Key Ethics Term: Value

The term ‘value’ distinguishes descriptive statements/beliefs (e.g. the world is spherical) from normative statements (e.g. clinicians ought/should be compassionate). In the latter case we are making evaluative judgments or calling something good/bad.

Sometimes we take value to be intrinsic (e.g. we might say happiness is valuable in itself, not for some other goal), and sometimes we take value to be extrinsic (e.g. when we say x job is good because it pays well, or e.g. empathy is good because it helps patients heal more quickly).

We can also say that value is subjective or objective. For instance, wealth may be a subjective value that one person holds but not another (the value is relative to the subject/person). Whereas, we might say that compassion is objectively valuable because we all agree to its value, or because there is evidence that it makes persons and communities live well/ flourish, or because it is dictated by religious text, etc. (though some might disagree about whether compassion is an objective value, or whether anything can have objective value).