how to identify a value
how a value-system works
six relationships between (or among) values
three perspectives generated by value-systemsAs defined here, values-analysis includes description of the relationship between two (or more) values as acted out in particular situations, and it includes explanation of the perspective that is acted out in particular situations.
1.1. Here are two things to remember about the plan:
In order to follow the plan, you must be able to use the definitions given below. Since some of the terms have other meanings than the ones stated in this document, it helps to treat each term as a "technical" term. For instance, we give a precise and limited definition of the term "perspective." If you don't use the term perspective in any other way in this course, it will help you keep the idea of perspective in your mind as we apply it to the analysis of values.1.2. The material below is divided into three sections:
To make a start on the learning-curve for analyzing values, you might find it useful to restate each definition in your own words. Putting the definitions given here into your own words will help you think through the definitions. Thinking of an example for each relationship and perspective will allow you to put the definitions to immediate use. You will see guidelines below for inventing or recognizing appropriate examples. Backing up your definitions with examples is the only practical way you can know if your definitions are workable. If you do these two things and receive appropriate feedback, you will make a good start on the process of analyzing values.
Basic Definitions. This section contains the definitions of "value" and "value-system," and states the basic principles in their analysis.
Relationships. This section introduces the six relationships between values. These relationships give us the possibilities for determining how values are connected to each other in particular situations.
Perspectives. This section introduces the three perspectives that are demonstrated by people's actions in particular situations.
2.1. First Principle. If anything can be a value, the way we discover values is to look at people's actions. Failure to honor this principle leads to the creation of fantasy values -- that is, values that might exist "on paper" but do not exist as actual facts. Only as people act on values do the values become real. Is "honesty," for instance, an example of a value? NO! Not in itself. It only becomes an example when we talk about some set of actions we might characterize as "honest." VALUE IS A CONCEPT THAT REFERS TO ACTIONS MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE.
2.2. Second Principle. We must distinguish between the ways in which values are shaped and the ways in which they are demonstrated. Values are shaped by people's needs (basic feelings and desires), the situations in which they find themselves, the projects they undertake, and the beliefs they hold. However, people demonstrate their values by what they do more than by what they say or think or believe or observe or hear. Since actions count more than beliefs, people may fool themselves by thinking their values are what they believe rather than what they do. For most people, there is a gap between actions (which demonstrate "real" values) and beliefs (which demonstrate "ideal" values).
2.3. Third Principle. Applying the action principle to artifacts from the past is simple. Anything handed down to us from the past is itself an action. If a person writes something, that writing constitutes an action. We can read it and determine the values that brought it into being. The same thing applies to music and art. They are the products of actions. We loosely call these sorts of things "primary" sources. A primary source is something that comes to us from the past. Often, we can't observe such things in a very primary form. For instance, we might not know the original language of a writing, so we will have to take the word of some translator. As far as we rely on a CD-ROM, we look at images of artistic works rather than the works themselves. In detecting values in primary sources, it's really important to interpret what you observe. For instance, we shouldn't interpret a thirty foot statue unless we are looking at a thirty foot statue. If we are looking at a picture on a computer screen, interpret it. It's real. Everything else is a fake.
2.4. Fourth Principle. The final principle of identifying values
-- and this applies as well to giving examples of values -- is that
only occur in particular situations as a person does some action. You
can't detect a value when there's nothing to detect. We can call this principle
the situation principle. It reminds us to never talk about a value apart
from some description of a specific action.
|The four principles for identifying values are: 1) the action principle, 2) the demonstration principle, 3) the source principle, and 4) the situation principle. There's a lot of overlap among these principles. Together, they provide a basis for talking about values.|
3.1. First Characteristic: Consistency of the Values in the System. Values in a system are reasonably, not totally, consistent. Even an individual cannot (usually) live by a totally consistent value-system, and groups identified by value-systems show greater variances than individuals. However, the inconsistency occurs within a fairly narrow range.
Let's say a person values a clean car. One day she might wash and wax and vacuum it. Then she might not do anything at all for six weeks -- demonstrating by her actions that she values a dirty car. But what if she was in the hospital for the six weeks and cleaned her car as soon as I got out? Granted, she did not act with total consistency, but wouldn't you say her overall actions showed that she really did value a clean car? If so, she would perform other actions that go along with her value of a clean car and that show connected values -- like buying car-soap, for instance, or car-wax. Reasonable consistency is the first characteristic of a value-system.
3.2. Second Characteristic: Relative Importance of the Values in the System. Values have relative, not absolute, importance. Their role in the actions generated by the value-system depends on their relationships to each other as acted out in specific situations. Such relationships are easily seen when a person makes an either-or choice. The value chosen becomes more important, and the value rejected becomes less important. But the rejected value may remain as part of the system because it will be chosen in different circumstances.
3.3. Third Characteristic: Hierarchy
of the Values in the System. The values in a particular value-system
may be diagrammed as a pyramid. We usually think of hierarchy in terms
of higher and lower. Frequent actions based on a value put the value
higher in the system than values that are rarely acted on. Often, the difference
between actions and beliefs plays a crucial role in determining the location
of values in a system. For example, many people believe that exercise is
good for their health. But the only ones who really place high value on
exercise are the ones who exercise a lot. If a person takes the elevator
instead of walking the stairs (or vice-versa), it shows something about
the person's values. Another issue of relevance to the question of hierarchy
is the problem we frequently encounter in determining whether one value
is higher than another. Let's say a group of people take a shower every
morning and brush their teeth. Is taking a shower or brushing their teeth
the higher value? Hard to say, right? Here's where the model of a pyramid
comes in handy. When you can't decide on the question of higher-lower,
you can just put the values side by side.
|A value-system is a cluster of reasonably consistent values whose position in the system depends on their relationships to each other. People make decisions on the basis of their value-judgments, their evaluations of the relative worth of whatever they encounter in their lives. Value-judgments may be difficult because everyone has many values. And the same values in a value-system may relate to each other in different ways as circumstances require action. The idea of relationship is fundamental in our discussion of values. So let's consider it right now.|
Relationships between Values Only Occur in Particular Situations. Two values in themselves do not have a "relationship" with each other. They only relate when they are connected to each other by the actions of a person or group in some specific circumstance. The only way to explain or give an example of a relationship is to look at some action. Once you observe and describe an action, you can identify the values on which the action is based. Then (and only then) you can determine how they are connected as shown by the action. (Remember that a "primary" source is an action, so you can discuss the relationships of values in, or even between, "primary" sources.)
|A relationship is a connection, or an interaction, between two values. For purposes of analysis, we will identify six relationships. This is the vocabulary you should use when analyzing values. We could add many more relationships, and reducing the number to six makes for a very simplified system. However, experience indicates that if you use the six with imagination, they will cover almost any action you try to analyze.|
4.1.1. We may refer to the higher value that integrates another value with itself as an integrating value. Value-systems always have a value that identifies the system by integrating the other values in the system. There could be a value-system of "order," or a value-system of "loyalty," or a value-system of "bureaucracy." It depends on what value identifies the system as a whole. You will be hearing quite a bit about integrating values in this course, because we identify the cultural matrixes covered in the course by their integrating values. Mapping a value-system is a complex project. With the image of a pyramid, the integrating value stands on the point at the top, and all the other values appear below -- connected by a variety of relationships.
4.1.2. Since the integrating value is always the most important, or highest, value in a value-system, the integrating value will always be acted out when it becomes involved in a situation. The value that functions to integrate other values is the one value in a value-system that will never be sacrificed (or chosen against) for any reason. It is always of absolute worth. It exists for no other reason than itself. Such a value has been described as the ultimate (most important) value in the system, the apex (at the top of the hierarchy) of the system, or the pivot of the system (that around which the rest of the system revolves). In a relationship between two values, the integrating value is always the more important value. It never "assists" the other value.
4.1.3. Since the integrating value holds together (integrates) the other values into a coherent system, it gives consistency to the system, and it establishes the relative importance of the other values in the system. In practical terms, this value may be determined by its inconclusiveness. It is the value in the system that contributes most to the system's coherent functioning and organization of experience. Another way to speak of "inconclusiveness" is to say that the integrating value can only be defined by looking at the overall system. For instance, "order" could mean a lot of things. The only way to limit the definition is to examine the value-system as a whole.
4.2.1. The supporting value may be identified as a utilitarian value. A utilitarian value always supports some other value. Since the two values in the relationship do not have equal importance, we cannot say that they support each other. (This phrase might be used for a different relationship.) The supporting value has less importance, and the value which is supported has greater importance.
4.2.2. If a person edges his lawn to make it look better, the value of edging the lawn has a utilitarian relationship to the value of making the lawn look better. Why? Because the value of edging the lawn supports the value of making the lawn look better. The value of making the lawn look better is the higher value because it is more inclusive. Other utilitarian values could include mowing the lawn, watering the lawn, fertilizing the lawn.
4.6.1. There must be a factor in addition to the two values that prevents a person from acting on the basis of both values. The most common "outside factors" are time, energy, and money. A person may not have enough time, or enough energy, or enough money to act on both values in a particular situation.
4.6.2. The action that results from the person's values-decision reveals "substitution." The two values “overlap” because they are both "good" values. In a given situation, however, an action based on one of the values takes the place of an action based on the other value. That is, one value substitutes for the other. (Think of a basketball player who enters the game as a substitute for another player.)
4.6.3. Consider this situation:
Henry has a problem with his twin daughters, Mae and Anna. They are Seniors at Eastern Hills High School. Mae entered the "Miss Big E" pageant for the third year in a row. She had never made it to the finals, but this year looked different. People even said she had a chance to win! When she gives her performance next Friday night, it will be the most important night of her life. Anna is a talented writer. She entered the "Lesser Metroplex Essay Contest" for the third year in a row. She had never made it to the finals, but this year is different. She is not only in the finals, but people even say she has a great chance to win! When she reads her essay next Friday night, it will be the most important night of her life. Henry has a big problem. Although he loves his daughters equally, he can't go to Mae's performance and to Anna's essay contest.
What are the two values in this example? What is the outside factor that forces Henry to make a tough decision? What will Henry do?!
First, perspectives always involve a response to some "other." That is, perspectives are interactive by their very nature. They provide modes for people to "look out" to the world around them. Encounters with others may lead people to act out their perspectives, or the attitudes that people hold may give rise to actions that display the attitudes. Perspectives are simplest to describe for individuals, but we can also identify perspectives as they apply to cultural matrixes if we provide appropriate qualifications.The following overview states each perspective, offers a definition and a phrase, and mentions some other terms in the word-field.
Second, perspectives result from people's actions more than their thoughts. People tend to see themselves as holding the same perspective in every situation. This is not so, but it seems to provide a comfortable self-image. A perspective is an "attitude" that people hold toward the "other" as they act out their values in specific situations. Individuals usually have a dominant perspective that guides the way they want to respond to situations. It would be exceedingly rare to find an individual who is totally consistent in acting out his/her ideal perspective. People actually act out all three perspective, depending on their responses to particular situations. This is normal. And healthy!
5.1.1. Ethnocentrism makes judgments about the "other." The other is wrong if it's different. Ethnocentric judgments make no critical appraisal of evidence or "facts." If "my" way of doing or looking at things is the only logical or correct way, there is no need or desire to examine alternatives. We act in an ethnocentric fashion whenever we try to get others to conform to our standards without seriously considering alternatives, or whenever we close our mind to other points-of-view, or whenever we think ill of (and then act ill toward) others without evidence sufficient to justify the thought or action.
5.1.2. Closing one's mind can be a dangerous practice. In The Nature of Prejudice (1954), Gordon W. Allport examines the strong connection between such closure and the building of prejudice. Allport defines prejudice as: "thinking ill of others without sufficient warrant." /The information cited here comes from pp. 6-15 of the abridged ed. (Doubleday Anchor Books, [no.] A149. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1958)./ The problem, as Allport explains it, is that thoughts lead to action. He describes five degrees of negative action from the least energetic to the most:
Antilocution. Most people who have prejudices talk about them. With like-minded friends, occasionally with strangers, they may express their antagonism freely. But many people never go beyond this mild degree of antipathetic action.5.1.3. To some extent, or one might say, in certain situations, we are all ethnocentric. We must recognize that whenever we desire others to conform to our standards, and this desire is combined with the refusal to consider alternatives, we are holding an ethnocentric perspective. In many situations, ethnocentrism poses no particular dangers and may even be the "best" perspective to hold. Think about parents raising their young children, for instance. But Allport alerts us to the dangerous side-effects of ethnocentrism. Whenever we find ourselves acting in an ethnocentric fashion, we need to ask if our actions truly represent the best possibility. (Think again about parents raising their young children.) When we decide the answer is "NO," then we will usually turn to a relativistic perspective.
Avoidance. If the prejudice is more intense, it leads the individual to avoid members of the disliked group, even perhaps at the cost of considerable inconvenience. In this case, the bearer of prejudice does not directly inflict harm upon the group he dislikes. He takes the burden of accommodation and withdrawal entirely upon himself.
Discrimination. Here the prejudiced person makes detrimental distinctions of an active sort. He undertakes to exclude all members of the group in question from certain types of employment, from residential housing, political rights, educational or recreational opportunities, churches, hospitals, or from some other social privileges. Segregation is an institutionalized form of discrimination, enforced legally or by common custom.
Physical Attack. Under conditions of heightened emotion prejudice may lead to acts of violence or semiviolence. An unwanted family may be forcibly ejected from a neighborhood, or so severely threatened that it leaves in fear. Gravestones in Jewish cemeteries may be desecrated. The Northside's Italian gang may lie in wait for the Southside's Irish gang.
Extermination. Lynchings, pogroms, massacres, and the Hitlerian program of genocide mark the ultimate degree of violent expression of prejudice.
5.2.1. The term most closely associated with relativism is open-mindedness, usually understood in the sense of "non-judgmental." This association is so strong that a refusal to make judgments is often mistaken for freedom from prejudice.
5.2.2. Much is often said in praise of relativism. Three commonly stated reasons for its popularity are:
There is no empirical way to demonstrate that values are not dependent on specific cultural settings (because decisions about "universal" values must take into account every human point-of-view that's ever been expressed, and this cannot be done at the present time).5.2.3. These are good reasons, and in many situations relativism is the most practical perspective, either because it helps one avoid ethnocentrism or there is no realistic way (or reason) to try to achieve tolerance, the third perspective. Yet there are three questions we should raise about the value of relativism:
Relativism involves respect for diversity among human individuals and groups, which provides some antidote to ethnocentrism and prejudice without requiring individuals to reconsider their own values. “Multiculturalism” expresses this benefit.
Relativism provides a "scientific" (impersonal, objective, functional) framework for moral reasoning because it replaces assumptions or generalizations about what is valuable with the affirmation that values simply reflect the interests of particular individuals or societies and therefore are open to straightforward empirical investigation.
First, we should note that the term most closely associated with relativism is "open-mindedness" and we should ask if open-mindedness is a good thing. When people describe themselves as open-minded, doesn't the concept usually derive from a refusal to make value-judgments about others? "Open-mindedness" becomes a synonym for "non-judgmental." Gordon W. Allport /see pp. 19-22/ doubts that in a literal sense open-mindedness is even possible. He remarks that: "Open-mindedness is considered to be a virtue. But, strictly speaking, it cannot occur. A new experience must be redacted into old categories. We cannot handle each event freshly in its own right. If we did so, of what use would past experience be? Bertrand Russell, the philosopher, has summed up the matter in a phrase, 'a mind perpetually open will be a mind perpetually vacant'." Allport's comments raise a question: are there really infinite limits to what someone can accept? If we can accept alternative lifestyles, or alternative cultures, will we accept child molesters? Let's say the answer is “no.” Then someone walks up to us and asks "why not?" What do we reply? Remember our position as relativists: values are simply the product of particular situations.5.2.4. Consider this situation:
Following Allport, we have argued that prejudice is dangerous. As human beings, we need to strive for freedom from prejudice. A second question we must raise about relativism is whether a non-judgmental spirit can lead to genuine freedom from prejudice. If relativism is most commonly expressed as a lack of critical judgment, defended on the grounds that there is no support for making such judgments, then the issue is whether the refusal to make judgments is equivalent to a lack of prejudice. In his novel Shibumi, Trevanian notes the confusion: "... [she] expressed her lack of critical judgment as freedom from prejudice ..." /p. 26/. If freedom from prejudice depends on not making critical judgments, and if we all have limits to what we find acceptable, aren't the limits necessarily based on ethnocentrism? If so, then relativism provides weak medicine against prejudice, or maybe no medicine. (Do you find the triumph of relativism ironic in an educational climate in which "critical thinking" is one of the most positive buzzwords? We really should investigate the meaning of "critical thinking" in contemporary college education!)
A third question to raise about relativism is what positive good it does. In many cases, it does negative good, since it does combat ethnocentrism until a limit of acceptability has been reached, and it does propel the twin-engined craft of diversity and multiculturalism, seen in our [United States] society as a ship that will take us to calmer waters than we have sailed in the past. However, if the stance of a relativist is that differences are ok, how does relativism provides a logical incentive for change in a society (except to partially move away from ethnocentrism)? Think of the situation in economic terms. If one person is rich and another poor, the rich person says: "I can accept the difference." This difference has increased at an astonishing rate as the United States has become more of a relativistic society over the last fifteen years.
Fred had grown up in a small, midwestern town where the people thought all outsiders were degenerate. Imagine how shocked the townspeople were when Fred decided to go to Texas Wesleyan University! At Wesleyan, Fred moved into Stella Russell Hall. At first Fred found his Buddhist roommate very disgusting. He tried to get a different roommate, but he couldn't. Both boys were very lonely. After a few weeks, they began to talk to each other and became good friends. Fred even attended a few meetings of the Buddhist Student Union with his roommate. At one meeting he said, "I couldn't believe what you all do. But I've learned to respect your beliefs, and I'm glad I met you." When Fred graduated from Wesleyan, he went back to his home town and tried to explain his new feelings to the townspeople. They said, "You've been corrupted. Those Buddhists are wicked. They aren't anything like us." No one would even speak to Fred for the next three months. He moved away from the town and never went back.
What is Fred's perspective in respect to his roommate? What is the perspective of the townspeople? What is Fred's perspective in respect to the townspeople?
5.3.1. Critical judgment plays a crucial role in considerations of tolerance. The starting-point of tolerance is to consider more than one point-of-view. To consider another point of view is to encounter the "other." Like ethnocentrism, tolerance makes judgments about the "other." The difference is that ethnocentrism makes judgments based solely on the point-of-view of the ethnocentric person. Tolerance, on the other hand, bases its judgments on a rational consideration of all available evidence. Tolerance knows that its judgments are provisional, because all the evidence is not in. Ethnocentrism knows that its judgments are right, because they represent the only "logical" way of thinking. Tolerance uses logic to question all judgments, especially its own.
5.3.2. From its starting-point assumption about standards that are unknown, the perspective of tolerance goes on to ask a question: what is the acceptable amount of variation from these standards? This question provides the key to linking the idea of tolerance (as a perspective) to the many definitions of "tolerance" in the dictionary. "Variation from a standard" is an important meaning for the word "tolerance." Now you might be thinking it's really crazy to ask about the amount of legitimate variation from standards that one can't even define. If you do entertain this thought, you have hit on both the appeal and the difficulty of the idea of tolerance.
18.104.22.168. The concept of tolerance comes to us from Europe in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries. (In English, they called it "toleration" back then.) Those were exciting times for European intellectuals, as discoveries of distant lands and unimagined peoples challenged any easy assumptions about human nature and universal standards for it. Europeans encountered information about peoples whose ways were quite different from their own. Yet they did retain the faith that human beings do have important values in common and that the universal standards of behavior could be known with enough investigation. (Montaigne, that great precursor of the European Enlightenment, wrote of this perspective in his essay "About Cannibals." This essay articulates both the main hope and the main difficulty with the idea of tolerance.) In discussing toleration, Europeans did not assume that their standards were universal. Instead, they assumed that their standards and other peoples' standards should be examined through the use of reason. They viewed toleration as a quest.
22.214.171.124. If the perspective of tolerance takes one on a quest, or a search, for universal standards and the acceptable amount of variation from them, the quest is limited in two ways:
The quest is an ongoing investigation of how things are, not an ongoing assumption about how things ought to be. This is why the ultimate goal of the quest -- to identify the standards of behavior that apply to all human beings, any time, any place -- is unreachable. One must settle for intermediate goals. In order to hold a perspective of tolerance, people have to practice tolerance (that is, act in a tolerant manner by investigating alternative possibilities).5.3.3. Consider this story of two talks. Martin Buber, the Jewish existentialist philosopher, tells it in his book I and Thou. Of the two talks he says:
Acting in a tolerant manner means more than evaluating information about the "other." Tolerance attempts to use reason to evaluate the merits of values, actions, and beliefs. It attempts to establish "rules of reason" that may be used to form arguments and make comparisons. Such rules exist in the form of logic -- the discipline that provides guidelines for evaluating arguments. However, evaluation -- even when the evaluation is fair -- is not enough. Tolerance reaches for something deeper, something more human.
One apparently came to a conclusion, as only occasionally a talk can come, and yet in reality remained unconcluded; the other talk was apparently broken off and yet found a completion such as rarely falls to the lot of discussions. Both times it was a dispute about God, but each time of a very different nature.126.96.36.199. In the first talk, Buber engaged in a discussion with a worker who rejected religious belief using the words of the French astronomer Laplace: "I have had the experience that I do not need this hypothesis 'God' in order to be quite at home in the world." Buber used rational argumentation to refute the man's atheism and then notes:
When I was through ... the man ... raised his heavy lids, which had been lowered the whole time, and said slowly and impressively, "You are right." I sat in front of him dismayed. What had I done? I had led the man to the threshold beyond which there sat enthroned the majestic image which the great physicist, the great man of faith, Pascal, called the God of the Philosophers. Had I wished for that? Had I not rather wished to lead him to the other, Him whom Pascal called the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Him to whom one can say Thou?Since Buber used reason to evaluate the merit of a belief, he moved beyond the perspective of relativism -- which might attempt to describe a belief. The descriptive process is crucial and has "academic" integrity. But it isn't tolerance. Buber moves beyond description by arguing against the worker's point of view. He still did not achieve tolerance. Why? Buber showed no interest in or willingness to change. He only wanted to change the other man. In other words, he did not take the other man seriously.
188.8.131.52. Buber then describes a different kind of conversation. In the second talk, Buber and an older man whom he greatly admired argued about religion and never came to verbal agreement with each other. The older man criticized Buber for clinging to the use of the word God: "What you mean by the name of God is something above all human grasp and comprehension, but in speaking about it you have lowered it to human conceptualization. What word of human speech is so misused, so defiled, so desecrated as this! All the innocent blood that has been shed for it has robbed it of its radiance. All the injustice that it has been used to cover has effaced its features. When I hear the highest called God, it sometimes seems almost blasphemous." Buber writes:
"Yes," I said, "it is the most heavy-laden of all human words. None has become so soiled, so mutilated. Just for this reason I may not abandon it. Generations of men have laid the burden of their anxious lives upon this word and weighed it to the ground: it lies in the dust and bears their whole burden. The races of man with their religious factions have torn the word to pieces; they have killed for it and died for it, and it bears their fingermarks and their blood. Where might I find a word like it to describe the highest? If I took the purest, most sparkling concept from the inner treasure-chamber of the philosophers, I could only capture thereby an unbinding product of thought. I could not capture the presence of Him whom the generations of men have honored and degraded with their awesome living and dying. I do indeed mean Him whom the hell-tormented and heaven-storming generations of men mean. Certainly, they draw caricatures and write 'God' underneath; they murder one another and say 'in God's name'. But when all madness and delusion fall to dust, when they stand over against Him in the loneliest darkness and no longer say 'He, He' but rather sigh 'Thou', shout 'Thou', all of them the one word, and when they then add 'God', is it not the real God whom they all implore, the One living God, the God of the children of man? Is it not He who hears them? ... We cannot cleanse the word 'God' and we cannot make it whole; but, defiled and mutilated as it is, we can raise it from the ground and set it over an hour of great care."5.3.4. Take Buber's story for what it is worth, but please notice that it's a story about meaningful communication and the opposite. It's a story that reaches deeply into the idea of practicing tolerance. We can now use Buber's second conversation as a launching-pad for stating four (somewhat overlapping) "rules" for the practice of tolerance:
It had become very light in the room. It was no longer dawning, it was light. The old man stood up, came over to me, laid his hand on my shoulder and spoke: "Let us be friends." The conversation was completed. For where two or three are truly together, they are together in the name of God.
Although tolerance may involve the analysis of other groups by comparing their values with the values of one's own group, practicing tolerance seems to function most fully when it involves meaningful communication between individuals. The failure to achieve meaningful communication generally rests on the inability of the persons involved to respect and trust each other. True dialog and honest encounter mean willingness to respect each other and to share deep and controversial ideas without an attempt to minimize disagreements.5.3.5. The phrase that captures the essence of tolerance is: "what is true for everyone must be true for me." It's easy to misunderstand this phrase. It DOES NOT MEAN "going along with the crowd." In the phrase "everyone" means "everyone," not some particular group.
Accepting other beliefs and values as valid for the "other" simply because they belong to the "other" is relativism. Tolerance may accept, reject, or suspend judgment about the "other," but only after a rational analysis of the "other" and by a rational comparison with one's own viewpoint. Tolerance is trying to enlarge one's own view by examining alternative views and making critical judgments. To be tolerant, people have to be willing to change if they encounter data that shows them they need to change.
If two people exchange points-of-view with each "other," expose their differences, and part as friends -- they may be practicing tolerance. It depends. If they both use reasoned arguments, they use the tolerant approach because they are in dialog with each other. (Relativism may make a reasoned analysis of the "other," but it does not enter into a dialog.) Buber's first conversation illustrates this approach. The difference in the second conversation is that -- since neither man showed the other to be wrong through the use of argument -- the particular conversation ended with a movement to a "higher" level of being. Buber expresses this religiously and mystically, invoking the "name of God." This expression reveals a concept that may be understood in human terms: Buber says the two men are "truly together." Seemingly, they only discover this level of being by participating in the conversation -- it is not a quality that either can bring to the conversation. It's a matter of size! Through the second conversation Buber becomes a "bigger" person even though he does not change his mind. Do you see how this is so? Can you formulate the concept in your own words?
We should refuse to make naive claims about "universal" values -- this would be ethnocentrism -- but we can practice tolerance by trying to enlarge our own views through honest, empathetic, and compassionate dialog with different views. This doesn't necessarily have to occur through personal conversations, though personal conversations are one way of achieving such dialog. We could engage in dialog with "primary" sources -- such as art, music, and writings -- from the past. Because the kind of dialog required for tolerance focuses on an exploration of differences, it may be painful, and it is often to be avoided. Both tolerance and relativism imply respect for alternate viewpoints. The difference is that tolerance requires us to ask if the beliefs and values of others might be useful in our own lives.
5.3.6. The term most closely associated with tolerance is inclusiveness, but again one must beware of misunderstanding the concept. Tolerance never means accepting other beliefs and values simply because they belong to someone else. And it is not a matter of "political correctness" (as the idea of inclusiveness has often come to imply). Tolerance is trying to enlarge one's own view by examining other beliefs and values, and making critical judgments about them.
5.3.7. We hear the word "tolerance" used all the time. Usually we hear it as a synonym for "relativism." In this we encounter a final, widespread misunderstanding. "I can tolerate that," or "I have a lot of tolerance," or "I am a very tolerant person." In all these phrases the term "tolerance" is used as a quasi-substitute for relativism, that is for a perspective that tries to avoid ethnocentrism by assuming a non-judgmental position. In the common use of the word, we might find considerable irony. Nowadays, many people have a high degree of respect for the word "tolerance" while at the same time rejecting tolerance as a legitimate goal. For many, the rejection stems from thoughtlessness and ignorance. For some, the rejection stems from the fear that all evaluations are ethnocentric. Either way, the ideal of tolerance as described here is no longer favored by many.
5.3.8. For a final example of the term "tolerance" used in the sense described here, we turn to the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead /Adventures of Ideas, pp. 51-52/. He summarizes Plato's perspective by saying that for Plato all (coherent) points-of-view have something to contribute to our understanding of the universe. [Therefore, we as individuals need to consider the personal consequences of other points-of-view.] Plato further argues that all points-of-view involve omissions of evident facts. [Therefore, our own point-of-view can never be comprehensive.] Whitehead then concludes: "The duty of tolerance is our finite homage to the abundance of inexhaustible novelty which is awaiting the future, and to the complexity of accomplished fact which exceeds our stretch of insight."
|CD-ROM Home Page||Human
Web Home Page
|Send comments regarding this page to email@example.com.|
|Copyright ©2007 Stan Rummel. All rights reserved.|
|This page was last updated December 24, 2007.|