In subsection A. of “The Original Measure of Value,” Menger identifies a metric that will apply, he says, “Wherever men live, and whatever level of civilization they occupy.” Menger’s aim here, clearly, is not only to “scientifically” identify the transcendental subject that Kant had placed beyond the reach of mere instrumentality, but to do so using categories that themselves have universal (i.e., transcendental) significance. “[W]e can observe,” writes Menger, “how economizing individuals weigh the relative importance of satisfaction of their various needs in general, how they weigh especially the relative importance of the separate acts leading to the more or less complete satisfaction of each need, and how they are finally guided by the results of this comparison into activities directed to the fullest possible satisfaction of their needs (economizing).”
The question might then be why? It strikes me that universalization of this kind and on this order necessarily excludes and brackets other kinds of value that are less easily operationalized. I think here of the ironic fun that Aristotle makes of those who use everything as a means for increasing wealth:
For where enjoyment consists in excess, men look for that skill which produces the excess that is enjoyed. And if they cannot procure it through money-making, they try to get it by some other means, using all their faculties for this purpose, which is contrary to nature: courage, for example, is to produce confidence, not goods; nor yet is it the job of military leadership and medicine to produce goods, but victory and health. But these people tum all skills into skills of acquiring goods, as though that were the end and everything had to serve that end (Politics I.ix 1257b40-1258a14)
Or, again, from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, where Aristotle faults the great majority of people with idealizing what he mockingly calls a “bovine existence.”
To judge by their lives, the masses and the most vulgar seem – not unreasonably – to believe that the good or happiness is pleasure. Accordingly they ask for nothing better than the life of enjoyment. (Broadly speaking, there are three main types of life: the one just mentioned, the political and, thirdly, the contemplative.) The utter servility of the masses comes out in their preference for a bovine existence; still, their view obtains consideration from the fact that many of those who are in positions of power share the tastes of Sardanapalus (Nic Eth. I 1095b-1096a).
The question might then be how to measure a value that trumps our bodily needs—or, as Aristotle might put it—a “higher need” that cannot even be recognized by a person who is still weighed under by necessity; not the need for a cigar, but the need, for example, of uncoerced political discourse or social action.