7 Distinguishing Between the Concept of Moral Values & Other Types of Value

Distinguishing Between the Concept of Moral Values & Other Types of Value

Creators: Adendorff, MikeMason, MarkMondiba, MaropengFaragher, LynetteKunene, ZandileGultig, John https://oerafrica.org/resource/being-teacher-section-six-teachers-values-and-society

Take a look at the photographs below and answer the questions that follow them:

1 What do you think might be a common theme in these three photographs?

2 In what way does the behavior of the antelope in the photograph differ from that of the humans in the other two photographs?

Human beings, unlike most animals, are not locked into instinctive behavior patterns. The human brain allows far more scope and flexibility of action and choice than instinct allows to any other species. This flexibility of decision, choice and action requires human beings to be effective learners.
Human choice
In the photograph above, the male antelope are fighting to determine who will lead the herd. Though the younger ‘challenger’ will no doubt watch for the most promising moment to attack the established leader, his urge to attack, and the particular time of the year when he feels this urge, are determined by instinct. on the other hand, although the soldiers may be fighting and the boss may be exhibiting aggression and dominance, their behavior is not bound by instinct. Bosses may choose to treat their subordinates more pleasantly, and soldiers may choose to become conscientious objectors. The fact that human thought and action are not bound by instinct, but involve choice, decision, and purpose, has an extremely significant implication in addition to our need to learn. it creates the possibility that out of the range of actions we may choose, we may judge some to be better, and some worse, than others. in other words, we attribute a greater value to some choices than we do to others. We judge the action itself to be more, or less good in a moral sense.

Different kinds of value
If we take the soldiers as our example, we will see that we could attach different types of value to their actions. We could evaluate the competence of the soldiers, the quality of their fighting skill. in doing so, we would use criteria such as the ability to foresee the enemy’s movements, and a knowledge of weapons (knowledge how and knowledge that). We would call these military values practice-oriented values, and they would fall into much the same class of values as the “professional values”. But we could also judge the soldiers’ actions in another way. We could ask whether the cause for which they are fighting is a just one (defensive), or an unjust one (aggressive). in other words, we could evaluate the soldiers’ actions on moral grounds. The criteria would then be justice and a reverence for human life, and we would refer to these as moral values, even though they appeared in a military context. So while there are values and virtues specific to every field of human activity, moral values are what enable us to judge whether an action is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ action in itself – whatever the field of human activity. Both of the above types of value come into the picture because human actions are not controlled by instinct, and we can judge them as ‘better’ or ‘worse’ in the two rather different senses we have just explained. Choice is part of the picture in both cases because the soldiers can choose both how and why they will fight. So for now, we can define values (both practice-oriented and moral) as beliefs about the merit or relative importance of different experiences and actions. They provide the criteria by which we judge human action, and the reasons for choosing to act in particular ways. Moral values are not beliefs about, or standards of, competence in a particular field of human activity; rather they relate to actions or personal qualities that may be considered good or bad in a more general sense.  In this section we focus mainly on moral values.

Values are not facts: descriptive versus prescriptive statements

First, consider these two statements:

a. ‘The earth is round, like a ball.’

b. ‘People should be honest with one another.’

Statement a is factual: it describes the earth and is therefore what we would call a descriptive statement. on the other hand, statement b does not describe anything. it does not say anything, factual or otherwise, about the way things are. rather, it says something about the way things should be. We call this a prescriptive statement, since it offers a ‘prescription’ of how things should be.

We can say that description a is true because human beings have observed the earth to be spherical from outer space. You may also consider statement b to be true, but this would not be because it describes anything correctly. If someone acts dishonestly by cheating in an exam, that person disregards a moral principle, but the moral principle does not become false just because things turn out to be different from the way they ought to be.

All this means is that values are true or false in a different way from the way factual statements may be said to be true or false. Descriptive statements of fact, and prescriptive statements of value, serve different human purposes. We do not decide on the truth or falsity of prescriptive statements by observing the world carefully to check whether they correctly describe things as they are. rather, we decide whether they are true or not by the use of reason.

Moral values are different from preferences

We now need to shift our attention to the second distinction that we set ourselves to examine – the distinction between moral values on the one hand, and more general judgments of value such as preferences, personal taste, or appraisals of better or worse performance on the other.

Consider the following value statements:

a. ‘There’s nothing as good as a cup of coffee to get me started at the beginning of the day.’

b. ‘Mandisa is very good at getting learners to co-operate.’

c. ‘A good teacher will never lie to learners.

All of these statements claim that something, or some action, is ‘good’. The first statement a, however, is quite different from the moral statement c. it simply expresses an individual’s preference for something that that person finds positive. it implies no duty and imposes no obligation on anyone: no-one is expected to feel the same way about coffee. Therefore, we could not reasonably expect the speaker to ‘defend’ his or her liking for coffee by supplying logically persuasive reasons for it. All we could require of the speaker is to be sincere for the statement to be acceptable.

The exact opposite applies to moral statements like c. This statement implies an obligation on all teachers never to lie to learners. Because of this implied obligation or ‘duty’, we are entitled to ask why it would be wrong to act in this way. in other words, we have a right to expect that moral statements or principles, which seek to get us to act in certain ways, be backed by logically convincing reasons. if the reasons given are sound, and acceptable to reasonable people, then we must acknowledge that the moral statement is true, and that it applies to us. on the other hand, if no good reasons can be given, we would be justified in rejecting the statement as subjective and having no hold over us.

Value statements that may be prescriptive but not specifically moral, often refer to competence or performance – statement b (‘Mandisa is very good at getting learners to co-operate’) is an example. We call these statements appraisals because they may include a degree of personal preference. They are often subjective, but this is not necessarily the case. Some appraisals based on practice-oriented values are sound, accurate, and objective evaluations. But, as with moral values, we will only be able to judge whether this is the case or not if good reasons are given. So, appraisal statements lie somewhere between mere preferences (they can be subjective) and moral value statements (they need to be supported with reasons). The key point about the arguments surrounding subjectivism is that, just because moral values and preferences both involve valuing, it does not mean that they are both subjective.




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Distinguishing Between the Concept of Moral Values & Other Types of Value Copyright © 2020 by Creators: Adendorff, MikeMason, MarkMondiba, MaropengFaragher, LynetteKunene, ZandileGultig, John https://oerafrica.org/resource/being-teacher-section-six-teachers-values-and-society is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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