Value (ethics)

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Money economy has filled the days of so many people with weighing, calculating, with numerical determinations, with a reduction of qualitative values to quantitative ones. ~ Georg Simmel

Value, in ethics, is a property of objects, including physical objects as well as abstract objects (e.g. actions), representing their degree of importance.

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A[edit]

  • Blessed, plainly, is that life which is not valued at the estimation of outsiders, but is known, as judge of itself, by its own inner feelings. It needs no popular opinion as its reward in any way; nor has it any fear of punishments. Thus the less it strives for glory, the more it rises above it.
    • Ambrose, On The Duties of the Clergy, Book 2, Chapter 1

C[edit]

  • Both the court and the general public give a conventional value to men and things, and then are surprised to find themselves deceived by it. This is as if arithmeticians should give a variable an arbitrary value to the figures in a sum, and then, after restoring their true and regular value in the addition, be astonished at the incorrectness of their answer.
    • Nicolas Chamfort, Maxims and Considerations, E. P. Mathers, trans. (1926), #199


  • No man can purchase his virtue too dear, for it is the only thing whose value must ever increase with the price it has cost us.

F[edit]

  • It is not our affluence, or our plumbing, or our clogged freeways that grip the imagination of others. Rather, it is the values upon which our system is built. These values imply our adherence not only to liberty and individual freedom, but also to international peace, law and order, and constructive social purpose. When we depart from these values, we do so at our peril.
    • J. William Fulbright, remarks in the Senate (June 29, 1961), Congressional Record, vol. 107, p. 11703

G[edit]

  • Everything excellent limits us momentarily because we feel unable to match up to it; only insofar as we subsequently accept it into our own culture, absorb it as belonging to our own mental and temperamental powers, do we come to love and value it.


  • Is it because Westerners have come to lose their intellectuality through over-developing their capacity for action that they console themselves by inventing theories which set action above everything, and even go so far, as in the case of pragmatism, as to deny that there exists anything of value beyond action; or is the contrary true, that it is the acceptance of this point of view that has led to the intellectual atrophy we see today?

H[edit]

  • The idea that an aim can be reasonable for its own sake—on the basis of virtues that insight reveals it to have in itself—without reference to some kind of subjective gain or advantage, is utterly alien to subjective reason, even where it rises above the consideration of immediate utilitarian values and devotes itself to reflection about the social order as a whole.

K[edit]

  • I'm convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered.

M[edit]

  • No philosopher would be willing to accept the idea of philosophy as a way of escape, but might there not be a question of the philosopher being in duty bound to refuse to accept a world, like our real world here, of disorder and crime where the values of the mind and spirit can no longer find a home?


  • Virtue is not a chemical product, as Taine once described it: it is a historic product, like language and literature; and this means that if we cease to care about it, cease to cultivate it, cease to transmit its funded values, a large part of it will become meaningless, like a dead language to which we have lost the key. That, I submit, is what has happened in our own lifetime.

N[edit]

  • Behold the good and the just! ... Behold the believers of all faiths! Whom do they hate most? The man who breaks their tables of values, the breaker, the lawbreaker. Yet he is the creator.


  • Around the inventors of new values the world revolves: invisibly it revolves. But around the actors revolve people and fame.


  • Let the value of all things be posited newly by you.


  • We carry faithfully what one gives us to bear, on hard shoulders and over rough mountains. And should we sweat, we are told “Yes, life is a grave burden.” But man is only a grave burden to himself! That is because he carries on his shoulders too much that is alien to him. ... Especially the strong, reverent spirit that would bear much: he loads too many alien grave words and values on himself.


  • When we speak of values, we speak under the inspiration, and through the optics, of life. Life itself urges us to determine values. Life itself values through us when we determine values.

P[edit]

  • Talk of the sublime, the exalted, the eternal, the passionate, of glory, challenge, or majesty fills some of us with bewilderment, discomfort, and embarrassment; others with sour resentment or scornful disbelief. To reinstate such values seems to us like trying to reinstate Ptolemaic astronomy—equally misguided, incomprehensible, and inimical to our perceived interests.


  • Of my past wanderings the sole fruit is shame,
And deep repentance, of the knowledge born
That all we value in this world is naught.
  • Petrarch, The Sonnets, Triumphs, and Other Poems of Petrarch, p. 117


  • We ought not to treat living creatures like shoes or household belongings, which when worn with use we throw away.
    • Plutarch, Life of Cato the Censor (1st century)


R[edit]

  • The politics of the unpolitical—these are the politics of those who desire to be pure in heart: the politics of men without personal ambition; of those who have not desired wealth or an unequal share of worldly possessions; of those who have always striven, whatever their race or condition, for human values and not for national or sectional interests.
    For our Western world, Christ is the supreme example of this unselfish devotion to the good of humanity, and the Sermon on the Mount is the source of all the politics of the unpolitical.
    • Herbert Read, “The Politics of the Unpolitical,” To Hell with Culture (1963), p. 38


  • Natural man is entirely for himself. He is numerical unity, the absolute whole which is relative only to itself or its kind. Civil man is only a fractional unity dependent on the denominator; his value is determined by his relation to the whole, which is the social body.

S[edit]

  • Money economy has filled the days of so many people with weighing, calculating, with numerical determinations, with a reduction of qualitative values to quantitative ones.


  • Money, with all its colorlessness and indifference, becomes the common denominator of all values; irreparably it hollows out the core of things, their individuality, their specific value, and their incomparability. All things float with equal specific gravity in the constantly moving stream of money. All things lie on the same level and differ from one another only in the size of the area which they cover.

T[edit]

  • Money does not represent such a value as men have placed upon it. All my money has been invested into experiments with which I have made new discoveries enabling mankind to have a little easier life.
    • Nikola Tesla as quoted in "A Visit to Nikola Tesla" by Dragislav L. Petković in Politika (April 1927); also in Tesla, Master of Lightning (1999) by Margaret Cheney, Robert Uth, and Jim Glenn, p. 82

W[edit]

  • The essential characteristic of the first half of the twentieth century is the growing weakness, and almost the disappearance, of the idea of value.
    • Simone Weil, “The responsibility of writers,” On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, R. Rees, trans. (1968), p. 167


  • A cynic, a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.


  • No art can be judged by purely aesthetic standards, although a painting or a piece of music may appear to give a purely aesthetic pleasure. Aesthetic enjoyment is an intensification of the vital response, and this response forms the basis of all value judgements. The existentialist contends that all values are connected with the problems of human existence, the stature of man, the purpose of life. These values are inherent in all works of art, in addition to their aesthetic values, and are closely connected with them.
    • Colin Wilson in The Chicago Review (Volume 13, no. 2, 1959, p. 152-181)


  • The characteristic of the really great writer is the ability of his mind to to suddenly leap beyond his ordinary human values, into sudden perception of universal values.

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External links[edit]

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