Value Theory: Toward Conceptual Clarification

Reprinted from The British Journal of Sociology">


Value Theory: Toward Conceptual Clarification

Reprinted from The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 23 (June 1972) 172-187.

(I have included this early article on my webpage because it contains the seeds of much of my later thinking -- and because the challenge it poses for sociology has yet to be adequately confronted.)


It is the contention of this paper that there has been a pronounced tendency in sociology to under-emphasize the study of values and moral issues, and that the cause of this is twofold: the cultural and organizational climate within which sociologists operate and the lack of consensus among them on a conceptual framework within which accumulative research on values could occur. The broad outlines of such a model will be offered in an effort to initiate a revival of constructive debate on value theory; and a few possible implications for future research on values will be suggested.


value theory -- social science -- norms -- ideals -- value judgements -- value orientations -- generalized attitudes -- behavioural probabilities -- dualism -- paradigm -- self growth -- value formation -- cultural evolution

Why should sociology be concerned with the study of values? The obvious reason is that they may well provide the key to a more adequate understanding of the human being in society. But accompanying this is a certain moral imperative that impinges on the sociologist at this particular moment in time. A lack of progress in the application of organized intelligence to the choice of goals for humanity is everywhere apparent. It could be argued that the kind of disciplined assault on the problem that the scientific approach to knowing can provide is long overdue.

Furthermore, the possibility that sociology itself may bear some responsibility for humankind's current moral crisis cannot be summarily dismissed. The myth of the possibility of "objectively" documenting an immutable social reality of which one is a participant, so unquestioningly accepted by sociologists anxious to achieve scientific status, seems now to have spread to a majority of those involved in the humanities and the arts. The fetish of naive realism -- too often manifested as a detailed portrayal of pathology in the name of the whole truth -- is widely indulged in by the very "creative" intellectuals who scorn the social scientists for their conformist scientism. Ironically, both groups may be operating from identical outmoded assumptions about the possibility of a detached, "value-neutral" type of objectivity, and about the individual's lack of responsibility for his personal contribution to the shaping of the values which in turn shape humanity.(1)

The reaction of a large segment of the youth subculture to this "disinterested" pursuit of truth -- and its accompanying fascination with technique -- is perhaps also a justifiable source of concern for the sociologist. For the young are equating this naive realism with rationality. If this be reason, they say, then we want none of it. So we are witnessing a massive repudiation, not of the irrational assumptions about the nature of the knowing and valuing human being which have brought about our present obsession with documenting a so-called objective "truth" regardless of consequences for humanity, but of that very difficult and challenging application of reason to human affairs which we may for the first time be on the threshold of approaching. How tragic that at this particular moment our radical youth, who are rightly protesting the prevailing disregard for values in our society and among our intellectuals, have become persuaded that the culprit is reason rather than the all-too-obvious lack of it! That this situation represents a failure of the social sciences in the past cannot be denied; that it could also imply a challenge for the future, which the sociologist is uniquely qualified to meet, should not be overlooked.(2)


There are a number of sociologists, of course, who have always believed that the study of values is essential to progress in the behavioural sciences. However, this interest has not yet resulted in any notable degree of consensus in theory, nor demonstrable improvement in the usefulness of empirical research findings. Furthermore, a survey of accomplishments in value study thus far reveals at least four rather disturbing tendencies.

1. Failure to deal with the source and validation of values

William Kolb, in a review of the changing prominence of values from Durkheim until 1959,(3) refers to this omission in the work of Talcott Parsons. Kolb claims that Parsons is probably with him in assuming a non-empirical source, but whether this is a spiritual entity or a reified and mystical society is not clear. Parsons' 1958 paper on "Religious Organization in the United States"(4) implies an acceptance of the "fundamental religious roots" of values. Indicative of his philosophical assumptions also, is the fact that in his "paradigm of evolutionary change"(5) he divides the environment within which action systems function into two realms: ultimate reality (at the top of the diagram) and the physical-organic environment (at the bottom).

A unique attempt to delineate a non-empirical but societal source of even the most deeply rooted religious values is Guy Swanson's The Birth of the Gods.(6) The value theory appears to be based on the Durkheim model and here, at least, the problem of value origin and validation is faced squarely. Robin Williams, in his attempt to clarify the concept of values for the 1968 edition of The International Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences(7) also states his position clearly as follows: "Values as empirical elements in human behaviour certainly arise out of human experience."(8) However, Williams fails to identify the corresponding assumptions of the other value theorists whose work he surveys, thereby overlooking a major cause of the conceptual confusion which he documents.

2. Tendency to assume that society is antecedent to the individual

The disturbing aspect of this one-sided approach is that it is seldom spelled out even by those who acknowledge Durkheim's influence. It can only be inferred from a consistent over-emphasis in theory on values conceived solely as norms and from research designs which identify values always as independent variables. Williams(9) tries to correct this imbalance, as does Kecskemeti(10) in his book and Inkeles in his 1965 article entitled "Personality and Social Structure".(11) The inadequacy of such a model for the explanation of social change has been amply assessed elsewhere.(12)

3. Stress on conformity and minimization of the role of reason

A logical consequence of the second characteristic is a stress within value theory on the idea of conformity to social norms, and a corresponding minimization of the roles of selective perception and reason in human action. This emphasis has been noted by Kolb(13) in his discussion of Parsons' model. It is criticized by Alvin Gouldner(14) and by Dennis Wrong(15)in his warning about "the oversocialized view of man and the overintegrated view of society" in modern sociology. Reinhard Bendix claimed in 195I(16) that the image of man dominating social science research was that of an essentially irrational being whose behaviour is determined solely by group interest and organic drives.

4. Confusion surrounding the concept of value

(a) Values as norms. The prevailing identification of values with normative rules has already been discussed. In fact Kolb claims that (until the 1960s at least) the most significant accomplishment of value study was the firm anchoring of the concept in the realm of objective group norms. True, subjective aspects of values (defined as attitudes) had been elaborated by Ellsworth Faris and George Herbert Mead in the 1920s, but these had come to be considered the subject matter of psychology alone. Interestingly, almost a half-century later, we find social scientists still trying to bridge this compartmentalization in an effort to clarify the relationship between attitudes and values, as a prerequisite to value-theory development.

(b) Values as cultural ideals. Milton Rokeach,(18) in a recent attempt at clarification, suggests that values differ from attitudes in that they transcend specific situations and have to do with generalized modes of conduct (instrumental values) and end states of existence (terminal values). This conceptualization seems to be building on Merton's familiar means-end model. Further examination of Rokeach's research, however, reveals that what he is actually measuring is the relative commitment claimed by the respondent to whatever ideal or principle is symbolized for him by each of the terms which he is asked to rank. These terms (equality, freedom, independence, love, etc.) could perhaps better be considered as symbolizing cultural ideals.

Similarly, William Eckhardt, who employs content analysis in an effort to assess the values of Fascism, is assuredly obtaining measures on evaluative verbal references of some sort. But they seem to be references to a symbolic system of cultural ideals which may or may not have operated as actual motivating factors in Fascist countries. Eckhardt defines a value as any goal or standard of judgment which in a given culture is ordinarily referred to as if it were self-evidently desirable. This seems a good definition of the ideals which Gunnar Myrdal discusses in An American Dilemma. But if we merely assume a one-to-one relationship between these espoused goals and the values actually determining behaviour, then we are defining Myrdal's tragic dilemma out of existence. But perhaps Eckhardt makes no such assumption and agrees instead with Ethel Albert. In analysing values and value systems for the Encyclopaedia of Social Sciences(19) Albert states that "values are by definition distinct from conduct ... a system of criteria by which conduct is judged and sanctions applied."(20) Ideals again?

(c) values as assessments of action. Landes(21), in a 1967 study, measures what he considers to be values by having respondents rank fifty behavioural items on a ten-point scale from "least to most worst". He is either defining values simply as moral judgements or employing moral judgements as indicators of values, without clarifying his procedures. Similarly, E. H. Epstein(22) in discussing changing values in Puerto Rico, appears to be defining values solely in terms of the occupational reward structure.

(d) Values as beliefs. Milton Albrecht, in his article entitled "Does Literature Reflect Common Values?"(23) constructs (for the purpose of content analysis) a list of supposed American family-life values. However, as this list appears to be a mixture of statements describing behavioural prescriptions (norms ?), descriptions of the desirable (beliefs about the "good" ?), and descriptions of the actual (beliefs about the "real" ?), it is difficult to infer the exact meaning which Albrecht attributes to the concept of value. However, Richard Morris,(24) in developing a typology of norms, is very clear about what he means by the term. He defines values as either individual or commonly held conceptions of the desirable.

(e) Values as objects. Ralph Turner,(25) on the other hand, initially defines values as objects which are regarded favourably or unfavourably; and then, while explaining value conflict, seems to imply that these values impinge upon the individual in the form of norms removed to a higher level of generality and inclusiveness. (Ideals ?) In defining values as objects Turner is in the company of such respected theorists as R. B. Perry,(26) Stephen Pepper,(27) Florian Znaniecki,(28) and even John Dewey, who saw values as objects to the degree that they are shared and in the public domain. Perry's claim that a theory of value must refer to the emergence of interests focusing on objects(29) is fairly representative of this point of view. However, Becker, while elaborating on the reciprocity of needs and values, concludes that if knowing and valuing are inseparably united then all objects experienced by individuals become values for them. This all-inclusive definition of values as objects would seem to render the term completely powerless as an ordering concept.

(f) Values as value orientations. This term, as used by Clyde Kluckhohn in 1951,(31) and by Florence Kluckhohn in 1961,(32) seems to symbolize a deeply rooted set of culturally patterned and regulatory responses to the major environmental challenges facing humans in every time and place, capable of being identified at the level of the cultural system. Rainer C. Baum explains recent attempts to measure this concept both by direct respondent-ranking procedures and by content analysis of the literature of various historical periods.(33) On the whole, however, the term "value orientation"seems to have gained more rapidly in popularity than has the concept, and is now often confusingly interchanged with "attitude".

(g) Values as behaviour probabilities. Franz Adler(34) claims that in order for values to qualify as concepts of social science they must be defined in terms of behaviour. He sees them as learned components of personalities identifiable only as probabilities that a particular behaviour will occur in a variety of circumstances. He suggests that in addition to personalities, other value systems of varying degrees of complexity are groups, society and culture. Milton Yinger,(35) in a somewhat similar vein, cites what he calls the "inner-tendency" system as the source of predisposing factors for behaviour, with the "socio-cultural" system providing the precipitating factors. Like Adler, he claims that only from individual behaviour can we infer either the inner structure of the person or the patterns of the socio-cultural system.

(h) Values as generalized attitudes. Considering the progress in attitude measurement during the last four decades, it is rather surprising that the relationship between values and attitudes has not claimed more attention in the behavioural sciences. Rokeach(36) moves in this direction, claiming that although values (like attitudes) are predispositions to act, they differ from attitudes in their transcendence of specific objects and situations. In a similar vein, a major study edited by Kurt Baier and Nicholas Rescher concludes that "choices manifest preferences which in turn mirror values".(37) If these "preferences" could be conceptualized as attitudes, this simple description might be combined with Adler's definition to suggest a model capable of relating and interpreting -- by means of individual behavioural choices -- the phenomena of attitudes and values, as well as those represented by concepts such as cultural ideals, norms, moral judgments, reward structures, espoused beliefs and value orientations.


I. Philosophical compartmentalization

Why this apparent lack of progress in value theory ? Could it be that the prevailing cultural climate has not been conducive to the introduction of radically new approaches in this area ? Certainly the world view based on the premises of Christianity, in particular, insists that the sources of values are spiritual: beyond the possibility of critical analysis by humankind in the material world. Christianity, along with the majority of world religions, assumes an interfering God: one whose actual intercession in the course of history provides the basis for official dogma. Furthermore, the philosophical perspective stemming from, and providing the intellectual justification for, present-day transcendentalist views perceives reality as divided into two parts. These are the realm of "fact" where sensory experience and reason have finally been acknowledged as supreme, and that of "value" where the individual's natural knowing and valuing equipment must be suspended in favour of what tradition has transmitted in the name of unchallengeable spiritual authority.

2. Institutional compartmentalization

It seems that this convenient partitioning of reality by philosophers occurred only after the discoveries of Copernicus in astronomy, and received added impetus following the Darwinian explosion in biology. We often forget that prior to these intellectual revolutions, "truth" or factual knowledge as well as value was primarily the domain of theology and myth. In fact, it can be argued that the history of ideas from Aquinas through Descartes and Kant to Max Weber is largely the story of the agonizing struggle by sincere and intelligent men, trapped in the other-worldly premises of their culture, to reconcile the evidence of their senses and the logic of their reasoning with a transmitted faith in spiritualism. By the end of the nineteenth century the concept of a reality neatly segmented into a scientific world of fact and a theological world of value had become the conventional wisdom of the age -- as exemplified by the popularity of the "separation of church and state" idea in politics. Sociology, the one discipline which might have been expected to challenge this partitioning because of the obstacle that it presented to a comprehensive study of the human being in interaction, instead accepted Max Weber's position on objectivity, supporting the separation principle.

3. Organizational compartmentalization

American sociology has tended to develop in isolation from the humanities, and in the form of a highly specialized technique rather than as a broad, philosophically and historically sophisticated perspective for the study of humanity. This may have been due as much to the trend toward professionalization and kingdom building in academic life as to the widespread acceptance of the philosophical assumptions of Weberian neo-positivism. The establishment of separate departments in universities no doubt encouraged competition among the social sciences for funds, students, and better means of sharpening data-manipulating techniques. It is easy to see how values, with their notorious resistance to precise measurement, might be assigned low priority in this situation.

4. Theoretical compartmentalization

A not-unrelated reason for the neglect of values has been the lack of consensus on a satisfactory conceptual framework from which fruitful research could be launched. Those working in this area have been severely handicapped by the lack of any consistent body of theory on the nature of the human being as a valuing organism; and even by an obvious lack of agreement as to the meaning of the concept of value itself. Theorists have sought to explain values as identifiable components of either cultural, social or personality systems, but seldom have these perspectives been adequately related to action within one comprehensive model. The urgent need at the present time, therefore, would seem to be for a concerted effort to construct and test a body of systematic theory on the building of values and on valuing as a combination of social, psychological and biological processes.


I. On the nature of theory

A theory is here considered to be an abstract model picturing a relevant and relatively identifiable segment of the real world as a set of working relationships. Reality is hypothesized as a systematic and emerging pattern of relations in the material universe. Social reality (human behaviour) is therefore assumed to be determined by what has come before; however, because of the complexity of the interaction, it is to a large degree indeterminable and unpredictable. Theories about reality are believed to be derived at least partially by an intuitive "discerning of Gestalten".(38) Whenever the individual attaches meaning to sense impressions he is formulating or adopting a theoretical model of the way the particular segment of reality fits together. Formal or scientific theories differ from unscientific ones only in the method of formulating, stating, and testing. This view implies that "fact and theory are not categorically and permanently distinct",(39) as was formerly postulated. It also renders highly questionable the older, positivist, view which holds that theory inevitably evolves slowly in relation to the gradual accumulation of a proven factual base.

Kuhn states that it is always possible for more than one theoretical construction to be placed on a given collection of data.(40) We know, in fact, that it is common during the pre-scientific stage of a discipline's growth for many theories to contend for acceptance in one area of study -- each as plausible as the others, but all of them imparting vastly different meaning to the data in question, and thereby producing widely varying conclusions. (This is well illustrated by the many theories of value change competing for consensus in sociology today, and the inconsistent research findings which they have provided.) It is only when a theory is accepted by the majority of researchers in a given problem area that we can say that it has achieved the status of a paradigm and that the subject explained by it is thereby becoming scientific.

The major paradigms in a science determine not only the process by which empirical relations are interpreted as facts, but the very means by which they are selected for observation and the tools by which they are measured. Although, ultimately, they stand or fall on the extent to which hypotheses derived from them stand up to repeated empirical testing, these paradigms both shape and are shaped by the world views or ideologies of their inventors -- or by what Polanyi refers to as the premises of science in various historical times and places.(41) For example the paradigms of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Newton were influenced by prevailing images of the universe and these, in turn, provided later scientists with a "nest of metaphysical and methodological commitments"(42) founded on the assumption that all phenomena could be reduced to the mechanics of some kind of ultimate constituent particles.(43)

As Kuhn explained it, all "normal", cumulative, evolutionary progress in science occurs within the framework of paradigms. However, revolutionary changes happen periodically as a result of old paradigms having exhibited prolonged and pronounced failure in directing problem-solving activity. Such a change usually follows a gradual and simultaneous emergence among scientists of "observational and conceptual recognition" of a disturbing anomaly between experience and theory.(44)

In this context the study of values is apparently still in the pre-scientific stage of development. Franz Adler's pleas for a single definition system by means of which various generalizations could be translated into the same terms(45) is in reality a recognition of the need for a dominant ordering paradigm.

2. On the nature of humankind

A useful paradigm of the human being should provide the broad outlines of that complex set of responses which intercedes between the environmental stimuli and the observable behaviour of the individual. This is that nine-tenths of the iceberg hidden below water level, but conceivably of far greater significance to the understanding of human action than are those inputs and outputs immediately accessible to observation and measurement. That thrust of ice above the water provides us not with the dimensions of the whole iceberg, but with the empirical clues which help us to construct a picture of what the whole probably is, and to hypothesize relationships between the iceberg and its surroundings which logically would hold, assuming that our model of the unmeasurable whole is accurate.

It should be unnecessary to emphasize that any comprehensive and useful model for sociology must accord with current research findings in the biological sciences on the nature of organic processes. The twin unresolved problems of "specificity" and "organization" which haunt the biologist probing at the threshold of knowledge in his field(46) are surely representative of the key processes to be understood at the socio-psychological level as well. Young human organisms, like other living material entities, differ from non-living matter solely in the degree of complexity of organization and specificity attained. From conception on they select inputs from the environment and as a result of the accompanying experience of pleasant or unpleasant sensations and the relating of these to the corresponding inputs, they begin to organize these associations into a system. This system, which in turn provides a more-and-more refined sieve for the subsequent selection of stimuli, could be conceptualized as that submerged part of the iceberg which must be understood if we are ever to connect cause and effect in human action in any meaningful way.

If values provide the key to that organization of stored experience within the organism by means of which the "self" evolves, and to that selection and shaping of current experience that makes every individual a unique bundle of potential responses, then it is folly to imagine that such values can be identified in isolation from the concrete behavioural choices in which they are manifested.

3. On the nature of valuing

Young human organisms rapidly progress from random selections to belief construction (learning to "know" and to "value") as they organize inputs from the raw data of experience: data which include, in addition to momentary feeling states, the ideals, norms, and established knowledge of the surrounding culture. According to this model, values are learned criteria that predispose us to act as we do. They emerge from the inextricably intertwined affective and cognitive belief systems. Attitudes are merely the surface, or more specific, manifestations of these underlying values.

Such values bear no necessary relationship to the statements of belief that are cited in response to direct questions. Neither are they identical to the ideals or norms propagated by one's culture, the goals one espouses, the moral judgements one makes of the behaviour of others, nor to the objects of one's desire. All these are either the stuff of which values are made, or the symbolic representations of values. They are related to actual, operating values as empirical data or theories are related to scientifically confirmed knowledge.

What, then, do all of these phenomena have to do with the process of valuing? At the moment of conscious choice it is that organization of values defining the "self" that selects an appropriate action, just as it is that same value system that provides for the smooth operation of previously patterned or habitual behaviour. At the moment of conscious choice it is not merely the ideals and norms as objectified in the culture, but the individual's entire value system which combines with the immediate stimuli to determine behaviour. Only if one is a highly socialized product of a stable culture will one’s values and the ideals and norms of one’s group closely coincide. To the extent that these values have evolved systematically in a changing cultural milieu to form a relatively autonomous, valuing self, the individual will be free from having to accept the imposition of external authority or pressures by peers to conform. He will be free also from the necessity of responding passively to momentary stimuli.

At the moment of choice the individual is free to weigh alternatives consciously, and on the basis of anticipated consequences (of both her own and others' actions) to do what she decides is best. But what she decides to do at that instant of action -- or the way that she responds subconsciously to the situation as her perceptual patterns define it -- has been determined by that totality of past experience which has provided her with her knowledge and shaped her values.

If this were not so, and behaviour were produced either solely by situational stimuli or by an interfering internal or external spirit, then human beings and other animals would be totally unpredictable. But we are quite aware that this is not the case. The more we come to "know" our friends the better we can predict their behaviour. But we sense, too, that no friend could "know" our values completely without having experienced an identical genetic and experiential programming. This is why human behaviour, although determined, is in practice to a considerable extent indeterminable. Values can only be identified in so far as regularities can be discerned -- regularities which significantly increase the probability of successfully predicting future behaviour.

Nevertheless, the apparently restricted role of regularities in human behaviour does not mean that a search for more knowledge about them must be fruitless. We know that the substantial portion of behaviour which has assumed a habitual nature is fairly accurately predictable in terms of observed causes, and we have learned to locate these causes in ideals and norms as well as situational stimuli. In such conditioned behaviour an entire pattern of responses has become established as a value, as a result of having been selected as appropriate for similar circumstances many times. The valuing process is simply short-circuited. This conditioning is analogous to the process by which a particularly successful behaviour has been selected over many generations during which a species has faced identical environmental challenges, until that specific response pattern has somehow become reflected in the genetic structure.(47)

4. On the Relationship Between Knowledge and Values

All organisms are subject to a degree of change in their surroundings, and their value systems must change as well, if only to release tensions arising from failure to adjust to environmental challenges and alterations in knowledge. But sometimes, when a disruption in circumstances and beliefs has rendered an individual’s values obsolete, extreme tensions may develop due to value conflict and resulting behavioural inconsistencies. In such instances one either applies "knowing" (recognizing and reasoning) to the situation, thus forcing growth-enhancing re-appraisals of one’s entire value system and set of role expectations, or symptoms of character disorganization appear. The most extreme forms of these may be expressed as either a debilitating inability to choose any course of action, or as a tendency to react inconsistently to situational stimuli. This model conceptualizes the first of these "ideal type" reactions as characteristic of individuals whose value system largely comprises patterns of habitual or role-determined responses internalized from their culture, and who are thereby highly resistant to change -- in that unfamiliar stimuli tend to immobilize rather than to stimulate them. The second type represents the opposite extreme of openness to change: a situation in which a coherent set of values has failed to evolve, with the result that no consistent behavioural pattern is discernible over time. At the one extreme, individuals depend for their identity upon a static cultural tradition; at the other, they are at the mercy of momentary situational influences -- often attempting desperately to "find themselves" through fleeting membership in transient groups.

This model assumes that such deficiencies in the development of an integrated concept of self occur when the individual’s beliefs about the nature of the "good" and the "real" fail to evolve in relation to one another and to challenges from the environment. Self growth is viewed here as a perpetual, interrelated process of constructing workable beliefs and values. This process of value formation at the individual level is analogous to that of ideology construction at the group level. The person’s values shape the very perceptual process by which sensory impressions are assimilated,(48) just as prevailing ideologies affect the underlying premises of available models for explaining experience .

The individual’s value system and society’s culture (or dominant way of being in the world) are interdependent systems of interaction. Both are determinative of behaviour, just as both are simultaneously shaped by the actions of their "carriers" and members. Chief among the environmental stimuli initiating the individual’s actions are the admonitory and modelling behaviour of "significant others". And each act, in turn, affects the culture of which it forms a part. Beliefs about the "real" and about the "good" are twin aspects of the personal character or value system, while the knowledge and normative systems interact at the cultural level. The two levels of systems are interpenetrating and continually shaping one another in their parallel evolution.

However, "evolution" does not here imply progress toward an identifiable end state such as Maslow postulates.(49) No assumptions about human "needs", other than that of tension release, are necessary to explain self growth in this context. Every act evokes consequences that require further action, and every conscious behavioural choice is an act of faith in the belief systems upon which individuals (all to often unknowingly) "bet their lives".

However, gradual evolutionary change is only one aspect of self growth and in that of social systems. Radical transformations of belief systems -- and consequent fundamental changes in values -- may occur following fundamental dislocations in the knowledge system. The invention of new paradigms, and wholesale discarding of the old, operates as a source of revolutionary change in world views as well as in the value systems of individuals.


For purposes of research it may be fruitful to develop categories of openness to change in individual value systems corresponding to Howard Becker’s classification of societies on the basis of readiness to accept or initiate change.(50) In any case, it would appear useful to relate Becker’s "typical" societies, as defined by the content and rigidity of their ideological systems, to the value systems of their members.

Such a classification and measurement of ideologies should present no insurmountable difficulties, given the present sophistication of techniques for scaling and content analysis. However, the private nature of values does raise problems. If we conclude that values are not the same as ideals, norms, desired objects or espoused beliefs about the "good" but are, instead, operating criteria for action, then we must agree that they are not amenable to direct observation and measurement. It follows that values can only be inferred from behavioural choices -- not from what individuals say they believe, or ought to do, or desire as end states of existence.

The problem for the would-be value researcher is how to simulate real-life situations in which respondents are forced to choose among alternative courses of action. A number of methods have been used with some degree of success in the field of attitude measurement. In our model, however, it is only when we move from the identification of an attitude in a specific context to assessment of the probability that a particular pattern of action will occur in a number of situations, that we are actually tapping the underlying values. One possible means of accomplishing this might be to involve the subject in several specific problems and to pose for each a number of hypothetical solutions based on varying premises about what is good for humanity. The alternative solutions would have to be carefully constructed so that the values of the respondents could be inferred from the pattern of attitudes revealed in their choices.

Admittedly, this is a difficult process and one which, because it requires a two-step chain of logical inferences on the part of the researcher, is highly subject to error. However, it is better to admit the obstacles to valid and reliable value study and to proceed painstakingly than, in the interests of ease of measurement, to define values out of existence. This has been done too often in the past by equating them with their antecedents and consequences such as desired objects, ideals and norms; or with the beliefs upon which they are based; or with the societal assessments and rewards of action which admittedly affect values; or with the specific attitudes which reflect them and must be ascertained as a preliminary step in their identification.

This is not to say that ideals and norms need not be studied, nor to discount their contribution to the forming of value systems, and vice versa. But any postulation of interdependence which might open avenues for future research requires that the normative system of the group be visualized as conceptually and existentially distinct from the values and attitudes which it evokes in individuals -- and which, in turn, are the contributing sources of change in the normative system. It is the confusion of these variables in the concept of value orientation that renders the Parsonian model unsatisfactory as a means of explaining value change.51

To summarize, this paper has attempted to assess the current level of accomplishment in the field of value study and to suggest possible reasons for the apparent lack of progress. The need for an increased emphasis on this aspect of social relations is considered sufficiently urgent to warrant a renewed effort toward the achievement of a measure of consensus on theory. The premise that human social action is an integral aspect of an interrelated, determined but largely indeterminable evolving natural universe is offered as a possible starting point. It is hoped that the model of value change proposed might eventually prove capable of generating testable hypotheses concerning cultural and social change -- and the relation of such change to that occurring in the value systems of individuals.


I.For an elaboration of this idea, see the author's article, "Sociology and the Objectivity Problem", Sociology and Social Research, Vol. 54 (January 1970), 15 3-17 1.

2.For an argument that it may well be a new type of sociologist who assumes the critical function previously performed by scholars in the humanities, see J. P. Nettle, "Are Intellectuals Obsolete?" The Nation, (4 March 1968), 300-5.

3.William Kolb, "The Changing Prominence of Values" in Howard Becker and Alan Boskoff (eds.). Modern Sociological Theory, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1957, 118.

4.Talcott Parsons, "Religious Organization in the United States" in Talcott Parsons, Structure and Process in Modern Societies, New York: The Free Press, 1961, 311.

5.Talcott Parsons, Societies: Evolutionary and Comparative Perspectives, Englewood Cliffs: PrenticeHall, 1966, 28-9.

6.Guy Swanson, The Birth of the Gods, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1960.

7.Robin M. Williams, "The Concept of Values" in David L. Sills (ed.), The International Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 16, New York: The Free Press, 1968, 283-7.

8.1bid., 286.

9.Robin M. Williams, American Society: A Sociological Interpretation, 2nd. Ed., New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1960.

10.Paul Kecskemeti, Meaning, Communication and Value, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952.

1 I.Alex Inkeles, "Personality and Social Structure" in Robert K. Merton, Leonard Broom and L. S. Cottrell. Jr. (eds.), Sociology Today, New York: Harper and Row, 1965, 249-5 1.

12.For example, see Mohammed Guessous, "A General Critique of Equilibrium Theory" in Wilbert E. Moore and Robert M. Cook (eds.), Readings on Social Change, Englewood Cliffs, Prentice-Hall, 1967, 23-5. Also, Wilbert E. Moore, "A Reconsideration of Theories of Social Change", American Sociological Review, Vol. 25 (December 1960), 813.

13.William Kolb, op. cit., 116.

14.Alvin Gouldner, "Organizational Analysis" in Merton, Broom and Cottrell, op. cit. 409.

15.Dennis H. Wrong, "The Oversocialized Conception of Man in Modem Sociology", American Sociological Review, Vol. 26 (April 1961), 183-93.

16.Reinhard Bendix, "The Image of Man in the Social Sciences: The Basic Assumptions of Present-Day Research", Commentary, Vol. I I (February 1951), 187-92.

17.Milton Rokeach, "Role of Values in public Opinion Research", Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 32 (Winter 1968-69), 547-49.

18.William Eckhardt, "The Values of Fascism", Journal ofSociological Issues, Vol. 24 (1968), 547-49.

19.Ethel M. Albert, "Values and Value Systems" in David L. Sills, op. cit., 287-91.

20.1bid., 288.

21.J. R. Landes, "Moral Value Structures of Laborers and Penitentiary Inmates: A Research Note", Social Forces, Vol. 46 (December 1967), 269-74.

22.E. H. Epstein, "Linguistic Orientation and Changing Values in Puerto Rico", International Journal of Comparative Sociology, Vol. 9 (March 1968), 61-76.

23.Milton C. Albrecht, "Does Literature Reflect Common Values?", American Sociological Review, Vol. 21 (December 1956), 722-29.

24.Richard T. Morris, "A Typology of Nornis", American Sociological Review, Vol. 21 (October 1956), 61013.

25.Ralph H. Turner, "Value Conflict in Social Disorganization", in Seymour M. Lipset and Neil J. Smelser (eds.), Sociology: The Progress of a Decade, Englewood Cliffs, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1961, 522-27.

26.R. B. Perry, Realms of Value, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1954.

27.Stephen C. Pepper, The Sources of Value, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1958.

28.171orian Znaniecki, Cultural Sciences: Their Origin and Development, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1952.

29.R. B. Perry, op. cit., 13.

30.Howard Becker, "Current Sacred-Secular Theory and its Development" in Becker and Boskoff, op. cit., 139.

3 I.Clyde Kluckhohn, "Values and Value Orientations in the Theory of Action: An Exploration in Definition and Clarification" in Talcott Parsons and E. A. Shils (eds.), Toward a General Theory ofAction, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 383-433.

32.Florence Kluckhohn and Fred Strodbeck, Variations in Value Orientations, Evanston: RowPeterson, 1961.

33.Rainer C. Baum, "Values and Democracy in Imperial Germany", Sociological Inquiry, Vol. 38 (Spring, 1968), 179-96.

34.Franz Adler, "The Value Concept in Sociology", American Journal ofSociology, Vol. 62 (November 1956), 272-9; and "A Unit Concept for Sociology", American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 65 (January 1960), 356-64.

35.Milton Yinger, "Research Implications of a Field View of Personality", American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 68 (March 1963), 580-92.

36.Milton Rokeach, Beliefs, Attitudes and Values, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1968; and, by the same author, "A Theory of Organization and Change within Value-Attitude Systems", Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 24 (January 1968), 13-33.

37.Kurt Baier and Nicholas Rescher, Values and the Future, New York: The Free Press, 1969, 108.


3 8.Michael Polyani, Sciences, Faith and Society, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1964,11.

39.Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure ofScientific Revolutions, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962, 66.

40.Ibid., 76.

41.Michael Polyani, op. cit. 85-7.

42.Thomas Kuhn, op. cit. 41.

43.Polyani, op. cit. 85.

44.Kuhn, op. cit, 62.

45.Franz Adler, op. cit. 363-4.

46.For an elaboration of the challenges facing biology today, see Paul E. Weiss, "Living Nature and the Knowledge Gap", Saturday Review (29 November 1969), 19-22, 56.

47.Anatol Rapaport, Fights, Games and Debates, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1960,252.

48.1bid., 254. Also see Jerome S. Bruner and Leo Postman, "On the Perception of Incongruity: a Paradigm", Journal ofPersonality, Vol. 18 (December 1959), 206-23.

49.A. H. Maslow, "Psychological Data and Value Theory" in A. H. Maslow, (ed.), New Knowledge in Human Values, New York: Harper, 195 9, 119-3 6.

50.Howard Becker, Through Values to Social Interpretation, Durham: Duke University Press, 1950, 24880.

51. Talcott Parsons, "On the Concept of Value Commitments", Sociological Inquiry, Vol. 3 8 (Spring 1968), 135-60.