Talk:Value theory

Page contents not supported in other languages.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
WikiProject iconPhilosophy: Metaphysics / Ethics Start‑class Mid‑importance
WikiProject iconThis article is within the scope of WikiProject Philosophy, a collaborative effort to improve the coverage of content related to philosophy on Wikipedia. If you would like to support the project, please visit the project page, where you can get more details on how you can help, and where you can join the general discussion about philosophy content on Wikipedia.
StartThis article has been rated as Start-class on Wikipedia's content assessment scale.
 Mid This article has been rated as Mid-importance on the project's importance scale.
Associated task forces:
Taskforce icon
Taskforce icon

Text from 2001[edit]

Well, this is going to be a tough topic to do everyone's satisfaction.

This line I can't let stand:

The problem with this is that other goods compete with liberty, goods such as health, safety, and other classic duties that are part of the [definition of government]

History doesn't support this. It is despotic governments that make society unhealthy and unsafe. See the genocide page for this.

Not only this, but freer countries tend to have greater wealth per capita (not coincidentally, of course), meaning where there is greater liberty there is greater ability to pay for improved health and safety.


Two things: first, the greater wealth per capita goes along with a larger standard deviation in wealth, which many people consider to be undesirable and a root cause of social unrest (crime). Second: how do you define "freer country"? Heck, in the US even prostitution is illegal. --AxelBoldt

It seems that the author doesn't have a clue about what "theory of value" means. I'm redirecting this to a page that explains the area. --LMS

Ray, the article that was on the theory of value page is below:

A theory of value says which goods are good. Arguably, it is the whole of ethics.

The best practical advice is to avoid unknown dangers yet get clear goods. One way of doing so is to adopt an ancient casuistry such as the Bible or Confucianism and deviate from it only when it demands significant income, the life of one's family, or advises against some clear long-term aid to human knowledge, wealth, health or safety.

There are several competing systems.

Libertarian or Liberal theory says that if you give people liberty, they will figure out what is good and do it by themselves. The problem with this is that other goods may compete with liberty. Liberty by itself can't answer the charge that these goods are important. Libertarian theories also give no advice about a theory of conduct. This is a substantial problem when a liberty-based government such as the U.S. tries to operate a school system. Almost by definition, an educational system has to teach conduct, and thus requires a theory of conduct.

Natural Law says that the good is defined by combining consequentialism and human biology, especially evolutionary theory and sociobiology. This is remarkably cogent, and good science and reductionist but is believed to fail because of circularity in the scientific use of the word good, and its cognates. That is, when a scientist uses the word 'good', it appears impossible to locate an ultimate good. Instead there seems to be an infinite regression. This problem is called the naturalistic fallacy.

Relativism says that goodness cannot be separated from human beliefs. This theory is widely believed by people without any moral training, and is therefore the last refuge of scoundrels. Further, it appeals to sociologists and cultural anthropologists because it seems to fit their observations. However this theory cannot guide the formation of a society, because it cannot create expectations about people's behaviors. To an honest relativist, any act is right, given the right context. Also, some societies clearly succeed more than others, so this is a fishy belief. Also, since relativists have no theory of value, they can't know when to go to extremes to pursue a good.

The Aristotelian mean says that the opposite of evil is evil. This makes sense as far as it goes, but if we try to pin this down, the result is natural law or casuistry, with all their attendant problems. This theory helps to calm somone down, but can't be used to guide law or a theory of conduct.

Utilitarianism says that the good is pleasure or the avoidance of pain when combined with consequentialism. Utilitarianism is wonderful for making law most of the time. For example, a bigger highway can be justified without much argument if it reduces wasted travel time. However utilitarianism weighs all pains and all pleasures in the same pan. For example, it says that given a choice between a new watch for a wealthy man, or a meal that makes starving child sick, we should choose the watch (whcih creates no pain). For another example, it is the surprisingly respectable justification for animal rights-- because it consders the pain of people and animals interchangeable. There are adjustments for these problems, but they ruin the theory by making it more difficult to compare competing uses.

Casuistry compares realistic cases, not theories. The idea here is to have a shopping list of goods, and a moral code of evils. Buy from one list, and avoid the other. This works perfectly, except that the best, most trusted lists are from ancient religions. Since God does not seem to make a verifiable appearance, skeptics mistrust these codes, and worry that they will miss some good, or adopt some evil, or waste their wealth and effort on nonsense.

Larry, thanks for publishing your lecture. It is very well presented. However, I would like to see the lecture aspect of it reduced and a bit of neutrality added.

-Craig Pennington


This is a good wide-ranging discussion, and a useful accompaniment to the article on "Goodness". I enjoyed reading it. your father

No, I think that needs to be seriously reconsidered (vid. infra.) --djenner 19:23, 3 February 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

At times in the article I thought there should be a recognition that "good" can be used in two senses: either as commendatory, an evaluative act by the speaker, on the one hand, or as a descriptive term about what people empirically value on the other hand.

For example, the dreadful activities of the SS officer are rightly condemned as not good by the writer, but in the first sense of the word "good". This leaves us with a problem of how (which most right minded people wish to do) to deny its goodness in the second sense. So "good" can't be explained either by what people empirically desire for its own sake, or by what we, as judgers, morally evaluate(except at riskof circularity).

The point of all this is that the writer has avoided that impasse by (rightly) condemning the SS person morally,and then moving on. Perhaps the enduring lesson is that there are no things which are good intrinsically: the good, eudamonistic life may turn to sadness at any stage; understanding can produce nuclear weapons, a person can fiddle while his city burns. So happiness, understanding and music can all be either good or bad depending on their context and what they contribute to. Nuclear processes can be useful: a slum city may need to burn (after evacuation!) and sadness is sometimes a proper process. Tony

This article as stands is completely unacceptable by wikipedia standards. Not only is it not an accurate representation of some of the ideas discussed, but it completely abandons the NPOV ideal at almost every turn. Deleting much of the existing article. JFQ

I think that "good" and "bad" are entirely artificial creations. It is useful to create the concepts and discuss them in order for human minds to understand how to mutually minimize pain and maximize happiness. But pain, happiness and humans can be reduced to biological properties that evolved in a terrific algorithm. In this algorithm, good and bad are meaningless.

I thought the refining of hedonism was very enlightening, but I wonder about refining the definition of good to:

Something is intrinsically good iff it is a type of pleasure that does not lead to pain without consent.

This would avoid the problem with the runner, as he consents to the physical pain he inflicts upon himself for the greater mental pleasure of achievement.

This would avoid the problem of Bill's life in that he causes much pain to his family, which they do not agree to regardless of whether or not they say so outloud.

This would avoid the problem of radical environmentalism, weighing the pain your consumption causes upon our descendants, or even other lifeforms.

Of course, other problems involving the good of pathological persons, mentally handicapped persons, and other cases of impaired perception exist.

And, of course, rating something as good is a matter of degree; I found the black-and-white reasoning of the subject simplistic. But then, what do I know? - Ron Newcomb

This article is infantile and inappropriately chatty. By far the worst, and most unacceptable, example of this is the line about "old Adolph who takes great pleasure in torturing Jews". This is how one can explain the holocaust to 5 year olds, but it will not do here. The reason monstrous crimes were committed under the Nazis was not individuals' quest for pleasure. They were motivated by a sense of moral duty, of discipline, of carrying out what their country wanted them to do, under the influence of nihilistic ideology. Please remove this example, it is very inappropriate. pir

I found this article rather superficial. I think it could have been summarized in a much shorter space without much (if any) loss of breadth, but with a great increase in clarity. This would have left room for even wider scope, including the questioning of the intrinsic value of the idea of "goodness" or "value" in itself. It definitely needs the addition of a much more detailed discussion of the circularity problem which occurs in attempting to pinpoint an absolute valuation of some thing or experience. In fact, it needs to elaborate on the difficulties of identifying and naming experiences, and how it is possible to communicate them in such a way as to compare them sufficiently well to arrive at any kind of consensus of value or even a consensus of a means of evaluation.

For example, why are feelings considered valuable over and above things or objects? Does the realness or concreteness of a thing (or its lack) affect its value or valuation method? What if a stone is more valuable than all the feelings of pleasure, happiness, rightness, joy or bliss that have ever been experienced? Some further discussion should make explicit the limits of pursuing valuation, including the limits of human understanding and communicating such ideas in language.

Finally, what if the whole pursuit of valuation is folly? Perhaps no thing is better than any other thing, real, abstract, or imagined? Well, is valuation theory a means to an end? Is it, then, intrinsically or instrumentally valued in and of itself? What does it mean to put onesself up as judge of what is good or bad, desirable or undesirable? How should an individual go about determining his or her own values? Our actions have implicit values -- are these the only true values? What about contradictory values? A child is tired but also hungry -- which is more valuable: sleep or food? Is this something that can be determined objectively, or do we determine it only incidentally, based on whether the child falls asleep or eats first?

There is no mention of Maslov's hierarchy of values -- an outrageous oversight. Brent Gulanowski 16:22, 15 Oct 2003 (UTC)

Thank you Brent.The limits of human understanding, the valuation of value theory. Hmm, could take awhile. Your ultimate sentence, did you mean Maslow's hierarchy of needs? If so I'll gladly look at that. The other comments could take a while to include... I agree with the direction of your comments, it is a potentially vast subject. This is a rewrite and merge of two articles, perhaps I haven't been surgical enough. TonyClarke 16:54, 15 Oct 2003 (UTC)

My pleasure. Fortunately as this is a Wiki, one is free to specify direction in an article, with topic headings and sub-headings, and leave others to fill them in, either in-page or on subsidiary pages. Yes, I did mean Maslow's hierarchy of needs (perhaps more a "surprising" oversight than an "outrageous" one, ;-) ).

I think a way to get a handle on the dangerous potential of the subject to absorb other subjects is to start off by admitting the difficulty right away. I think philosophy is much more successful when its motivations are examined, or at the least stated honestly, as much as possible, at the outset. In this case, with a neutral POV article, possible motivations, or those of the originator of the topic (stated or interpreted), would be suitable.

Value Theory, if I am correct, seems to be asking, "What is important, and how do we find confidence in making the decision?" In that way, it is a rephrasing of another question: "How ought we to live?", if you believe that the reason to consider value issues is to help make better decisions about what actions to take. (That is a monstrous problem. Is it the original motivation to philosophy?) Does value theory incorporate implicit belief in free will? Is it prescriptive or descriptive?

Finally, anywhere that this topic seems to want to ingest other topics is the point at which it might be best to simply provide a link and allow the reader to draw inferences of their own. Brent Gulanowski 17:16, 15 Oct 2003 (UTC)

I value your comments: perhaps it helps if I say that I think value theory is an attempt to __understand___ what is going on when people value, decide how to live, etc.. It is not an attempt to decide these matters at first hand, and to present the world with the solution to all its problems. As if!

Instead, I see it as an academic pursuit: psychology doesn't tell us what to think, botany doesn't tell us what to grow (although it can help us with specific horticultural difficulties). Similarly, philosophy, and value theory would be outrageous in my view, and I gather in yours, if it were to presume to try to decide how people should live.

I regret if my draft gave the wrong impression on this, and I will bear this in mind when looking at it again, when I next get some time :)) Does anybody else have any other views on this article? TonyClarke 22:44, 15 Oct 2003 (UTC)

Sorry my comments above relate to my redraft of this page, and its merge with goodness, see Goodness and value theory. That might have been clear: if not, apologies.


- Actually, I had not realized it, myself. Thanks for the clarification. I was commenting on the original value theory article (specifically the one to which this talk page relates). Should not the original pages be removed then? Brent Gulanowski 19:29, 16 Oct 2003 (UTC)

Since I expanded the article, the person removing the additions ought to explain why he considers the article insufficient or biased. The view I offered suggests that value theory is a component of numerous sciences and disciplines. If that is wrong, I'd like to have some good arguments for that view. User:Jurriaan

This article is simply mistaken: Max Scheler missing[edit]

It errs in missing the entire, extremely involved discussion of values and value-hierarchies of the first quarter of the 20th century, especially associated with Max Scheler (the article on whom is equally defective).

Scheler articulates a very involved concept of values arising in feelings of preference, which are then organized in hierarchies, in turn constituting totalities. Interesting as this perhaps was within the context of phenomenological psychology, its extension into politics was just a disaster.

This article needs major revisions, therefore. It needs (1) to get into a discussion of the history of value theory, (2) the connection between values, value-hierarchies and value-totalities with evaluative consciousness and (3) a discussion of the problems this can present when extended in less than careful, extramural ways.

Absent the revisions (which requires both more time and greater scholarship than I possess), I think it might be appropriate to withdraw the article or flag it as inadequate. --djenner 19:23, 3 February 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Absence of philosophy[edit]

This article needs much more philosophy in it. Important contributors to the philosophical discussion of value are Nicolai Hartmann, C. I. Lewis, Max Scheler, Ralph Barton Perry, G. E. Moore, Franz Brentano, H. P. Grice, J. L. Mackie, David Wiggins, W. D. Ross and so on. KSchutte 18:56, 12 March 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

This article seems to ignore the entire contribution of analytical philosophy to the Theory of Value.[edit]

This article seems to ignore the entire contribution of analytical philosophy to the Theory of Value. For instance: The fundamental theorem of the Theory of Value states that every value system must start with at least one arbitrary value assignment.

I support this statement 21:40, 28 February 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]


To add to the criticism, and not do anything about it, there is a section titled "axiology" but no mention of the term in the discussion. Sholto Maud 21:27, 23 May 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Merge Request[edit]

The following discussion is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section. A summary of the conclusions reached follows.
There is no consensus to merge. (non-admin closure)

I agree, also, there is a merge proposed in ; The pages should be merged, as they are codependent and axiology been a crucial aspect of Value Theory, and in some contexts, sinonymous. There is an interesting text about the subject; "But in a more useful sense, “value theory” designates the area of moral philosophy that is concerned with theoretical questions about value and goodness of all varieties — the theory of value. The theory of value, so construed, encompasses axiology, but also includes many other questions about the nature of value and its relation to other moral categories. The division of moral theory into the theory of value, as contrasting with other areas of investigation, cross-cuts the traditional classification of moral theory into normative and metaethical inquiry, but is a worthy distinction in its own right; theoretical questions about value constitute a core domain of interest in moral theory, often cross the boundaries between the normative and the metaethical, and have a distinguished history of investigation." [1] Lunatic0br (talk) 12:09, 27 December 2016 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Disagree. They're not the same. "Axiology" is an outmoded version of Value Theory, which contains a broader and more scientific range of study than the former. In philosophy, many -ology terms are attempts to answer "why" rather than "how" and I'd prefer to keep traditional attitudes away from contemporary ones. Thanks.- Thrif (talk) 17:07, 8 June 2018 (UTC)Reply[reply]
The discussion above is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made on the appropriate discussion page. No further edits should be made to this discussion.



It must be pointed out that the section regarding Economic Value addresses neoclassical or subjective theories of value. This is in contrast with classical or intrinsic theories of value (eg, labor theory of value). The value of "goods" are vastly different between these theories of value. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 04:32, 10 September 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]


I find this article fails to adress a most basic background question on the use of "value", that is, the place of the notion that values compare or should compare along a common 1-dimensional scale. I wanted to know whether or not this is a common-sense default when a US English speaker talks of values, and the article doesn't help imo. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:07, 27 March 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Seek feedback on proposed rewrite.[edit]

I have almost finished a proposal for rewriting this article. The tentative lede is attached. Responses welcome.

Value theory encompasses all efforts to explain the human practice of judging worth. The noun “value” comes from the Latin verb valere, to be worth.(Webster’s 3rd International Dictionary unabridged 1986. value 3a:“relative worth, utility, or importance: degree of excellence: status in a scale of preferences”) This effort was important for ancient Greek philosophers, who called it axiology or ethics. The noun “axiology” comes from the Greek noun axios, worth.(axiology: the theory or study of values, primarily of intrinsic values (as those in ethics, aesthetics, and religion) but also of instrumental values (as those in economics)…”

“Value” is both a verb and a noun. As a noun, it is often treated as a synonym of “worth:” a value is a thing judged worthy. As a verb, it requires identifying the criterion by which things are judged worthy, such as the utilitarian criterion of want satisfaction and the instrumental criterion of operational efficiency. To avoid confusing the practice of judging with a result of judging, some scholars reserve the noun “value” for the criterion of judgment, and name the result a “valuation” rather than a “value.” Robin Williams, Am Society:400; Foster in Tool; Koehler, Place of value, 31. Title American society : a sociological interpretation, by Robin M. Williams, Jr

The place of value in a world of facts / by Wolfgang Köhler New York : Liveright Publishing Corporation, [©1938]$

This article provides three representative examples of modern value theory. It starts with the theory of Immanuel Kant, famous for his categorical imperative. Next, it examines the theory of Max Weber, famous for his analysis of intrinsic or absolute value . Finally it reports the theory of John Dewey, famous for his analysis of extrinsic or instrumental value.

For a discussion of modern philosophers’ distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic value, see Zimmerman, Michael J., "Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Value", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>. For modern studies of value in sociology, see Norm (social) and Value (personal and cultural). For value theory in economics, see Value (economics), Intrinsic theory of value, and Theory of value (economics).TBR-qed (talk) 22:15, 16 September 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]

New section: Relational value[edit]

Jennifer Cutbill has recently added a new sub-section named "Relational value", which I removed afterwards with the reasons given in the edit summary. She has responded on her talk page with the text:

Dear @phlsph7 - I appreciate you taking the time to add your comments in response to the subsection I added to the 'Value Theory' page yesterday (March 6th PST). I am curious to know more about your specific concerns and how they might best be remedied. I have reviewed the guidelines link you referenced but do not see any lack of compliance. I have reinstated the revisions in the interim - so that others have the opportunity to add their insights and collaboratively upgrade the content - but I also look forward to better understanding your positions so that this content can be upgraded with the benefit of your insights also.

My reply is as follows: One problem with the current proposal is that it includes various unnecessary external links in the body of the article. This problem is easily solved by removing the links. Another problem is that some of the information is only marginally relevant, like all the titles of Dr. Kai Chan. Just using "Dr. Kai Chan" should be sufficient if his name appears in reference anyways.

It seems to me that this section gives undue weight to this specific position in value theory. I had a look: the Stanford encyclopedia article on value theory doesn't mention "relational value" and the Oxford handbook of value theory doesn't include "relational value" in its index. One way to address this problem is to cut down the size of this section, for example by removing the 2nd paragraph and removing the mentions of IPBES. I would also remove the reference to the "dominant capitalism paradigms". Phlsph7 (talk) 01:36, 8 March 2021 (UTC)Reply[reply]

To clarify: the external links I'm talking about are to the pages of the individual researchers. Phlsph7 (talk) 03:11, 8 March 2021 (UTC)Reply[reply]