In ethics, value denotes the degree of importance of some thing or action, with the aim of determining what actions are best to do or what way is best to live.
Values reflect a person’s sense of right and wrong or what “ought” to be. “Equal rights for all”, “Excellence deserves admiration”, and “People should be treated with respect and dignity” are representative of values. Values tend to influence attitudes and behavior.
Personal values provide an internal reference for what is good, beneficial, important, useful, beautiful, desirable and constructive. Values generate behaviour and influence the choices made by an individual.
Values may help solve common human problems for survival by comparative rankings of value, the results of which provide answers to questions of why people do what they do and in what order they choose to do them. Moral, religious, and personal values, when held rigidly, may also give rise to conflicts that result from a clash between differing world views.
Values relate to the norms of a culture, but they are more global and abstract than norms. Norms provide rules for behavior in specific situations, while values identify what should be judged as good or evil. While norms are standards, patterns, rules and guides of expected behavior, values are abstract concepts of what is important and worthwhile. Flying the national flag on a holiday is a norm, but it reflects the value of patriotism. Wearing dark clothing and appearing solemn are normative behaviors to manifest respect at a funeral.
Values are generally received through cultural means, especially transmission from parents to children. Parents in different cultures have different values. For example, parents in a hunter–gatherer society or surviving through subsistence agriculture value practical survival skills from a young age. Many such cultures begin teaching babies to use sharp tools, including knives, before their first birthdays. Italian parents value social and emotional abilities and having an even temperament. Spanish parents want their children to be sociable. Swedish parents value security and happiness. Dutch parents value independence, long attention spans, and predictable schedules. American parents are unusual for strongly valuing intellectual ability, especially in a narrow “book learning” sense.
As a member of a society, group or community, an individual can hold both a personal value system and a communal value system at the same time.
Although sharing a set of common values, like hockey is better than baseball or ice cream is better than fruit, two different parties might not rank those values equally. Also, two parties might disagree as to certain actions are right or wrong, both in theory and in practice, and find themselves in an ideological or physical conflict.