A book on ethics and philosophy of values

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2/ The relations between axiology and other disciplines in general


Axiology has to find the value of things. What has value is what the thing is, its essence. So it seems that we have to find the essence of things before we can find their value, and it is the sciences that seem to determine the essence of things.

We might therefore have this twofold conclusion: axiology is absolutely dependent on the other sciences for its own research; above all, since the sciences will never be able to grasp the real essence of things, but only distant reflections of it, axiology can never be constituted (since, once again, grasping the essence of things is a prerequisite to the question of the value of that essence).

It seems to me that we can overcome this difficulty, not by making the foolish bet that one day the sciences will have definitively achieved their aim, but by returning to the proposition that it is the 'real' essence of 'real' things that has value (and that we must therefore find the 'real' essence of things that really exist).

In fact, what is sufficient for axiology is to be provided with a certain "content of meaning", the value of which it has to seek. The only requirement for the object of axiology is that it should have meaning. The question of the actual existence of a thing corresponding to this content of meaning can be left in abeyance, as useless to axiology. Why?
For if axiology were to ascertain the existence of the things whose value it seeks, this would mean that this discipline considers real existence as something that has value, i.e. postulates that what exists has more value than what does not exist.

This presupposition is unjustified, because we can imagine an opposite axiological position, which would maintain that what is of great value is what does not exist (what is imagined, dreamt, chimera). If axiology were to adopt such an unjustified presupposition from the outset, it would sink straight into dogmatism and lose all chance of success. Let us remember that axiological enquiry must begin with a suspension (epoché) of all value judgements.
Real existence cannot therefore be a criterion of value, at least at the beginning of axiological research (this could be its conclusion). As a result, we do not look to see whether the contents of meaning whose value we are seeking refer to things that really exist (because that would be to assume that existence is a criterion to be taken into account in determining values).

On the other hand, it seems (but this is only a hypothesis, which can be dispensed with) that existence adds nothing to the value of a thing, but only to its -relative- interest for us; for example, let us suppose that the law against slavery has a great positive value in itself; even before the law was promulgated (that is, before it "came into existence"), it already had this great value. Once it has been passed and applied, it has no more - or less - value, but only a much greater interest for those who were previously slaves and have now been freed. Conversely, it is possible to imagine cruelty being a despicable thing, even before a certain man's cruel act has taken place.

It then becomes pointless to worry about the existence or non-existence of a thing whose value we are looking for, because it does not change it in any way. In other words, we can ask ourselves, for example, whether the content of the meaning "human" has a value, without having to ask ourselves whether human beings really exist.
What is the point? Precisely that of dispensing with the question of what is real. We do not have to wait for physics to identify the real laws of nature, because what we have to find is the value of real physical laws as well as false physical laws.
One of the sources of the epistemological certainty of the results of axiology is thus identified: it consists in the fact that this discipline can spare itself in its investigation nothing less than the question of what is real and what is not.

On the other hand, it avoids exposing itself to the attacks of sceptics. It is in fact the concept of "meaning" that resists scepticism, in the face of which everything seems to fall apart.
If we doubt, for example, that "the cat is black", we must know the meaning of what we doubt: otherwise the doubt itself loses its meaning; we no longer know what we doubt. To doubt the existence of a cat is to know the meaning of the concept of "cat", but to doubt its existence. Sceptical doubt always concerns the real existence of a content of meaning, positing that there is nothing real that corresponds to this content of meaning, but leaving the meaning itself intact. To doubt something is at least to recognise the meaning of that something; otherwise we doubt nothing.


The object of axiology is therefore always this: a certain content of meaning=X, whose value must be sought. The suspension of any judgement on the reality of the content of meaning that is given to it (for the sole consideration of meaning) is the only point that axiology has in common with phenomenology.
To answer our initial question, we can see that axiology does not have to wait for the sciences to reach completion by grasping the essence of their object. In fact, it is not the essence of things that axiology must seek value from, but meanings (which do not need to be the meanings of existing things). It is enough that they be coherent, that they not be... meaningless, that they be able to constitute themselves as meanings.