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Terminal Values vs. Instrumental Values: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on March 5, 2024
Terminal values are the ultimate goals or ends that a person aims to achieve, whereas instrumental values are the means or behaviors that lead to those ends.

Key Differences

Terminal values encompass the ultimate goals or end-states of existence that individuals strive to achieve, such as happiness, fulfillment, and peace. Instrumental values, on the other hand, represent the modes of conduct or methods individuals believe are important for reaching their terminal values, such as honesty, hard work, and kindness.
Terminal values often guide an individual's life purpose and are considered more static and enduring. They reflect what is most important to a person in the grand scheme of life, such as achieving inner harmony, wisdom, or a sense of accomplishment. Instrumental values serve as the pathways to these ends, emphasizing the importance of ethical conduct, competence, and interpersonal skills.
The distinction between terminal and instrumental values highlights the difference between "what" we seek to accomplish and "how" we choose to go about it. For instance, a terminal value might be 'world peace,' which is an ultimate goal, while an instrumental value like 'diplomacy' is seen as a necessary behavior or method to achieve that goal.
Instrumental values are often viewed as ethical or moral standards that govern day-to-day behavior, influencing how individuals interact with others and navigate challenges. Terminal values, in contrast, shape an individual's overarching aspirations and are key to understanding their vision for a fulfilled life.
Terminal values are concerned with the end goals, instrumental values are inherently about the journey and the means of conducting oneself to reach those ends. The interplay between the two sets of values defines a person's character and life philosophy, guiding decisions, actions, and priorities.

Comparison Chart


Ultimate life goals or end-states.
Means or methods to achieve terminal values.


Reflect long-term life aspirations.
Reflect daily behaviors and ethical standards.


Happiness, world peace, self-fulfillment.
Honesty, diligence, kindness.

Role in Decision-Making

Guide the direction and purpose of life.
Guide day-to-day actions and moral choices.

Stability and Change

Generally more enduring and stable.
May adapt based on circumstances and goals.

Terminal Values and Instrumental Values Definitions

Terminal Values

Goal of achieving self-respect.
He values self-respect as a terminal value, ensuring he acts with integrity.

Instrumental Values

Practicing honesty in all dealings.
He upholds honesty, an instrumental value, in his business transactions.

Terminal Values

Ultimate goal of achieving happiness.
She works hard every day with the terminal value of happiness in mind.

Instrumental Values

Showing kindness to others.
She believes kindness, an instrumental value, can change the world.

Terminal Values

Aspiration for personal freedom.
Personal freedom as a terminal value motivates her to advocate for human rights.

Instrumental Values

Exercising discipline in personal life.
Discipline, an instrumental value, helps her achieve her goals.

Terminal Values

Pursuit of family security.
She prioritizes family security as a terminal value, providing a safe environment for her children.

Instrumental Values

Demonstrating courage in adversity.
Courage is an instrumental value that guides him through challenges.

Terminal Values

Desire for a life filled with peace.
His terminal value of peace drives his mediation efforts.

Instrumental Values

Maintaining responsibility in tasks.
Responsibility is an instrumental value he takes seriously in his role.


How do instrumental values influence daily life?

They guide ethical behavior, decision-making, and interactions with others.

What are terminal values?

Ultimate goals or end-states individuals aim to achieve.

Do terminal values reflect a person's character?

Yes, they reflect deep-seated beliefs and life aspirations.

Can instrumental values conflict with terminal values?

Conflicts can arise, but alignment is essential for a coherent value system.

What are instrumental values?

The means or behaviors used to achieve terminal values.

Can instrumental values change over time?

Yes, they may adapt based on circumstances and evolving goals.

Are terminal values the same for everyone?

While some terminal values are common, they can vary greatly among individuals.

Are instrumental values tied to morality?

Often, as they encompass ethical standards and principles.

Can instrumental values be taught?

Yes, through education, socialization, and personal development.

Do terminal values influence societal norms?

They can, as collective terminal values shape societal goals and ideals.

Can a person's terminal values influence their career choice?

Yes, terminal values often guide career paths, hobbies, and life decisions.

Can organizations have terminal and instrumental values?

Yes, organizations have value systems that guide their mission and practices.

Is it possible for terminal values to change?

They're more stable but can evolve with significant life changes or insights.

How can one identify their terminal values?

Through introspection, life experiences, and prioritizing what brings fulfillment.

How are terminal and instrumental values related?

Instrumental values are considered the methods to achieve terminal values.

Can a mismatch between personal and societal values cause conflict?

Yes, discrepancies can lead to personal and social tensions.

How do cultural backgrounds affect terminal values?

Cultural influences can shape and define one's terminal values.

How can understanding someone's terminal values enhance relationships?

It provides insight into their motivations and what they hold important.

Why is it important to balance both types of values?

For a well-rounded life that aligns actions with ultimate life goals.

How do instrumental values affect leadership?

They guide leaders in their conduct, decision-making, and how they influence others.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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