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Human Values Project (Explanations)

Human Values and Wisdom Project

Overview: Human Values Project



Scope and rationale
Background
Organization and structure
Information content
Method and development

Explanatory comments
Context

Reservations and disclaimer
Statistics
Media used & multi-media


Scope and rationale

The importance of values is frequently cited in relation to the global problematique, whether it be in debates in international assemblies, in studies criticizing "value-free" approaches to research, or in discussion of quality of life and individual fulfilment. Values are deemed especially important in questions of cultural development and are central to concern for the preservation of cultural heritage.

A general comment on the rationale of this project is provided separately (Introductory Comments on Programme on Human Values and Wisdom)

The purpose of this project is to register a comprehensive range of values with which people identify, to which they are attracted or which they reject as abhorrent. Whilst it had been hoped to develop such lists from documents of international bodies, no adequate lists of values were located, even within the intergovernmental agencies (such as UNESCO) specifically concerned with human values, and despite numerous reports and meetings on "values" in recent years. The values referred to are very seldom named, although the commonest may be cited as examples. The list presented here has therefore been elaborated by the editors as an experiment based on the selection and interrelationship of constructive and destructive value words.

The appreciation of the subtlest values, and especially value dilemmas, is intimately related to "wisdom", however it is to be understood. There is therefore a concern to explore the possibility of a framework in which explicit links between "values" and "wisdom" could be established.

  • "Constructive values": Widespread recognition is currently given to the importance of identifying constructive values as a guide to formulation of policy and action programmes in response to problems. Indeed it may be argued that such problems are only perceptible in the light of the values they infringe. Specific values are frequently cited in political discourse as a rallying focus around which people may be incited to action.

    It is therefore appropriate to determine the range of "concepts" that can, and possibly should, be cited in this way. Yet despite the frequent references to "values", it is not clear in most cases to what values reference is being made. There exists a core group of values (eg peace, justice) on which there is a very extensive literature. Social scientists responding to the needs of market researchers have identified value complexes with which different consumer groups identify. Religions have traditionally identified lists of virtues. But it would appear that no attempt has been made to list the values which are identifiable in contemporary society. And yet it is supposedly in the light of such values that people and groups guide the development processes in which they engage, whether consciously or unconsciously.

  • "Destructive values": Most of the world problems in this volume are identified by names incorporating a word implying some form of destructive value (eg injustice, imbalance, inadequate, endangered). Indeed it may be argued that it is the availability of such words as operators which enable certain conditions to be defined and perceived as problematic. For example, the word "endangered" as a value operator, may be applied to many physical and social phenomena, thus raising the question as to whether they constitute recognized potential problems (eg endangered whales, endangered minorities, endangered cultures).

Given the considerable difficulty in distinguishing between problems identified by similar value operators of this type, it is important to explore the way available destructive value words lead to perception of problems.

Organization and structure

For this experimental project within the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, codes have been appended to the value words. These codes correspond to the type sections into which the descriptive profiles have been tentatively clustered in the Encyclopedia. No attempt has been made to use more complex groupings (as is done for the associated world problems or strategies database entries).

The section contains 3,254 entries linked by 23,237 cross-references as follows (figures for 4th edition, 1994-95) . It is divided into four parts (or categories of values):

  • "Constructive values": Section VC contains 987 constructive value words (eg peace, harmony, beauty). This section lists in alphabetic order 987 words which can be considered as reflecting "constructive" values. Because of the ambiguous connotations of many such words, they are each cross-referenced to a number of entries in Section VP. The entries in Section VP are each value categories or dimensions denoted by a pair of "constructive" and "destructive" value words in opposition, namely a "value polarity". This polar relationship sharpens the meaning that can be associated with a particular interpretation of the constructive value word identified in this section.

  • "Destructive values": Section VD contains 1,992 destructive value words (eg conflict, depravity, ugliness). This section lists in alphabetic order 1,992 words which can be considered as reflecting "destructive" values. Because of the ambiguous connotations of many such words, they are each cross-referenced to a number of entries in Section VP. The entries in Section VP are each value categories or dimensions denoted by a pair of "constructive" and "destructive" value words in opposition, namely a "value polarity".

  • "Value polarities": Section VP contains 230 entries on value-polarities (eg agreement-disagreement, freedom- restraint, pleasure-displeasure) derived from the organization of Roget's Thesaurus. These group and link the entries of Sections VC and VD. Associating value words with value polarities also responds significantly to potential differences of opinion as to whether a particular value should be considered "constructive" as opposed to "destructive" (as could well be the case under certain circumstances). It is for this reason that the more usual terms "positive" and "negative" were not used. It is more understandable that "destructive" action may be necessary to clear the way for "constructive" action, and that "constructive" action may reach the point at which "destructive" action is necessary to initiate some new phase.

    Associating value words with value polarities also responds significantly to potential differences of opinion as to whether a particular value should be considered "constructive" as opposed to "destructive" (as could well be the case under certain circumstances). It is for this reason that the more usual terms "positive" and "negative" were not used. It is more understandable that "destructive" action may be necessary to clear the way for "constructive" action, and that "constructive" action may reach the point at which "destructive" action is necessary to initiate some new phase.

    Rather than attempt the possibly sterile exercise of producing descriptive texts on each value polarity, the entries include selected proverbs, aphorisms and quotations. This has the merit of highlighting the significance of each value dimension in a succinct and pithy manner linking it both to cultural lore and to the insights of those to whom wisdom is attributed in contemporary society. This material has been deliberately selected to highlight the dynamic relationship between values guiding constructive and destructive action.

  • "Value types": Section VT consists of 45 "value types" or "value complexes" which are used to group the value-polarities of Section VP.

None of the entries contain "descriptions" of the value(s) implied. In most cases this would be superfluous. The words in Section VC reflect values which tend to be accepted without questioning.

Those in Section VD reflect values which tend to be rejected without questioning. The emphasis is placed on using the cross-references to indicate the range of connotations of particular value words. The entries on value polarities, Section VP, do however list proverbs, aphorisms or quotations selected to illustrate the dynamic counter-intuitive relationship between constructive and destructive values. They endeavour to draw on popular wisdom or insight to demonstrate the negative consequences and limitations of blind adherence to constructive values or to demonstrate the positive consequences and creative opportunity of judicious action in the light of destructive values. They point to the existence of a more fundamental and challenging dynamic than that implied, for example, by peace-at-all-costs and total rejection of conflict.

This exploration of values is of special interest in relation to the world problems in Section P. Many problems are named in international debate using a destructive value word (eg insufficient, unrealistic, unjust, inappropriate). Problems defined in this way imply the existence of some corresponding value whose expression is infringed by the problem. Such values may or may not be noted in defining the purposes underlying remedial action in response to the problem, although often they form part of the wording of any rallying slogan in support of some international strategy. An attempt has been made to cross-reference problems from Section VD.

The set of constructive and destructive value words does indicate a way of coming to grips with the range of problems which the existing language renders perceivable and nameable. Such values also indicate possible dimensions of human development. This section is of course limited at this stage by the biases inherent in Roget's Thesaurus and the English language. It does however create a framework which could enable these limitations to be transcended.

Information content

Profile / Checklists of human values, and their relationships, relevant to the aims of international constituencies (intergovernmental organizations, international nongovernmental associations (NGOs) and other bodies -- profiled in a complementary source: Yearbook of International Organizations):

  • Value entries currently profiled (with over 14,000 relationships between them):
    • Constructive / Positive values (987)
    • Destructive / Negative values (1,992)
    • Value polarities (230)
  • Entry content and organization

Method and development

The procedures used in preparing this section are discussed in detail in a commentary. They are based on use of the standard reference work Roget's Thesaurus as representing a much-used example of the way one international language is used. The method is based on selecting and interrelating words from Roget's Thesaurus which was considered a comprehensive reference work providing a useful framework for this exploratory exercise.

Source: There are no official lists of approaches to human values. The human values profiled here are derived from an experimental systematic exploration of the value-charged words in Roget's Thesaurus as explained in the commentary. It is recognized that this necessarily refelcts a particular methodoligical bias towards values articulated in English, and within English-speaking cultures. This was done to develop a database framework with which other values could be associated.

Names: Human values may have a variety of names, especially through the manner in which they are translated between different languages and spiritual traditions. The alphabetic index list, based on a single name per value, is therefore an essentially arbitrary ordering of the items in the database. As a random presentation of the contents of the database, it has the advantage of drawing attention to the variety of values to which indivuals and groups may attach importance.

Development: Although this is the complete list of the human value entries published in the Encyclopedia, it is important to recognize that the database is continually being expanded, notably through the addition of other approaches that are aspects of those already included in the list. In addition to refining and extending the set of words and cross-references, ways of incorporating equivalent words from other languages need to be considered.

Explanatory comments

As noted above, a general comment on the rationale of this project is provided separately (Introductory Comments on Programme on Human Values and Wisdom).

Detailed explanations and commentary are also provided in a collection of 19 documents

Research studies on values, written in relation to this project and to international organizations, are directly accessible from a separate checklist (Documents relating to Human Values and Wisdom).

The information on values, and how it can be organized, is seen as one of the keys to the global organization of knowledge about organizations, strategies, or problems. A number of the documents explore the configuration of the value polarities in the database to this end.

Note that more general comments and explanations, regarding the collection of projects initiated within the framework of the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, are available in a collection of 27 documents.

Context

The contents presented by this project may be considered as complementing the other projects in ways such as the following:

  • Human development: By the manner in which values acquire their significance through the pursuit of different modes of human development and through the association of many specific modes of awareness with the experience of particular values (see cross-references to Section H in value entries).
  • Integrative knowledge: By the challenge of providing integrative frameworks to interrelate seemingly unrelated values and by the inherently integrative nature of value perspectives.
  • World problems: By the direct correspondence between disvalues and problems (see Section VD), and by the manner in which problems only become perceptible in the light of the values upon which they infringe.
  • Metaphors and patterns: By the manner in which human values are communicated, and through the intrinsic value of communication in maintaining the fabric of global society.
  • Transformative approaches: By the values expressed or enhanced by innovative techniques.

Reservations and disclaimer

Reservations: Distinguishing value words as "constructive" rather than "destructive" raises many useful questions. Although this may often correspond to the reality of a conventional, first-order response, the reverse may be true under other more complex circumstances. Such difficulties have been partially resolved by stressing the value dimension, indicated by the value polarities cross-referenced in Section VP, rather than the individual value words.

Sections VC and VD could therefore have been merged. As an exploratory exercise the results must necessarily be considered as preliminary, and limited by dependence on the Roget framework and the English language. To the extent that some values (eg quality of life) are associated with phrases rather than single words (eg quality, life), this single-word approach can only be considered a preliminary exercise. In conformity with the general editorial policy, borderline value words have been included if they raise interesting questions concerning the criteria governing their inclusion.

Disclaimer: These profiles endeavour to distinguish between "positive" and "negative" human values. It is important to recognize that this may be extremely misleading, since "constructive" values may be perceived as "destructive" under certain circumstances, and vice versa. The purpose of this list is to raise questions about the circumstances under which particular values may be seen as constructive or destructive. It is for the reader to exercise discrimination in determining under what circumstances particular approaches may be considered as "positive" or "negative" in their implications. Presence of items on this list in no way implies approval of a particular approach by the UIA as an organization. Extensive commentary on these issues is provided in the Encyclopedia.

Statistics

Statistics on human values, in the light of the methodology of this project, are provided in tables in the commentary and were published in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential. They are also also available on-line

Media used & multi-media

The information generated by this project on human values (and relationships between them and with entities profiled in other projects) has been published initially in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential; subsequently it has been made available on-line.

Networks of relationships between different human values have been explored with the experimental visualization techniques associated with the on-line version.


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This work is licensed by Anthony Judge
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