Levels of Existence
In his theory, Graves states that the psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding process marked by the progressive subordination of older lower level value systems to newer, higher level value systems.
Dr. Clare Graves
Graves' Level of Existence theory is the basis for the Value Systems Analysis theory.
Mature persons tend normally to change their psychology as the conditions of their existence change. Each successive value system is a state of equilibrium through which people pass on the way to the other states of equilibrium. In a particular value system, individuals have a psychology which is specific to that value system. Acts, feelings, motivations, ethics, preferences, and thoughts which come about are behaviors one must adopt in order to solve his problems at that level of existence.
However, people do not automatically move up to another level of existence. They may not be genetically or constitutionally equipped or have the necessary knowledge or awareness to change in the normal upward direction if the conditions of their existence change. They may move, given certain conditions, through a hierarchically ordered series of behaviors or value systems to some end, or they may stabilize and live out their lives at any one or a combination of value systems in the hiererchy.
Individuals may show the behavior of a value system in an active or passive manner, or they may, under certain circumstances, regress to a behavior or value system lower in the hierarchy. Thus, people live in a potentially open system of needs, preferences, and aspirations. In any one value system, they have only the degrees of freedom afforded at that level. Therefore, as their societies develop, members of the societies must subordinate old values and behaviors if ever they are to develop new values and behaviors appropriate to new levels of existence.
Graves describes seven different value systems. He proposes that there are value systems after System 7, but he does not describe these value systems which he believes are just beginning to emerge.