As part of my Search for American Values project, I have compiled a detailed master list of all of the values that I could quickly identify as being common in America at this time. It is designed for reference rather than to be literally read, although some introductory matter is presented here.
Originally, the list was within this paper itself, but it has grown so large that Medium cannot accommodate a story of that size. So, the list now resides exclusively within a Google Doc — Master List of Values in America. The list is also available as a Google Sheets spreadsheet — Master List of Values in America.
The list of non-values and vices (qualities which are discouraged) is also available as a separate Google Sheets spreadsheet: Master List of Non-Values in America.
The original list has around 1,500 entries. The updated list has over 8,000 entries.
This updated list fully supersedes the original list.
The list includes values at all levels and areas of American society, ranging from the individual to groups, to organizations, to businesses, to political parties, and to overall whole-of-society and national values.
My original project conception was more focused on what politicians mean when they refer to American values, but I concluded that I first need a solid foundation of all values in America before focusing too intently on values that politicians may be espousing.
The ultimate goal is to identify distinctly American values. The full list of values here may contain values that are purely individual, specific to various groups, religions, or political parties.
A lot of these values are simply off the top of my head from decades of exposure to and close observation of American culture.
A good fraction of the values come from or are closely associated with specific sources or groups, such as:
- U.S. Declaration of Independence
- U.S. Constitution
- Bill of Rights
- Major religions
- Major political parties and their wings
- Political campaigns, conventions, and platforms
- Politically-oriented organizations
- Colleges and universities
- Public institutions
- Nonprofit organizations
- Native Americans
- Academic research
- General media articles
- Archive search of NY Times
- United Nations
- Historic figures of U.S
In 2011/2012 the American Values Project produced a handbook for Progressives entitled Progressive Thinking: A Synthesis of Progressive Values, Beliefs, and Positions (or view in Scribd or read a summary of it in What It Means To Be A Progressive: A Manifesto), which is the best effort I have encountered at trying codify American values, at least at a relatively high level, albeit from the progressive, liberal, and big government perspectives.
It focuses on what I call collective values, which is what I was originally interested in when I started my project, while this informal paper covers all values in America, individual as well as collective, as well as non-government organizational values. Still, their handbook is a good starting point for discussion from the political (government) perspective.
Values, beliefs, principles, ideals, norms, virtues, moral values, rights, issues, qualities, characteristics, and anything considered important
This informal paper makes no distinction between values, beliefs, principles, ideals, norms, moral values, virtues, rights, issues, qualities, characteristics, and anything considered important — they’re all treated as values from the perspective of this paper, to the degree that they have at least a vague sense of relating to values.
Beliefs, issues, qualities, and characteristics that are merely incidental or descriptive are not included. They need some sort of sense of value to make it on to this list.
Values vs. principles
It is truly a fool’s errand to try to nail down some universally accepted, acceptable, and actually useful distinction between values and principles. In short, it’s a subjective exercise. Which of the two is more universal? Which of the two is more subjective? In fact, the situation is so muddled that two groups of equally intelligent, educated, experienced, and wise individuals could insist on polar opposite interpretations of the two terms.
Our solution here is to… punt and include both. To me, personally, they truly do overlap, and that’s where the… value is, at least in… principle.
Qualities that are valued
Possibly the largest fraction of the items on the list are qualities. Qualities are the simplest way of thinking about whether an item belongs on the list as a value. These are qualities that people seek, reward, or are attracted to — that they value.
Anything considered important
Beliefs and principles can be a bit abstract, while things that are a little more concrete can be valued as well — anything considered important. Some examples include:
- Cars and trucks — personal mobility
Platitudes are included here as well, such as “Never give up”, “You never know”, or “Believe in yourself”, to the extent that they do a decent job of encapsulating the true sentiment of a serious value than more clinical terms, such as perseverance, patience, optimism, and self-esteem. Both the platitude and clinical values would be included.
Platitudes which are too trite or cynical, such as “Blonds have more fun” or “Trust no one”, would not be included, but generally a platitude would be included if it represents a sentiment for a value that a lot of people would relate to, such as “Busy as a bee” or “Burning the midnight oil” — illustrating the more clinical term of industriousness.
Goals and aspirations
Many values are aspirational in nature — something to hope and strive for rather than presumed and taken for granted.
Religious values are included here, not intending to endorse or support any religion per se, but simply to accurately report the presence of religious values in America.
Political values are included here, not intending to endorse or support any political party per se, but simply to accurately report the presence of political values in America.
Non-values and vices
There is a separate list following the main list for qualities which are not considered values or positive sentiments in America, including vices, like cynicism, arrogance, and “Trust no one.”
The list of non-values is also available as a separate Google Sheets spreadsheet: Master List of Non-Values in America.
No claim of universality is made for values on this list, simply that some people hold a belief in the value.
This list does not attempt to address or resolve the issue of multiple interpretations of a value, such as fairness and justice.
Many people don’t truly live all of the values they believe in on a regular basis, but that’s why values are aspirational. They are goals, to be worked towards.
Once you starting really living a value on a regular basis, then it can be said to be one of your virtues.
Fringe and hate groups
Some may object, but beliefs and values of fringe and even so-called hate groups are included in the list as well, all in the interest of being as comprehensive as possible. The inclusion of such groups and values should not be considered an endorsement by this author or an endorsement in general, but simply recognition that such beliefs and values are legally present in America.
Illegal activity excluded
About the only criteria by which any group or belief or value would be excluded from this list is that the group or value is illegal, banned by federal or state law. This would include but not be limited to:
- Criminal gangs
- Serial killers
- Anarchists — to the extent they are advocating illegal activity
Comprehensive but not exhaustive
This list is not represented as being absolutely exhaustive (although certainly exhausting!), but it is represented as intending to be reasonably comprehensive — covering all areas of life in America.
The goal here is to establish a solid foundation on which further efforts on American values can be based. To establish a baseline.
A secondary motivation or derivative benefit of this master list of values is its utility in more advanced artificial intelligence (AI.) As machines become more capable of human-like behavior with emotional and social intelligence, values become an issue. Values can manifest themselves in an advanced AI in several ways:
- Coping with people. As mechanical and formal as a machine might want to be, decisions and actions will increasingly need to reflect the human values of the human masters or users of the machines.
- Machines adopting human-like values. Advanced AI systems will increasingly find it advantageous to reason and act with human-like values, even for machine to machine interactions when no humans are involved. Networks of AI machines will take on many of the qualities of human societies, groups, and organizations, as well as even one on one and small informal group interactions.
- Machine values. Machine interactions have possibilities and requirements that can differ dramatically from human interactions, so that values important to machine interactions may be somewhat different from human values. And as AI intelligence eventually transcends human intelligence, it would not be surprising to see machines with values that transcend human values.
I see the utility of this master list of (human) values as:
- A starting point for discussion of what human values may be relevant to advanced AI.
- A design test of how value-ful an advanced AI is.
- A QA check list to validate the values of an advanced AI.
- A starting point for developing a more full list of human values in preparation for Strong AI that is truly human-like. More comprehensive. More complete. More detailed. More consistent.
- A seed set of values that could be used to develop an AI algorithm that could mine Internet and media content for values and value-like propositions. Eventually AI systems will need to be able to learn values rather than be merely pre-programmed with fixed values.
The master list presented here was constructed entirely by hand. It would be nice to automate that process. Whether it is easy or difficult to automate this process is an open question.
Everything that’s good about America
That about sums up the general sense of what values are all about.
That’s not a completely accurate statement since the main focus is on qualities, not things themselves.
The U.S. founding documents — Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights — are not on the list per se, but the values, rights, and principles contained in those documents are.
It’s the concepts that are values, not their physical representation.
The master list of values present in America
The list of American values is presented alphabetically for convenient access.
There is some duplication, primarily for multi-word terms so that you can look up a term alphabetically by the most important word in the term.
You can also use your browser’s search function to directly go to a keyword or phrase.
There is fairly extensive cross referencing, so that a given value may be listed a number of time based on keywords or implied phrases from the text of the value.
This list is not claimed to be absolutely exhaustive, but the goal is for it to be reasonably comprehensive and as exhaustive as humanly possible. Please comment if you feel any values are missing.
The values are numbered merely for convenient reference. No ordering is implied.
Not everyone in America will agree with every value on this list. Presence on this list only means that at least a few people are likely to concur with the sentiment behind a given value.
Most terms are fairly self-explanatory, but please feel free to comment on terms that cry out for explanation.
The full list can be browsed either as a Google Doc or a Google Sheet:
- Google Doc document: Master List of Values in America
- Google Sheet spreadsheet: Master List of Values in America
The list of non-values is included in the Google Doc, but has a separate spreadsheet:
- Non-values Google Sheet spreadsheet: Master List of Non-Values in America
The list will continue to be updated. Please feel free to comment on any errors or omissions.