A book on ethics and philosophy of values

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If we call that which has the highest value the supreme good, and we arrive at this through the concept of the end, we presuppose something very important, namely that what has the supreme value can be aimed at as an end by ourselves, as individuals, and more generally, by man, as a species. Now, aiming at something as an end is only possible if it constitutes an advantage for us, i.e. in the broad sense that it is not harmful or even indifferent to us. This advantage can take various forms: it can be moral (the goal achieved helps us to perfect ourselves), useful or pleasant, or even financial.
To posit something as an end for man is therefore to assert that it is useful to the human species in general and to each individual in particular. This is an -interested- idea that is presupposed in any use of the concept of end.

If, then, we pose the problem of values in the following form: "What is the supreme end?" we immediately place our question, which should remain neutral, under a major presupposition: we postulate that what occupies the highest place in the hierarchy, the supreme value, is useful to human beings, is well-disposed towards them, is beneficial to them. We do not even imagine that the supreme value could be indifferent or even harmful to human beings.
We used to think that the entire cosmos revolved around us, that we were the centre of the universe. This physical anthropocentrism finds its counterpart in axiological anthropocentrism, which considers that what has supreme value can only be a goal for man. What if, in fact, what has supreme value has nothing to do with man, is of no benefit to him, has no connection with him, or is even harmful to him?

This idea of a supreme value that could at the same time be for us a supreme end may be a wish on our part, a dream we cherish, and which may prove to be true at the end of the axiological investigation; it can in no way be a presupposition on which we can base our investigation, and even less can it be an unconscious presupposition, which hides without our realising it behind the very concepts we use to ask this question. In other words, to use the concept of finality to pose the problem of values is to betray it, because we are committing ourselves to an anthropocentric perspective without realising it.

There remains one possibility: Aristotle would never have sought to pose the problem of values, but simply the question of what is best for man. In other words, Aristotle would never have considered whether there is a universal hierarchy of beings and of everything, but simply of what man likes best, and of what is most advantageous to him, a task which, as we understand it, has absolutely nothing to do with the problem of values. This is explicitly stated, for example, when he affirms that Clearly the virtue we must study is human virtue; for the good we were seeking was human good and the happiness human happiness 1.
It is not surprising, then, that happiness is what Aristotle considers to be the supreme end: it is obviously (and this is a tautology) what is most advantageous to man, what makes him happiest.
Aristotle notes that Verbally, there is a very general agreement [about supreme good]; for both the general run of men and people of superior refinement say that it is happiness, and identify living well and doing well with being happy; but with regard to what happiness is they differ, and many do not give the same account as the wise 2. This consensus can be explained by the fact that it is a tautology, which no one can fail to operate.

To sum up, either the axiological question is not posed at all by Aristotle, who is content to ask the question of the human good, of what has value for us, or it is posed in terms that betray it, and which from the outset dogmatically (without examination) grant two predicates to what has the greatest value in itself: that it is desired by us, and that it is an end for us.
Perhaps, then, we can conclude that the concept of finality can never be the concept on which axiology is built, and that any "ethics of ends" can only be tautological or dogmatic, depending on the question it poses.
Above all, let us conclude that value is not the end; they are two irreducible concepts.

If value is neither the good nor the end, it is hard to see what it could be. Perhaps we can content ourselves with this minimal (and therefore solid) definition: value is the quality of a thing. Is not the search for the value of a thing the search for its qualities? This is the hypothesis we will now examine.

1. Nicomachean Ethics, I, 13
2. Ibid. I, 4