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Value is a term that expresses the concept of worth in general, and it is thought to be connected to reasons for certain practices, policies or actions. The concept can be understood as a verb, as an adjective, or as a substantive noun. So, "I value my life" is the verbal sense, which expresses a valuation. "My life is valuable" is an adjectival use of the term. "My values are all messed up" is the substantive use of the concept.

The concept can also be understood in a descriptive, stipulative, or revisionary sense. So called "social scientists," for instance, might do a study to find out what people in fact value, or more generally, how they might define value. To think that what people value determines what makes something valuable is to be a conventionalist about value. One could simply stipulate a definition of value, instead. So, for instance, in economic theory value is often defined as "willingness to pay," despite the fact that few people actually assent to such a definition, or even exhibit such an understanding of value in their lives. Game theorists often define value in terms of desire, again contrary to ordinary value practice.

A revisionist sense of value will try to take value practice as a starting point and revise the conception where this is rationally defensible to do. There is generally thought to be a fundamental distinction in values between something being valuable as an end, or intrinsically, and something being valuable as a means, or extrinsically. The general idea here is that I might say that I value my happiness for its own sake, but I value having a good job as a means to my happiness.

Some thinkers believe that the notion of intrinsic value, or being valuable as an end, is connected to ethical action. So, consequentialists, for instance, who define acting rightly or wrongly in terms of the amount of value brought about as a consequence of those actions provide an example of this. Even nonconsequentialists though think that intrinsic value is somehow connected to ethical action. The term "value" may also be used in specific stipulative senses in various disciplines. Below are some exampes of this as well as an explanation of the some of the ways the substantive sense of "values" is used...

Table of contents
1 Marketing
2 Economics
3 Computer science
4 Mathematics
5 "Personal" and cultural values


In marketing, the value of a product is the consumer's expectations of product quality in relation to the actual amount paid for it. It is often expressed as the equation:

Value = Quality received / Price
or alternatively:
Value = Quality received / Expectations


In neoclassical economics, the value of an object or service is often seen as nothing but the price it would bring in a open and competitive market. This is determined primarily by the demand for the object relative to supply. Other economists often simply equate the value of a commodity with its price, whether or not the market is competitive.

In classical economics, price and value were not seen as equal. In this tradition, to Steve Keen "value" refers to "the innate worth of a commodity, which determines the normal ('equilibrium') ratio a which two commodities exchange." (Debunking Economics, p. 271, ISBN 1-86403-070-4.) To Keen and the tradition of David Ricardo, this corresponds to the classical concept of long-run cost-determined prices, what Adam Smith called "natural prices" and Karl Marx called "prices of production." It is part of a cost-of-production theory of value and price. Ricardo, but not Keen, used a "labor theory of price" in which a commodity's "innate worth" was the amount of labor needed to produce it.

In another classical tradition, Marx distinguished between the "value in use" (use-value, what a commodity provides to its buyer), "value" (the amount of socially-necessary abstract labor time needed to produce it), and "exchange value" (how much labor-time the sale of the commodity can claim, Smith's "labor commanded" value). By most interpretations of his theory of value, treating it as a variety of labor theory of value, Marx, like Ricardo, developed a "labor theory of price" where the point of value was to allow the calculation of relative prices. Others see values as part of his sociopolitical interpretation and critique of capitalism and other societies.

See also: Anthropological theories of value and fair value for more general discussions of economic value.

Computer science

In computer science, a value may be a number, literal string, array and anything that can be treated as if it were a number. The exact definition of a value varies across programming languages. For more, see value (computer science).


In mathematics, a value is a quantitative value - a constant (number), or a variable.

"Personal" and cultural values

Each individual has a set of beliefs and ideas about general concepts that are called values. They describe how much value a person places on various ideas, objects, or beliefs. Societies have values that are shared between many of the participants in that culture.

These values can be grouped into four categories: