Philosophy Ph.D. Dissertations

A Practical Distinction in Value Theory: Qualitative and Quantitative Accounts

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Philosophy, Applied

First Advisor

Daniel Jacobson (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

David Shoemaker (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Steven Wall (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Ellen Broido (Committee Member)


Contemporary moral philosophers have used practical experience as a tool for gleaning important facts about the metaphysical status of value. In particular, recent debate has been ongoing over the status of regret as an indicator that we live in a world filled with a plurality of different types of value. The thrust of many of the arguments in favor of this view is that if I choose one good thing over another and I am convinced that I made the right choice but nevertheless still feel regret at having to forego the other good, then the forgone good must be good thanks to a different type of value. In other words, common experiences like regretting our forgone rock careers indicates that there is a plurality of different types of value.

All of these arguments rest on an inferential claim about the practical effects of value, namely that under normal conditions if a value exists and we knowingly encounter it, then we will be affected in some way by our encounter with the value. Unfortunately, this inference inevitably causes these arguments to beg the question in favor of the conclusions about value that they set out to prove. This is particularly unfortunate since many of the intuitions that these arguments rest on are compelling.

This dissertation argues for a new approach to thinking about practical effects of value, such that the seeming practical effects of value tell us more about our evaluative beliefs than the metaphysics of value. On that point, this dissertation distinguishes quantitative and qualitative ways of thinking about our evaluations. After arguing for the particular practical experience of loss, this dissertation concludes that we should ultimately adopt qualitative theories of evaluation. The ramification for value theory is that metaphysical claims about value that entail quantitative evaluative approaches should be abandoned.