CHAPTER 18

THINKING ABOUT VALUES

Ludwig Wittgenstein is one of 20th century’s most influential philosophers. In a letter to a student, he wrote,

What is the use of studying philosophy if all it does for you is to enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions in logic, etc., and if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life?” (Malcolm, 2001, p.35)

What Wittgenstein said about philosophy applies equally to critical thinking. It would be sad indeed if studying critical thinking helps us solve logic puzzles, but it does not improve our everyday thinking.

Many of the important questions about everyday life are about values. Values are standards or ideals with which we evaluate behavior, people, or situations. We admire certain people because their lives exemplify the values we approve of, such as kindness or perseverance. But values also affect our choices. Some people treasure freedom, so much so that they are willing to die defending it. But others might prefer stability and harmony. The values we adopt are influenced by our personality, experience and culture. But because we often feel strongly about our own values, value differences can unfortunately lead to hatred and violence.

It is therefore important to be able to think about values in a clear and cool-headed way. It would be very disappointing if critical thinking cannot help us in this task. So this chapter is an application of critical thinking to some of these ...

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