Values and Assumptions

For my debut here at the League of Reason blogs, I thought I would make a few posts outlining some thoughts and ideas about critical thinking that I have picked up on my travels. I hope this will generate some interesting discussion. Thoughts, comments, criticisms and suggestions are very welcome in the discussion thread. In this first post I shall discuss values and the assumptions that we all make based upon them.

Every individual you encounter holds a unique set of personal values. In other words, concepts and principles that are uniquely important to them. I shall provide a by-no-means-coprehensive list of a few things that I personally value below to give an example:

  • Truth
  • Kindness and compassion
  • Liberty
  • Knowledge
  • Creativity

I am of course, liable to agree with someone who shares these values on many issues, however if I were to encounter an individual who values concepts and principles that are at odds with my own, we are likely to disagree fervently on many topics.

The reason that this is important is because our values often remain unstated. For example I may argue in favour of the legalisation of cannabis, due to the value that I place on liberty—and thus all of my arguments will be derived from this stand point, however I may never actually state this value outright during a discussion. Thus all my arguments assume that liberty is valuable without actually explaining why.

If we use a typical theistic argument, such as; “I believe in God because I have experienced him working with me in my life, and have spoken to him through prayer.” What values might you think this person has? How do they differ from your own values?

This kind of argument is made from the standpoint of someone who values faith, personal experience, and intuition.

Rather than refuting this argument by saying something like “personal experience is unreliable, and prayer studies have shown that it has no effect,” it might be more worthwhile to question the values this person holds rather than the arguments that are built upon them. Ask them why they value personal experience over empiricism, explain how your values differ from their own and why you think empiricism is more valuable than personal experience. Even if you do not convince them to change their mind, you will at least gain a mutual understanding of each others viewpoint and likely have a more fruitful discussion.

I think it is very important in critical thinking to gain an understanding of values, and to be able to derive these from looking at the value assumptions that people make in their arguments. It is also important to have good arguments as to why you value the concepts and principles that you do, it will make your overall arguments far more solid.

What are your values?

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