Cardiff annual lectures

Value Collapse

In this year’s Cardiff Annual Lecture, C. Thi Nguyen addresses the issues around and implications of setting goals around explicit metrics.

Something seems to go wrong when we take on, as our goals in life, some extremely explicit metric. As individuals, the metric might be making a lot of money, or getting the best grades, or getting into the top-ranked law school. Organisations do something similar with profits, pageviews, or, in education, learning outcomes.

How can such metrics cause problems?

Here’s one possibility: overly clear values enshrine an attitude of closed-mindedness towards value. Values drive attention: what we look at, and how carefully and intensely we look. Values control what we investigate. Hyper-clear values set firm boundaries on what matters. Those values narrow our attention, and make us less willing to pay attention to things outside those bounds. Hyper-clarity represents a value as finalised — and the world as if there were nothing else to learn from it about what really matters.

  • Speaker

    C. Thi Nguyen is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Utah. He's interested in the ways in which our rationality and agency are socially embedded – about how our ways of thinking and deciding are conditioned by features of social organisation, community, technology, and art practices. He's also interested in the structures and nature of the interdependences we have with one another – and with our artifacts, practices, and institutions.