University of Earth
Projects Overview (Explanations)
Human Values Project (Explanations)

Method: Approach

Human Values Project


1. Methodological bias

As has been frequently noted, there is a very extensive literature on values, with many books on single values such as justice, love, or peace. Such studies will continue to be produced in quantity. Despite the possible resulting distortion, the bias here is to focus on sets and systems of values, endeavouring to identify the individual values which might form part of any comprehensive collection of values.

The bias is therefore against wordy attempts to (re)define this or that value yet again. And it also against the many attempts to limit the range of useful values to 5 to 20 commonly recognized values. Such approaches may well fulfil a vital function, but in terms of this approach they assume the existence of information on the full range of values when this information seems to be totally lacking. There is no information on the value context from which selected values are chosen for detailed study or as prime values necessary for healthy social order.

The bias here is therefore to be simplistic, and even naive, in attempting to locate and interrelate a rich and extensive range of candidates for inclusion in the universe of values. As a preliminary exercise, this is also biased by the focus on the values carried by words in English.

These biases follow from the kinds of assumptions detailed in the discussion of the method used in collecting information on world problems (Section PZ) and on modes of awareness (Section HZ).

2. Challenge of language and artificial distinctions

As discussed in the introduction to the Encyclopedia and in relation to the identification of world problems (Section PZ) and of modes of awareness (Section HZ), the values that can be distinguished are intimately related to the kinds of distinctions established by the vocabulary used. The question is whether these distinctions are real and meaningful, for whom and under what circumstances.

Little need be said concerning the rich pattern of confusion obscured by any verbal consensus on the meaning and importance of "peace". Such words have many different connotations in practice. It is not very helpful to limit attention to such degrees of consensus.

Words which carry values are especially characterized by multiple connotations and overlapping patterns of meaning. It would seem that there is little hope of exploring value systems unless some attempt is made to encode this realm of fuzziness. That has been the orientation explored for this section.

3. Previous initiatives

When this project was initiated in 1972, efforts were made to trace comprehensive listings of values. Those that were found were either very short or explicitly oriented to one country. This situation had not changed when work was done on the second edition over the period (1983-86), despite the various projects identified above. For this reason, it was considered appropriate to generate, as an experimental exercise, a set of value words which could (at some stage) be cross-referenced to the world problems in this Encyclopedia.

A number of partial lists were used at that time to build up a preliminary comprehensive list. This was still inadequate in terms of the objective. There was difficulty in finding a satisfactory means of defining, distinguishing or regrouping values which could be considered synonyms. But the realization that value antonyms were reasonably indicative of the (world) problems to which the value word could be cross-referenced, suggested the use of synonym/antonym dictionaries both as a means of obtaining further values and as a means of identifying "values" in terms of a clusters of synonyms and antonyms. This resulted, for the 1976 edition, in a section containing 614 entries, each composed of the synonyms and antonyms of the particular value word.

In considering how to update this section for the 1986 edition, a further search was made for value lists without any success, despite the considerable interest in "values" in many sectors. After considering various approaches to updating the section, it was finally decided to abandon the entries from the previous edition and to use an entirely new approach which would build on the synonym/antonym pair.

The decision was made to take advantage of the well-established structure of Roget's Thesaurus (R L Chapman, 1979), which through its many editions can arguably be said to reflect a reasonably acceptable stable pattern of relationships between words in terms of their various connotations. It has stood the test of time. It is of course a very pragmatic approach to the organization of words and could be subject to many kinds of criticism, especially since it only orders words in English. Nevertheless, as a first step, it provides a better framework than is otherwise available.

4. Value words

The procedure initially adopted was to scan through the index to the thesaurus in two phases. In the first phase "constructive" value words were identified. In a second phase the same approach was used for "destructive" value words. Clearly these two phases could raise many difficulties. What is to be considered a "value word" and what can be usefully meant by "constructive" or "destructive"?

The value words initially included were those which implied some non-material quality which people might commonly be expected to value. An effort was made to select words in the noun form, although the quality might be more usually associated with the adjectival form. The presence of words denoting physical phenomena, but also used metaphorically to denote non-material qualities were considered acceptable in this exercise. The tendency, common to many sections of this volume, was to include words if they raised interesting questions, rather than excluding them because no immediate answer was available to the difficulties they raised.

In distinguishing "constructive" from "destructive" value words, the initial approach was to consider them as indicative of "positive" and "negative" values respectively. This quickly raised difficulties in the case of perhaps 510% of the words which could be associated with both positive or negative values, or be associated with values which some would consider positive and others negative. This difficulty is to some extent resolved by a subsequent phase, but the difficulty with such exceptions was further reduced by accepting the possibility of a first-order and a second- order response to a value word.

Thus, for example, a first-order response to "peace" (especially in its absence) is positive and peace is perceived as constructive. Whereas a second-order response (especially faced with the total absence of any form of conflict) is negative and peace is then perceived as stultifying, monotonous and uninspiring. Traditionally it is in reaction against this sense of peace that young people leave rural communities in search of adventure and challenge. In this sense the perception of peace metamorphoses into one of stagnation. Similarly a first-order response to "danger" is negative, whereas a second-order response (especially in a risk-free context) is positive because of the excitement and challenge.

5. Values implicit in world problems

In previous editions the identification of world problems as problematic was recognized as intimately related to sensitivity to some positive value. In practice this tended to be reflected in the presence of a corresponding negative value word in the the name given to a problem. For example: "endangered" species, "insecurity", inner city "violence". The possibility of explicitly linking individual problems to individual values through the negative value form was seen as opening a whole new approach to work on both problems and values.

As discussed in the difficulties with sharpening the names of problems, attention in this edition has focused increasingly on the nature of the "negative value operator" present in any problem name. Problem names have been viewed critically if they lacked such an operator. Computer routines were designed for this edition to test problem names for the presence of such negative value words as listed in the database corresponding to Section VD. This procedure led to the addition of grammatical variants of the destructive value words included in the previous edition. These are now indicated in Section VD as "alternatives" under whatever word seems most appropriate as the main one. But the procedure also led to a considerable increase in the number of such value words in the light of operators present in problem names but not previously included as negative value words. In effect the negative operators used in problem names, but previously absent from Section VD, necessitated repeating the procedure for encoding value words from the original theasaurus.

The requirement that every problem name have an explicit negative operator, present in Section VD, was not pursued rigidly. It was used as a guideline to raise questions about the adequacy of problem names. In many cases the negatives are implicit rather than explicit, notably in the case of specific diseases. From this perspective, the negative operator would tend to be present in broader problems to which such specific problems were hierarchically related. Many problems also have alternative common or shorthand names which lack any explicit negative.

It is important to recognize that in registering problems under names widely used by the international community and in the media, it is necessary to take account of grammatical forms and usage which are not necessarily of the clearest kind, however fashionable they may be. The English language allows considerable freedom for even the most official bodies to employ dubious grammatical forms. This is often evident in the naming of problems and specifically in the negative operator through which the problematic character of the problem is expressed, notably in the way in which negative prefixes (un-, non-, mal-, dis-, etc) are used to negativize a constructive value. It seems important to respect the rich variety of such terms in the effort to capture the values such words are seemingly being used to carry. At a later stage it may be appropriate to move towards a higher degree of standardization of value terminology. Selected problem names are listed under negative values in Section VD. Selected tops of problem hierarchies are listed in Section VP.

6. Values cited in descriptions of human development

Just as the entries on world problems were useful as a means of enriching negative value words, the descriptive texts of the human development entries in Section H were used to detect both positive and negative value words. Many of the human development processes described are concerned with the displacement of negative values by positive values. Words used there were checked by computer against the databases of value words.

This procedure was also seen as a test of the possibility of explictly cross-referencing the human development entries to the value entries as was done for the problem entries. As described later, some of the human development entries are exceptionally useful in suggesting ways of developing insight into the relationships binding sets of values into a coherent pattern. Selected human development entries referring to positive or negative values are listed in Section VC and VD.

7. Value connotations

In the preparatory work for the 1986 edition, the value words were initially coded in terms of a number based on that used in the Roget thesaurus. This number provided a means of working with the pattern of connotations associated with each word. On average each word was linked to three to four Roget categories by such codes. At this early stage it remained unclear how the information could be usefully presented. Much computer time was used in exploring ways of grouping the material so coded. This in itself produced some interesting results as indicated by Figure 1, which lists the constructive (positive) and Figure 2 which listed the destructive (negative) value words -- in each case with the largest number of cross-references to distinct Roget categories.

The information on constructive and destructive values in Section VC and VD has been presented in alphabetical order of the valueword. The alphanumeric identifier for each is therefore a sequence number with no other significance. New sequence numbers have therefore been allocated to the words for this edition because of the considerable number of words added.

8. Value polarities

The next stage was undertaken in order to transcend the somewhat simplistic implications of grouping value words by "first order" responses, neglecting what amounted to subtle qualities associated with certain value words. The difficulty is that a given value is not necessarily valued in the same way under different conditions. A seemingly positive value may become counter-productive or destructive, whilst a seemingly negative value may become productive or constructive.

To avoid reinforcing simplistic interpretations, it was decided to group the Roget categories (by which the words were coded) into opposing pairs or value polarities. Such polarities then became indicative of a value dimension. People might identify more strongly with one pole, rather than the other, as suggested by the study by W T Jones (1961) on the axes of bias. The value appropriate to certain circumstances might be perceived as shifting between the two extremes, possibly in some cyclic manner, as in the process of enantiodromia discussed by William Irwin Thompson (1982). Many decisions might involve a counter-intuitive compromise between the two poles.

In determining the value polarities, it was again decided to use Roget as a framework. The categories there are in the majority of cases more or less grouped by pairs, providing a synonym/antonym relationship. The Roget sequence of potential pairs was therefore used, suitably adapted with the omission of polarities that were not required because no value words were coded to them. A 4-digit code derived from the Roget number was developed to denote each polarity. The pairs were named by a word pair indicative of the value dimension. Where appropriate alternative words to those used by Roget were used to label the word pair.

Roget was therefore used as a major guideline, but the framework was adapted wherever appropriate in response to the value orientation. Some seemingly artificial or farfetched polar categories were left in, more because they raised questions about the nature of values that might be associated with them, than because they constituted immediately significant categories for the value words coded. This was also true for the categories which in Roget are explicitly used for material phenomena. As noted earlier, in practice these are often used as a substrate for metaphorical connotations. In this sense the Roget framework was completely abandoned, because all such material categories are interpreted here in their metaphorical sense. The majority of the value polarities are presented in Figure 3 in order of the total number of cross-references to value words in Section VC and VD.

9. Word coding results

The results of these stages are presented in the first three parts of Section V. As a first-order presentation, the constructive, positive value words appear in Section VC. The corresponding, destructive, negative value words appear in Section VD (with appropriate cross-references to Section H and Section P). Entries in both sections are cross-referenced to the value polarities in Section VP.

11. Value dynamic: wisdom?

In order to clarify understanding of the value dynamic associated with the polarity, a range of proverbs, quotations and aphorisms were selected for inclusion in the entry. These were deliberately chosen to highlight the fundamental importance of one or other pole, the limiting conditions under which it was necessary or wise to re-align with the other, the nature of this reorientation process (its enantiodromic characteristics) and relevance to individual or societal development. This material therefore points to insights into undervalued values or the limitations of conventional "first-order" responses, whether these are derived from folk wisdom in the form of proverbs or as quotations from those whose wisdom or insight is considered by society to be of sufficient value. Of particular relevance is the effort by V S M Guinzbourg (1961) to publish one of the most extensive collections of proverbs The Wit and Wisdom of the United Nations from delegates to the United Nations.

From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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