The Epistemology of Values

Values are that which one acts to gain or keep. Living entities act to achieve various ends. They decide, by some standard of evaluation, which ends are wanted, and to what degree. The combination of an end to which one can act towards, and the wanting to accomplish those ends, is a value.

Values are automated judgments about particular ends. Similar to emotions, they are originally derived through the use of reason. They are derived from an initial judgment about the merits of particular ends to achieve some goal. The automated response comes in the form of "wanting" something. Since it is based on a previous judgment, it can sometimes be stale or incorrect, just as an emotion is.

Values are not desires. A desire is an emotional longing for something. It differs from values in a couple ways. First, the desire may not be achievable. One may desire to grow wings and fly. Values are concerned with goals one is able to pursue. Only when a course of action is apparent can one value something.

Another difference between values and desires is the emotional content. Desires are emotions, so a desire without an emotional response is a contradiction. A value, on the other hand, need not have an emotional response. It is an automated judgment, which often produces a desire, but not necessarily. One may value getting a college degree to get a better job, but certainly during a long, boring lecture, the emotion desire is not applicable, except in reference to wanting to leave class.

Values are important to men because they are the motivation to act. Purposeful action requires values. Since there can exist many values, they need to be compared in order to decide which action to take. At an quasi-emotional level, this is easy. Whichever value is wanted the most. However, since the values are based on a previous judgment, and on a goal to which the ends produce, the degree of wanting needs to be rationally determined. This is the goal of ethical values.


Copyright 2001 by Jeff Landauer and Joseph Rowlands