20th World Congress of Philosophy Logo

Philosophy of Values

Values and their Collisions: Outlines of a Value Typology Based on Decision Theory's Social Motives

Agnes-Katalin Koos

bluered.gif (1041 bytes)

ABSTRACT: Several years ago, I outlined a project to delineate ideological and scientific elements of our knowledge about values. I began by studying the typical configurations of values, their typical collisions, and some typical world-view-related standpoints as theoretical background. I now present the theoretical premises of my inquiry, the applied methods, and some of the results. I have tried to support the choice of variables used, make sensible the reliable limits of the findings, and underline some interconnections as well as some collisions between moral and/or ideological standpoints.

bluered.gif (1041 bytes)

Among values, and apart from the aesthetic (artistic) values, we can distinguish between ideological and moral ones. The ideological values (or social-political ones) concern and/or regulate the coexistence of larger groups of humans, while those considered moral ones are realized in the immediate interpersonal relationships. But there are weighty arguments suggesting their treatment in common or in parallel:

(i) In the case of some systems of thought, the separation of moral values from the social political ones seems quite artificial (e.g. Aristotelian, Christian, utilitarian, liberal);

(ii) Recent psychological research in the direction inaugurated by Piaget and Kohlberg supports the hypothesis that the lower phases of the moral development are constant across societies and ethic groups, while in the superior phases there is a culture-(respectively, society-) related differentiation. Higher level moral attitudes seem significantly related to the accepted political values (Kurt Bergling, 1981 (1) ). (2)

(iii) In the case of many historical systems of thought (philosophies) the moral world-view is axiologically more elaborated than the political one. (The conceptions about the ontology of values, values' social functions and effects or values' acquirement are much more evident in the former.) Further, the moral inquiry is more nuanced in the elaboration of typologies and it is more concerned with the relations between cognitive sphere and values than the social-political thinking is.


I would distinguish 3 levels in approaching the moral phenomena:

(i) Moral (of object-language)

The level of valuations (good-wrong, just-unjust etc.) and norms, including laic knowledge about rewards and punishments, or about value legitimising and the metaphysical nature of good and evil. This can be considered the everyday moral conscience of the society, the object of anthropological, sociological, historical descriptions.

(ii) Ethical (of meta-language)

The level of categories introduced by ethics to study and to compare the specificities of moral systems, of the auto-reflection and self-defending argumentation of value hierarchies. It includes value ontology and validation, it can consider moral systems' social and historical context, the associated image of humans and the interconnections between different moral systems. The logic-linguistic analysis of moral systems (e.g. deontic logics) falls under these. I assume that the psychological study of moral development and some variants of value sociology beyond description belong to this level as well.

(iii) Meta-ethical (of meta-metalanguage) (3)

The level of categories concerning the specificities of ethical reflection, as the relationship of ethical thinking to other disciplines and its theoretical context, the characteristic methods of ethics, their logical features, some polar categories helping the comparison between ethical systems (ex. ethics of intentions - ethics of consequences) and main philosophical standpoints (respect to determinism, development, social atomism etc.)

All these differences are applicable to the study of ideological values too, but the denominations would be much more unaccomodating, e.g. of ideology-object-linguistic, of ideology-metalinguistic, metaideological. The heuristic value of differences is to a certain extent reduced by overlappings, but in a historical perspective they seem quite legitimate. (4)

There are many possible configurations of values and world-view elements, but their number is unlikely to be infinite. Logic and history put limits on their proliferation. The aim of this study was to analyse which values and/or world-view elements repulse each other, respectively, which of them are incompatible in the frame of the same system. To acquire data about their relationship, I have proceeded to a disassembling in variables of some moral and ethical systems.

Practically, I have applied a many-item questionnaire to a sample of 30 historically typical moral systems (resulting in 256 variables) and another questionnaire to a sample of 59 ethical systems belonging to distinguished thinkers or philosophical schools. This second gave me 362 variables. The members of the samples could have scored three values for each variable: yes, no and a half value for indecision or ambiguity (as numeric values: 0, 1 and 2). Then, correlation has been calculated between variables. Let me outline below some reasons for the choice of variables.


The development of moral common sense can be observed even on a linguistic level. According to linguists, the first Egyptians did not know the terms "correct" or "wrong," but they expressed their moral judgements with the help of the expressions "what is loved," "what is hated." This usage of terms is a quite logical starting point of a theoretical evolution traceable during the historical times that arches from more subjective approaches to more social ones. The central moral entities of the classical antiquity were the virtues, as human features. The modern era (17th-18th centuries) puts the moral act at the centre, and the 19th century inaugurates the preoccupation with values. Virtues are internal (interiorized) aspects of morality, while the act considers it in its exteriorized aspect, and the value definitely transcends the individual. Besides some counter-examples (as Plato's Ideas or the importance of social justice at Aristotle) this exteriorizing and socializing tendency is highly characteristic to the history of ethics, just until the objective approaches applied by present social sciences. This problem of historical perspectives is subtly related to a quite central problem of ethics, regularly treated within (iii) level themes. The philosophy of ethics has been trying for a long time to seize the difference so lively perceptible between the thoughts of Aristotle and Kant, for instance. It has elaborated numerous polar categories, as the followings:

rules of ideals vs rules of duty (G. Moore)

virtue-centred system vs right-centred system (D.B.Wong)

teleological vs deontological (Rawls)

representative model vs perational model (L.Holy)

tendency to expansion vs tendency to limitations (M.Ossowska/Gurvitch).

Maybe we do not lose many of the nuances of the original formulations if we synthesize them in a pair of antinomic categories introduced by Max Scheler:

material vs formal.

Most of ethics is not extremist with regard to these antinomies, they can be considered as scale termini and in the moral regulation the material (denominating ideals, virtues, purposes or values) and formal (formulating norms, imperatives, prohibitions, rules) elements are mingling. So, determining the type of a system depends on the characteristics of the other(s) system(s) taken into account. Further, we can witness a shift of signification on the "material" pole. In classical times, the content of this was given by individual virtues and aspirations. Today even the individual virtues are considered interiorizations of social values and the usage of the antinomy is extended on comparison of law systems too. These shifts of emphases of ethical thinking could be represented by a spiral:

The subsistence of material content is supported as well by some inherent features of morality as by functional-pragmatic considerations.

(i) Within the moral (and ethical) reflection we can distinguish between two layers:

(a) one referring to the interpersonal relations, to the communities' and social coexistence, let's call it "communal ethics" and

(b) one referring to the sense of individual life, the possibility of happiness, the place of humans in the world, maybe to the purpose of common efforts, what is called by Christians "deep ethics."

Obviously, regulation by norms can satisfy only the normalisation of relationships, even if it is possible to abstract ideals or values from the norms. On the level of concepts, the existence of the two layers manifests itself in the fact that the domain of basic moral notions has two poles (as shown by Rawls5): the just and the good.

(ii) The economy of thinking and communication makes it impossible to elaborate, to codify and to teach the proper norm for all possible act-situations. This is highly problematic even for the law, that has invented two typical solutions: the English common law and the French codex. Their dispute seems to be solved in the favour of principles-formulating codex.


The material moral direction needed for both world-view and practical reasons raises a problem that has been known as opposition between "rule-utilitarianism" and "act-utilitarianism" during the evolution of ethics. Although utilitarianism's purpose seems quite well determined (maximisation of happiness), there is problematical if in a concrete situation the happiness of the direct participants is to be maximised, or if it is more advisable to follow the traditional moral imperatives, because only general norm-obeying can guarantee the general happiness.

This debate highlights such an aspect of moral regulation, that gives severe grounds for the preoccupation with relationships between values and knowledge. Can humans look over all the consequences of their acts? A highly intellectual ethics, such as that of Socrates, does not intend to give norms, but only the definition of good. There is some gnoseological scepticism needed to affirm that morality consists mainly in obeying the traditional norms.

Metaethics has approached these problems by elaborating the polar categories of "ethics of consequences" and "ethics of intentions." There is no total coincidence, but the terms of question to be put are quite similar:

evaluation of act's effectiveness vs evaluation of act's norm

(as in act-utilitarianism vs rule-utilitarianism)


evaluation of consequences vs evaluation of intentions.


The changes of moral predicates' subjects reflect the abstracting and analytical efforts of moral thinking during its history. It has tried to separate from the concrete complex, the human, entities or features that are morally valuable, as a quintessence of morality (soul, character, will, intuition), or, respectively, in the case of exteriorized approaches, the final element of the analysis has become the individual act. But, apart from a hypothetical moral intuition, there is no more support for the existence of a "pure morality" than for a mechanical direct determination between "is" and "ought."

Analogous problems are emerging when studying the ideological values (justice, freedom, dignity, security): is there separable some moral conscience (spirit) of the society, alone responsible for the creation of values? Are the social values embedded in the "is" of the societies and are they continuous with it? What about the other kind values, e.g. material or aesthetic? As in the study of individual morality the analytical method has not been proved very successful, the constructivism seems more recommendable in the study of values as well.


Once the correlation matrix of variables has been achieved, I proceeded to a grouping of variables on the basis of their correlation values. I have chosen in both tables arbitrarily, but quite argumentatively a set of 7 basic variables as a starting point.

In both tables these have been the characteristic social motives: egoism, altruism, competition, cooperation, egalitarianism, maximin and maximax. (5) Then I have associated to them all other variables correlated to them above a threshold value of 0.45, respectively, above 0.40. This has given me 7 clusters of variables in each table. To a full description of clusters (that I would call the basic types of moral, respectively, of ethical thinking), I have taken into account the variables highly correlated with the initial cluster too, e.g.:

To denominate the types obtained, I have preserved the names of the social motives (egoist, altruist, etc. types).

To check the reliability of these clusters, I have collected the negative types as well: I have associated to the starting variables all other variables below the correlation value of -.50, and, respectively, below -0.45. The correlations calculated between the 7 positive types and their negatives range between -0.12 and -0.21 in the case of the table about morality and between -0.08 and -0.13 in the case of the table about ethics.

It is very interesting that some correlations between the original positive types show a higher negative correlation than that calculated after the above method. (Ex. between altruistic and maximin type we have -0.31 or between altruism and egalitarianism -0.22.) This supports the relevance of the obtained types.


The results of the inquiry can be grouped in 4 categories of conclusions:

(1) Information about the correspondence between behavioural and theoretical level of the moral phenomena;

(2) Comparison of the types obtained with other typologies;

(3) Information about the weight of some problems in determining the moral-ideological type;

(4) Information about relationships between variables.


As I have used the same initial set of variables in the case of both tables, I have obtained clusters (types) with the same denomination, but this does not mean automatically a strong interconnection between them. I have checked their relationships in 3 ways:

(i) The correlation matrices calculated for the types belonging to the same tables are quite similar, and can be graphically represented with quite similar polyhedrons (see Fig. 1.)

(ii) The description of the types with the help of the variables (their re-translation in everyday language) suggests the consistence of the 2 levels in most cases.

(iii) The types can be compared with the concrete members of the samples (again, by calculating their correlation). In this case, I would call the members of the sample the types' references. Consistence or continuity between references (as between Socialist International's morality and Marx' ethics) supports consistence or continuity between the moral and the ethical level of the cooperation type.

Numeric and descriptive searching has given the following findings:

- There is a such a laic and enlightened, left-wing style of thinking and moralising, that can focus both on cooperation or on egalitarianism, and is characterized by a high concordance of its behaviour-regulating and its theoretical levels.

- The other ideological platforms that show a continuity between the two levels, in the decreasing order of the correspondence are: that based on altruism (rooted in the religious morality), on maximin (with social-liberal character) and on maximax.

Taking into account the inquiry concerning the references, we can add:

- In right-wing thinking the regulating and the deep-ethical levels are more divergent than in the left-wing reflection (e.g., the philosophers of the Christianity belong to the egoist type, while the moral propagated belongs to the altruist type).

- The most elaborated ethical theories that can be connected to the liberalism (egoist type) are of religious philosophy or originated in it, with the shifting toward the more secularised forms of thinking the correlations decrease from Kierkegaard by Heidegger and Kant, Nozick until the neopositivism.

- The competition type has no distinguished ethical representative.

- There are thinkers whose ideas show a significant correlation with the maximax type, but, excepting Calvin, all are more tied to the egoist type. The absence of the specific theoretical level supports the observation that fascism has had no characteristic intellectual ancestry.


From the beginning my approach to the axiological phenomena has been one connecting values to world-view elements. The resulting empirical types show a high similitude with the types elaborated by Karl Mannheim, (6) also interested in value-containing thinking styles, the "curved noologic fields."

Altruist type: Conservative ideology and/or utopia

Coopegal type: Socialist-communist ideology and/or utopia

Egoist and Maximin: two kinds of the Liberal ideology and/or utopia, types Mannheim' characterization fits more the maximin, but in Max Weber's interpretation it is closer to the egoist one

Maximax type: Fascist ideology and/or utopia


On the basis of the weight of different sets of variables in determining the types, we can state that the more differentiating standpoints in the domain of morals are the notion of justice, of freedom and of equality; the approach to the relationship between individual and community; the relationship to the (structures of) needs; and the category to which the central value and the moral negativity belongs to (transcendent, individual, collective). This is converging with psychology's finding that superior levels of moral development evolve in interconnection with the ideological values.

The ethical table's list is leaded by the perspective contained in the linguistic means for describing the moral phenomenon (backed by the above-average importance of the theoretical context); by the interpretation of morality's social-historical character; by the interpretation of universalizability and by the methodical characteristics. The set about humans' image is also very important. Strange, but the classical dichotomies of ethics (ethics of intentions vs of consequences, dogmatism vs relativism etc.) have less importance in the determination of types. The emphases seems shifted from traits of content to those of method, behind the ethical divergences there are epistemological-methodical ones.


Some of the results of the correlation matrices can support, refute or nuance our stereotypes concerning interconnections.

4.1. In the table about morality

4.1.1. The relationship between individualist, respectively, collectivist views and the problem of tolerance, pluralism and personality's rights shows a quite interesting design. In the case of the extremist standpoints, there is a higher connection between individualism and pluralism, respectively, between collectivism and lack of tolerance, while in the case of the moderate standpoints, it is the collectivism that is more strongly associated with the tolerance of plurality and the concern for personality rights, further, with backing up the maintenance of the minority ethnic groups.

4.1.2. Support can be found for a kind of parallelism between the style of thinking and the style of moral practice. If the theoretical level is characterized by inclination toward hierarchy and axiomatization, the practice will not be characterized by laxity of norms (-0.52). And inversely, a value-pluralist theoretical level will not associate with the desire that the juridical and the moral regulation should be identical (-0.45).

4.1.3. The dichotomy introduced for classifying the concepts of justice (essentialist vs phenomenalist) has been proved extraordinarily relevant. This is the strongest item in delimiting the types and, with the variables associated, it gives the core of many of them.

The essentialist conception of justice is highly correlated with a social value ontology, with the social-economic interpretation of equality, the social guarantees for satisfying basic needs, the cooperant and egalitarian social motives. It opposes the polarised image about humans, the duty-based morality and the egoist social motive. On the other side, the phenomenalist view is correlated with egoism and polarised mankind, rejects the acceptance of collective needs and the idea of social guarantees for satisfying needs.

4.1.4. The results confirm the assumption that rational dispositions are tied to democratic tendencies and they are more inclined toward eudaemonism than toward duty-based morality. At the other pole, elitist tendencies are associated with duty-based morality, reverence for charisma, moral rigorism, they repulse rationalism and eudaemonism.

4.2. In the table about ethics

4.2.1. The correlation matrix highlights a few interesting connections between "formal" (gnoseological and methodical) and "substantial" features of the ethical systems. If the information content of the theory is confined to the domain of ethics and/or axiology, it is very less probable that the main point of the morality will be either the desirability (-0.62), or the rationality (-0.56). Hermeneutic explanations attract intentions-focused ethics and the need for sacral, repulse the needs-based value ontology and the relevance of present-worldly needs in general. Phenomenalism is not likely to accept that the value judgments can be true or false, that the value-related acts could be evaluated as rational with reference to their result, or as effective with reference to their consequences. On the other hand, the essentialist view shows significant correlations with these "realist" variables. The individualist methods seem to acknowledge an abstract human essence, because they repulse all variables formulating the social-historical nature of humans and the importance of the rational practice for them. The introspective perspective is well associated with individualism and is reluctant to admit the influence of external factors on the development of communities' morality or the possibility of a qualitative progress of values and norms. Its characteristic basic motive is egoism.

4.2.2. The notion of will outlined by this historical sample is very far from that used in modern psychology. There is no continuity with reason or affectivity, only with the so-called moral intuition. It is associated with duty-based ethics and with founding the universalizability of norms on the superiority of the moral sphere.

4.2.3. Value-ethics are opposed to the same variables as the conceptions regarding the will as the basis of the morality. They repulse the importance of the rational and desirable, the determinism of psychic; the most considered psychic contents are the intuition, the need for sacral and the will. Universalizability is based on the superiority of the moral sphere.

4.2.4. The interconnection highlighted on the level of morality between rationalism, pluralism and eudaemonism (respectively, between irrationalism, anti-pluralism and duty-based rigor) is present in the ethical table as well. As here I have tried to distinguish between 2 senses of pluralism, I must specify that this is the exteriorized and democratic sense of it that matches better the rationalism; the other sense, focused on in principle acceptance of "otherness" is frequently associated with agnosticism and phenomenalism. As a fourth polar pair, the determinism vs indeterminism is statistically attached to these platforms.

4.2.5. The set of items concerning nationalism has got an above-average weight in determining the types, but there is no evidence for the existence of a well-outlined moral-ideological nationalist platform. The core of very (traditional) nationalist thinking seems to be an intuitionalism and holism in Herder's style, while the pragmatic and rational nationalism can be dissolved in or associated with every other type. The systems the more opposed to the nationalism are those that take for the most important human communities the historical humanity, the social classes or the members of a political movement. Unfortunately, my sample does not give clues for stating or predicting possibilities of a quite modern nationalism rooted in the North-South (or 1st World - 3rd World) problem. For the moment, within 3rd World nationalism, the traditional Herder-type thinking still dominates.

*The distances between types have been calculated by subtracting the value of the correlation from 1 (1 - correlation value).

**I have renounced to represent separately the egalitarian type (very-very close to the cooperative one) and the competitive type, less outlined and without convincing reference.

bluered.gif (1041 bytes)


(1) Kurt Bergling: Moral Development. The Validity of Kohlberg's Theory, 1981.

(2) But as the cognitive psychology is interested in moral-cognitive structures, there is no chance to undo from here the presumably existing basic human values. Neither can we validly conclude from this to the relationship of basic values with political ones (to their deterministic and/or dominance relations).

(3) Today the most expanded interpretation of "metaethics" is - following the analytical philosophers of language - "inquiry in the usage of moral notions and judgements" but I do not use it in this sense.

(4) For instance, the ethics of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were formed on the basis of a nearly identical moral reality, or, in the Middle Age, the monks and the knights, the peasants and the landlords lived on the basis of principles inferred from the same Christian ethics.

(5) The choice of social motives as basis of grouping has been suggested by the moral context, more exactly, by the stratification of moral thinking in "communal" and "deep" ethics. The theory of social (basic) motives has been elaborated within the theory of decision and it concerns the characteristic inclinations inherent to and/or attitudes manifested in interpersonal relationships. The advantages of putting them at the basis of typology are that:

(i) The functioning of these motives can be observed in the exteriorized manifestations of humans;

(ii) The mathematical background offers a solid logical basis for the interpretation of their sense and their relationships, which all other conceptions can be compared to;

(iii) Their number is less arbitrary than that of all other sets of variables. The theory of decision usually deals with 5-10 motives and their number can be artificially multiplied, but we can consider that the common sense is not very aware of some more sophisticated differences as that between competition and proportionate competition etc.

(iv) The social motives express property or proprietorship relations, even if their object is the abstract "gain" of someone. There are empirically supported psychological standpoints stating that all moral reasoning starts from judgements about attributing and/or sharing things. See for instance Pierre Moessinger: La psychologie morale, PUF, 1989, p. 105: "Ce double aspect de la répartition, partage et attribution des parts, se trouve dans tous les principes moreaux. [...] Toute répartition n'est pas de l'ordre morale, mais tout acte moral concerne une répartition."

In my tables, the absence of two motives, the self-negation and the aggressiveness, can rise demand for explanation. With reference to my samples, I have found them subordinated or mixed to other motives. The self-negation, present in monks' moral, for instance, appears as serving the salvation's egoist purpose, while the aggressiveness enters in combinations with egoism and totalitarian perspective, giving birth to motives as competition or maximax. I consider quite logic that morals and/or ethics focused exclusively on these 2 motives can not be viable.

(5) K. Mannheim in 1929 distinguished between two variants (one historicist and one bureaucratic) of the conservative thinking. I have found two variants of a historically later ideological formation, the liberal thinking. We can not exclude the simple explanation that Mannheim was more sensible to the divergences within conservatism than me, but this shift can express as well the increasing liberalising of the conservatism in our century.

bluered.gif (1041 bytes)


Back to the Top

20th World Congress of Philosophy Logo

Paideia logo design by Janet L. Olson.
All Rights Reserved


Back to the WCP Homepage