What are “value judgments”? According to the Oxford Dictionary “value judgment” means:
“An assessmentof something as good or bad in terms of one’s standards or priorities.”
In very simplistic and schematic terms we may have:
“X is good” or “X is bad”
“X” being any thing, person, action, omission, etc. and “good” or “bad” representing positive or negative assessments.
In life as in jurisprudence, we all use value judgments. When is a value judgment “correct”? There are several problems linked to this question.
The first problem is whether there are rational procedures to justify the validity of the value judgments, that is, if there is any way to demonstrate that a justice or moral goodness is true or valid so that demonstration is, in principle, accessible to any person who was in the right conditions.
The second problem is to determine whether there are principles of justice and morality that allow assessing the law and legal institutions, and what are the implications of these principles in specific areas.
The first problem, that is, the ability to rationally justify value judgments is the object of study of the branch of philosophy that has been called meta-ethical or ethical analysis. In this theoretical level the kind of meaning that characterises ethical terms such as “right” “wrong”, and others and their opposites and the significance of value judgments depends on what kind of judgment they are and what expressions are typically used to formulate them.
The second problem is, to determine the basic principles of justice and morality and their specific consequences is called normative ethics. These are no attempts to analyse the logical character of the moral judgments and the meaning of “good” or “bad” but to formulate and justify (assuming this is possible) moral judgments and determine what actions or institutions are good or fair.
There is a third level comprising what is called descriptive or sociological ethics. The character of the value judgments and meaning of ethical terms is not disputed (as does the meta-ethics), and value judgments are made, determining what things are fair or good (as it does normative ethics), but value judgments that are made in a certain society at a certain time described, realizing what things the members of that society considered fair or good.
The chart below briefly presents the different levels:
Next time we will start reviewing each level in detail. In the meantime, for more information:
Introduccion Al Analisis del Derecho, by Carlos Santiago Nino (1980) Ed. Astrea.