Clearly values have a strong influence on cultural preferences and value theory now claims empirical validity through its disinterested scientific use of psychology, sociology, and economics.
The main criticism of value theory is its potential to become, itself, value-laden. More specifically, when applied to human cultures it is a form of ethnocentrism with western civilization presented as an aspirational goal. Ethnocentricity can treat traditional societies as ‘primitive’ or ‘low-level’ while industrial and post-industrial societies are ‘advanced’ or ‘high-level’ i.e. better, more desirable, the consequence of cultural progress and therefore more advanced.
How are we to solve the dilemma of judging cultures other than our own and, in the case of value-theory, making value judgements about value judgements?
Approached simply, we can either treat all cultures as equally valid (cultural relativism), or we can assume that our own culture is appropriate in some absolute way, or we can choose key values acceptable to all cultures, taking these as self-evident axioms from which value judgements can flow. This web site promotes the key values of human happiness, wellbeing, and flourishing as a benchmark for human culture – this helps in formulating policy but is, of course, open to interpretation.