Saturday, November 15, 2014

Value Theory


“Value” is a term that may be used in a number of ways. It may be used to describe the degree to which we esteem something or regard that thing highly or favorably (as in “We value your friendship,” “She sees great value in earning a biotechnology degree,” “He owns several highly valued works of art,” and “What kind of value can be placed on good health?”). It may also be used to describe a quality of something that renders that thing desirable or admirable (as in “That car is a good value for the money,” “Previous experience will be of great value to you if you decide to apply for the position,” and “There’s a real value in becoming a fully qualified instructor”). It may also be used to describe an ideal or criterion of the merit or worth of something (as in “Our values include reliability, honesty, and integrity,” and “Working with a very low budget can make it more difficult to produce a film with high production values”). It may also be used to describe a quantity or number representing the magnitude of something (as in “The value of the function y = x3 for x = 3 is 27”).
      Values may serve as markers of our admiration or esteem for various things. They may also be ranked or prioritized in order to reflect the relative importance of our interests and concerns, depending on the situation and the (moral, aesthetic, social, or historical) context.
      Values may also serve as rules or standards for our conduct. They may act as guiding principles for our intuitions, reasoning, judgments, and actions. We may in some cases feel that we must live up to, and act in accordance with, our values in order to comply with given principles of duty. We may also in such cases be contented and happy with ourselves (and with our own feelings, emotions, attitudes, judgments, and actions) if we do indeed act in accordance with, and remain faithful to, our own values.
       We may express, articulate, and exemplify many kinds of values in our feelings, attitudes, judgments, and conduct. These kinds of values may be not only moral, but also aesthetic, religious, philosophical, economic, and sociocultural.
      If we ask ourselves to define our own personal values, then we may also be asking ourselves to name those things that we most value and consider most important. Some common (and perhaps very conventional) responses to the question of what might be the most important qualities or ideals to value include: unselfish service to others, personal commitment to others, personal growth, personal freedom, financial success, financial independence, professional advancement, intellectual stimulation, physical health and fitness, stable personal relationships, satisfying love relationships, avoidance of stress, and avoidance of interpersonal conflicts.
      Moral values may be principles or ideals revealed by intuition, reasoning, feeling, judgment, and conduct. They may include truthfulness, honesty, sincerity, trustworthiness, love, commitment, forgiveness, compassion, and humility.
      Aesthetic values may be formal, non-formal (content-related), creative, and/or interpretive in nature, and they may include such ideals as beauty, sublimity, eloquence, originality, expressiveness, insightfulness, spontaneity, harmony, unity, and structural integrity.
      Social values may include such standards or ideals as freedom of expression, freedom of speech, equal civil and legal rights, equal opportunity for political participation, equal protection under the law, compliance with the rule of law, fairness, justice, protection of human rights, concern for the common good, eradication of disease and poverty, mutual respect and tolerance, and promotion of social harmony and well-being.
      Cultural values may include family values, social class values, peer group values, ethnic group values, religious values, institutional values, corporate values, political party values, and national values.
      Cross-cultural values (those shared by individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds) may transcend cultural differences, and may establish a foundation for intercultural understanding and cooperation.
      Value bearers may include such things as objects, properties, modes (or tropes), relations, acts, aims, purposes, functions, methods, and procedures. Many kinds of things may therefore have value or be valued.
       Objects that may be valued include natural or artificial objects, concrete or abstract objects, and real or imaginary objects. Examples of abstract objects that may be valued include ideas, theories, and concepts. Examples of imaginary objects that may be valued include imaginary situations, imagined states of mind, fictional stories, and imaginary worlds.
      Many kinds of value may belong to an object and may contribute to the value of that object (e.g. an object’s moral value may contribute to its aesthetic value, and its social value may contribute to its cultural value).
      Value theory may be explored and investigated by such disciplines as ethics, aesthetics, political philosophy, (moral, political, social, and cognitive) psychology, sociology, and economics.
      Value theory is normative insofar as it is concerned with what things we should value and with whether, how, and why we should value things. It is also normative insofar as it is concerned with the kinds of value that are appropriate to assign to things.
      Value theory is metanormative insofar as it is concerned with the nature of value and with the intuitive and cognitive processes involved in making value judgments.1
       Value theory is descriptive insofar as it is describes methods of valuing things and ways in which things may be valued. It is also descriptive insofar as it describes the attributes that may give value to things. It is also descriptive insofar as it describes the relations between different kinds of value(s), and the relations between different ways of valuing things.
      Value theory is comparative insofar as it is compares the values of things and the ways or methods of valuing things.
      Values may be intrinsic or extrinsic, formal or non-formal, material or non-material, essential or non-essential, abstract or concrete, theoretical or practical. Values may also be relational or non-relational, structural or non-structural, natural or conventional, individual or collective, relative or absolute, real or ideal.
      Some things may have both intrinsic and extrinsic (instrumental) value, formal and non-formal (content-related) value, material and non-material value, and so on.
      The term “epistemic value” may be used in a number of ways. It may be used to describe the truth-value of a proposition (e.g. true propositions have a truth-value of “true,” while false propositions have a truth-value of “false”). It may also be used to describe the value of knowledge as opposed to the value of mere true belief, on the assumption that knowledge has a greater epistemic value than mere true belief, because of the objective certainty of knowledge as opposed to the objective uncertainty of mere true belief. It may also be used to describe the value of knowing the truth of a given proposition or set of propositions. It may also be used to describe the degree to which belief in the truth of a given proposition provides knowledge of the truth of that proposition. Thus, there may be several kinds of epistemic value.
      If some true propositions are truer than others, then some true propositions may have greater truth-value than others. However, if all true propositions are equally true, then all true propositions may have the same truth-value.
      Linda Zagzebski (2004) raises the question of whether a false belief may be epistemically valuable if it arises from an intellectually virtuous performance on the part of the believer, even though that performance has produced a false belief. However, she notes that if the epistemic value of a belief is considered to be derived solely from the truth of that belief, then we are still left to solve the problem of where the epistemic value of a false belief can come from.2 Zagzebski describes epistemic value monism as the theory that the truth of a belief, or of knowledge, is the only source of its epistemic value. Epistemic value pluralism is the theory that the epistemic value of a belief, or of knowledge, may be derived from sources other than truth.
      Thomas A. Schwandt (2007) explains that epistemic values may include not only truth, but also objectivity, consistency, testability, and reliability, and that epistemic values may be distinguished from non-epistemic values (such as moral, aesthetic, and social values).3
      Value judgments may include moral, aesthetic, social, and other kinds of judgments. They may be based on the intrinsic merit or lack of merit of something, or on the formal, material, theoretical, or practical consequence of something.
      Value systems may be moral, aesthetic, religious, or sociocultural in nature. They may belong to individuals, groups, and/or whole societies.
      Conflicts between groups having differing value systems may sometimes be bitter, violent, and intractable. Political and ideological conflicts may sometimes be based on conflicts of values. Solutions to such conflicts may depend in part on whether the opposing groups persist in, or refrain from, attempting to impose their value systems on each other.
      An individual’s personal values may be shaped by her personality traits, personal experiences, personal relationships, upbringing, family background, friends, teachers, educational background, professional background, religious background, social background, and exposure to individuals of other ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds.
      Personal value systems may include personal, group, community, and societal values, and they may reflect personal, group, community, and societal perceptions.
      Group value systems may allow for some differences among the value systems of members of a given group, as long as the value systems of those members are compatible with the group's value system. If the value systems of some members begin to deviate significantly from, or become incompatible with, a group's value system, then the group may have several options: (1) it may simply ignore the deviant members, (2) it may attempt to marginalize them, while still recognizing them as group members (although in name only), (3) it may attempt to persuade them to conform more closely to the group's value system, (4) it may attempt to accommodate them by adapting or modifying the group's value system, or (5) it may attempt to reaffirm the group's value system by disciplining the deviant members or terminating their group membership. In some cases, a group may have to choose between retaining its (moral, religious, political, or social) identity and retaining the membership of deviant members; the expulsion of those members may be the only way for it to preserve its identity, principles, and integrity. In other cases, the attempt to reaffirm group values by disciplining or expelling deviant members may be merely an exercise in reiteration of a value system whose logical and moral justification has not been clearly and thoroughly reflected upon.
      Value systems may vary in their degree of coherence, consistency, uniformity, cohesiveness, flexibility, and adaptability to various situations. They may or may not overlap, and they may or may not be comparable to, or commensurable with, one another. Commensurable systems may be measurable by the same standard, while incommensurable systems may not.
      Mathematical values may include arithmetic, algebraic, geometric, and other kinds of values. 
      Numerical values may be arranged in increasing or decreasing order so that the higher or lower the value, the higher or lower will be its position in the order. Numerical values may also be placed in random order, so that the highness or lowness of a given value has no effect on its position in the order.
      Economic values may include monetary, commercial, financial, and market values.
      To what kinds of things or entities is it appropriate (or inappropriate) to assign a monetary value? What kinds of entities cannot rightly be bought or sold? Michael Walzer (1983) says there are some things that money can’t buy or shouldn’t be able to buy, and he proposes the following list of entities that shouldn’t be for sale: (1) human beings, (2) political power and influence, (3) justice, (4) freedom of speech, press, religion, and assembly, (5) marriage rights, (6) the right to emigrate, (7) exemptions from community imposed service, such as exemptions from military service and jury duty, (8) election or appointment to political office, (9) basic welfare services, such as public education, police protection, and other basic services, (10) minimum welfare standards, such as minimum wage laws, basic health standards, and safety regulations, (11) prizes and honors of various sorts, (12) divine grace (through the sale of indulgences), (13) love and friendship, and (14) products that are illegal to produce, buy, or sell, such as unsafe or dangerous products, stolen goods, and fraudulently marketed products.4
      To this list of entities that shouldn’t be for sale may be added such entities as human life, human tissue, and human organs.
      Our moral, aesthetic, religious, and social values may enable us to define ourselves, and our freedom to define our values may also be our freedom to define ourselves as human beings.
      Our values may to some extent be instilled or inculcated by others or may be informed and influenced by others (such as parents, friends, teachers, and those whom we view as role models), but we may also adopt our own values, based on our own preferences, desires, attitudes, and experiences.
      The value of a particular object for a person may in some cases be determined by that person’s preference for that object as opposed to other objects, and it may also in some cases be determined by a negotiation or bargaining process between that person and other persons or groups, through a sale, auction, lottery, or other market mechanism. In other cases, the value of an object may be arbitrarily determined by producers and sellers, or it may be determined by fixed pricing, or it may be determined by price controls on the part of government regulatory authorities. In still other cases, the value of an object may simply be determined by the current price of that object; the value of the object for a person (group, community, or society) may be the same as what it currently costs to buy the object or the same as what it currently costs to produce and sell the object. The value of any particular object, however, may never be completely or permanently fixed and stable.
      Precise estimations of the value of an object may not always be possible. Some objects may have an easily discoverable and determinable value, while others may not. Some objects may have a well-known and commonly acknowledged value, while others may not. Some objects may be worthless, while others may be of extraordinary or amazing value. Some objects may transcend valuation and be invaluable or beyond value.
      Valuation of an object may be performed with varying degrees of care, thoroughness, accuracy, and consistency, depending on the circumstances and the needs, interests, aptitudes, disposition, and knowledge of the person or group performing the valuation. Analytical skills as well as careful examination and practical experience may be necessary in order to perform accurate and reliable valuation of various objects, relations, properties, and modes (or ways of being).


FOOTNOTES

1William K. Frankena, “Value and Valuation,” in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Paul Edwards, Volume 8 (New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1967), p. 231.
2Linda Zagzebski, “Epistemic Value Monism,” in Ernest Sosa: And His Critics, edited by John Greco (Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2004), p. 193.
3Thomas A. Schwandt, The SAGE Dictionary of Qualitative Inquiry, Third Edition (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc., 2007), p. 10.
4Michael Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality (Basic Books, 1983), pp. 11-103

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Will the Truth Always Set You Free?


A biblical argument for the liberating power of truth is that if you live in (listen to, obey) the Word of God, then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31). If you commit sin, then you will be a slave to sin (8:34), but if you live in the Word of God, then you will no longer be a slave to sin, because you will live in truth, and the truth will set you free.
      It may perhaps be argued to the contrary, however, that the discovery of truth may in some cases be very distressing and painful to us, and that we may experience the discovery of truth as oppressive, rather than liberating. Our discovery of a troubling, disquieting, or disturbing truth may in some cases lead us to regret having discovered it. We may regret having allowed ourselves to be deceived or misled by someone we trusted. We may blame ourselves or feel humiliated for having mistakenly trusted someone we thought we could trust.
      Discovering the truth may also in some cases lead us to become more aware of our being used and manipulated by someone or our being subjugated and oppressed by something beyond our control. In such cases, we may not perceive this awareness as liberating. We may rather perceive it as painful, discouraging, heartbreaking, or overwhelming.
      The truth may not set us free if the truth we are compelled to accept is a conventional, (inter)subjective, dogmatic, or propagandistic truth that we may not necessarily accept as our own. What is (inter)subjectively or conventionally true for and assumed by others (for example, that personal success is defined by the accumulation of money, prestige, and power) may not necessarily be true for and assumed by us, and we may therefore not feel liberated by being compelled to accept such (inter)subjective truths and conventional assumptions.
      Having always to tell the truth may also not set us free if there are cases in which it is morally better not to tell the truth (or at least not the whole truth). Having to always tell the (whole) truth may hinder our moral freedom if we encounter cases in which it is morally better not to tell the (whole) truth.
      The truth may also not set us free if whatever we thought was true turns out to be false. Some purported or supposed truths may not turn out to be actual truths. Some statements that appear to be true at first glance may not turn out to be true on final analysis.
      The truth may not always set us free if freedom is defined merely as the freedom to act in whatever way we choose, regardless of the moral and practical consequences of our actions. However, freedom to act in whatever way we choose may not be true moral freedom, which may involve the freedom to act morally and responsibly, with regard for the moral and practical consequences of our actions.
      In some cases, discovering the truth may lead to us to recognize that we have many (moral, social, professional, and public) obligations to fulfill in order to respond appropriately to knowing the truth. While our moral freedom may be defined by our awareness of, and compliance with, our moral obligations, we may sometimes be intimidated, disheartened, or dismayed by the number, extent, and stringency of those obligations. We may not always feel as if we are freer after discovering the truth than we were before discovering the truth and recognizing the number and extent of our obligations.
      There may, of course, be many counter-arguments (some more religiously dogmatic or fundamentalist than others) to these arguments against the liberating power of truth. The counter-argument may be made, for example, that discovering the truth is always better than not discovering it, regardless of the pain or suffering that discovering the truth may sometimes involve, because only by discovering the truth can we become morally and spiritually free. Another such argument is that knowing what is morally right may be a condition for acting morally (e.g. the "knowledge is virtue" argument). Another such argument is that only by being committed to truth and justice can we promote social harmony and well-being.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Better Not to Know

When is it better not to know, rather than to know, something? Given that knowledge is often held to have intrinsic value or to be intrinsically good (take the well-known aphorism that “knowledge is power,” for example), can there be cases in which it is better not to know, rather than to know, something?
      Perhaps in some cases it is better not to know something, if there is nothing to be gained (or lost) by knowing (or not knowing) that thing. Unless one holds that all knowledge is intrinsically valuable and that there is always something to be gained by knowing something, then there may be cases in which one doesn’t lose anything by not knowing something. Indeed, there may be cases in which one loses something merely by attempting to know about something, if that thing is useless, pointless, and of no value to know about. There may be cases in which it is better not to know about something that is irrelevant to one’s particular field of (moral, scientific, professional, social, or intellectual) inquiry, if that thing is potentially distracting or misleading.
      It may also be better in some cases not to know about something, if knowing about it will lead one to expend unnecessary efforts or submit to unnecessary interventions that will ultimately be detrimental or of no benefit. Thus, for example, submitting to medical tests in order to diagnose whether one has cancer may in some cases be needlessly burdensome and medically unnecessary, if knowing that one has cancer and having it treated will not produce any benefit with regard to one's life expectancy or quality of life.
      It may be better in some cases not to know about something, if knowing about that thing will be harmful or detrimental to the knower. Unless a person has a moral right to know about something, regardless of the fact that such knowledge may be harmful to that person, or unless a person has a moral responsibility to know about something, or unless the well-being of others depends on a person’s knowing about something, then there may be cases in which it may be better for that person not to know about that thing.  If only harm, and no good, can come from a person’s knowing about something, then it may be better for that person not to know about that thing (although there may be a serious question as to who has the moral right to decide what knowledge about a given thing will be harmful, and to whom such knowledge will be harmful).
      Who has the moral right to decide for another person that it is better for him or her (or that it is in his or her best interest) not to know something? Must this right (if there is such a right) be reserved solely for a parent, family member, or legal guardian? How about a friend or advisor? An attorney? An elected public official? Does a government ever have a right to decide that it is better for a society not to know about something?
      Whoever decides that it is better for someone not to know about something may be exercising a form of censorship or paternalism with regard to knowledge about that thing. Judgments may therefore need to be made about whether such censorship or paternalism is justified or unjustified, necessary or unnecessary (and in what context it may be justified or unjustified, necessary or unnecessary).
      There may be cases in which it is better not to know something, if one is emotionally or psychologically unprepared to deal with the possible consequences of knowing that thing. Discovery of unknown or unsuspected facts, occurrences, or events may in some cases have unanticipated consequences for the emotional and psychological well-being of the discoverer.
      It may perhaps be better not to know something, if such knowledge will cause an unnecessary and unwarranted change in the attitudes and behavior of the knower. If knowing about something will have a significant adverse effect on the attitudes and behavior of the knower, even though the thing is actually of little significance, then knowing about it may be detrimental to the well-being of the knower (as well as to the well-being of those in his/her family, social group, or community).
      There may be cases in which it is better not to have known something than to have known it and have acted without proper attention to, and regard for, its significance.
      It may perhaps be better not to know about something, if one will be held morally or legally culpable for knowing about it. At the same time, however, one’s moral or legal culpability (or lack of it) for knowing about something may depend on whether one has wrongfully gained that knowledge or whether one has wrongfully acted or failed to act upon that knowledge (even if one has not wrongfully gained that knowledge). Similarly, one's culpability for not knowing about something, if one has been expected by others to have known about it, may depend on whether one has wrongfully failed to know about it or whether one has merely innocently failed to know about it through no fault of one’s own.
      It may be better not to know something, if knowing that thing will lead one to have false hopes, expectations, or preconceptions about that thing. Knowing something may in some cases lead to frustration, disappointment, or denial if one’s hopes, expectations, or preconceptions about that thing are not fulfilled.
      It may perhaps also be better not to know about something, if one knows that one does not know, and that unknown thing (entity, fact, event, etc.) turns out to be relatively unimportant, but investigating it leads to the discovery of other things (entities, facts, events, etc.) that are much more important and that one would not have discovered, had one not known that one did not know about that thing. Another way of saying this is: it may be better not to know about something, if knowing that one does not know produces much greater knowledge than would otherwise have been attained.


      

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Positive and Negative Intentions


Can we express an intention to perform an action when we actually have no intention of performing that action or when we actually have an intention not to perform that action?
      Perhaps in some cases we may actually desire to deceive or mislead others regarding our intention to perform an action. Perhaps in other cases we may not actually desire to deceive or mislead others, but we may feel obligated to express an intention to perform an action, even though we may not feel inclined to perform that action.
      How is having an intention not to perform an action different from having no intention of performing that action? Perhaps the difference consists in the presence or absence of intention. If we have an intention not to perform an action, then we may have consciously decided against performing that action, and we may actively try to avoid performing that action. If we have no intention of performing an action, however, then we may not have consciously decided against performing that action, and we may not actively try to avoid performing that action.
      If we have only a negative intention regarding an action (an intention not to perform that action), then how can we express a positive intention (an intention to perform that action)? If we have a negative intention, then must we also have a positive intention in order to be able to express an intention to perform that action?
      A possible answer to the latter question may be that in some cases we may be ambivalent or morally uncertain about our past, present, and possible future actions. Our intentions regarding the performance of an action may change over time. We may initially have an intention not to perform an action (a negative intention), but later develop an intention to perform that action (a positive intention), and vice versa.
      We may intentionally or unintentionally express our intentions, and we may intentionally or unintentionally act on our prior intentions.  We may also in some cases try to convince ourselves that we have intentions that we don’t actually have. We may in some cases undeservedly credit ourselves for having honorable intentions, and we may in other cases undeservedly discredit ourselves for having less than honorable intentions.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Caveats Regarding the Expression of Intentions


A distinction must be made between those actions that are both voluntary and intentional and those that are voluntary but not intentional. Not all voluntary actions are intentional, in the sense of being based on, derived from, or guided by, prior intent. We may in some cases voluntarily perform actions that we did not previously intend to perform (or have a prior intention of performing).
      We may in some cases express an intention to perform an action even though we know there is little likelihood that our intention to perform that action will be fulfilled. Indeed, the action may be one that is very difficult or nearly impossible for us to perform, even though we have expressed an intention to perform it. We may also in some cases unknowingly deceive ourselves as to our ability to perform an action, and we may also unknowingly or knowingly deceive others as to our ability to perform that action.
      We may also in some cases say that we intend to perform an action that we in fact have no good reason to perform. In such cases, there may be a lower degree of likelihood that we will fulfill our intention to perform the action than in cases where we have good reason to perform the action.
      We may also in some cases not be able to identify all the reasons for our intentions. We may also not always be able to explain our intentions to ourselves and others. We may lack adequate insight into the nature of our intentions. Other persons may have difficulty interpreting or understanding our actions when our intentions are unclear or unexplained (to them and even to ourselves).
      We may also in some cases express an intention to perform an action even though we have little or no intention of performing that action. We may fail to recognize or admit our true intentions, and we may unconsciously or consciously ignore, deny, or refuse to acknowledge them.
      Thus, we may in some cases make unintentionally false or misleading statements about our true intentions, simply because we have failed to recognize or acknowledge them.
      Can we actually be mistaken about our own intentions? If we fail to examine them when they are unclear, when they appear to be logically or morally inconsistent, or when they appear to be in conflict, then perhaps we can be mistaken about them.
      We may also in some cases deceive others (and ourselves) about our true intentions. We may conceal, disguise, or misrepresent our true intentions.
      We may also in some cases have morally wrong and unjustified intentions (e.g. if we wrongfully intend to harm, injure, offend, annoy, inconvenience, harass, or humiliate other persons), and our statements about those intentions may also be morally wrong and unjustified (e.g. if we make intentionally false, deceptive, or misleading statements about those wrongful intentions).
      Our having expressed an intention to perform an action may, however, provide additional motivation for us to perform that action, by requiring us to demonstrate our truthfulness and sincerity. Our expression of an intention to perform an action may entail some degree of responsibility on our part to confirm or verify that intention.
      We may in some cases, however, intend to perform an action without knowing all its possible consequences, and thus the action may be intended and intentional but have unintended or unanticipated consequences.
      Regarding the question of whether a distinction should be made between an “intended” and an “intentional” action, the distinction may consist in whether or not the action is actually performed. If an action is intended, then the intention to perform that action may or may not be fulfilled (the action may or may not actually be performed). If an action is intentional, on the other hand, then it is actually performed—intentionally, on purpose, or deliberately. It makes no sense to say that an action that was “intended” but not performed was “intentional,” although its being intended may be a manifestation of its “intentionality.”
      Some examples of sentences expressing an intention to perform an action include “I intend to do that,” “I have every intention of doing that,” “I’m going to do that,” “I plan to do that,” “I’ve decided to do that,” “I’ll be sure to do that,” “I won’t forget to do that,” “I’ll remember to do that,” and “I’ll make every effort to do that.”
      Other examples of sentences expressing an intention to perform an action include “I promise to do that,” “I feel a duty to do that,” and “I feel obliged to do that” (assuming in each case that the speaker of the sentence does in fact intend to perform the action in question).
      Such phrases as “with the intention of,” “in order to,” and “for the purpose of” may also express intention. Examples include “I telephoned the manager with the intention of making an appointment,” “I’m studying Bergson’s philosophy in order to learn how to think intuitively,” and “For the purpose of getting a new outlook on life, I decided to buy a new pair of glasses.”
      Some examples of sentences expressing a lack or absence of intention include “I don’t intend to do that,” “I have no intention of doing that,” “I never had any intention of doing that,” “I don’t plan to do that,” and “I’m not going to do that.”