What Is a Hierarchy of Values?

The hierarchy of values is the structure that allows us to determine which aspects of life are most important to us. Do you already have yours?
What Is a Hierarchy of Values?

Written by Editorial Team

Last update: 25 February, 2023

What’s important to you doesn’t have to be important to everyone else; that’s just the way it is. We all possess a mental structure in which we value aspects of life differently, such as money, religion, family, work, etc. In this sense, we all develop a hierarchy of values.

Each person interprets reality according to his or her belief system. These are formed from upbringing, education, personal experiences, personality, and cultural context, among others. Let’s have a closer look at this topic.

What is a hierarchy of values?

Before defining what a hierarchy of values is, it’s important to know what we mean by values. In this sense, values are the principles and qualities that allow us to differentiate between good and bad, right and wrong, pleasant and unpleasant. Therefore, they guide our individual and social behavior.

Now, the hierarchy of values is a mental structure in which we order them according to their importance, in such a way that some become more important than others. For example, for me the most important values are family and love, while for others they may be work and material goods.

It’s good to emphasize that the order of the hierarchy will vary according to the individual and will depend on the social, cultural, and religious context. Nevertheless, cohesive social groups (such as the family or religious communities) tend to have a fairly similar hierarchical order.

Likewise, the hierarchy of values is not an immutable entity. On the contrary, it changes as the person lives out new experiences and adopts other perspectives.


To establish our hierarchy of values, we must first have a clear idea about the idea. To do so, here are its most defining characteristics:

  • The values that make it up have two poles: one positive and one negative.
  • It’s presented in the form of a rank, going from worst to best.
  • The order of the hierarchy will depend on social, moral and ethical aspects.
  • They are flexible, so they can change over time, depending on experiences and needs.
Hierarchy of values.
Money is an aspect that plays an important role in several value hierarchies. For some it isn’t significant and for others it is everything.


The hierarchy of values is composed of the following elements:

  • The person: They will determine which values are most important according to his or her needs, interests, desires, education, and social and cultural context.
  • Value qualities: These are related to one’s personal preference and interpretation (positive or negative) from a social perspective.
  • The person’s situation: We’re talking here about their current circumstances. This is the most unstable element.

Types of values

To establish a hierarchy of values, it’s also important to know how to identify the variety of values that exist. To do so, we’ll bring you a classification by type.


These are values that have the same value for most people. Among them are respect, freedom, kindness, solidarity, love, honesty, friendship, peace, and courage.


They represent the principles and behaviors adopted by people according to the religion or dogma they profess. These values usually appear in sacred texts and have been transmitted from one generation to another.


They are acquired based on experience. They are usually inherited or transmitted by society to its citizens. These include loyalty, tolerance, generosity, responsibility, and respect.


These emerge from man’s basic needs, such as food, health, housing, personal care, and hygiene.


These include values that improve man, helping them to have better living conditions. Some examples are productivity, savings, success, and wealth.


These refer to feelings of pleasure, admiration or displeasure that are generated when contemplating a work, a sport, a person, an object, an animal, etc. For example, harmony, perfection, delicacy, and obscenity.


They are those that connect you with the tangible reality or the material part of life. For example, organization, perseverance, or money.


This refers to values that are captured through the spirit, psyche, or mind. That is to say, they don’t involve the body. Among them are harmony, faith, hope, love, charity, and grace.


This refers to principles that govern the actions of the individual in society, such as honesty responsibility, cooperation, trust, respect, etc.

Max Scheler’s hierarchy of values

To better understand what this structure consists of, we’ll present the hierarchy of values proposed by the German philosopher Max Scheler (1874 – 1928). In it, he organizes the principles that guide the attitudes of human beings according to what he considers to be important.

Let us remember that this is a subjective structure. Each person can establish his own according to his priorities.

That said, Max Scheler’s hierarchy of values, starting from the lowest to the highest level of importance, is as follows:

  • Values of pleasantness: Also called hedonistic values, these correspond to affective states that allow us to experience pleasure and pain.
  • Vital values: These refer to bodily life – those related to health, illness, and instinct.
  • Spiritual values: Those that we can grasp through our spirit and that don’t involve the bodily.
  • Religious values: For Scheler, these are the most important. They are composed of the sacred and the divine, that is, the holy and the profane. They are also related to faith and unbelief.
A person praying.
Religion is capable of determining values in people, as it sets a specific context of what is considered good or bad.

The importance of a hierarchy of values

Having a clear hierarchy of values is of utmost importance, as it’s a useful tool to guide our actions based on principles. In addition, it’s a way of getting to know ourselves, since the most important values are part of our identity.

In turn, it has a beneficial function for society. To the extent that each individual forms a common hierarchy of values (composed of socially desirable values), there will be greater balance and harmony in the group. So, what are you waiting for to form yours?

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.