Ted: Hey man, can you tell me what I could expect from this class? I have taken the only prereq necessary. It is Phil 430 http://www.public.iastate.edu/~catalog/2009-2011/courses/phil.html#200
Me: “Value Theory” is vague, so you’ll be at the whim of your professor. So it would be key to get a professor who you like/likes you.
You could pull from almost any period/persuasion of philosophy and talk about Value Theory, but I think the Greeks and the Nietzsche talked about it the most. If I were designing this class, I’d review the Greeks, go to Nietzsche, and then cover more contemporary people like Ruth Chang or something.
So, the first question of the class is probably “What is valuable?” and the first distinction of the class is probably “extrinsic value vs. intrinsic value.” Working has extrinsic value because I get money for it, but it sure doesn’t have intrinsic value. It’s not valuable for its own sake. Playing tennis or cards might be intrinsically valuable. Tricky question: how about science, philosophy, or economics? Intrinsically valuable, extrinsically valuable, both, or neither? The first “ism”s of the class are probably “pluralism vs. monism.” Pluralists think there are many values, monists think there is just one value.
This is where the ethics class comes in handy. If you’re a utilitarian, you probably believe that pleasure is the only intrinsic good (so you’re pulled towards monism), but you have to face the general consensus that there are different kinds of pleasures. That pulls you towards a pluralism, but if you’re a pluralist, it’s harder (you might think impossible) to quantify pleasure and to compare the utility of reading a book to the utility of having sex. If you can’t quantify and compare, you can’t make a utilitarian decision and your whole system is useless. Depending mostly on your mood, you could blame this failure on monism or utilitarianism or just on a crude understanding of pleasure.
The more abstract stuff towards the end of the course would probably (or should) have to do with Nietzsche’s ubermensch and will to power. Another route to go would be multiculturalism and the problem of cultural relativism and whether it implies ethical relativism.
You can skim this: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/value-theory/ If you take another philosophy course, this website is a good place to look for names and theories and schools of thought. Should be obvious, but this class will be more reading and discussion and less memorization of definitions/formulae.