I've recently had some challenging experiences with a friend. Every time we see each other we're drawn into heated debate.

Previously I thought I was right, and my friend was wrong, and I desired to help them correct their thinking. Now I suspect that my friend and I reside in different value systems that are compelling from the inside, but mutually unintelligible. Let's say I am currently residing in value system A and my friend resides in value system B.

The twist that I am struggling with is that B is more permissible from A than A is from B. I think my friend might have more life satisfaction seeing things from A, but ultimately it's ok if they don't... "no skin off my back". But my friend seems deeply concerned about value system A - they seem to think that it's an injustice for me to hold these values.

If I cannot reside in both at the same time, and I have compelling evidence that value system B is at least plausible, do I have a duty to explore their alternative way of thinking? I'm curious for arguments for and against such a duty.

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    – BillOnne
    Dec 27, 2022 at 23:19
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    Does either value system have anything to contribute in relation to your question? Dec 28, 2022 at 14:00
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    This is about practical value/moral resolution which is all about utility. Your friend wants to convince you to change while you won’t buy it but don’t want to offend the other agent either. Obviously intuitively the best practical thing is to try to at least persuade the other agent your view/action is not conflicting with system B at all… Dec 28, 2022 at 21:47
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    @Futilitarian what a great question, seems obvious now that you have posed it but I didn't think to frame it that way :) Dec 29, 2022 at 6:39
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    A less inclusive value system seems likely to be less useful to people. If your system could include your friend's, then yours is more likely to be useful. It is better for people to grow than to shrink.
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 30, 2022 at 21:29

2 Answers 2


Reasons For Exploring Alternate Value Systems

Data That You Have Don't Match With Your Value System

As always, keep data at top. May be your observations tell you that you are giving more value to something which should be given less value, at expense of less value to something that should be given more value. Or that you are being too tight or too loose in general.

See, what works. Thats the part of data that is relevant here.

To Convince Others

You cannot really point out mistakes in other systems unless you have understood them. A teacher is supposed to know more than his pupils about what he is teaching.


I'm not sure there is a philosophical answer to this so I can only respond based on my personal experience. I have been interested in human values related issues for many decades, so much so that in my retirement I have chosen to write hard science fiction novellas and short stories about AI based social robots in the near future where the existential and social issues related to human values are the main theme. Fifteen hundred pages to date.

Please read the following with the understanding these are only my opinions, not something I claim to be “the truth”.

You face a daunting challenge because I believe that human values are the basis of our identity. They are the basis of everything we think, say and do. If we took away all your values who would you be? Given this, when our values are challenged it represents an existential danger, a threat, so we defend them at all costs and they are understandably almost impossible to change. Making this more complicated there are values at the species, social and personal levels and some are genetic and some extra-genetic (learned). If someone has personal values at the genetic level (twin studies) you can imagine how hard those will be to change. Given that many advanced psychotherapies attempt to change an individuals values, and yet often fail, consider the task at hand.

I would suggest the best you can do is to come to an understanding of each other’s views. Even acceptance is normally a bridge too far as far as values differences go.

You use the word “duty” and that is also a values related term and subject to philosophical debate in itself so lets put that aside.

One might say you are negotiating with your friend regarding your value differences. At one point in my working life I was involved in negotiations at the corporate level so of course I was sent for training. The two books that are relevant to your question are “Getting To Yes” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Getting_to_Yes and “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Only the chapter titled “Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood” of the 7 Habits book is of interest here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_7_Habits_of_Highly_Effective_People

I was sent to multi-day, out of town training seminars based on these books. Borrow them from the library and have a look if you fee so inclined.

The key thing to notice with regards to these books is that your approach must be structured and you will have to learn how to do that. Because most people listen with the intent to reply they do not listen as empathically or as deeply as they might. “Active Listening” is related skill you might look up and investigate and it will provide you with additional structured methods.

Best of luck.

  • Thank you @NetCentric. What you are suggesting are go-to methods for me, and 9/10 times they work quite well. Indeed I am mostly at peace with my situation, having chalked it up to a values difference. But in this case (mostly because the other party seems rather unsatisfied chalking it up as a values difference), I find myself wondering whether I am obligated to do more than this. Dec 28, 2022 at 8:28
  • Values are difficult to change but I suspect they may be malleable to some extent. I imagine that if I made a serious effort, I could "indoctrinate" myself in B. I almost certainly won't do this, but it brings up the question of whether one could argue that I am neglecting some duty to explore B. Dec 28, 2022 at 8:33
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    @GabeSimmons The concept of duty in philosophy is a deep subject so be careful of that rabbit hole. If you wish to make an ethical decision but do not adhere to any particular code of ethics or ethical theory then philosophy can only help you think through the issue in a more structured way but it will not provide you with an answer. If you wish to make a moral decision however then again only you can answer your question. Lastly if you search with the word duty here on this site you will find some previous discussions that may be of interest to you.
    – user63267
    Dec 28, 2022 at 18:27

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