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What is Value? An Interpretive Profile



1. Etymology: from Latin valere = to be of worth

2. Narrow Definition: The property or quality of being good, useful, esteemed, desirable, or worthy. Traditionally, value has been philosophically defined on two interrelated levels:

a) Intrinsic value: valued for itself as an end or final goal:

  • Hedonism: pleasure (Greek: hędonę)
  • Virtue ethics: well being, human flourishing or fulfillment (Greek: eudaimonia)
  • British Utilitarianism: happiness
  • Religious ethics: beatitude, bliss, salvation, eternal life, deliverance from suffering, etc.
  • Democracy: freedom
  • Health

b) Instrumental value: valued as a means or instrument to achieving a goal:

  • Money → buy things, take vacations, leisure lifestyle, etc.
  • Car → get from point A to point B, etc.
  • School → job, knowledge, etc.
  • Health → necessary condition for the enjoyment of everything else
  • Food, air, shelter, etc. → continued biological survival
  • Power → control of others, domination, personal gain, helping others, etc.

3. General Definition (employed in value theory or axiology): The entire scope of negative as well as positive values corresponding to objects in general. At this level of abstract generality or formal structure, value is a graduated range, spectrum or continuum. Consequently, on this general level, value exhibits an oppositional or polar structure. However, there are, in principle, an infinite series of incremental gradations between the polar extremes. The axiology continuum below is designed to diagrammatically display the form of value as delineated above:

Axiology Continuum
Worst Negative Neutral Positive Highest


Value Sphere Positive Value Negative Value
Physical Pleasure Pain
Practical Useful Useless
Intellectual True False
Biological Life Death
Ethics Right Wrong
Emotion Love Hate
Economic Wealth Poverty
Aesthetic Beauty Ugliness
Legal Innocence Guilt
Religious Sacred Profane
Political Autonomy Heteronomy
Interpersonal Friendly Unfriendly
Public Civility Incivility
International Relations Peace War