The choice of ends is subjective, and therefore, varies from person to person. While there is an identity in human ends in general (such as food, clothing), there is no doubt that men differ in the degree of preference of each of these ends. The preference is expressed in the form of personal valuations of wants and means.
Despite the existence of a diversity of opinions, men agree that a societal mode of living, as opposed to isolated pursuits of those ends, is a better system (means) to achieve ends. Civilizational methods as against a Robinson Crusoe life has been the choice for the vast majority of human beings over millennia. Men chose societal bonding for the preservation of personality firstly (life), then the accumulation of things (property) and further, enjoying liberty in perpetuating the foregoing elements of life.
An absolute hierarchy of values cannot be determined by any objective method. The field of science concerns itself with existential propositions - what is as opposed to what ought to be. Cardinal measurement of values won't even be momentarily true for an individual, let alone for society through time. Religious edicts have purported to convey absolute values. Yet, there is no one religion whose value propositions are universally accepted, nor is there any unanimity among all members of a religion.
Two groups arguing about a particular proposition, many a time, argue past each other. Essentially there is no disagreement on the ultimate ends sought, but only concerning the means adopted. Sometimes when there is no quarrel - because the means are agreeable to both parties - they differ in the ends pursued. The ends - since they are not explicitly and clearly stated - a silence might falsely tantamount to convey concurrence.
To complicate the matter further, some ends are means to further ends. A full exposition of these matters are necessary to arrive at a meaningful concurrence, else what would remain would be superfluous arguments without any meaningful progress.
Despite the semantic challenges in defining means and ends, the fundamental means to achieve all ends is by adopting social cooperation. The material, intellectual and spiritual development of human beings have been made possible only through this idea of cooperation. Despite his biological urge to compete and survive at an individual level, by dint of reason, at very early stages of evolution he began seeing the merits of social cooperation as against pure animal savagery. Here, there is no claim that this is uniquely human, however, one can make a case for the degree of cooperation among human beings in comparison to other life forms. Reason enabled man to see through the productivity achievable through a division of labour so that a greater variety of goods could be had. Such a system would far outweigh anything that resembles antagonistic and hermetic systems. This is the essence of Ricardo's law of association. The law shows that cooperation is not a zero-game; even those with a lower degree of skills sets have a contributory role in a societal system.
This form of resolution of differences in judgements of value appears easier said than done. While there is certainly acceptance of cooperation as an essential means, considerable differences exist between humans concerning other means and ends. There are also questions of what the objective of cooperation should be. The latter are attempts to displace the purpose of cooperation which was originally to preserve the basic elements of life being life, property and liberty.
Firstly, there are groups with divergent interests. Those interests clash and result in further strengthening of fault lines. The proponents of this anti-harmonious view think that it is natural for groups to decide as to whose value judgement is superior through war. These groups may be nations in which case the justification for antagonism are one set of values. If the groups are employers and workers the causes for antagonism is justified by another set of values.
This is where Ricardo's law of association despite its ultimate truth falls short in delivering universal cooperation in all matters of human conduct. While social cooperation happens largely, in parallel, conflicts occur on a variety of means and ends. The anti-harmony theorists talk of a perpetual synthesis-anti synthesis conflict existing between two groups in any sphere of human conduct.
Domination by one religious creed ensured peaceful time only for a certain duration in history. But that domination came only after complete annihilation of heretic belief systems. The prevailing religious denomination silenced any contrary viewpoints. Especially, alternative judgements of value by scholars and writers never saw light. Military battles settled scores. While Europe saw Christian and Mohammedan influences in its history, the new world (Americas) began with the brand of Christian ethics. Within this religious umbrella, reformation, counter-reformation and civil wars continuously settled differing judgments of values.
Human progress towards rational thinking was long derailed by religious subservience. Nothing it seems was above revelation and only the chosen few knew the true commandments of God. Rationality could not question the doctrinaire writs. Any coexistence between the two was conditional on the supremacy of the theologians.
Nevertheless, the attempts to find an absolute standard of value drove man into inquiries about nature and he made some simple yet powerful postulates. Firstly, is the materialistic conception that physical laws exist independently of human existence. Man needs to adapt himself to the orders of nature. Such a cognition of independent self against the external reality could only be achieved through reasoning and logic. The natural order is above all human beings and institutions irrespective of proximity of god. An important extension of these postulates was that normative science or ethics was wrong. Actions need to be evaluated for their effects. The acts itself require no appraising. And, secondly, rational thinking and utilitarianism received a necessary boost from the natural order thinking.
While this movement faced resistance from theologians, more significantly, splinter groups evolved that believed in an extreme version of self-identity and superiority of certain individuals. Race theories placed some races innately superior to other fellow humans. Despite all this, natural law chugged along questioning the validity of several man-made laws and ethics. The legal positivists (legal positivism is the supremacy of law passed by the legislature) had faced stiff opposition from natural theorists on the validity of unjust laws and jurisprudence theory.
What is an eternal, absolute standard of value remain far from being answered. The natural law, despite its superiority in relative times, left several matters unaddressed. For instance, to enforce the natural law in society, legislation and use of force (or threat) were necessary. Implying that legal positivism needs to be combined with natural law for the latter to sustain. After all, it became evident that natural law emerged from man's reasoning and thinking. An appeal to nature would return unanswered because nature doesn't effectively communicate with man to convey its intentions. Worse, much of the propagation of natural law thinking was helped under the aegis of the superior claims of Christian ethics which imposed its order on inferior tribes, civilizations through conquest. Natural law thinking was received by these 'lesser' men through the path paved by religious domination - paradoxical as it may sound.
From the annals of natural law emerged the concept of natural justice. With no perfect definition, its precepts emerged from intuition. It is comparable to morality and intuitive ethics though it claims to be superior in every right. Soon "justice first" became a war cry eagerly adopted by partisan interest groups. Shifty notions of justice decreed certain acts wrong and others correct. Justice relied sometimes on utilitarian thinking but mostly based itself on morality aided by intuition.
Such appeals to inner voice and intuition are problematic since no unquestionable standard of value emerges. A stream of hyphenated rights emerged from those judges who ordained the ultimate ends of society through such intuitive thinking. Where does society emerge from? That matter is simply not considered. A man could choose to live in isolation. But he does not since the benefits of societal bonding helps preserve life and health. Outside this purpose, the epithet "just" is juxtaposed with "society" dehors the individuals composing it has no meaning. Thus the concept of justice has been used in extremes losing its purpose of preserving and enhancing social cooperation. A separate notion of society with a barrage of notions of preconceived, arbitrary, fleeting, platonic and ethereal value judgements falsely characterized as "justice" is, in fact, injustice to human civilizational progress.
The role of jurisprudence must be to posit the need for a certain law (for wider acceptability) and define the modes of legal techniques envisaged for its sustained applicability. Beyond this, jurisprudence, much like justice, masquerading as a normative science is fraught with dangers.
Under Utilitarianism, there are judgements of value. It recognizes that social cooperation is an essential mean to attain ends. It understands that society, nation and other collective constructs are terminologies and not ultimate ends. The philosophies of collectivism begin with the proposition that conflicting ideas inexorably clash, and human conduct is the clash among superior claims over ultimate ends. Collectivism believes where subjugation is necessary for promoting a collectivist ideal, such subjugation shall be performed. However, Utilitarianism believes in the voluntary cooperation of individuals to maximize collective ends. By abridging an individual's liberty (as in the case with forced ideals) the maximization of an ethereal notion of "society" is a spurious philosophy.
"To each according to his needs" is what society will provide for individuals under collectivist ideology. It forces down upon its people the ideal standards of value. In their case, it is the equal consumption of goods and services by all members of society. An interventionist program shall ensure that "society" makes such a goal possible. It didn't matter to socialists of every subsequent generation that the absence of free markets will render resource allocation faulty. Because those are merely "technical details". The ultimate judgements of value (which is the equal standard of living) are beyond appraisal. They are absolute because a majority of the members of society have stated their allegiance for equality. Such "rule by majority" have in the past taken some societies to extreme forms of totalitarianism and despotism. Unfortunately, intellectuals of the progressive kind too sided with the majority rule. They could not discern the slide to socialism because they simply trusted the numerical majority without consideration of Utilitarianism, liberty and individualism.
Socialism, Marxism and some forms of scientific socialism seeks to 'scientifically' trace the causal relation between the natural world and specific judgements of value. Whereas, on the contrary, Utilitarianism believes judgements of value are subjective, and while external world phenomena inter-plays with human experience in general, no scientific proposition can be derived to explain stimuli effect within a human being.
Judgements of value are not reducible. In claiming reductionist explanation Marxism purports to present a superior form of ultimate end that all humans should strive towards. It is fundamentally here that further negation of such theories needs to be presented.