Do values change? The answer seems to be a resounding “yes”. Both social science and history have traced broad societal value changes across time. Examples include the abolition of slavery, changes in morality towards more inclusivity, and increased concerns for the environment. Given these phenomena, it is a sensible assumption that there is something that needs to be explained.
Many of these phenomena might be explained in terms of changes in what people value. And all philosophical accounts of value change are – at least primarily – explanations of changing evaluations that may or may not correspond to the evaluative facts. It matters whether there would be a change in the evaluative facts. Moral change would seem to be a much more complicated phenomenon than previously thought: not only would we have to explain the change in evaluations, but also how those evaluations track changes in values. Moreover, the increased sophistication of empirical accounts of change in evaluations (e.g. in terms of moral revolutions, evolutionary pressures, or game-theoretic considerations) would have to be complemented by an account of how those changes correspond to a change in values.
However, it is an open question whether there can be a change in the values themselves, too. So far, philosophers have primarily focused on adjacent but distinct phenomena like moral disagreement, moral revolutions, and moral progress. The traditional questions within these fields of research (e.g. is there (deep) disagreement, how do moral revolutions happen, what is moral progress) do not invite an investigation of the possibility of changing values so far. In particular, value theory, the discipline concerned with questions regarding the nature of values, has thus far assumed a static view of values and no account of what it would mean for values to change has been provided thus far.
This workshop series aims to shed light on this under-investigated topic of value change. Despite its seemingly common enough occurrence, it is not clear what value change amounts to. Is value change simply a change in what people value, or is it a change in what is (objectively) valuable? The first step towards a clearer understanding of value change is to make headway on what exactly we need to explain when we want to explain value change.
This international workshop series will bring together internationally leading scholars on philosophical value theory to explore the topic of value change. The primary aim of the workshop series is to deepen our understanding of the phenomenon of value change from a value theoretic perspective. Furthermore, a secondary aim is to use that deepened understanding to explore the role of technology in value change. The series will provide an occasion to explore fundamental questions about value and value change.
Given the exploratory nature of the topic, we invite work in progress and early thoughts on the topic and we aim to facilitate a discussion with a diverse and international set of interested researchers on the topic.
Confirmed Speakers and Dates
- Thursday 15 April 2021, 17.00 pm (CEDT): Graham Oddie (University of Colorado, USA)
- Thursday 22 April 2021, 17.00 pm (CEDT): Wlodek Rabinowicz (Lund University, Sweden)
- Thursday 29 April 2021, 17.00 pm (CEDT): Valerie Tiberius (University of Minnesota, USA)
- Thursday 6 May 2021, 17.00 pm (CEDT): Krister Bykvist (Stockholm University, Sweden)
The possibility of value in flux: a realist’s perspective
What we value obviously changes, but can value itself change? Metaphysical realism about value would appear to sit uneasily with value in flux, at least in part because it denies the reducibility of value to our changing attitudes to value. Certainly Platonic realism about value would seem to sit most happily not only with the timelessness of the fundamental structure of value, but also with its metaphysical necessity. The Forms are the ultimate value bearers, according to the Platonist, and their participation in the overarching Form of the Good is beholden neither to time nor to chance. While unchanging value might be the most obvious resting place for the value realist, there is at least one version of a robust value realism which does make logical space for genuine and interesting cases of change in value. In this presentation I will outline a realist framework which accommodates both aspects of value: the necessary and the timeless as well as the contingent and the fleeting.
Forming Value Judgments by Aggregation, and How It Differs from Aggregation of Preferences
This talk focuses on the contrast between two ways of changing attitudes by aggregating the individual attitudes in a collective. One takes its departure from individual preferences r and the other has as its input individual value judgments. The former results in a new preferential state, the latter in a new evaluation. The targeted case is one in which the two aggregation scenarios exhibit a far-reaching structural similarity: the individual preferences to be aggregated are purely ordinal – they are preference rankings – and the individual judgments exhibit the same structure: they are value rankings. I will argue that, despite of their formal similarity, the difference in the nature of inputs in those two aggregation scenarios has important implications: the kind of procedure that seems fine for aggregation of value rankings is arguably inappropriate for aggregation of preferences. The relevant procedure consists in similarity maximization, or – more precisely – in minimization of weighted average distance from individual inputs. It is shown that, whatever distance measure is chosen, distance-based procedures violate the (strong) Pareto condition. This seems alright as the aggregation of value rankings goes, but would not be acceptable for preference aggregation.
Well-Being, Value Change, and Subconscious Goals
According to one familiar and compelling way to think about well-being, goal fulfillment or its ilk (desire satisfaction or value realization) is central to a prudentially good life. Typically, theories in this family take the relevant goals to be conscious goals. However, we know from the psychology of goal seeking agency that many goals occur below the level of consciousness. Might subconscious goals also be important to well-being? I argue that an affirmative answer to this question leads us to some insights about the process of value change, which in turn helps us to solve some long-standing problems for these subjective theories of well-being.
Well-being in a flux?
The fact that our attitudes change, both across time and across worlds, poses well-known challenges for attitude-sensitive well-being theories. Take Kierkegaard’s famous conundrum, for example: If I were to get married, I would prefer being unmarried; if I were to remain being unmarried, I would prefer being married. Which life is better for me? Or take a temporal analogue: in the past I favoured my adventurous youthful life more than the quiet and unassuming life I expected to live as an old man; now when I look back I favour my current life more than my youthful past life. Which period of my life is better for me? More generally, is there a stable standard of well-being we can appeal to in these cases, or do we have to accept that the wellbeing value of a life (or part of a life) can change across worlds or times?
In my talk, I will present an ‘attitudinal matrix’ framework that will help us clear up the problems posed by changing attitudes, with a special focus on change across time. In particular, the framework will help us see what is at stake, which principles that can or cannot be combined, and what might be the best solution. More specifically, I shall argue that a plausible attitude-sensitive well-being theory does not have to accept that values can change.
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