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What are terminal values? essay example
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What are terminal values?

Terminal values are one of two types of values distinguished by social psychologist Milton Rokeach. In this lesson, you’ll learn about terminal values through examples, and then test your knowledge with a brief quiz.

Rokeach’s Theory of Values

You are probably familiar with the term ‘values’, but what does it really mean? In his book The Nature of Human Values social psychologist Milton Rokeach set out to answer this exact question. Rokeach defined values as ‘enduring beliefs that a specific mode of conduct or end-state of existence is personally or socially preferable to an opposite or converse mode of conduct or end-state of existence.’ In other words, Rokeach believed that:

  • We have values for ourselves and values for society. These values may be the same or they may differ.For example, you may believe that you should be forgiving of others, but that society should be less concerned with being forgiving.
  • ‘Enduring beliefs’ means that values are generally stable, although they can change as people continue to make decisions that involve putting one value ahead of another.
  • There is a difference between values that are modes of conduct and values that are end-states of existence. Values that are modes of conduct are referred to as instrumental values

    Values that are end-states of existence are terminal values.

Let us discuss the differences between terminal and instrumental values in more detail.

Definition of Terminal Values

Terminal values are the goals that we work towards and view as most desirable. These values are desirable states of existence.

They are the goals that we would like to achieve during our lifetime. Instrumental values are the preferred methods of behavior. They can be thought of as a means to an end. Instrumental values consist primarily of personal characteristics and personality traits such as honest, polite, and ambitious. Rokeach developed a list of 18 terminal values:

  1. A world at peace: free of war and conflict
  2. Family security: taking care of loved ones
  3. Freedom: independence; free choice
  4. Equality: brotherhood; equal opportunity for all
  5. Self-respect: self esteem
  6. Happiness: contentedness
  7. Wisdom: a mature understanding of life
  8. National security: protection from attack
  9. Salvation: saved; eternal life
  10. True friendship: close companionship
  11. A sense of accomplishment: a lasting contribution
  12. Inner harmony: freedom from inner conflict
  13. A comfortable life: a prosperous life
  14. Mature love: sexual and spiritual intimacy
  15. A world of beauty: beauty of nature and the arts
  16. Pleasure: an enjoyable, leisurely life
  17. Social recognition: respect; admiration
  18. An exciting life: a stimulating, active life

Examples of Terminal and Instrumental Values

Instrumental values are ways of being that help us reach our terminal values. It is the terminal values that define the overall goal we want to achieve during our existence and the instrumental values that determine how we plan to get there.

For example, one of the terminal values is ‘a comfortable life.’ In order to reach the end goal of having a comfortable life, we can use the instrumental values of ambitious, intellectual, and capable. We might use the instrumental values of being logical, honest, and intellectual in order to obtain the terminal value of ‘wisdom.’ Another terminal value is ‘a world at peace.’ In order to achieve this end state, we might possess the instrumental values of being forgiving, helpful, and polite.

Lesson Summary

Milton Rokeach is a social psychologist who made a distinction between two types of values.

Instrumental values are preferable types of behavior that help us reach our terminal values. Terminal values are the goals in life that are desirable states of existence. Examples of terminal values include family security, freedom, and equality. Examples of instrumental values include being honest, independent, intellectual, and logical. So the next time you find yourself thinking about what you believe in, try to determine if it is an instrumental value or a terminal value.

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Learning Outcomes

When you are done, you should be able to:

  • Summarize Rokeach’s definition of values
  • Explain the relationship between instrumental and terminal values
  • State some of Rokeach’s 18 terminal values

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