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The Peculiar Logic of Value

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A system of values plays an important intermediary role in the human conceptual system. An individual associates a value – an abstract valence and quantity – with a past, present, or contemplated object or action in the environment, and uses values to help determine what actions to take. Value can be categorized into a number of different types, the most important of which for the purposes of the present article are affective value (how good the action is for someone), normative value (how good the action is of someone), and esteem (how good a reputation someone has). Normative value in turn divides into several subdomains such as moral value, legality, etiquette, and religious value. In addition, values can be divided along the orthogonal dimension of objective (value tout court) versus subjective (value in the eyes of a particular person). Each type of value plays its own characteristic role in affecting choice of action in interaction with the others.

Given an explicit formulation of systems of value, it then becomes possible to work out more precise accounts of value-laden systems of concepts. Two are explored here: fairness and freely chosen reciprocity, the latter including retaliation, restitution, honoring, shaming, and apologizing.

The overall hypothesis that emerges from the investigation is that the basic categories of value and the inference rules built on them are human universals. Cultures' value systems differ primarily in (a) what actions and objects are assigned what values and (b) the relative weighting of different sources of value in cases where they interact.


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