Value as Practice and the Practice of Value

Environmental Ethics 32 (3):285-304 (2010)
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John Dewey’s theory of value provides a strong alternative to traditional intrinsic value theory that can better address the need for a wide distribution of environmental values. Grounded in his theories of experience and inquiry, Dewey understands values as concrete practices acquired through the interaction of the human organism with its surroundings. Dividing value into acts of immediate valuation and acts of evaluation, Dewey shows that all values start out as desires and through reflective criticism eventuate in value practices. Value inquiry is the practice of responding to problems in the world for which our established value practices are unable to respond adequately. This model of value is shown to be a much needed improvement over intrinsic value theory insofar as it is inclusive of human desire, limiting the capacity to value to human beings, avoids much of the metaphysical and ethical conflict in the biocentrism/ecocentrism debate, as well as rejects the artificial distinction between instrumental and intrinsic value. The case for Dewey’s theory of value is further strengthened by how closely Aldo Leopold’s experience-based practice of value in A Sand County Almanac parallels Dewey’s theory of value, especially with respect to the importance of desire, science, and education.



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Paul Ott
Loyola University, Chicago

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