Principles vs Values: What’s the Difference?

Difference between Principles vs Values

Principles vs values: they both guide our actions and decisions. Unlike principles, which are objective and universal, values are subjective and individual.

In addition to providing a solid foundation for ethical decision-making, values help us define our individual identities and guide us to our goals and ambitions.

It is common for us to come across the terms “principles” and “values” in our daily lives. Principles and values guide our actions and decisions but have fundamental differences.

The Difference Between Principles and Values (Principles vs Values)

What are Principles?

Principles are fundamental truths or laws that govern our behaviour and decisions. They are timeless and universal, which means they apply across multiple contexts, cultures, and situations. Our preferences or beliefs do not determine our principles.

For example, the law of gravity is a principle that exists regardless of whether we believe in it. Similarly, honesty, integrity, fairness, and responsibility are examples of principles that are universally accepted.

It is essential for a person to have principles to build a strong moral foundation because they provide a framework for making ethical decisions.

We are more likely to act consistently, even when faced with difficult choices when we act according to principles. The purpose of principles is to keep us focused on what is important in our lives to stay on track.

What are Values?

As for values, they are personal beliefs or preferences that determine how we behave and choose to act. Our experiences, culture, upbringing, and personal preferences shape values. They are subjective and may vary from one individual to another.

For example, one person may value independence, while another may value security. Honesty, loyalty, respect, and compassion are some common values.

Values play an important role in shaping our identity and a sense of purpose. They help us prioritize our goals and aspirations and make choices that align with our values.

As well as facilitating relationships, values help us connect with others who share the same values and outlook.

Principles vs Values: What’s the Difference?

Principles and values differ in their origin and nature. Principles are objective and universal, whereas values are subjective and personal.

Principles are rooted in reality and don’t change with time or context, while values may change as we grow and experience new things.

You can also consider principles and values as a compass and map to help understand their differences. Principles act as compass points, guiding us in the right direction and helping us stay on track. Values act as a map, showing us where we want to go and what we want to accomplish.

Compasses are always accurate, whereas maps may require updating or changing when new opportunities or obstacles arise.

Difference between Principles and Values

DefinitionFundamental truths or laws that govern behavior and decisionsPersonal beliefs or preferences that guide choices and behaviors
OriginObjective and universalSubjective and personal
ApplicabilityTimeless and applicable across contexts and situationsShaped by experiences, culture, upbringing, and personal preferences
DependenceNot dependent on personal preferences or beliefsDependent on personal preferences and beliefs
StabilityDo not change with time or contextMay evolve or shift as we grow and experience new things
ImportanceProvide a solid foundation for ethical decision-making and directionHelp define individual identity and guide towards goals and aspirations
ExampleHonesty, integrity, fairness, and responsibilityLoyalty, respect, compassion, independence, security, etc.
Difference between Principles and Values (Principles vs Values)

Importance of Principles and Values

We need principles vs values to live a fulfilling and meaningful life. Principles provide a solid foundation for ethical decision-making and help us stay on course when faced with difficult choices.

Our values, on the other hand, guide our actions towards achieving our goals and aspirations and help us define our individual identities.

When an organization operates on shared principles and values, it creates a clear vision and direction for its employees. Principles and values are crucial for building a strong culture and a sense of purpose.

As a result, the workforce is more engaged and motivated, communication and collaboration are improved, and decision-making becomes more efficient.

Are Values More Important Than Principles?

Values and principles play important roles in guiding our behaviour and decision-making. We make ethical and responsible choices based on principles, while our values reflect our individual goals and aspirations based on our personal beliefs and preferences.

While principles may be more objective and stable, values can provide a sense of identity and direction. Ultimately, principles and values are important and can work together to shape our character and influence our actions.

Each individual has their own priorities and values, and they must determine how to best align those values and priorities with principles for a fulfilling and ethical life.

How Do Principles and Values Affect Relationships?

The principles and values we hold in our minds significantly shape our relationships with others. A shared set of values and principles can lead to stronger relationships and more fulfilling interactions when they foster trust, empathy, and mutual respect.

Differing principles and values can also cause conflict and misunderstandings, so it’s important to communicate openly and respect each other’s views to resolve them.

We must carefully consider the impact of our principles and values on how we interact with others and the types of relationships we build because they ultimately determine how we treat others.

How Do Principles and Values Impact Leadership?

The foundation of effective leadership is principles and values. A leader’s values reflect their personal beliefs and preferences, guiding their decision-making and leadership styles, while principles provide an objective basis for making ethical and responsible decisions.

When leaders align their principles and values with their actions, they can foster trust, respect, and integrity among their teams and stakeholders, leading to stronger relationships and more successful outcomes.

However, if principles, values, and actions are misaligned, trust and respect can be undermined, resulting in ineffective leadership and negatively affecting team morale.

To achieve their goals and lead with integrity, leaders must continuously evaluate and align their principles and values with their actions.

Can Principles and Values be Taught?

Educating, training, and mentoring can help you teach principles and values, but values, on the other hand, are shaped by experiences, culture, and personal preferences, but can also be taught and influenced by others. Principles are often based on objective truths.

In organizations, values can be communicated through company culture, mission statements, and employee training.

Parents, teachers, and role models can all contribute to teaching and modelling values like respect, empathy, and responsibility. Individuals may have their own principles and values, but external factors can also shape and reinforce them.

Conclusion: Principles vs Values

While principles and values are often used interchangeably, they differ in definition, origin, applicability, and importance. Both principles and values are important for guiding behaviour and decision-making in personal and professional contexts.

Understanding their differences can help individuals and organizations make ethical and responsible choices.


  1. Keith Norris, Medium. “The Difference Between Principles and Values“.
  2. Patrick M. Lencioni, Harvard Business Review. “Make Your Values Mean Something“.
  3. William Safire, The New York Times. “On Language: Principle vs Value“.

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