On reflection, I realised that the discussion on reflection is incomplete. All additions are in red.
This post is an aside to deal with values. These are held by persons and form part of their motivation to action. One of those actions could be to spread the values held to others, perhaps with the world.
In Part 2, I said “[v]alues … are arrived at through intuition, imitation, education and imposition and, also, by reflection on what values we have or what other people possess.” There I noted five vectors to acquire values, but there may be more ways. However, we can deal with these five.
Firstly let’s look at intuitions. We are not born with intuitions. We are, though, born with empathy (unless we are psychopathic) and Instincts and, more importantly, dispositions. As we are born with empathy, so we are born with Kindness. Dispositions are vital to human survival; these are what allow us to, for example, learn a language as they just simply let us learn.
Due to dispositions, we learn by imitation. This allows us to observe our family, friends, peers, acquaintances, indeed anybody and if another person or group has enough authority over us and we adopt the value. Our observation need not be immediate, it could be media, such as a letter in a newspaper. Of course, the values observed could be good or bad.
The area of ethics concerned with following good and bad examples of behaviour is Virtue Ethics. Sometimes, the practice is carried out not by reference to actual human behaviour but by using a superhuman exemplar, such as Jesus Christ or the Buddha.
By education, I do mean when someone actively tries to teach values. When, for example, this teaching is set down in a book, this becomes less like teaching and more like waiting for the intended subjects to begin imitation. From this, you can see there is no clear border between imitation and education.
Turning now to imposition, this is where values are forced upon the subject. This may be done legitimately with say a young child, for example, to get him/her to share toys with other children. It can, of course, be when the values useful to a ruling elite are imposed on adults: values such as blind obedience to that ruling class. Again, there is no clear border between education and imposition, as some legitimate force may be used in education. The imposition of values leads us back to part 1, where the psychopath is being persuaded to help his fellows.
At the extreme end of imposition is totalitarianism.
Finally, we can turn our attention to reflection, that is the examination of our values. This means that we can reject values and replace them with new ones, add new ones and perhaps even invent some. Hopefully, reflection will be guided by reason and empathy. To some persons, this ability to choose one’s values is just wrong and, will lead to bad values being adopted. To them, good values have to be imposed. Of course, the imposers will choose which values are good; the values chosen as good will, naturally, be those the imposers consider as good. These could be, for example, that women are inferior to men, only white people deserve to be treated as human beings or murder is wrong (unless the victim does not belong to your tribe or religion). I have deliberately chosen (what I consider) bad values and from real examples, as I wanted to illustrate what can happen when values are imposed.
Good values could be imposed but with two dangers that come readily to mind, Firstly, the psychopath could ignore them and, secondly, the non-psychopath make only hold the values weakly, that is, as the value has been imposed, may not fully commit to the value, but hold it only as a dogma (as J. S. Mill warned about any idea).
Reflection on values (and this includes both internal reflection and open discussion with other people) helps one decide if a value is worth having and will help others.
There is a sixth vector to add for acquiring values: insinuation. This seems like education, but differs in that it is more like rumour and propaganda. Also, education usually aims to give good values; insinuation almost always to give bad. One of the downsides of the internet has been the creation of platforms that allow insinuation (of bad values) without challenge. The values of these platforms are often that making money trumps other values.
Another aspect of values is that they can be ranked.
“You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
Of note, before we leave this topic is the temporary nature of values.