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Values Versus Goals by John G. Spragge

© November 2004 John G. Spragge

Referencing: Great Ideas and Religious Fervor in Linux

It makes sense to separate passion and obstinacy in belief from cool empirical evaluation at the point where values, the basic things we strive for and care about, meet goals, the things we do to serve our values.

If you work in computers and you value a sharing community of equals, or you simply want the freedom to produce as good a product as you can, your goals may well include the success of Linux and the free software or open source movements. If, on the other hand, you believe the universe or the Creator have singled some of us out for favour and success, and the rest of us ought to serve and elevate those people, then the free software and open source movements may offend you. Beliefs and values such as these offer a complete vision of the world, one not subject to any empirical test. Within broad limits, we each hold certain values and believe certain things.

On the other hand, we do use empirical evidence to affirm or refute specific claims. Thus, we can determine which jobs Linux works well for, and which jobs it does not. If Linux performs poorly at certain tasks, that does not refute the values of the free software or open source movements; it simply means that one specific program does not work as well at one task as another.

In order to separate empirical questions from discussions about values, we need to carefully and honestly separate discussions about facts from discussions about values. Someone who sees Bill Gates as a paragon of capitalism may devoutly wish Linux did not exist, or wish for it to fail, but that doesn't change the facts. At the same time, such a person may attempt to persuade Linux programmers that their production of free software wastes their time and wrongs proprietary software vendors. Such an approach may not have a hope of success, but it has the advantage of honesty.

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