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Value Theory, and How Dooyeweerd Might Enrich It

(This was originally a draft for a section of a paper on values for a journal in ecology. It was not used for that, so is used here, after suitable modification. Treat it as a draft in progress, take the ideas and develop them. Thank you. )

The discourse around values is confusing, with many types of values discussed: universal, intrinsic, final, instrumental, extrinsic, terminal, relational, social, shared, assigned, held and others (Brown 1984; Jones et al. 2016; Tadaki et al. 2017; Orsi 2015; O'Neill et al. 2008).

If we examine some definitions offered for various types of value, shown in columns 1 and 2 if Table 1 (column 3 is used later), we find that, in all but one, the value of nature is determined by human subjectivity (usefulness or other assignment of value). The very possibility of value is presupposed to lie within human beings. The differences between them are (briefly) that some focus on the human subject (the assigner), some on the values that humans hold, and some on the object to which value is assigned, and some of the relationship among them. Some, originating in psychology tend to focus on assignment by individuals, while others focus on values shared by groups or even societies; the latter value types sometimes transcend individuals, but do not transcend human society.

The exception is intrinsic values, which allows for the possibility of values regardless of humans. (Stalhammer & T 2019 differentiate three kinds called "intrinsic" value, of which this one is their third, objective value. A full philosophical discussion of value types would consider all three.) (Objective) intrinsic value has been difficult to integrate with other kinds of value (especially "instrumental"), forming an "unhelpful dichotomy" (Chan et al. 2018). The problem is the fundamental gulf between subjective versus objective, which came to clearest expression in Kant.

Table 1. Definitions of various types of values, and Dooyeweerdian account
Type of value Definition Dooyeweerdian account
Instrumental values. Beliefs about how desired modes of action can benefit the subject (Rokeach 1973) Belief about one or more aspects that define the good that a subject might obtain by functioning in each aspect, usually with objects.
Terminal values. Beliefs about desired end-states (Rokeach 1973) Beliefs about one or more aspects as bringing about good in general
Intrinsic values. The value of e.g. nature regardless of value to humans (Piccolo 2017); Objective values (Stalhammer & Thoren 2019) The good that an aspect makes possible because of its meaningfulness.
Held values. Enduring preferences by an individual, conceived by them as desirable, which affect their behaviour (Brown 1984) The aspects that the individual is committed to; this commitment retrocipatorily affects their functioning in all aspects.
Assigned values. Preference relationships between individual subject and object that results in objects being of specific importance to the subject relative the individual's held values. (Brown 1984) Aspects picked out by the subject and applied to objects.
Social values. (a) "values of a particular community or the cultural values and norms of society at large", (b) "public interest, values for public goods, 'altruistic' values ..." or (c) "non-monetary place-based values" (Kenter et al. 2015, 88) (a) Aspects agreed as of special importance by those in a community. (b) Aspects that, when functioned in by multiple people, affect the community. (c) Aspects not being transduced to quantitative functioning.
Shared values. "guiding principles and normative values that are shared by groups or communities" or "values held in common by groups in particular contexts" (Kenter et al. 2015, 87,88) Aspects held to be important to a community, expressed as laws or norms.
Relational values. "preferences, principles, and virtues associated with relationships, both interpersonal and as articulated by policies and social norms" (Chan et al., 2016). Aspect(s) in which a subject-object relationship is meaningful, such as aesthetic or economic.

Since ecology is faced with the possibility that nature has value regardless of human use or preferences, its discourse will include intrinsic values alongside others, while its practice will include all types. How do we achieve this?

Integrative foundations need philosophy. Reformational philosophy discusses a fundamental reason for this dichotomy and offers a way to overcome it.

[Here we might have a discussion of philosophical foundations that have been offered for values. ]

What Dooyeweerd (1979, 9) called the Nature-Freedom ground-motive has acted as a "spriticul driving force" behind most thought movements over the past 500 years, expressing itself variously in polar dichotomies and oppositions like determination-freedom, objective-subjective, Is-Ought, being-values and nonhuman-human, the latter two being especially relevant here. Dooyeweerd abandoned the Nature-Freedom ground-motive and worked out a philosophical approach based on a creational ground-motive, in which the meaningfulness of all creation (human, non-human) is fundamental.

He radically rethought several long-phl presuppositions (for fuller treatment see Basden (2019)). Instead of reductionism or dualistic dichotomies, meaningfulness is pluralistic: diverse yet coherent. In an extensive review of philosophical discourse and practical experience (Dooyeweerd 1955,II,1-428), Dooyeweerd argued for fifteen fundamental ways in which all - human and nonhuman - can be meaningful in quantitative, spatial, kinematic, physical, biotic, psychical and, especially for humans, also analytical, formative, lingual, social, ecnomic, aesthetic, juridical, ethical and ultimate ways, which we experience as aspects of reality. (He warns however that no such suite of aspects is ever a final truth but only ever a best guess (p.556).) Importantly, (a) no aspect can be derived from others, (b) each aspect fundamentally harmonises with others, (c) no aspect is, a priori, more important than any other - though in any situation one might be more meaningful.

Instead of divorcing value from being, Dooyeweerd argued that all being (including process, relationship) and all good originate in meaningfulness, both being made possible in the most fundamental way by meaningfulness. For example, a poem exists, qua poem, because of the aesthetic aspect and the value-judgement between good and poor poem always refers to the aesthetic aspect, even when other aspects might also be relevant.

Instead of separating subjective from objective and then trying to re-relate them, Dooyeweerd sees both as functioning together, simultaneously in all aspects. Meaningfulness implies law, of basic diverse kinds, which enable functioning (e.g. physical, biotic, economic laws) (Basden 2019). The Dooyeweerdian subject-object relationship is an expression of aspectual functioning, different in each aspect. For example, "X eats Y", "X ingests Y", "X enjoys Y", "X consumes Y" are all different statements about the same activity, meaningful from the biotic, physical, aesthetic and economic aspects respectively. X is subject, Y is object. Just as fish swim, and are enabled to exist, in an ocean, so all reality, human and nonhuman, 'swims' and is enabled to exist, in an 'ocean of meaningfulness'.

Instead of locating value in subject, object or relationship, Dooyeweerd located value in the aspects that make subject, object and relationship possible. For example, the ecological, aesthetic or economic value of a tree lies not in humanity nor even the tree but in the aspectual possibilities afforded by the biotic, aesthetic and economic aspects. When a (human) subject is aware or, or argues for, any particular value of trees, for example, they are 'picking out' one aspect from the whole multi-aspectual coherence of meaningfulness.

This allows us to understand values, both objective and subjective (and intersubjective) within the same framework. Column 3 of Table 1 briefly suggests how Dooyeweerd might account for each type of values.

(Here we would explain and discuss each of the Dooyeweerdian views of each value type.)

It may be operationalised as follows for analysis and planning in real-life situations.


Chan, K. M. A., Gould, R. K., & Pascual, U. (2018). Editorial overview: Relational values: what are they, and what's the fuss about? Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 35, A1 - A7.

O'Neill, J. (2017). Life beyond capital (Issue October). Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity.

O'Neill, J., Holland, A., & Light, A. (2008). Environmental Values. Routledge.

Orsi, F. (2015). Value Theory. In T. Brooks & S. Kirchin (Eds.), Bloomsbury Ethics. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Stalhammer S, Thoren H. 2019. Three perspctives on relational values of nature. Sustainability Science, 14, 1201-12.

Tadaki, M., Sinner, J., & Chan, K. M. A. (2017). Making sense of environmental values: A typology of concepts. Ecology and Society, 22(1).

See Also

This page, '', is part of a collection of pages that links to various thinkers, within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

Written on the Amiga and Protext in the style of classic HTML.

You may use this material subject to conditions. For example, anyone might develop the ideas.

Created: 4 June 2020 Last updated: 11 June 2020 invite people to use the ideas. Links to schwartz.values, normativity.