A Phenomenological-Semiotic Theory of Values
In Part 1 of this essay I considered significant contributions to value theory through the lens of antinomies arising in fundamental theory when the field is seen as an extension of epistemology. In Part 2 I hope to show that these antinomies can be resolved by re-theorising values as transmittable fundamentals in the deontology of social institutions.
Values have been important conceptually within the social sciences, psychology and philosophy, although different disciplines tend to favour definitions according to their central interest. For example, while philosophy attempts to grasp the essential nature of values beyond the multiplicity of forms, sociology focuses on their function in human society and human interaction, and psychology their utility in integrating the personality and guiding meaningful and purposive action for the individual. What these disciplines all share in common, though, is a sense of the transcendental unity of the phenomenon of value beyond the particularity and multiplicity of its forms. In philosophy issues around values have been associated with the interpretation of human nature, in particular what was understood as the inner life, whether from a sacred or secular viewpoint. The reason for this is not difficult to grasp: values do not exist in the state of nature as physical phenomena, but are connected with the intricate nature of human interiority, intellectual reflectivity, and emotional immanence. At the same time values have a clear functionality at every level of human interaction, from the individual to all human groupings and institutions, which indicates that they have a reality which is commensurate with the nature of those social constructs.
This dual perspective – that of inner experience and outward function – is the reason for the decision to explore the nature of values through a joint phenomenological and semiotic approach. Although these are represented by different schools and different subsequent developments today, they were established to address fundamentally the same issue, the impasse into which Cartesian dualism has lead philosophy, and my reading of these approaches leads me to believe they are not only highly complementary, but they have structural similarities at the deepest level. The difference, I would argue, is one of perspective: phenomenology looks from the perspective of the interiority of cognition and semiotics from the exteriority of cognition, a distinction that will be vital in the analysis of the meaning of values. The compatibility of these approaches has been noted, and the term ‘phenomenological semiotics’ utilised amongst others, by Kozin (2008), Hansen (2007) and Lanigan (1982). Ultimately, though, to be valid, the concept of values derived from this investigation must be shown to be a coherent unity in itself and not simply an artefact of the approaches taken.
The Phenomenology and Semiotics of Values
From the perspective of an understanding of values, the importance of phenomenology is in radicalising the notion of the object of consciousness. According to Husserl (1990, p.43 [italics original]), the phenomenon of cognition ‘is not merely concerned with the genuinely immanent, but also with what is immanent in the intentional sense’. By this Husserl indicates that valid perception is not only the perception of physical objects, but of anything that we are conscious of. ‘Cognitive mental processes (and this belongs to their essence) have an intentio, they refer to something, they are related in this or that way to an object. This activity of relating to an object belongs to them even if the object itself does not’ (ibid). For Husserl, then, the nature of intentional consciousness is to encounter objectivity in perception even if there is no literal object there. This point is emphasised thus: ‘What is objective can appear, can have a certain kind of givenness in appearance, even though it is at the same time neither genuinely within the cognitive phenomenon, nor does it exist in any other way as a cogitatio’ (ibid). Values are clearly not objects in a physical sense, yet they are considered meaningful within a range of discourses and the phenomenological idea of the intentionality of consciousness provides a language and a conceptual framework within which their reality can be asserted and they can be meaningfully discussed.
Husserl’s view of values, although he developed no systematic axiology, has certainly influenced the conception of values that I will propose, to a degree, particularly the idea of ‘double intentionality’. He considered the term ‘values’ to be equivalent to ‘valued thing’, the valuing of which implied ‘an intentional object in a double sense’ (Husserl, 1976, p.122 [italics original]), of both the object and the appreciation of it: ‘not merely the representing of the matter in question, but also the appreciating which includes this representing, has the modus of actuality’ (ibid). It is clear that Husserl considered valuing a primary aspect of cognition, along with facticity, practicality and usefulness (ibid). It is from those who were influenced by the phenomenological approach, however, that a more concrete conception of values emerges. Martin Heidegger, a student of Husserl, took phenomenology in a radically different direction, giving it both an ontological interpretation and, through an investigation of the ontology of human being (Dasein), an existentialist turn. So for Heidegger (1962, p.339), ‘the theory of value…has as its unexpressed ontological presupposition a ‘metaphysic of morals’ – that is, an ontology of Dasein and existence’. Interpreting Heidegger, I would take this to mean that what we have to say about values is (or should be) rooted in a natural morality arising from human nature. That nature, Dasein, is fundamentally social as well as individual, so our conception of values arises from this sociality as well as personal reflection.
In this essay the main source of ideas on semiotics is taken from Charles Morris who attempted to consolidate semiotic thinking and develop a common language for science, aesthetics and spirituality (Morris, 1971, pp.7-8). Saussurean semiotics is rather simple and is confined to linguistic signification, comprising a binary system of signifier, meaning an utterance or written form and the signified, an abstract quality embodying the meaning (Saussure, 1959). Morris’ concept of the sign is more complex and consists of “three (or four) factors: that which acts as a sign, that which the sign refers to, and that affect on some interpreter in virtue of which the thing in question is a sign to that interpreter. These three components in semiosis may be called, respectively, the sign vehicle, the designatum and the interpretant; the interpreter may be included as a fourth factor” (Morris, 1971, p.19). The introduction of the interpretant introduces a level of sophistication over that of the simpler binary model of Saussure. Morris introduces the element of consciousness into the definition of a sign, which causes a reinterpretation of all the elements: only those elements of the sign (as commonly understood) which signify are a part of semiosis and the concern of semiotics.
Symbols are related to signs (they are considered by most semioticians to be a subset of signs) but for Morris there is a crucial difference. He quotes the ethologist Robert Yorkes: ‘Whereas the sign is an experience-act which implies and requires as its justification in terms of utility a succeeding experience-act, the symbol has no such implication and is an experience-act which represents or may function instead of whatever is represented’ (cited in Morris, 1971, p.99), to which he adds ‘[A] symbol is a sign produced by its interpreter which acts as a substitute for some other sign with which it is synonymous’ (ibid, p.100). For Morris then ‘representation’ is a form of substitution in which two sign vehicles have the same designatum (or closely linked designata) for the interpreter, a visual – or indeed a verbal – metaphor.
Morris is, in semiotics, concerned in a general way with matters pertaining to values, although there is no specific attempt to develop a value theory. It is clear though that he regards semiotics as vital to such a development, ‘since the question as to the similarity and difference in the ‘verifiability’ of statements and appraisals demands a sharp formulation of [their] nature’, for which a ‘well-developed semiotic’ is vital (Morris, 1971, p,202, [italics added]). In his later work Morris developed an interest in axiological topics and the place of values in human action. He identified three modalities of human behaviour in a ‘value dimension’: detachment or the maintenance of autonomy and individuality; dominance, that is, control over others or situations; and dependence, or the need to be controlled by, guided by or protected by others and social systems (Morris, 1964). Morris, therefore, like many of the earlier value theorists, grasped the social dimension of values, without necessarily arriving at the notion of transmissibility.
As I noted above, I believe that phenomenological and semiotic approaches are complementary and vital in exploring the interiority and exteriority of values, and that this methodological pairing is not arbitrary as they have structural similarities at the deepest level. The interpretant in Morris’ semiotics has a strong correlation with the cogitatum in Husserlian phenomenology, that is, the object of intentional consciousness; moreover, Husserl’s concept of double intentionality involved in evaluation expresses in different terminology an idea which is almost identical to the structure of symbolism in Morris’ semiotics. The difference, I would argue, is one of perspective: phenomenology looks from the perspective of the interiority of cognition and semiotics from the exteriority of cognition, a distinction that will be vital in the analysis of the meaning of values. I have undertaken phenomenological and semiotic analyses of the appreciative and evaluative systems, respectively, and offer a proposal for a concept of value which brings together both perspectives. Here only a summary of each section will be given and related to the previous discussion.
A Phenomenological-Semiotic Analysis of the Appreciative and Evaluative Systems
The appreciative system introduced in Part 1 is concerned with the relationship between a valuer and a valued object, in other words the appreciation of something considered valuable. The analysis begins by revisiting the question raised in the consideration of subjectivity/objectivity of the source of value in Part 1. I argued there that there is no evidence that the source of value lies in the object, and would add that I believe that the “value” supposedly inhering in the object – sometimes referred to as a ‘tertiary property’ of things (Rescher, 2004, p.16) – is nothing more than a reification of language. Nevertheless, I accept that the appreciation attaching itself to a particular object must have some relationship to that object, as it would be unreasonable to assert that the relationship is merely arbitrary. Taking a phenomenological stance, by analysing what it is that I find valuable – in the sense of true value as opposed to mere utility (Pepper, 1970) – in a valued object, I have concluded that what is appreciated/valued is the function of the object in evoking a particular experience – generally a positive emotional experience – that is unique. In other words, the value of the object bears no intrinsic relation to its qualities or dispositions (although these may play some part), but to the particular circumstances of personal history and the object’s role in that history. It is the quality of reflective consciousness to recall the emotive response both in the presence and absence of the object, in memory alone, that constitutes the continuity of the value experience. As mentioned, this experience of value proper or true value can be contrasted with utility, where an object as ‘tool’ is valued not for its private meaning but for a publicly acknowledged good based on its particular characteristics or disposition.
The evaluative system, also introduced in Part 1, is concerned with the relationship between an evaluator and the values that are the basis for their evaluation. At this point, though, the analysis faces a dilemma. It is asserting a system based on values as the norms of judgement, but there is no more empirical evidence for the existence of ‘values’ than there was for the quality of ‘value’ supposedly inhering in valued objects. However, there is a sub-class of values, the technical values – such things as colours and numbers – that come within the category of tools, and have definite applicability within the phenomenal world of science, technology and economy (even if their ontological status is questioned). Such values might not be considered true values – even though they exactly fit Parsons’ (1951) description as ‘An element of a shared symbolic system’; however, the strategy I will follow is to take these as paradigmatic for all values and to subject them to semiotic analysis.
According to semiotics as understood by Morris, a sign consists of a sign vehicle, the physical representation of the sign, the designatum, what the sign indicates, and the interpretant, how the sign is interpreted. For example, a swaying branch indicates that the wind is up, which might be interpreted favourably or unfavourably depending on the circumstances. Turning to technical values, which tend to range across spectra, they yield to the same analysis; for example, a temperature of 98 degrees centigrade on a thermometer or a dial tells us something about the energetic state of a system, but this information has to be interpreted in context; it could mean that something is too hot to handle, or a reaction too cold to initiate.
While I am not arguing that social and moral values (or collectively ‘existential’ values), such as integrity, equality or reason, are like technical values or yield to the same semiotic analysis, the strategy of treating technical values as paradigmatic suggests that as technical values have an exteriority, that is a trace in the phenomenal world, then existential values may also have a trace in the phenomenal world, something equivalent to the sign vehicle. This is something that has not been considered by either philosophers of a positivist or metaphysical inclination. Once the suggestion has been made it seems clear, by analogy with the sign, that the exteriority of a value is that which designates the value, the word which names it. On this point alone hinges a new range of possibilities within value theory.
From what may initially seem a trivial observation, important consequences flow: in the first place it means that values can be compared and contrasted directly with things to which they are similar – symbols, signs and concepts – and a clearer understanding of what we mean when we talk about values can begin to emerge; secondly, it promises to mitigate the ‘black box’ issue in the social sciences by demonstrating that values are not abstract, transcendent aspects of social structure and social action, but are immanent in social discourse and in the deontology of social institutions.
What can be inferred about the nature of values from this stage of analysis? A consideration of the appreciative system showed that the interiority of valuing something is marked by an experience of an emotive nature. An interrogation of my own values reveals that they are things to which I am personally and emotionally attached, and it is fair to assume that this is universally so. The relationship between the valued object and the valuing subject, however, is purely arbitrary with respect to the characteristics of the object. The analysis of the evaluative system yielded the inference that in the case of values there is no object; instead there is an arbitrary linguistic reference to an experience with which the valuing subject can identify. At a fundamental level, then, a value is a point in the human experience of valuation in which an experience of an emotive nature coincides with a linguistic marker of a particular value, without diminishing in any sense the wider sense of valuing things or the multiple uses to which the term ‘values’ is put.
I now wish to place these ideas more firmly within the context of semiotic and phenomenological theory. For Morris (1971, p.19) the sign has a basic tripartite structure of sign vehicle, designatum (the meaning) and interpretant (the mind for which the sign is meaningful). This means that for all entities having a sign-like structure, which on the basis of Morris’ own interpretation includes every cultural and social artefact and phenomenon, consciousness is an integral aspect of their semiosis, i.e. their signifying. Morris (1971, p.202) indicates that semiotics is fundamental to valuing, though he does not himself set out a theory of value. Clearly, though, the tripartite structure of the sign lends itself readily to an understanding of the structure of values, as value-term, meaning and valuer/valuing mind. However, this corresponds only to the evaluative (valuing) aspect and, as argued above, the nature of values must also incorporate the appreciative ‘sense of value’ or experience of value, which is particularly amenable to phenomenological analysis. The phenomenological notion of the intentionality of consciousness radicalises the object of consciousness, to include mental states as well as perceptions of the physical world. All such ‘intentional objects’ have a dual structure of cogitans (thinking aspect) and cogitatum (thought aspect). For Husserl (1976, p.122) in valuation there is a double intentionality, that of the object’s perception and its appreciation in which the perception is included (ibid). In the case of values understood as the unification of the evaluative and appreciative I believe there is a case for there being a triple intentionality, that of perception of the value-term, its meaning and of the experience of value; however, accepting as given the complex reflectivity of consciousness, I have sought to simplify this complexity through the concepts of exteriority and interiority, where exteriority is the trace in the phenomenal/physical world (equivalent to the sign vehicle in semiotics) and interiority is the aspects of consciousness, such as meaning (equivalent to the designatum) and experience (equivalent to the intentional object). All social and cultural artefacts have interiority and exteriority, though they vary in complexity. Values have a simple exteriority (the value-term) and a rather complex interiority.
All this is to say, at one level, in terms of exteriority, a value is just a word, an abstract noun or its lexical variations and, as such, is communicated through the channels of normal human discourse, where, if its meaning is pondered, it is considered something akin to a collectively determined good. This corresponds closely to Rokeach’s (1973) definition of a value as the idea of the preferable. At another level, however, in terms of interiority, the ‘sense of value’ inherent in acquiring, professing and promoting a value is a very personal, intense experience of identification with and attachment to the value, which is identical to that experienced before a valued object. This experience is, therefore, of an affective nature, even if this is linked to perceptual input of natural, social or cultural phenomena. This view is supported by recent research in the neurosciences (Zahn et al., 2009). This duality is not merely a matter of perspective; it is intrinsic to the nature of values themselves.
Comparison of Values with Signs, Concepts and Symbols
It is now possible on the basis of the preceding analysis to undertake a comparison of values to things with which they are rather similar: concepts, signs and symbols; and through this to understand how values function specifically as values.
Although I have used a very broad understanding of semiotics, which can incorporate all manner of social artefacts, values are least like signs in both their interiority and exteriority. Signs’ exteriority can be multi-dimensional, consisting of both linguistic and non-linguistic communication, and embrace natural signs (such as symptoms), material signs (including shape and colour) and movement (such as gestures), whereas that of the value is simply linguistic. In terms of their interiority, signs are informative and communicative, or explanatory, rather like concepts, and do not have the emotive weight of values.
In terms of their exteriority, values are most like concepts. At their simplest both are a single nominalised linguistic marker, which has an entirely arbitrary relationship to the meaning, determined by convention. The difference is in their interiority; a concept may have a simple or complex meaning, but no specific experience attaches itself; when we describe something as a concept that carries the connotation that it is abstract information, descriptive of its designatum and emotionally neutral. By contrast, the interiority of a value always has the idea of the good and possibly the emotionally intense. While one individually might be inspired or moved by a particular concept, that is never part of what a concept is, whereas for a value such a feeling-response is intrinsic to its nature. There is a clear in6ce from this; it is that, since the linguistic reference is part of a shared language, the value experience itself is not (just) a personal experience, but a shared experience. This would seem to be broadly in agreement with Mandler’s (1993) and Marx’s (1992) views of value discussed in Part 1.
Values are most like symbols in their interiority, but also in the function they perform, although there remain important differences. The most obvious differences are in their exteriority and in the relationship between their interiority and exteriority. Whereas the exteriority of values is minimalist, that of the symbol is as rich and varied as that of signs, only excluding the natural signs. There is held to be (e.g. Morris, 1971, cited above) one significant difference between symbols and signs, a difference which also extends to concepts and values, which is that the exteriority of the symbol is a representation of the designatum, so that meaning and form are similar in a way that is not true of the others. But symbols and values are alike in the emotional force they exert, what Schwaller de Lubicz refers to as their ‘emotive evocation’ (1978, p.45). It is this function that I have already referred to as a ‘shared experience’ which lies at the heart of the ‘sense of value’.
The table below summarises the comparisons. I have simplified somewhat to bring out as clearly as possible the similarities and differences. From this table it can be seen that values are most unlike signs and share some of the characteristics of concepts and symbols. It also suggests that the four together constitute a system of overlapping fundamental aspects of the deontology of social institutions.
Having considered some of the important aspects of the structure of values, I want now to turn to their function. Again, it is useful, in this respect, to consider the function of concepts and symbols. Concepts constitute the content of specialised discourses as they signal unusual or complex designata, but are otherwise parts of ordinary language (in fact, many conceptual terms have ordinary, non-specialist meanings as well), and as such transmit information through normal interpersonal and mediated communication channels in which meanings are coded and decoded differentially according to linguistic and specialist abilities. Symbols function quite differently. Their meanings are represented in some form that embodies a shared experience within a culturally defined – and therefore to that extent ‘closed’ – community, one in which belonging is distinguishable and distinguished from non-belonging. Examples of symbols would be religious artefacts, national flags and the emblems of sports teams, where a strong sense of group identity is often created through referencing something like a mythic history or sacred events (Eliade, 1957). Symbols tend to foster admiration, and sometimes uncritical adulation, and commitment to what the symbol represents and to the community that it sustains.
By positing the linguistic exteriority of values, a model of values as transmissible entities begins to emerge. In this model values have a dual function: as a sub-set of concepts, values flow through open communicative channels and function in exactly the same way as all concepts do; having some of the properties of symbols, though, values function like symbols. Just as symbols tend to be localised to closed communities, unlike signs which are universal, so also some values are privileged in particular social groups and occupations and bind those communities through a shared experience of the value. But this does not address the issue of where the locus of the value lies, for a value is not the just the coincidence of a mismatched exteriority and interiority. It is the value-term itself which is the bridge between the worlds of discourse and personal commitment, as a conceptual element of discourse and as the object of emotional attachment, respectively.
The value-term carries a meaning that we have imbibed through culture, pointing to a generalised human concern or trait, critical in specific cases and situations, but one which we may or may not have a personal concern with. When there is a personal concern the value-term directs and makes coherent our emotional response to a given situation, sometimes by cultural connotation, that can be called ‘an experience of the sense of value’. Where this personal concern is absent, however, the response may be limited to an assent to the culturally accepted meaning of the term. Although this value-term is constant, as an element of the language in which it is embedded, a change of context may cause it to change function, between the prosaic, descriptive function in which it acts conceptually, and something akin to what Austin (1962) referred to as a performative function, in which it acts symbolically.
Austin illustrated the performative function with a set of examples of what he termed ‘illocutionary acts’; these are words that accomplish in their very utterance the state of affairs which they describe or, to put it more simply, words that describe actions that are achieved as they are said, for example when someone says ‘I promise’ or ‘I pronounce you man and wife’ or ‘I hereby declare this meeting open’. However, it is the conditions that need to be met for a performative act to be accomplished which are of more interest; Austin does not state these so clearly, but they are implied nonetheless: first, there must be a person (or persons) with authority to perform; secondly, the language must have a ritualistic element that taps into a cultural tradition, not simply a declarative one; thirdly, there must be a receptive audience for whom the performative function is meaningful.
These three conditions apply to a value term in its ‘performative’ mode, but the nature of this performance is different to that of an illocutionary act. First, it names an emotional experience people have in response to identifiably similar dispositions in their perceived world. Secondly, through this and through the medium of a common language and common value-term, it creates the sense of a shared experience. Thirdly, it locates this shared experience in a specific cultural entity – Pring (1986) uses the term ‘form of life’, which I take to be a similar idea – marked by a boundary of inclusion and exclusion (Tajfel, 1974). A value in this mode functions, as I stated earlier, like a cultural symbol for a particular cultural grouping. In this mode the value-term is more likely to be ‘dis-embedded’ from its linguistic matrix, in order to throw it into greater prominence, where it may be displayed on signs or in documents or uttered ritualistically in order to reaffirm its importance to the identity of the cultural entity. This display or utterance of the dis-embedded value is referred to by the term invocation.
Despite the essential unity of these two functions – the conceptual and the symbolic – within values, in the social world one or the other is typically dominant. The conditions that determine this dominance at any given moment are unclear at present, although it is a reasonable assumption that social context is important. In an open social context, in which social control is minimised and in which meaning is largely undetermined, the value-term will default to a more objective, conceptual mode in which the symbolic function is largely suppressed. By contrast, in closed social contexts, where social control is frequently heightened (for example, to preserve the rules of inclusion and exclusion) and meaning is more likely to be determined, a value-term appropriate to the social context will default to the more subjective mode in which it functions to augment the sense of group identity, through identification with a shared history and a shared experience. This use of values to invigorate the communal imagination is referred to by the term evocation.
The Function of Values in Social Transmission
The transmission of values in the broad social context, accordingly, can be thought of as taking place through two sequential phases, the symbolic and the conceptual. Symbolic transmission occurs through two related and interlocking steps: the invocation of the values that lie at the heart of communal life for a given community and, through invocation of shared values, the evocation of the realm of shared experience encapsulated in those values that binds the community together. There is a further implication of this idea: it is that for values to be uttered and for the communal imagination to be so bounded, a charismatic authority must exist at the heart of the community that can counter the differentiating tendencies of the wider society in which the community is embedded. This is the role that in all institutional structures is filled by a source of authority that (ideally) combines characteristics of leadership, concern and wisdom, though that source could be historical rather than living and collective rather than individual. This authority protects the integrity of the community through teaching and exemplification in which the communal values are both explicit and implicit, and by the clear demarcation of the boundary between the community and the non-community.
Conceptual transmission arises due to the exteriority of values as ordinary language terms meaning that they function not only as symbols within closed communal structures, but also as ordinary concepts in discourse through open communicative channels. This means that values can flow as easily as any other type of information. While this might seem to mitigate the rather austere view of the closed community painted above, and suggest that values can be transmitted in open social contexts, the underlying logic of the view that values are shared experience means that transmission of a value qua value – as opposed to a value concept – can only occur within a closed community. This presents something of a dilemma as modern societies are increasingly open and individualistic and not comprised of closed entities insulated from outside influences.
The way out of this impasse is to posit a multiplicity of values entailing a plurality of social forms in which belonging is real but only provisional, not absolute or exclusive. This gives rise to a view of our individual life-worlds as being constituted by overlapping associations and our values fairly eclectic and not necessarily resolved to a single coherent worldview, which seems to me to be fundamentally true to the form of liberal information-driven society in which we increasingly live today. I am not entirely sure whether the unresolved incompatibility of many of our values is a strength or a weakness. What is clear is that within this framework there is a freedom to pursue greater participation – and hence commitment – in one or more areas according to our desire or circumstances.
Conclusion: Defining Values
It is now possible to advance a definition of values with inherent transmissibility. A value can be defined as the conceptualisation of a culturally shared emotional experience, although for brevity this may be shortened to ‘shared experience’, ‘conceptualised shared experience’ or ‘the conceptualisation of experience’ (the qualifications of the term ‘experience’ need to be borne in mind, however; it is delimited by a cultural referent, by being shared and by being of an emotive nature, so it does not include shared experiences of natural forces, which are not emotive, and states like sadness, which are universal emotional experiences, not culturally specific).
In the social transmission of values both the conceptual and the discursive, and the symbolic and performative functions play a role, in widespread diffusion (in open contexts) and individual acquisition (in closed contexts), respectively. The unity of values, ontologically, is achieved through the meaning of the value-term itself ‘pointing to’ the origins and perpetuation of the value (as a ‘symbol’) in shared experience. I suggest it is this bedrock of shared experience that underlies the consistent positive connotation of value-terms – due to their potential for generating social cohesion within cultural entities – even when they function within open discourse as abstract concepts.
This definition has a number of corollaries. One is that while there can be individually held values, there are no truly private values; or if there are this is intrinsically unknowable, as in the sharing of an experience there must be recourse to a shared language and therefore the conceptualisation of the experience; alternatively, the creation of a neologistic value-term which must resonate with others’ experience if it is to be acknowledged as a value.
A further corollary is that, while there can be common values within cultures and across cultures, there can be no absolute values (unless an absolute value is taken as an empty formalism, as in Rickert and Munsterberg), as values bind cultural entities and are delimited by the boundaries of those entities; hence, from a perspective of rational universalism, values are always relative to the localised context and always valid within that context, though this is not the same as saying that all values are equal in terms of social outcomes, nor that we are incapable of making a rational choice of which values to prioritise on the basis of perceived outcomes. The absoluteness of values, if one can speak of such, is to be sought in the intensity of the value experience and also in the communal commitment to their local promotion.
Finally, as a result of their cultural limitations, values underlie social conflicts as much as they underlie social cohesion, i.e. conflicts between different and competing values and value systems. Such conflicts are a necessary part of the process of social development, as societies determine which values are to be more central to their identity and which more peripheral. Under the conditions of a liberal social environment it is possible to adopt a wide range of values and experience multiple overlapping belonging, though I personally imagine society is best served by having both individuals who are wedded to certainty in a narrow range and those who have open, questing minds.
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