Monday, January 12, 2009


The Words "Value" and "Ideology"

Prof. Bainbridge, referring to Prof. Balkin has post on ideology that made me think of how misused that word is. Or, perhaps it is so misused as to have become useless.

As commonly used, an ideology is a system of beliefs. What I have always thought was the true meaning of ideology was a system of beliefs without any underlying beliefs. Thus, one might be an environmentalist because you like pretty and useful things, or you might be an environmentalist by ideology, where recycling and parks are good regardless of any instrumental motive. The term is useful then because it gives us a name for basic belief systems that are not religions. We sometimes say, "Environmentalism is a religion,", but it really isn't. It doesn't have gods. But it is often like religion in that it is hard to argue against without upsetting its fundamental beliefs.

A term with similar flavor is "values". People say that "Honesty is one of my values" without realizing how they are degrading honesty by that statement. It has the connotation that honesty is something that the person happens to value, even though it has no intrinsic worth. Values are basic, like ideology. If honesty is simply one of my values, that means I don't base it on religion or utility or natural law. It is just like my valuing of pistachio ice cream. Wise people have principles and philosophies; unthinking people have values and ideologies.

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