Protected values

Protected values

Protected values are values that people are unwilling to trade off no matter what the benefits of doing so may be. For example, some people may be unwilling to kill another person, even if it means saving many others individuals. Protected values tend to be overgeneralizations, and most people can in fact imagine a scenario when trading off their most precious values would be necessary.[1]

From the perspective of utilitarianism, protected values are biases when they prevent utility from being maximized across individuals.[2]

Protected values as deontological rules

According to Jonathan Baron and Mark Spranca,[3] protected values arise from norms as described in theories of deontological ethics (the latter often being referred to in context with Immanuel Kant). The protectedness implies that people are concerned with their participation in transactions rather than just the consequences of it.

Absoluteness has been described as the defining property of protected values. The term absolute applies to the fact that such values are considered non-tradable and that people want them to trump any decision involving a conflict between a protected and a compensatory value. (Compensatory values can be defined as part of a pair of values where a change in one value can be compensated by a change in the other value. These values are prevalent in the theories of consequentialism and utilitarianism.)

Baron and Spranca propose five other concepts as being properties of protected values, due the fact that these values arise from deontological prohibitions:

  • Quantity irrelevancy : The quantity of consequences is irrelevant for protected values. For instance, the act of destroying one species is as bad as destroying a hundred.
  • Agent relativity: The participation of the decision maker is important, not just the consequences in themselves.
  • Moral obligation: The actions required or prohibited by protected values are seen as universal and independent of what people think.
  • Denial of trade-offs : People may resist the idea that anything must be sacrificed at all for the sake of their values, denying by wishful thinking the existence of trade-offs and insisting that their values do no harm.
  • Anger : Finally, the emotional aspect of anger is relevant. Because people see the violation of a protected value as a moral violation, they tend to get angry when thinking about an action that harms such values.


  1. ^ Ritov, and Baron, Ilana, and Jonathan. Protected Values and Omission Bias. University of Jerusalem, University of Pennsilvanya. pp. 89, 90. 
  2. ^ Baron, Ilana, Jonatha, Ritov (2009). Protected Values and omissions Bias as Deontological Judgements. Elsevier Inc. pp. 134, 135. 
  3. ^ Baron, Jonathan and Spranca, Mark (1997). "Protected values". Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. 70(1), 1-16.

Further reading

  • Baron, Jonathan (2007). Thinking and Deciding, 4th Ed.