Usually at the end of the semester in my intro to philosophy and intro to ethics courses, I like to encourage my students to connect the ideas about value that we've been examining to their own lives. I have them complete an exercise in which they think about their values and the level of integration of their daily lives with those values. The questions are somewhat personal, and so I simply give them time in class to complete them and don't read over their answers. This means some won't take it seriously, but many will. This exercise is drawn from Heather Reid, The Philosophical Athlete (Carolina Academic Press, 2002).
Thinking Activity: Evaluating Values
1. Question: Which are your strongest and most important values?
2. Observe: Make a list of things and accomplishments you care about in life. The list can include objects, people, degrees, awards…whatever fits you.
3. Analyze: Go over your list and decide whether the item is intrinsically valuable (worthwhile in itself), instrumentally valuable (worthwhile as a means to something else), or both. Cross out all those things that are only instrumentally valuable and replace with the intrinsic value toward which they aim until your list only has intrinsic values or intrinsic/instrumental values.
4. Question again: Do these values actually guide your actions in life? Do concerns about money or acceptance sometimes get in the way of your ultimate intrinsic goals, such as happiness? How so? What, if anything, can you do to change this?