Are Values Relative or Universal? - Values Inquiry - Defining Values


Are values relative or universal? What is definition of values? What is the meaning of values inquiry?

Defining Values

Values have been discussed and debated for millennia. Plato, Aristotle, and Kant are among the many philosophers who have weighed in on a question about

  • what values are,
  • where they come from
  • and how they impact our lives

The term value originates from Valere's Latin word, meaning "to be worth."

According to the Encyclopedia of Ethics, Value is a thing or property that is itself worth having, getting, or doing, or that possesses some property that makes it so and that a value belongs to anything necessary for, or a contribution to, some living being or beings thriving, flourishing, fulfillment or well being.

Are values relative or universal? What is definition of values? What is the meaning of values inquiry?

According to Milton Rokeach- Value is an enduring belief that a specific mode of conduct or end-state of existence is personally or socially preferable to an opposite or converse method of conduct or end-state of existence.

Shalom Schwartz – Values are conceptions of the desirable that guide the way people select actions, evaluate people and events, and explain their actions and evaluations.

Summing up the definitional issues – it is more or less agreed by the scholars that:-

  • values are agents of our thinking, acting, and choosing
  • values may be selfishly or societally oriented; rooted in ideals or practicality
  • some values are moral; others are non-moral
  • some values are specific; others are abstract
  • values underlie our attitudes, beliefs, and opinions, which in turn underlie our behavior
  • we seek consistency/balance in our values, either consciously or unconsciously.


Values Inquiry

To make our values inquiry more scientific, we should ask these questions:

  1. Where and how did we learn or gain our values? Did they spring upon us without being aware of them, or was it a conscious process? Have we been brainwashed or propagandized into accepting specific values, or has it been the result of commonly accepted education – in home, religious institutions, or school?
  2. Does it matter whether these values were developed rationally or irrationally, imposed upon us by authority figures or self-selected?
  3. What is the most appropriate arena for the inculcation of values- religious setting, home, classroom, on the street through mass media form societal consensus, from laws or court decisions, serious inquiry should show how these value-forming institutions are frequently in conflict, causing the contents of our value system ebb and flow.

If we agree that ethics demand decision-making and that decision-making is based on values, then we must understand values to understand ethics. Knowing the different values that underlie our ethical decision-making approaches will better recognize our priorities.

Are values Relative or Universal?

Although values have been defined differently, many social scientists over the past half-century have concluded that people share the same values- to different degrees, of course. The debate over 'core values' is far from settled, and evidence demonstrates that we don't always walk our talk while saying we value something.

United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights states – to belong to the world community, a nation-state should defend the core values of:

  • life
  • liberty
  • freedom from personal attack
  • freedom from slavery;
  • recognition before the law and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty;
  • freedom from torture;
  • freedom of conscience and religion;
  • freedom of expression;
  • the right to privacy, family, and correspondence;
  • freedom to maintain health and well-being.

Kidder in 2004 says thoughtful people were asked what values they would include in a global code of ethics; there was consensus about

  • love,
  • truth,
  • fairness,
  • freedom
  • unity,
  • tolerance responsibility and
  • respect for life.

In 1996 in a survey of 272 global ethicists organized by Mikhail Gorbachev, five core moral values were identified as universal:-

  1. compassion,
  2. honesty,
  3. fairness,
  4. responsibility, and
  5. respect

In 2004 analysis of citizen ethics in a global context by Clifford Christians of the University of Illinois and Kaarle Nordessreng of Finland led to a shortlist of universal values that emerge from the sacredness of human life:

  1. respect for human dignity,
  2. respect for truth-telling,
  3. and care for non-violence-no harm to the innocent

How Values Determine a Person's Choices

  • A person's values shape how they react when confronted with a choice.
  • Values are defined as deeply held convictions and beliefs about what is practical, desirable, or morally right.
  • We consistently rank values higher than the others are our core values, defining character and personality.
  • Values are what we prize, and our values system is the order in which we prize them. These values may or may not be ethical values. (Josephson)
  • Ethical values directly relate to beliefs about what is proper- honesty, promise-keeping, fairness, compassion, respect for the privacy of others.
  • Non-ethical values (ethically neutral) relate not to moral duty but to desire: wealth, status, happiness- pursuing non-ethical deals is not morally wrong as long as ethical values are not violated. Non-ethical values that a journalist might hold – selling more newspapers, raising broadcast ratings – though they are excellent values, the crucial question is how they are achieved.
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Values, Relative values, universal values, definition of values, values inquiry, Sociology, Mass Communication,

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