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Values: 5 types + list of values with 25 examples

Values, changing values, moral principles and ethics are just a few terms from the field of value concepts that constantly crop up in general language usage. Often it is not at all clear what the terms mean exactly. Below we explain what values are and how they come about.

Whether personal or company values – you have certainly heard of this term before. Values are meant to create a focus and orientation on meaningful importance.

Definition: what values are

mother kisses her son who is sick

Definition of values

In economics, one tries to measure the value of a good by its scarcity. According to the economic theory of value, the scarcer a good is, the more it is in demand and the more valuable it is.

In what follows, we focus on values in the ethical sense. According to this, values is another term for concepts of value.

In common usage, they refer to properties or qualities of objects, ideas, ideals, states of affairs, patterns of action, personality traits, or goods that are considered desirable and morally good within a community of principles.

Values are intended to provide orientation and focus on meaningful importance. Other synonyms for values are beliefs, ideals and ethics or principles of life.

How values emerge

mother, grandmother and child smiling

Values are passed down through generations

Value concepts are usually passed on to the following generation. They are transmitted by parents, religion or society. Through reactions such as confirmation, punishment or non-observance, we learn which behavior is desirable in our society and which is not.

Also, by observing the behavior of others, we infer which values are predominant.

Types of values

Values can be divided into different categories depending on the context. They can refer to a single person or to a whole group. This group can be defined in different ways.

For example, ideals can refer to the shared views or ideas of a family or an entire society. Below you will find a selection of different types of values.

Fundamental values

The preferred values of a society give rise to patterns of thought, belief, and action. The fundamental values of a person or a society are called basic values.

A common set of basic values within a society is a prerequisite for a functioning coexistence.

Core values of the United States

the american flag

Core values of the United States

The three big core values of Americans are freedom, equality and justice. But there are a few more values that people in the US share:

  • Diversity
  • Equality
  • Individualism
  • Liberty
  • Self-government
  • Unity

Fundamental values of the EU

flags of the european union

Core values of the EU

As a rule, these basic values of a society are difficult to determine because there are variations within the group of people. The EU has defined the fundamental values of the European Union in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union.

These core values are:

  • Human dignity
  • Freedom
  • Democracy
  • Equality
  • Rule of law
  • Preservation of human rights (including minority rights)

Personal ideals

In addition to the underlying values in a society, each individual has personal values. You are sometimes more aware of the expression of these values, sometimes less.

You should therefore regularly think about the values you want to live by and whether your actions correspond to these values.

Over the course of your life, these individual values can change. This can happen with increasing age, changed life situations, new insights or strokes of fate. Maybe at a young age it is important to you to succeed at work and earn a lot of money.

After starting a family, it may be more important to you to spend more time with your family. After a serious illness, health may come first.

Existing values may also compete with each other. An example might be the values of success and family.

On the one hand, you may want to climb the career ladder and devote a lot of time to your job to do so, but on the other hand, you want to be there for your family and spend time with them.

So these two values are in conflict with each other and you can’t pursue both to the fullest extent. Accordingly, you must make trade-offs in at least one of the values to make them compatible. To do this, be aware of which value is most important to you personally and adjust your actions accordingly.

Material values

a watch on a table

Material value versus ideal value of an heirloom

To clarify what material values are, we should first look at the distinction between the concepts of ideal and material value.

A ideal value is a subjective value that, due to an emotional attachment to the concrete or even abstract object, represents a higher value than it actually has in material terms.

In contrast, the material value means just the value, of which also in the economy of the speech is, thus the economic value. The material value is quantitatively measurable and corresponds to the exchange ratio of another economic object.

Examples of ideal and material value

It is easy to illustrate the difference with a concrete example:

Your deceased grandmother left you a watch. The watch means a lot to you and you always wear it on your person. One day, while shopping, you collide with a person and the watch breaks. You get the watch replaced.

However, you will only be compensated for the material damage, i.e. the material value of the watch, which is 80 euros. However, you do not feel compensated with this payment, because the watch was worth much more to you personally. The ideal value was for you therefore above the material value of the watch.

Examples of material values are:

  • wealth
  • possession
  • power
  • wealth

Postmaterial ideals

smiling pregnant woman in an orange dress with hands on her belly

Postmaterial values

Postmaterialism comes from Latin "post" (= after) and the word "materialism". Accordingly, postmaterial values are those that do not involve striving for the tangible material, but striving for what is behind, what is above.

Postmaterialists thus place these abstract, higher values above material values. Examples of postmaterial ideals are:

  • Self-realization
  • Communication
  • Health
  • Freedom
  • Happiness
  • Culture
  • Education
  • Animal welfare
  • Environmental protection

Christian values

man praying with hands on bible

Examples of Christian values

Value systems that have a reference to Christianity are called Christian values. In that case, the Christian faith is said to form the basis for the social action resulting from the values.

Accordingly, Christian values and norms can usually be derived from the Bible. Religious people align their lifestyles with these values in order to live a life pleasing to God.

Examples of Christian values are:

  • faith
  • mercy
  • justice and law
  • love of enemies
  • love of neighbor
  • Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments are also values of the Christian faith, written down in the form of concrete standards.

So the first commandment is the value of protecting religion with the corresponding norm "I am the Lord your God. You shall not have other gods beside me." The third commandment addresses the protection of the holiday, with the norm "You shall keep the holiday holy." 

There are also Christian values that coincide with the basic values of a superior society. For example, the fifth and seventh commandments, whose norms state "Thou shalt not kill" and "Thou shalt not steal," include the values of life and property.

These value systems are necessary for the functioning of a society, regardless of Christian faith.

Value systems

common values of friendship

A friendship is based on common values

Concrete sets of values that are highly regarded in a specific area can be combined into a complex. These collections of values are called value systems. They can arise at the individual level, in interest groups or within a society.

The following are some examples of value systems with a selection of associated values:

  • Democracy: equality, liberty, justice
  • Family: caring, charity, security, affection
  • Friendship: honesty, appreciation, helpfulness, sympathy
  • Success: discipline, determination, reliability
  • Wealth: success, security, freedom, health

Value change

Values are usually passed on to subsequent generations. Unlike attitudes, values are more stable, but nevertheless the prevailing values in some societies are constantly changing. This change in values is referred to as value change.

In developed liberal societies, for example, a change can be observed from the prevailing values of 'wealth' and 'possessions' to the values of 'self-actualization' and 'communication', i.e. a change from material to post-material values.

Values that seem to be decisive for one’s existence are generally quite stable. As already alluded to, the values of an individual person can also change in the course of life. Then this person goes through a personal value change.

Value Conflicts

hand between a green and a red figure

Certain values can be in conflict with each other

Obviously, there are values that are in conflict with other values, or at least partially exclude each other.

As an example, the relationship between the values 'prosperity' and 'sustainability' is often mentioned. In the short term, these values seem to be incompatible, since it appears that in the pursuit of prosperity, sustainability is disregarded, and in the maintenance of sustainability, prosperity suffers.

However, it is important to note at what level one is looking. While prosperity and sustainability seem to be mutually exclusive in the short term, they are compatible in the long term, as prosperity cannot be achieved without sustainability.

On the other hand, there are also values that generally seem to be compatible without any problems, but come into conflict in certain situations.

In the case of value conflicts, a distinction is thus made between the general conflict of abstract values per se and between the concrete normative conflict of goals that arises situationally. A large part of all conflicts, especially political, business, interpersonal conflicts and conflicts with oneself, arise because of different value concepts.

Caution: In addition to value conflicts within a society, there is again the personal value conflict, namely when different value concepts of an individual person partly contradict each other and are not compatible without compromise.

Hierarchy of Values

Thus, there are situations in which one cannot pursue all values equally. Accordingly, a weighing must take place, whereupon the values are ordered in their importance. What this weighting looks like depends on the particular situation or culture.

Again, there is the distinction between values within a society, which are ordered according to their importance for living together, and the weighing of the personal values of an individual.

Values and Norms

cubes with the letters for norm

From values, corresponding norms can be derived

Social norms, i.e. concrete rules for social action, can be derived from core values. While value concepts are thus general goal orientations of the acting, norms are the action regulations developed from it.

Depending on their importance, one can distinguish between must, should and can norms. While compliance with some norms is mandatory, some are expected and others are welcome.


  • You must pay for goods you take from the supermarket.
  • You should be polite to the cashier.
  • You can bring your own bag for your purchases instead of using a plastic bag.

To ensure that norms are respected, society exerts social control on its members through certain institutions.

The more important a norm is to the functioning of society, the more strictly its observance is enforced. Compliance can be ensured by strong internalization via education or by threat of punishment for non-compliance.

In doing so, each society determines the institutions that exercise these sanctions, such as the police in an entire country or the leadership in a company.


  • Value: honesty
  • Norm: "You shall not lie." / "You shall always tell the truth."

Ethical values and moral principles

human head as a symbol for values

Ethical values and moral values

Ethics refers to the philosophical discipline concerned with the study of morality. Ethics is thus the science of morality.

A moral is a system of norms that has right action as its object and that is universally valid. Accordingly, moral means morally good, that is, according to a norm. Ethical, on the other hand, means morally good.

As a rule, we are talking about moral values, i.e. values that are regarded as correct in a society and are a prerequisite for proper social interaction.

The adjective 'ethical', on the other hand, describes only the discussion of morality. Moreover, the adjective is value-free. Thus, one cannot speak of unethical behavior, but one can very well speak of immoral behavior.

In reality, however, the terms are often used synonymously. One speaks of ethical values, although one actually means moral values.

List of Values

Below you will find a list of examples of moral values with their corresponding norms.

Appreciation"You shall treat others with esteem and appreciation!"
Compassion"You shall share in the situation of others!"
Courtesy "You shall display courteous and civilized behavior!"
Creativity"You shall create and invent things!"
Empathy"You shall empathize with the situation and attitudes of other persons!"
Freedom"You shall not deprive anyone of freedom and opportunity!"
Gratitude"You shall appreciate the positive feeling that persons or things give you!"
Health"You shall strive for physical and mental integrity!"
Honesty"You shall not lie!"
Humor"You shall make others laugh!"
Integrity "You shall act according to thy values!"
Justice"You shall treat everyone equally!"
Kindness "You shall communicate with others as if they were thy friend!"
Life"You shall not kill!"
Loyalty"You shall be loyal and supportive to persons and groups!"
Modesty"You shall be content with what is available to thee!"
Peace"You shall resolve conflicts without violence!"
Punctuality"You shall keep agreed upon times!"
Reliability "You shall act in a safe and trustworthy manner and fulfill your promises!
Respect"You shall respect other individuals!"
Responsibility"You shall fulfill assumed tasks and duties in such a way that they take the best possible course and take the resulting consequences upon thyself!"
Safety"You shall strive for a state free of dangers and risks!"
Solidarity "You shall consider in thy actions thy membership in a community!"
Sustainability"You shall honor and care for nature!"
Tolerance"You shall tolerate differences!"

Deniers of binding values

hand sign for no

Deniers of binding values: Nihilists

A person who denies all moral values is called a nihilist. The associated worldview, nihilism, rejects the validity of any order of being, knowledge, value, and society.

According to it the individual has thus absolute priority since to him quasi everything is permitted and nothing is forbidden.

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