In the fourth essay of Unto This Last, Ruskin discusses notions of value in relation to the political economy. He declares that people tend to place value on the wrong things, stating that it is vane to desire wealth and material objects. Instead, Ruskin says, people should worship and strive for things that "lead to life":

The real science of political economy, which has yet to be distinguished from the bastard science, as medicine from witchcraft , and astronomy from astrology, is that which teaches nations to desire and labour for things that lead to life: and which teaches them to scorn and destroy things that lead to destruction. And if, in a state of infancy, they supposed indifferent things, such as shell-fish, and pieces of blue and red stone, to be valuable, and spent large measures of the labour which ought to be employed for the extension and ennobling of life, in diving and digging for them, and cutting them into various shapes...the great and only science of Political Economy teaches them, in all these cases, what is vanity, and what substance; and how the service of Death, the Lord of Waste, and of eternal emptiness, differs from the service of wisdom, the Lady of Saving, and of eternal fulness; she who has said, 'I will cause those that love me to inherit SUBSTANCE; and I will FILL their treasuries.' [p.209]

Questions:

1. In what terms does Ruskin define value, wealth, and life? How does his language support these terms?

2. Ruskin's ideas seem to blend relgion, politics, and economics. If it is the responsibility of the political economy to help people see what is truly valuable in life, then what is the purpose of religion according to Ruskin?


Victorian Overview John Ruskin Leading Questions

Last modified 3 April 2003