If fundamental differences between Vice President Bush and Michael Dukakis exist anywhere, they exist on the divisive social issues _ abortion, school prayer and affirmative action.

These matters, often debated under the rubric of "American values," involve finding the delicate balance between regulating societal mores and protecting individual freedom. At the root of the arguments are the candidates' different views of the proper role of government.Critics of the conservative agenda have charged for nearly eight years that the same individuals who want less government in the economic sphere support government involvement in the most private activities.

Conservatives counter that their opponents stand for a kind of social anarchy that has no respect for the sanctity of human life and little reverence for God. To ask government to be the arbiter of such basic mores, they contend, is appropriate and in keeping with the spirit of the Founding Fathers.

These differing philosophies form the underpinnings of the positions Bush and Dukakis have taken on the social issues.

Abortion. The vice president supports a constitutional amendment that would ban most abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in danger. He supports federal funding of abortions in these instances.

During the Sept. 25 debate with Dukakis, Bush said he hadn't decided whether women who secured abortions, if they were once again made illegal, should be jailed. The day after the debate, Bush said he had concluded that the women should not be jailed but that doctors who perform abortions should be penalized.

Dukakis supports legalized abortion and supports federal funding of abortions for all poor women.

School Prayer. The two candidates are also on opposite sides of school prayer. The vice president supports a constitutional amendment that would allow public school prayer and he supports school-sponsored moments of silence.

Dukakis does not favor a constitutional amendment on prayer.

Affirmative Action. The two candidates come a little closer to common ground on the issue of affirmative action - the general term for public and private programs designed to encourage the recruitment and hiring or the admission into school of women and minorities. The premise behind such programs is that it is appropriate to provide extra help and incentives for those who have been discriminated against in the past.

Bush is firmly against what he calls "rigid numerical quotas." But he has said he would "take aggressive steps to recruit minorities and other groups which, because of past discrimination, have not yet been able to join fully the American mainstream."

Dukakis says his administration would have "an unyielding commitment to affirmative action." Specifically, Dukakis would use "minority set-asides" in federal contracting "so that minority citizens would actively participate in the business of federal government."