Values guide wise action

Brad C. Anderson

This chapter explored the social structure of values. Values define the ends we find worth achieving and the means we feel are appropriate to achieve those ends.

Despite the importance of values in guiding human behaviour, many institutions in Western society avoid addressing them explicitly due to their preference for instrumental-rationality. This over-reliance on instrumental-rationality leads people to view value-rationality as ‘irrational’ due to its subjective nature.  Humans, however, are subjective creatures. To understand human activity, we must understand the values guiding it.

There are many frameworks to understand values. This chapter introduced two: a framework for public sector values and another for political values. As shown in these frameworks, many values guide human behaviour. This is because societies are complex, and so they need the expression of many values to thrive.

Consequently, people often find that values interact with each other in complex ways.

Values guide wise action. Thus, individuals in organizations that aspire to act wisely must understand how values enable and constrain action and develop skills in managing the varied ways that values interact.

Next, because knowledge is required but insufficient for wise action, this textbook will explore the social structure of rationality.


In This Chapter, You Learned

What values are

  • Values describe the ends we pursue and the means we find appropriate to achieve those ends.
  • Values guide the actions of individuals and organizations.

Why organizations seldom discuss values

  • Discussing values is uncommon.
  • Due to the subjective nature of values, those ingrained in instrumental-rationality see value-rationality as irrational.
  • This dynamic may create challenges for those who wish to address the values guiding human action.

Types of values

  • Different cultures may venerate different values
  • Several frameworks organize and describe the values in our society.
  • A framework of public sector values seeks to understand the role values play in the public sector. This framework identifies several values and organizes them into these categories:
    • Contribution to society
    • Transformation of interests to decisions
    • Relationship between administrators and leaders
    • Relationship between administrators and the environment
    • Intraorganizational aspects of administration
    • Behaviour of employees
    • Relationship between administrators and citizens
  • A framework of political values seeks to understand why politics is so divisive. This framework identifies six values:
    • Care/harm
    • Fairness/cheating
    • Loyalty/betrayal
    • Authority/subversion
    • Sanctity/degradation
    • Liberty/oppression
  • To create productive relationships, first, understand the values guiding your behaviour and then seek to understand the values guiding other people’s behaviours.

Why we have so many different types of values

  • Social systems are complex.
  • To thrive, complex social systems require the pursuit of many different values.

How different values interact

  • Values interact in multiple ways.
  • Terminal values are those pursued as ends in themselves.
  • Instrumental values are those pursued as a means to an end.
  • Incompatible values are those where achieving one undermines the ability to achieve another.
  • Incommensurate values are unrelated.
  • The time scale over which different actions operate can create value dilemmas


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Values guide wise action Copyright © 2020 by Brad C. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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