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The Concepts of "Value-neutrality", "Value-freeness" and "Value-independence"

  • Subject: Life
  • Category: Myself
  • Essay Topic: Values
  • Pages: 3
  • Words: 1190
  • Published: 02 August 2018
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The main issue when dealing with this topic, but in general with issues of global justice, is to maintain an impartial position. Defining terrorism leaving any moral judgments out of the reasoning would result in an argumentation that is complete, impartial, but also tricky. To do so a political philosopher should keep in mind the concepts of “value-neutrality”, “value-freeness” and “value-independence”. Professor Carter clearly pointed out the difference between the concepts in his “Value-freeness and Value-neutrality in the Analysis of Political Concepts”. “Value-freeness” concerns the place (or rather, the absence) of evaluative terms in the definition of a concept, whereas value-neutrality involves a suspension of judgment about the comparative merits of divergent ethical positions.

Each of these two features is a methodological desideratum in the case of certain concepts in certain theoretical contexts. Sometimes, it is appropriate to adopt an empirical approach to the analysis and definition of a concept, and this requires a value-free definition. Sometimes, it is appropriate to adopt an ethically non-committal approach, and this requires a degree of value-neutrality. The two approaches can be combined, but, as we shall see, they can also come apart. Furthermore, is useful to make a distinction between value-freeness and value-neutrality, on the one hand, and the complete detachment of our analysis from all ethical concerns, on the other. The latter idea can be called “Value-independence.” One can have ethical reasons for adopting an empirical approach to the analysis and definition of a given concept. And one can have ethical reasons for adopting an approach that is non-committal with respect to a given set of ethical positions. Thus, neither value-freeness nor value-neutrality need to be motivated by a desire to detach one’s analysis from all ethical concerns. Value-independence might imply value-freeness and value-neutrality, but the converse is certainly not the case. Value-neutrality is said to be useful because it provides us with a shared starting point in terms of which to express genuine ethical disagreements.

Value-freeness means that a concept is value-free if its definition is such that the definiens contains no evaluative terms. “Value-neutrality” instead is when the use of a concept does not imply the superiority of any one of a set of contrasting substantive ethical points of view. Unlike value-freeness, value-neutrality is a matter of degree, for value-neutrality always exists relative to a particular range of substantive ethical points of view, and this range can vary in breadth. A concept is value-independent if its definition can be justified purely in terms of theoretical-explanatory considerations, and not at all in terms of ethical considerations. To say that a given political concept is value-independent is to say that, although it might take on evaluative meanings in everyday political discourse, it can nevertheless be defined simply with a view to improving our understanding of empirical phenomena and without presupposing or referring to any of those evaluative meanings.

Value-independence is easily confused with value-freeness and value-neutrality, but the three features are analytically distinct. To affirm the value-independence of an ethical or political concept is to make a point about the justificatory grounds (ethical versus non-ethical) on which to prefer one definition of that concept over another. To affirm its value-freeness is to make a point not about the role of values in justifying a definition, but about the presence or absence of values in the definition itself. To affirm its value-neutrality is to claim that it can be used in given contexts without implying the speaker’s allegiance to one or another member of a set of substantive ethical points of view. In light of these differences, it is also worth noticing how the three features differ in terms of whether they are intrinsic or extrinsic features of a concept. Value-freeness is an intrinsic feature of a concept, depending as it does on the nature of the definition of the concept. Value-independence and value-neutrality, on the other hand, are extrinsic features of a concept, depending, respectively, on the justification of its definition and on its implications in given contexts. A value-neutral concept has been defined as a concept the use of which does not imply the superiority of any one of a set of contrasting ethical points of view. Connolly and Dworkin analysis has been taken into account, arguendo, that such value-neutrality cannot exist in the absolute sense in which Oppenheim sees his concepts of freedom and power as value-neutral. Absolute value-neutrality presupposes value-independence. Ethical and political concepts with a high degree of value-neutrality have an important role to play in both our normative and meta-theoretical reflections.

The notions of value-freeness and value-neutrality can and do play important roles in the clarification of ethical and political ideas. Their importance depends on the nature of our purposes in engaging in conceptual analysis. Where our purpose is to construct a coherent normative theory with practical implications, it matters that some of our concepts are value-free whereas others are not. In clarifying the concepts employed in such a theory, we need to pay attention to the grounding relations between the properties to which they refer, where the more general and complex concepts depend on other more specific and simple ones in order to pick out portions of the empirical world. By revealing the structure of these grounding relations, we reveal the order in which we give reasons for describing the world in certain normatively relevant ways, and for attempting to change it.

We need value-free concepts because our ethical reason-giving must eventually pass in a manageable way from the ethical realm to the empirical realm it if is to affect how we view, and participate in, ethical and political events and states of affairs. Where our purpose is, more specifically, to construct a normative theory on which disagreeing parties can converge, so that they can all nevertheless endorse a specific set of evaluations and prescriptions, then it will be important to us to use concepts that display a certain degree of normative value-neutrality. Such concepts might or might not be value-free in the above sense. Finally, where our purpose is the meta-theoretical one of clarifying the ethical categories shared by advocates of contrasting positions or, more ambitiously, by all humans, we shall be interested in constructing concepts that display a certain degree of meta-theoretical value-neutrality.

Such value-neutral concepts are abstractions, and the concepts they are abstracted from might or might not be value-free. We can use neutral concepts of this sort to try to assemble general theories either about ethics and human nature or about certain broad ethical or political traditions. We can also refer to the internal structure of a neutral concept of this sort in order to clarify the nature and source of a particular normative disagreement—for example, the disagreement between advocates of negative and positive freedom, who are shown to emphasize different dimensions of an abstract, neutral concept of freedom, or between supporters of rival theories of rights, who are shown to emphasize different dimensions of an abstract, neutral concept of rights. In none of these cases does a concept’s qualifying as value-free or value-neutral depend on its having the “Archimedean” quality of value-independence.

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The Concepts of “Value-Neutrality”, “Value-Freeness” and “Value-Independence”. (2018, August 02). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from
“The Concepts of “Value-Neutrality”, “Value-Freeness” and “Value-Independence”.” GradesFixer, 02 Aug. 2018,
The Concepts of “Value-Neutrality”, “Value-Freeness” and “Value-Independence”. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Sept. 2022].
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