The Value-ranking Approach

The Value-ranking Approach

The value-ranking approach

The value-ranking approach has the advantages of simplicity and practicality, but it suffers from a conceptual difficulty: It gives no indication of which decision is best when the choice is between alternatives offering different combinations of benefits.

The best decision is not necessarily the one which maximizes the leading value because it may go against values lower on the list which collectively are more important than the top value. If there are five values involved in a decision-making situation-VI, V2, V3, V4, V5-it is not clear whether a decision favouring Vi and V4 is superior to one favouring V2, V3, and V5. The value-ranking approach does not even indicate whether a decision favouring Vi alone is better than one favouring V2, because the quantitative factor is missing. A decision which favours VI by 2 units of utility and V2 by 50 units is probably preferable to one which favours Vi by 5 units and V2 by 3 units.

A way of avoiding this problem is provided by the rational-deductive approach, an application to the field of values of the deductive type of thinking characteristic of science. This approach was first conceived by Plato, and it has influenced ethical thought ever since. It overcomes the conceptual difficulty of choosing when the choice is between alternatives offering different combinations of benefits by setting up a system of principles and intermediate principles from which decisions can be logically deduced in particular situations.

There are four steps to this approach:

1 State ultimate values in the form of general principles as precisely as possible.

2 State the conditions under which each principle governs the application of the others.

3 Derive intermediate principles suitable for application in particular situations including professional indemnity cover for creatives 

4 Get the facts in the particular situation and logically deduce the decision.

For example, suppose an individual's value system could be expressed in terms of the following general principles: (1) Always behave in an honourable way; (2) the family comes first; and (3) never borrow needlessly. A series of intermediate principles could be derived from these general principles: (1) When a family member is in serious danger, everything possible must be done to protect him or her; (2) luxuries must be paid for out of savings or current income; and so on.

Let us say this individual must make a decision whether or not to steal from his employer. to deduce the right decision, all he need do is gather the information required by the intermediate principles. If his wife desperately needed an operation and there were no other sources of money available, he would steal. If his wife wanted a new car to impress the neighbours, he would not.

Welfare economics also deals with the problem of making decisions which are involved. This field is concerned with defining the conditions under which the allocation of resources would maximize the satisfaction of consumer wants. to achieve such an optimum, a number of decisions must be made simultaneously concerning production, consumption, savings, and investment.

Economists have pondered over whether values or ends should have any influence on these decisions.


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