Review of International Studies has seen a debate over the value of security. At its heart this is a debate about ethics: concerning the extent to which security is a ‘good’ and whether or not security politics produces the kind of world we want. More recent contributions focus on the extent to which security is ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. However, this article argues that the existing debate is limited and confusing: key authors use the terms ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ in different, and, at times, contradictory ways. The article clarifies the roots of the existing debate, and then draws out two different uses of the terms positive and negative: an analytic frame and a normative frame. In response, it proposes a pragmatist frame that synthesises the existing uses, drawing on pragmatism and practice-centred approaches to analyse the value of security in context. The contribution of the article is thus twofold: it both clarifies the existing debate and suggests a solution. This is key because the debate over the value of security is crucial to thinking about how we want to live.