A book on ethics and philosophy of values

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Proposal for a new Axiology

Book I/ The confusion between Ethics and Axiology

I/ A necessary distinction

In order to be correctly understood, Axiology, a discipline whose purpose is the study of values, should be carefully distinguished from Ethics.
It is commonly said that the problem related to our values is an ethical problem, which should be resolved by mean of Ethics. Whether we consider that the purpose of Ethics is to discover how to achieve wisdom or happiness rather than define what our duties are, in actual fact, the study of values is probably not the purpose of Ethics. The reason being that to question whether something has a real value has nothing to do with asking ourselves if we have duties and what they are, or to wonder how to become wise or happy.

We certainly believe that our values are related to our morals due to the fact that we often refer to moral values. However, there are other types of values in addition to moral values. For example, when a film critic considers that a movie has no value, does he mean that it does not improve us from a moral viewpoint? Certainly not. When an aesthete admires the work of a perfume’s creator and deems it has great value, is he really saying that the perfume in question is moral? Another example is that we may greatly appreciate and highly value a pastry without claiming that we would be carrying out our duty by eating it.

Therefore, moral values are only a part of existing values. The best evidence showing that “values” and “morals” are not synonyms is that we may ask if morals have a real value, as an immoralist does, or even a true moralist. If these terms were synonyms, the question would not arise. Implying that ‘morals have a value’ would be similar to saying that ‘a car is a motorcar’. However, the fact that the question ‘Do morals have any value?’ appears as an ‘open question’, such as stated by Moore, shows that values and morals are different and that the problem of values is not a moral problem, but an axiological problem.
In other words, there is another discipline, which is different from Ethics because it has another study purpose. This discipline is Axiology.

Axiology concerns the value of something (referred to as X) and moral value is only one problem among many others for this philosophical area, a particular instance. More generally, its purpose is also to define the worth of music, of a particular type of music, of art, truth, wisdom, madness, matter, the mind, space, time, our being, nothingness, etc.

Prior to this investigation, we had to determine whether the concept of value had a meaning, and what it would be.
If we can define its meaning, whatever it is, we could formulate the problem of values in an appropriate manner, and thus understand the actual issue that Axiology is attempting to raise.
Then perhaps, we could solve it.

The problem of values might have been badly formulated, in other words, it has probably not been raised yet. As Aristotle remarked, 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.

However, the fact that Axiology and morals have been confounded has had a direct consequence: the problem of values has been raised in moral terms, i.e. we have used moral concepts to formulate the problem of values (instead of using axiological concepts).
What are these concepts? We shall now examine them.

1. Metaphysics, B, 1