Principles of Understanding Values


Thanks to the accumulated knowledge, theoretical and conceptual frameworks and the past studies on values we were able to review, we have developed a philosophy for understanding values, their systems, and measurement methodologies as well as how to enable and instill them.
Our work is guided by general principles to create and enable values including coining the value terminology; explaining the relevant disputes among scholars and researchers; differentiating between values and similar concepts such as ethics and principles for the purpose of pinpointing the value-related concepts; elaborating on education and how it relates to values; covering the key standards adopted by scholars in relation to categorizing values and value systems; adopting standards for categorizing values and value systems (i.e. the individual-supporting environment and that the sponsor or owner of an environment is responsible for creating and enabling values); and eventually identifying the value dimensions in these systems. Further, we will be covering this in details.

Principles of Understanding Values

Having had a thorough review of the available value-related literature and study of some value-specialized projects and following extensive panel discussions involving our consultants, we had developed and adopted a set of principles that directed and guided our global understanding and philosophy on values including:

  • There is an evident confusion when it comes to defining a value in the areas of science.
  • Values are international, i.e. most religions, cultures, ethnicities and nations agree on them.

  • Individual-incubating environments comprise organizational, social and national environments.  What family, educational institutions, public and private sectors and NGOs have in common is that they all have a limited number of members who abide by a certain system. Each environment has a publicly-accepted leader. On the other hand, a county is a form of society yet with a chosen leader.

  • A sponsor/owner of an incubating environment is responsible for developing the values for the individual members of this environment.
  • All the civil community institutions and social media – being irresponsible influencers – play a direct role in influencing the values of all incubating environments.
  • Irrespective of its type, an incubating environment has a relative effect even though it may have specific declared values. Values carry no meaning unless they are adopted by individuals regardless of the personal values they may assume.
  • Preparing an incubating environment to support values since it is an essential cause for people to gain values and for values to be enabled and instilled in them.

  • Personal values of an individual may match the values of an incubating organization. The value matching could be full or partial and could pertain to the type of or commitment to values.
  • Values of each individual and organization (or an artificial entity) differ based on the changing goals and priorities. Furthermore, values of an incubating environment could change within a period of time in line with the context in which they exist.
  • When creating value systems, organizations aim at motivating their personnel to realize the goals of their incubating environment.
  • A value has three implicit dimensions, namely knowledge, reaction and belief, and a fourth explicit one, that is behavior.
  • Each value carries a sub-value. Collectively, they comprise the genuine value.
  • Values interlace. That is some components (sub-values) of a certain value may be found in the components of another value. Hence, different values share various components. In addition, a component (i.e. a sub-value) may be a genuine value in itself.
  • Organizational values govern the interpersonal and intrapersonal relations at the workplace as well as an individual’s relation with stakeholders in and out of the organization. It is commendable when these values accord with personal values, which means the values will be enabled in three integral circles, namely individual, organizational and social.
  • Values are acquired. Hence, all learning principles, techniques and strategies apply to them.
  • A key condition to understanding values is conceptualizing them into a clearly defined entity. This entails defining the value; identifying its sub-values and the behaviors that express or go against it; analyzing the component dimensions; declaring the merits of adoption and demerits of violation; and techniques for acquiring and enabling it (aka value embodiment).
  • To enable values among individuals, we must first address the sponsor or influencer who is responsible for instilling the values in the minds of his/her audience.
  • Providing the requirements of the environment incubating the declared values to transform it into an incubating environment; inspiration, learning, enriching and training are all means of enabling the values.
  • Instilling values in individuals assists in realizing the goals of their incubating environments.
  • Measuring an individual’s values aims at recognizing the degree to which he/she acquire and adopt personal or organizational values. On the other hand, measuring the organizational values (artificial entity) aims at identifying the extent to which they provide the requirements for a value-enabling environment.
  • Values are not mere professional or occupational skills. They are dependent on an individual’s belief in them. Therefore, for a person to acquire a certain value, he/she must be involved in the value-enabling process, that is converting a value into a conviction and a disciplinary compass guiding his/her choices and stances.

Perplexing Terminology

The right and sound introduction to study any term is learning about the linguistic and terminological meaning such a term denotes. This measure facilities understanding, frames the parameters the term involves and distinguishes it from subject matters of similar meaning.

Linguistic Meaning

Having reviewed most dictionaries in English, it is evident that value is derived from Middle English, “worth, high quality,” borrowed from Anglo-French, noun derivative from feminine of valu (going back to Vulgar Latin *valūtus), past participle of valer, valeir “to be worth, have value,” going back to Latin valēre “to be well, have strength,” which is definitely neither related to the common dictionary nor the scientific meaning.
Oxford Dictionary defines value as “how much something is worth”, “the quality of being useful or important”, and “beliefs about what is right and wrong and what is important in life”.

Therefore, it can be inferred that the dictionary-provided meaning of value was adapted to the value-related literature and thus produced the commonly recognized terminological interpretation of value. In other words, the latter has no linguistic root.
Furthermore, Arab and Islamic literature of all disciplines as well as international literature never mentioned value as a term in its modern sense.

Terminological Meaning

Considering the fact that the value as a term is widely used in all human sciences, scholars, theorists and professionals in numerous disciplines in the modern era developed and adopted various definitions and attached different meanings to the same word.
According to Rokeach, who developed the most common definition of value as a term yet, a value can be defined as “an enduring belief that a specific mode of conduct or end state of existence is personally or socially preferable to an opposite or converse mode of conduct or end state of existence.” It is a cognitive representation of individual or social needs. A human being is the only being capable of producing these representations.
Value as a concept interrelates with other concepts the most noticeable of which is ethics. In brief, the difference between values and other closely related concepts (such as needs, motives, attitudes and tendencies) is that values are uniquely characterized by abstraction and universality and can determine one’s attitudes, interests and behavior. In addition, values are obligatory or binding in nature, a characteristic developed in light of the social standards and cultural frameworks in their respective environment.

Though comparable, these three terms do not stand for the same concept. Ethics are compatible with the nature of human being and are required in each profession. Nevertheless, one society could adopt types, definitions and understanding of ethics different from another. Ethics are not bound to a specific religion or doctrine.
Values are compatible with the nature of human being, required in each profession and suit all societies. Values are universal but not necessarily bound to religion.
Islamic ethics are compatible with the nature of human being, required in each profession, suit all societies and are bound to and introduced by Islam as a religion.

Scholars and researchers held diverse opinions on the relationship and differences between values and ethics. Some see them as so close or even identical to the point of being two sides of the same coin while others believe they are slightly different. Since identifying one from another is crucial, we will be covering in brief the differences between these terms.

  •  Ethics are a type of value.
    Researchers identified several types of values including economical, professional, political, social, aesthetical and ethical values. The latter is simply ethics; hence an integral part of values.
  •  All ethics are compulsory while some values are voluntary.
    Ethics and values incorporate negative and positive ones. In other words, an ethic as a moral rule can be good or bad, and so can a value. However, the difference lies in the fact that a person must adhere to good ethics and will be placed under blade for behaving in poor morals. No ethic is excepted from this rule.
    On the contrary, adoption of all good values is preferable yet no one is obligated to exhibit all good values. For instance, if a person fails to show the value of creativity, his/her personality will not be undermined. This is not the case if that person does not follow good manners.
  • Values are universal. Ethics are society-bound.
    Values apply to humankind; most nations and countries agree on them. Conversely, ethics are generated by societies; hence differ based on society, religion, doctrine, customs and traditions.
  • Values are attributed to organizations while ethics and values are attributed to people.
    A person can be attributed a certain value or ethic. For instance, a person can have good or bad ethics or values. In the case of an organization or a business, it can be described as of good or bad values. Ethics rule over families, schools and community in general. Ethics are given much attention by stakeholders and those responsible for a supporting environment. Values are most noticeable in service and manufacturing institutions.

A principle is the cardinal rule of any area. For instance, thinking principles are the rules that direct how the thinking process occurs. Some scholars use the term principles of a discipline or a theory as a synonym of philosophical values (defined as all beliefs held by a person, and which influence his/her attitudes towards politics, ethics, arts etc.). The key difference between principles and values is that the first represents only the intellectual aspect or beliefs and is expressed in sentences rather than words.
Principles are intellectual molds developed by means of accumulated experiences. Principles emerge from diverse sources (including religion, upbringing, traditions, personal convictions, experience etc.). They stand for our overall view of life and help us interpret and associate meanings to reality. Principles play a role in coining and prioritizing our values.

Values are someone’s personal convictions with which he/she finds peace. They represent the ideal self, which dictates that an individual behaves in line with and avoids breaching his/her own values.
On the other hand, a law is externally imposed and does not represent an individual’s personal convictions. A law is enforceable on all people and caters for the general public. It does not consider how smart or rich its subjects are. People, therefore, have no choice.
Values legitimize and call for certain behaviors whereas laws regulate rights and obligations. Values come first. Then, a law enforce the higher values that it upholds and thus instill them into the conscience of individuals and the society.
Laws regulate and enforce legal values; consequently, they are limited to a specific set of values while the rest are voluntarily adopted.

Traditions are an unwritten form of law. They carry the same traits of a law and thus have the same differences of law from values.
Overall, traditions are a set of rules commonly agreed on and over time and thus became compulsory.

Tackling the Terminological Perplexity

In modern literature, a value is a recent term that has no etymological root. The term was introduced to the theoretical frameworks to represent a new concept that is more general than ethics and differs from laws, traditions and principles. On the face of it, the concept of a value may be identified as relevant to human sciences such as psychology and sociology in particular. However, it exceeded the boundaries of humanities and become a household name in politics and administration, which covers institutional and national values. Accordingly, it must be first acknowledged that the terminological perplexity is existent but recent. A researcher in values must adopt and base his/her research on a common definition; define the relevant concepts and then present the proposed theory or philosophy. This approach? has been taken by other scholars and is what we will later follow. Afterwards, we will be covering the philosophy of interpreting and understanding values. It is also worthy to illustrate the end goal for a research on values. Such a goal will definitely lead to drafting the definition of the term and demonstrating the scholar’s philosophy of interpreting and understanding values. This aspect was not clearly covered by most Arab intellectual and conceptual literature on values.