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Words that think for us

On values and virtues

By Edward Skidelsky   January 2010

Values are everywhere. Eastern and western, relative and absolute, Christian and corporate, they blare at us from all sides like cockney street vendors. They are the debased coin of the modern moral economy.

The story of values begins, like many such stories, in an obscure corner of the German academic world circa 1860. Originally an everyday word referring to the price or worth of something, “value” was taken up by philosophers as a technical term for any object of moral, aesthetic or practical evaluation. The new usage was popularised by Nietzsche and sanctified for sociology by Max Weber. From Germany…

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