Value comes from the Middle English, meaning worth or high quality, by way of the AngloFrench, and thence from the Latin, valere, to be of worth, be strong. It is related to “wield”, to handle effectively, to exert one’s authority.
The etymology of value thus gives us an insight into its nature: the importance of values lies in part in the fact that they are related to specific practices—that is, they are lived. Values in the sense that we will be using them in this course, then, are by definition wedded to action. We enact our values, we perform or do them.
It’s also instructive to note that in dictionary definitions of the term value, the primary meaning generally given is an economic one. From Merriam-Webster: 1) a fair return or equivalent in goods, services, or money for something exchanged. 2) the monetary worth of something; Market price
Our use of the term value for the purposes of this course is reflected only in the final definition: something (as a principle or quality) intrinsically valuable or desirable.
The term “intrinsically” essentially means that something is what it is on its own account. That is, intrinsic values are valuable in and of themselves. Their worth is not relative to other values; they are good in their own right.
What is intrinsic value?
If someone asks you whether it is good to help others in a time of need you would probably answer “yes”. If she then asked you why acting this way was good, you might reply b/c it is good that our needs are satisfied. If the questioner went on to inquire as to what the good of satisfying needs was, you could respond that the satisfaction of needs brings pleasure. If you were asked what the good of pleasure was, then, having lost all patience, you would likely to say “it just is”.
This is intrinsic value: that which “just is.” It is the moment at which a value no longer relies on anything outside of itself. It is self-evident, and thus no longer the subject of any debate. This is the terrain we will be navigating in this course. It is a stark landscape of certainties that resist being charted. We, however, will refuse to be stymied. We are going to examine some of the core beliefs of American Life and attempt to understand how they shape our sense of ourselves and how they are acted upon. In the process, some of these values may lose their inscrutability.