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!)


4/ Conclusion: the notion of value is irreducible to other ones


This leads us to the following conclusion: if I am right, the concept of value has been confounded with other concepts, which are related but which actually are distinct, such as good, purpose, etc. Consequently, it has been considered that raising the problem of values amounts to formulating the problem of supreme good or of the ultimate end. However, these questions are quite different. A problem has been replaced by another one, i.e. one problem has disappeared, the actual problem of values, which has in fact never been raised, because it has been formulated incorrectly.

Other formulations may be identified but I can only briefly refer to them here. The notion of value has been confounded with that of “meaning”, and the problem of values with the following question: “Is there a meaning to life?” or “What is the meaning of human history?”. Similarly, we have assimilated "value" to "right", "reality" to "nature", as well as an axiological question (“Is there something which really has a value?)” to a political question (“Are there any natural rights?”) (what is meant here is a legitimate right, which has a value).

However, the difference between these questions seems obvious to me: History may have a meaning (for example, progress of the human species) but we can imagine an axiological position which states that man has no value, and that, consequently, human progress has no value either. Similarly, it is not because I have found a meaning to my life, for example playing sports, that the value of my life is proved thereby. We can imagine an axiological position which maintains that what has value is nonsense, chaos, and which consequently prefers a life without direction, or a meaningless human history.

Similarly, let’s imagine what we could answer to the following question “Are there any natural rights?” and identify every natural law. It seems to me that we would not make any progress regarding the resolution of the problem of values. This conception of nature, as being the foundation of values, is based upon nothing, and we can imagine an axiological position which claims that what has a value, contradicts, surpasses and overcomes nature (an idea which probably lies at the origin of science, progress, and culture), whether it is possible or not. It would be useless to show that such and such behaviour is opposed to natural law, to someone who precisely maintains that what is valuable is to break away from nature.

We understand that even if we solved the problem of the meaning of life or history, and that of the existence of a natural right, we would not yet have raised the question “What has a value?”. It would have been interesting to examine the notions of natural right and of meaning (of history or life), to understand how the axiological question has been altered, and thereby lost. However, this is not what is being questioned here.


Maybe we can conclude that the notion of value is irreducible to other notions, even if they are closely related.
Due to the fact that these related concepts of good, end, etc. are moral or ethical, axiology has been confounded with ethics and it has been believed that value was an ethical concept. What are the consequences of this absorption of axiology by ethics? That is what we have yet to determine.

[Go to the next chapter]