles 2 through 7).


Any social or economic system succeeds/falls short/fails to the extent that it does/does not so secure, produce, distribute means of life/life goods. 

Principle 2:

A means of life is a means of life if and only if it enables life capacities/abilities not possible without it (eg., food, water, shelter and literacy education).


Claimed ‘goods’ which disable or do not enable life capacities/abilities are not means of life (eg., junk commodities).

Principle 3:

The complete and universal set of means of life which all humans require to flourish as human are:

  • breathable air, sense-open space, and daily light
    (atmospheric means of life)
  • clean water, nourishing foods and self-waste disposal
    (bodily means of life)
  • shelter space from the elements with ample provision to retire, sleep and function
    (home means of life)
  • environmental surroundings whose elements and contours contribute to the whole
    (environmental means of life)
  • intimate love, social inclusion, safety and healthcare when ill or infirm
    (caring means of life)
  • activities of language-logos/art-play to choose and learn from
    (educational/recreational means of life)
  • meaningful work or service to perform
    (vocational means of life)
  • self-governing choice in each’s enjoyment consistent with each’s provision
    (social justice)


Any priced commodity which does not directly or indirectly provide means of life/life goods for these needs is uneconomic, and anti-economic to the extent of life resources wasted on the commodity’s production and consumption (eg., non-growth addictive commodities).

Principle 4:

The provision, or the deprivation, of each and all of these means of life/life goods is measurable by greater/lesser sufficiency (e.g., of clean water, living space and life-coherent environment, work hours contributing to others’ wellbeing).


Willingness or ability to pay prices for commodities does not measure their life requirement, but increasingly the opposite (e.g., fast-foods, leisure motor vehicles)

Principle 5:

The true measure of the overall performance of any society or economy is by the full access to these means of life/life goods(including the work share required to provide them) in comparison to a previous state of the society or economy, or to another socioeconomic order (eg., greater/lesser nutritional-intake, clean water accessibility/inaccessibility, bio-diverse environment, literacy gain/loss, life expectancy rise/fall, livelihood participation/exclusion, creative activities of art and play)..


Growth of aggregate commodities sold in an society (GDP) is never an accurate or reliable measure of a society or economy’s development unless it is made to correspond to the access of its members to life goods as defined (eg., as already achieved in universal health-care, higher education, library and play-areas not dependent on private money demand).

Principle 6:

The primary capital of any society or economy is Life Capital (LC –> LC1 --->LCn) = the wealth of means of life/life goods that produce more without loss in cumulative yield through time (eg., species/ecological, social, and knowledge capital which reproduce and grow if not deprived by life-blind mechanisms of private money growth-predating them in carcinogenic self-multiplication). 


Claimed “capital” which does not directly or indirectly produce means of life through time is false capital, and is inefficient in proportion to its misallocation of scarce economic resources to its growth (eg., money capital growth by non-defensive weapons manufacture, currency speculation, production of life-disabling consumer commodities).

Principle 7:

The efficiency of any product, tool or process increases, and only increases, to the extent that:

  1. inputs and throughputs function to enable the provision of life goods with diminishing waste and externalities (eg., organic farming methods, industries directed towards 100% recycling)
    = Ecological Efficiency
  2. reduced inputs of materials/energy/space/mandatory work time produce same or greater means of life outputs (eg., wheel and pulley structures, cooperative organisation of work/leisure requirements, lower labour/fuel-per-unit machines)
    = Physical Input-Output Efficiency
  3. capability development of productive agents enables more life goods, life-time, and/or life-range choices than before (eg., by education, healthcare, and vocational work)
    = Human Development Efficiency


Insofar as higher money profit margins do not produce greater Ecological, Input or Human Development Efficiency, they are inefficient and diseconomic by the life capital resources wasted and destroyed by life-incoherent allocation of them (e.g., CEO fortunes gained by slashing work forces, environmental controls, taxes on the rich while demanding rising public wealth privatizations and subsidies for profit gains throughout societies’ evolved life capital bases and civil commons).

JM REVISED with new definitions and transitions March 2018

John McMurtry Ph.D (University College London)
Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada
Professor of Philosophy
University Professor Emeritus
University of Guelph Ontario, Canada NIG2W1
Philosophy and World Problems
Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS)
UNESCO, Paris-Oxford