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Seminar on Social Exclusion and Inclusion

On Values: A Sociological Approach


November 7, 2017
12:00pm - 2:00pm
William James Hall, Room 450
November 7, 2017
12:00pm - 2:00pm
William James Hall, Room 450

"Values": this term is frequently invoked, though little or ill defined. Rather than dismissing the issue, I propose to take it seriously, using the tools provided by the social sciences, through a descriptive, comprehensive and resolutely neutral approach. In that perspective, values appear as neither metaphysical realities, nor as mere illusions, but as collective, coherent and active representations.

Contrary to moral philosophy, which pretends to say what "true" values are in themselves, the "axiological sociology" I propose addresses what values are for the actors, by describing how the different categories of actors actually produce evaluations, petitions, expertise… ; how they attribute "value", in a first sense, through prices, judgments, or attachments; how the various objects thus valuated – be they things, people, actions, or states of the world – become "values" in a second sense (such as peace, work, family...); and how these attributions of value are based on "values", in a third sense, that is to say, principles of evaluation (such as truth, goodness, beauty, etc.), which are widely shared but differently implemented according to the subjects that evaluate, to the objects which are evaluated, and to the contexts of evaluation.

The pragmatic analysis of actual judgments, controversies, or endless disputes – such as debates on bullfighting – allows to highlight the culture of values shared by members of a same society. We thus discover that, contrary to common sense belief, opinion is not reducible to public opinion; that value is reducible neither to price, nor to moral values; that values are neither rightist nor leftist; and that they are neither metaphysical entities existing "in themselves," nor arbitrary constructions or concealments of hidden interests.

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