The fallibilist theory of value and its application to decision making

  • David Collingridge

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The aim is to develop a fully general theory of value, showing particularly how value judgements may be tested, using Popper's theory of scientific method as a model, and to explore the application of the general theory to decision making.
Justificationist accounts of value are rejected (part I). Justification requires some fundamental value claims to terminate the regress which finding support for a value judgement generates, but these cannot exist. In addition, all but very weak sets of value judgements have factual consequences and so cannot be regarded as justified since they always stand in jeopardy of falsification through these consequences. Recent attempts to overcome these problems are reviewed and none found adequate.
A fallibilist account of value is then developed (part II). Value judgements are to be tested by exposing them to criticism which is potential falsification from factual sentences. There is, therefore, a premium on value judgements of high universality and precision. Mathodological rules are necessary to ensure that no value judgement can escape criticism. Success for a value judgement is the survival of criticism and may be measured by a degree of corroboration..
In part III the methodology is extended to cover decision making. Standard theories of decision making are criticised because they incorporate a false view of individual values; fail to satisfactorily connect individual and social values; and require great quantities of factual input not generally available in real world decision situations. The fallibilist theory of decision making can overcome all these problems. Decisions are rational, not if they optimise some objective function, but if they are submitted to critical assessment by the methodology developed earlier. Since any decision may prove wrong, there is a premium on decisions which may be reversed easily and measures for reversibility are developed.
Date of Award1979
Original languageEnglish


  • ethics
  • decision making
  • flexibility
  • Popper

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