Proposal for a new axiology
Book I/ The confusion between ethics and axiology
I/ A necessary distinction
Axiology, viz. the discipline whose subject is the study of values, should be carefully distinguished from ethics, to be really understood.
We commonly say that the problem of values is an ethical problem, which ethics should resolve. Whether we consider that the task of ethics is to find how to reach wisdom or happiness, or rather what our duties are, in reality, the study of values is probably not the business of ethics. Because to ask if something has a real value has nothing to do with to ask if we have duties, and what they are, or to ask how to become wise, or happy.
We certainly think that values are concerned with morals, because we often speak of moral values. But there are not only moral values. For example, when a film critic considers that a movie has no value, does he mean that it does not improve us morally? Certainly not. When an aesthete admires the work of a perfume’s creator, attributing a great value to it, is he really saying that the perfume in question is moral? Another example is that we may find a pastry amazing, viz. place a high value on it, without claiming that we will do our duty by eating it.
So moral values are only a part of existing values. And the best evidence that “value” and “morals” are not synonymous is that we may ask if morals has a real value, as the immoralist does, or even the true moralist. If these terms were synonymous, the question would not arise: saying ‘morals has a value’ would be equivalent to saying that ‘a car is a motorcar’. But the fact that the question ‘has morals a value?’ appears as an ‘open question’, to speak as Moore, shews that value is something else than morals, and that the problem of values is not a moral problem, but an axiological problem.
In other words, there is another discipline, distinct from ethics because having a quite different object of study: axiology.
Axiology is concerned with the value of something=X, and the value of morals is nothing but one of many problems for this discipline, a particular instance. More generally, it has to find the value of music, of this or that music, of art, truth, wisdom, madness, matter, spirit, space, time, being, nothingness, etc…
In fact, prior to this investigation, we have to wonder whether the concept of value has a meaning, and what it can be.
If we find its meaning, whatever it is, we could properly formulate the problem of values, that is to say understand the very problem that axiology tries to raise.
Then perhaps, we could solve it.
The problem of values might have been ill-posed, in other words, it has probably not yet been raised. As Aristotle remarks,
it is necessary, with a view to the science which we are investigating, that we first describe the questions which should be discussed because
it is not possible to untie a knot of which one does not know.
Indeed, in such a case, we do not even know what we are looking for, and we
are like people who do not know where they are going; besides, one does not even know whether the thing required has been found or not 1.
But the fact that axiology and morals have been confounded had this consequence: the problem of values has been raised with moral terms, that is to say we have used moral concepts to formulate the problem of values (instead of using axiological concepts).
Which ones? Now, let us examine this.
1. Metaphysics, B, 1