Summary of "Value/Evaluation" by Barbara Hernstein Smith

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Summary of "Value/Evaluation"
In her essay "Value/Evaluation," Barbara Herrnstein Smith reflects upon the shifting nature of the evaluation process, and what exactly the meaning of "value" is. She begins by pointing out that the dispute on the value of something occurs whenever any social activity becomes the focal point of a discussion. However, Smith points out, the perspective on value and evaluation has changed dramatically, and is still a topic of debate. These new perspectives indicate that value judgments are made by entire societies, not necessarily individuals; they also give rise to skepticism and question traditional ideas about how evaluations are made. Pointing out the importance of attempting to define a term before truly being able to discuss it, Smith identifies "value" as two separate but related meanings. The first and most obvious relates to the worth of an object, or "the material… equivalence-in-exchange of something" (178). The other, more intangible definition refers to a multitude of attributes: its practicality, its ability to expand upon some function, how gratifying it is to its owner, and its class in some sense. The related concept here, Smith stresses, is that "both senses of the term involve two key ideas, namely comparison and amount" (179). It is no wonder, then, Smith says, that the term "value" refers to something so elementary to our nature. There is, however, an even more complex and intangible aspect to the etymology of "value". In its historical sense, there has been a sense of the object itself having an inherent value of its own, above and beyond and monetary or cultural value. Therefore, while everything would then have some value of its own, Smith argues that it is also exactly what makes it distinct and incomparable, apart from any outside force. This concept of inherent value is further complicated, Smith asserts, when applied to literature. This elusive idea of there being something else once any...
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