A book on ethics and philosophy of values

(Note: this is a non-professional translation of the original text in French. Help improve this translation: please report any mistake!)


2/ The relations of axiology with other disciplines in general


Axiology must find the value of things. But what has a value is what the thing is, its essence. So it seems that we have to discover the essences of things, before finding their value. But it is science that finds the essence of things.

So we might draw this conclusion: axiology is absolutely dependent on other sciences in its own research; and, above all, as sciences will never succeed in capturing the essences of things, but only a distorted reflection of these, then axiology cannot achieve its purpose (for, once again, understanding the essence of all things is a prerequisite for the question of the value of this essence).


I think that we can solve this difficulty, not in believing that one day sciences will achieve their goals – it would be absurd-, but in criticizing the idea that it is the ‘real’ essence of ‘real’ things that has a value (and so that we must find the ‘real’ essence of really existing things).

As a matter of fact, axiology only needs “contents of meaning”, to determine their value. In consequence, the sole requirement is that the examined object should have a meaning. The question of the real existence of something corresponding to this content of meaning can be left open, as useless to axiology. Why?
Because if axiology had to ensure that the things whose value is examined really exist, it would mean that the real existence is considered as something which obviously has a value, in other words that what exists has more value than what does not.

But this groundless presupposition requires a proof: we can imagine an opposite axiological position, holding that what has a value is what does not exist (that which is imagined, dreamt of, chimera). If axiology were to rely on such a presupposition, it would from the outset fall into dogmatism, and would have no chance of success. Let us remember that the axiological investigation begins by a suspension of all judgments of value (epoché).
So existence cannot be a criterion of value, at least in the early phase of the axiological survey. As a result, we need not ask whether the contents of meaning whose value is sought correspond to really existing things (since it would be like supposing that existence is a criterion to take into account in the determination of values).

On the other hand, it seems (but this is only an assumption), that existence adds no value to anything, but only a –relative- interest for man. For example let us suppose that the anti-slavery law has a great positive value in itself; even before the promulgation of the law (viz. its ‘coming to existence’), it already had value. Once it has been voted and applied, this law has no more or less value, but receives more interest from men who before were slaves and have been freed. Similarly, it may be maintained that cruelty is something contemptible, even before someone acts with cruelty.

We see that it is useless to worry about the existence of something whose value is examined, for these are two distinct questions. For instance, we shall try to determine whether the content of meaning “man” has a value, regardless of whether or not there are really existing men.
What is the advantage of this? We can do without answering a question as complex as ‘what is real?’, from now on. We do not have to wait for physics to discover real laws of nature, for what we must find is the value of real physical laws as well as the value of unreal physical laws.
One of the sources of the epistemological certainty of the results of axiology is identified: it consists in the fact that this discipline can afford to put aside in its survey nothing less than the question of what is real or not.

In this manner, we avoid exposure to attacks of skeptics. Indeed, only the concept of ‘meaning’ resists to skepticism, in front of which everything seems to vanish.
If for example we doubt that ‘the cat is black’, we must know the meaning of ‘black’, ‘is’, and ‘cat’. Otherwise, the doubt itself loses its meaning; we do not even know what we doubt anymore. The skeptical doubt always concerns the real existence of a content of meaning, denying that there is nothing real corresponding to this content of meaning, but leaves intact the meaning itself. To doubt something requires at least to acknowledge the meaning of this something; otherwise, we doubt nothing.


The object of axiology is therefore always this: a certain content of meaning=X, whose value is examined. The suspension of judgment about its reality, for the consideration of the meaning alone, is the only common point between axiology and phenomenology.
To answer our initial question, we see that the axiological investigation does not require that sciences achieve their purpose, by capturing the essence of their object (viz. what it is in reality). Indeed, axiology tries to find the value, not of the essence of things, but of the meanings (which are not necessarily those of existing things). It is sufficient that these meanings are consistent, and not… meaningless, that they can constitute themselves as meanings.