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 why and how we should value those 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.
      Value intrinsicalism may emphasize the importance of intrinsic value, while value extrinsicalism may emphasize the importance of extrinsic value. Similarly, value formalism may emphasize the importance of formal value, while value non-formalism may emphasize the importance of non-formal value.
      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 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).


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