Values

There are at least three different senses of the concept of "value", which I'd like to disentangle.

This page is a stub, created on 2021-04-24 (last updated on 2021-05-01). Its contents are notes on the issues and angles I want to address about this topic.


I'd like to differentiate between a few different senses of the concept of "value":

  1. that which one acts to gain and/or keep
  2. that which in fact support's one's interests
  3. that which one professes to desire

(1) might be called "revelatory" because what one actually does might reveal or reflect actually held values, potentially subconsciously integrated, regardless of whether those values support well being or are aligned with professed values. It's also, for humans, where the concept of value comes from, so in that sense, it's more general or descriptive.

(2) has more do to with the actual fact about whether a purported value really enhances a person's life and well being. Some values in this category might be universal (eg, nutrition), and some might be personal (eg, having a dog). This is the more normative sense in which we assess whether something should be described as a "value".

(3) is about what one claims to value, which may be at odds with both what one actually acts to gain and/or keep and what actually enhances one's life. An example of this might be a particular lifestyle, which might actually (better) contribute to one's happiness, but one is stuck in the inertia of a current trajectory that makes pursuing it difficult. One professes to have that other lifestyle, but one actually persists in the present course.

The Ayn Rand Lexicon has a great entry on values.

A potentially interesting parallel here is between "wants" (which I insist is an epistemological phenomenon) versus "needs" (which I insist is a metaphysical phenomenon). My view here differs from Aristotle's and the prevalent approach of putting both on the same quantitative scale, where "needs" are just more intense "wants". (1) and (3) are closer to "wants", with (1) reflecting revealed "wants" and (3) reflecting professed "wants". (2), by contrast, reflects the "needs" that are causally required to achieve one's interests.