Think Tank: Do Values Change?

OK, all you smart (-assed) people out there...

I was talking to a good friend of mine about something interesting and I wanted to see what you guys think. My brother, who majored in philosophy (and something more practical), would probably have all kinds of technical terms for what we're discussing, but I imagine we'll be able to muddle through. ;)

Do you think values change? Are they something that you learn (or are born with) and you believe it all your life? Or, are they something that changes as you gain experience?


(I was tempted to give examples, but I think that might stifle your creativity.)


Shawn Powers said...

Perhaps our values don't change, but our perception, understanding, and interpretation can vary or evolve?

I think it's possible have the appearance of a change in values in the light of new information or maturity of understanding. I would argue the value didn't change, just the comprehension of the value shifted.

I do think values can shift in importance. Preservation of life is a prime example. I was much more willing to risk life and limb for fun before I had a family. I still value the preservation of life, it is just a more profoundly important value now.

I feel like I should make a fart joke now. That was pretty heady for me. :)

Max Cutrell said...

Values, by definition are subjective and therefore are in constant change. Would it be a better question to ask weather or not Morals change? Morals are usually derived form direct experience and to a lesser degree, indirect experience. Some would argue that certain "universal truths" exist outside ourselves. Meaning that if humans ceased to exist/never existed, these truths would still exist. Others argue that all morals/truths are just perceptions and are completely subjective (including colors, gravity and "Thou shalt not kill".)

Personally, I hold my values/morals/truths to be completely subjective. The question then becomes, are morals deemed morals only when the majority of people agree? Obviously Morals and truths change over time (slavery, world is flat, etc.) So are morals simply truths that make for a more ordered society?

Nathan said...

I'm not sure values change as much as the definitions of those values change.

The U.S. has always claimed to value freedom and equality. They justified slavery by literally defining blacks as inferior and therefore in need of a patrician's care. Women couldn't vote because it would hurt their pretty little heads. Until very recently, homosexuality was a disease.

Random Michelle K said...


As we experience life and learn through our own experiences as well as the experiences of others, that shapes our beliefs.

I've had several moral shifts in my life, as my experience and the experiences of those I know filters through my current values, I discover that perhaps things were not as I previously thought and my views need revised.

I think anyone is capable of doing this, the difficulty is in admitting that your previous beliefs were in error. This is a really really difficult things to do, especially the first time.

Because no one likes admitting they were wrong. Especially about important things.

Tania said...

Yes. I think other said it well. I think they change and evolve, as we all do.

Look at the Three Laws. Giskard developed the Zeroeth Law because there was a need. I figured I should keep us on track in an SFnal way...

Anonymous said...

Yes, definitely.

For a couple of years in college, I was obnoxiously Christian. I'm sure you remember the type. Cheerfully evangelical and very, very confident of my own correctness on every moral, values-based and religious topic.

Then life smacked me around a bit.

My values, beliefs & priorities are very, very different than those of that young woman, completely transformed, and in fact if one of my sons brings one of those home as a date one day I'm going to be hard pressed not to smack her around. It would be my karma though.

vince said...

I don't think you're born with values, I think you learn them, and they're subject to change. Your initial values usually are set by your parents. As you grow older and are exposed to people, various media (like books, movies, etc.) they will tend to modify your values. Eventually you absorb and analyze all the input you've gotten and develop values that you are comfortable with and can defend.

I do think, like Michelle said, that it's hard to admit you may have made a mistake, especially about something important. I don't have a problem with people being confident in their moral views of the world. If you don't have any confidence in the values you hold, then why hold them? But I do have a problem with people who can't (or won't) recognize the possibility they may be wrong about something.

When I was younger, I was far more certain of my worldview and verydisdainful of those who didn't agree with it. But as with Michelle and Jeri, a bit of life smacking me around produced some attitude adjustment.

John the Scientist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John the Scientist said...

Arrrgh - wrote that first sentence backwards - morphemes are the deep structures, allomorphs are the surface forms.

John the Scientist said...


To borrow a concept from linguistics I look at values as the "allomorphic" manifestation of the "morphemes" of core morals. Take, for example, the core root morpheme of "five". That can be expressed as "fiv" or "fif" (fifth) - voiced and devoiced consonants often change places. But they represent the same thing.

Like Heinlein, I look at morality as a set of pro-survival behaviors and attitudes that have developed by an evolutionary mechanism. In special cases, morals may differ, but there is a core set that is pretty common to the entire race.

But the allomorphs do change. "V" mutates to "F", but connotes the same numnber; the defniniton of "man" mutates from white only to all races, but means the same thing.

Tom said...

Yes, values change. Yes, morals can change. My morals are moral to me regardless of whether others hold to them as well.

All of the above is because in my personal life, my values have changed, and my morals have changed. Therefore, they can and do change. I may like you better if your values and morals are similar to mine, but I won't hate you because they're different. In addition to changing my values and morals, I've learned tolerance.

Thanks, Anne. This is a good topic.

Unknown said...


I think everyone here agrees that values certainly do change. I think Maximo is right in saying that, as wisdom and experience taint your subjective points of reference, values are under constant review and change. I know that my values have changed markedly in 49 years, tho I'm pretty sure I've got them nailed down now (LOL).

As for morals and truth ... the only difference is that these are values held by group-thought and still subject to just as much change as personal values. Even "constants" like the gravity or the speed of light are in for some scrutiny as our group-wisdom and group-experience changes and evolves.

"Nothing endures but change" (Heracleitus)
"Change is constant, change is inevitable" (Disraeli)

I could use that fart joke about now!