Subjective vs. Objective Value: The Economist and the Philosopher

Economists and philosophers use the word “value” differently. Philosophy professor Aeon J. Skoble points out that while economics discusses value as a subjective thing, philosophy tends to address value as objective. Rights, for example, are something everybody has to have. There’s no such thing as “human rights” unless every human has them. That’s as objective as you can get.

When economists talk of subjective value, they’re speaking about the way the price system works. When economists say value is subjective, this means, in the philosopher’s language, that people have different tastes and preferences and people value things differently. The way to know what something is worth is to say what it is worth to someone.

If that’s true, this explains why the philosopher’s conception of objective value is a good one. If people have different tastes and preferences, we need an objective moral framework to live together in society. We have to have an objective way of knowing what to expect from each other and how to treat each other. Something like rights provides an objective framework for social living amongst people with different tastes and preferences.


  1. Greg Gauthier

    I defy you to point to where these "rights" are, in human physiology. There are none. They are a mere conceptual construct, and a deceptively misleading one at that.

    "Rights" are a concept meant to fracture the universality of the non-aggression principle. Either it is wrong to aggress against someone, or it is not. But… if I can convince you that this moral absolute is actually a collection of tiny pieces stitched together arbitrarily into a crazy-quilt blanket called "rights", then I can start chiseling away at them with obfuscations and confusions like "positive" and "negative" versions of them, and "conflicting" examples of them. 
    The sooner we abandon the notion of "rights", for the foolish empty concept that it is, the sooner we can get on with the real work of building a consistent, universal moral framework that protects everyone’s freedom, and not just those who manage to manipulate some privilege to exercise "rights", from a violent authority. 
  2. cspeciale

    Greg Gauthier:

    I defy you to validate your arbitrary notion that physiology has primacy over philosophy.

  3. Anonymous

    How can you have a non-aggression principle without the right to own property?  If I don’t have a “right” to my car, am I aggressing by preventing someone from taking it? Or not? Rights tell you where the line is drawn.

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