My lecturer told me:

"Values are the dominant behaviours and beliefs of a society or a group" and that values have nothing to do with individuals.

But then on other sites I have read things such as,

"Values are ideals of beliefs that a person holds desirable or undesirable." Source

I don't have a social science background and am a bit confused by what seems to me conflicting information.

Are values what a society deems to be important or what an individual finds important? Could you also please explain why?

  • 1
    Without more context one can only say yes to both. Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 3:44
  • "...what a society deems to be important..." What judgments are made by a society that are not simple reflections of judgments made by certain individuals within that society? Commented Jun 15, 2017 at 21:42

3 Answers 3


If a society is healthy, the collective (“dominant") values of the society or the group are in accordance with the values of the individuals; in accordance means that the latter are essentially a subclass of the former.

“The willingness toward values is the essence of culture” (Franz Herz). — However, in a corrupt society (as is usually the case) there is splitting of the collective and the individual values into doublethink.

If the society or group has partly lost its identity, for instance because of subversive activities acting covertly during dozens of years or centuries, and the establishment is hence no longer in accordance with the individuals of the society, then the individuals split into two parts: The ones who identify with the values of the corrupt establishment and the others who are forced into “doublethink” (George Orwell) because they do no longer identify with the collective°) values, with which they are yet daily confronted.

Since the corruption process of a society may take a very, very(!) long time, nobody clearly sees any more how all this has begun. Hence there exists of course confusion because of the loss of roots; and without a focus on a specific instance of a country or group, and a long empirical analysis, it is not possible to describe here more than these general outlines.


°) These degenerated collective values are called "politically correct" values.


Values typically make sense only in a group context, but in a pluralist society --a society with many competing systems of values --the personal choice of which values to follow becomes individually important. Many of the significant issues in society today revolve around clashes in values between groups, between individuals, or between individuals and groups.


There is no conflict between these two options -- you are creating a false dichotomy out of a continuum.

It might pay off to look at an analogy. Is a definition what the community of language speakers think a word means, or is it what an individual thinks a word means?

Clearly it is both. The range of usable definitions is determined communally, but the particular idiosyncratic usage of a given individual is some point in that range. (To the degree it is correct enough to be usable.)

We select our values, or our definitions out of a collection of socially determined options. If we simply invented them out of nothing, they would not be values, or definitions. They would simply be choices without any of the power that definitions or values have.

When someone develops a habit of using some given noise to express an emotion or to mumble while ruminating, purely for his own use, he has not given a word a definition, he has only developed a habit for himself. Likewise when a baby cries because it wants a toy, we do not consider this the expression of a value, only of a desire. The love of pizza is a taste, not a value.

At the same time our exact understanding of a definition or a value is still particularly ours, since we cannot share the contents of our mind.

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