A book on ethics and philosophy of values

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3/ The concept of quality

It seems that value has been assimilated to a related concept, that of "quality", i.e. it has often been thought that to seek the value of a thing is to seek its qualities. If we show that certain qualities can be found in an act, such as "goodness", "generosity", etc., we will have determined its value. To speak of qualities traditionally recognised as such - the beautiful, the true, the good, etc. - would be to speak of values, and the question "What has value?" would be comparable to questions like "What has truth value?", "What has aesthetic value?", or "What has moral value?"

So the assimilation of value and quality has as its necessary corollary the theory that there are several kinds of value. If value is nothing other than quality, then just as there are several kinds of quality (beautiful, good, etc.), so there must be several kinds of value. The effect of assimilating value/quality is therefore to put value in the plural, and to ensure that we can legitimately speak only of values - and no longer of value. It is this shift to the plural that we feel is legitimate to examine.

Thus Bouglé rightly notes that anything can have a value: Value finds its place in the sphere of political economy, in that of morality, of art, of religion. In none of these spheres is it a prisoner. In fact, it is a universal category capable of the most varied applications. We can make value judgements about a piece of furniture as well as a gesture, about a ritual as well as a poem 1.
Elsewhere, Ruyer insists on the very large number of things that have a value: We can use all the adjectives or all the forms to roughly delimit the domain of values, it is because values are infinitely numerous. The classical trinity of the True, the Beautiful and the Good has contributed to ignoring this infinite variety. It is certainly partly responsible for philosophy's delay in recognising the extreme generality of the notion 2.

However, Bouglé deduces from this idea something quite different, namely that there are several kinds of values: And this is why we say that there is a world of values. Aesthetic or moral, religious or economic, they all solicit our attention, beg our sympathies, and demand our efforts 3.
For him, the progress of the human species consists in man's gradual awareness of the differentiation between different spheres of value: Men in primitive societies seem to have little capacity to judge things and people from different points of view: aesthetic, moral, religious or economic. This ability increases with civilisation. Its very complications make distinctions necessary, and so each world of values gradually gains its autonomy. Art, morality and technology are each liberated in their own way 4.
These spheres of value, though different, are linked together: Does this mean that all relations between these various value systems cease? Far from it. Sometimes religion and art, for example, or art and morality, work together. In short, alongside the tendency to dissociation, a tendency to conjunction operates in the world of values 5.

This theory is found in several authors, all of whom infer from the multiplicity of things with a value the multiplicity of values themselves, and then seek, within this multiplicity, whether the values are linked or whether there is an irreducible conflict of values. Mehl favours the first solution: No value subsists by itself. There is no value that does not appeal to other values. There is no truth that is not intended to be good and salutary, no good that is not first true, no value that does not oppose the compartmentalisation of our existence into separate sectors 6 , as does Ruyer, who notes that the lack of truth degrades art, just as politics becomes catastrophic, or religion turns into myth...

As we can see, this confusion of value and quality leads us to imagine the existence of values in the plural, whose presence or absence of links must be investigated. They must be plural because each quality represents a specific value: aesthetic value, moral value, etc., and the plurality of qualities leads to the plurality of kinds of value. This is the theory we are now going to try to show is unfounded.

1. The Evolution of Values
2. The philosophy of values
3. The Evolution of Values
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. De l’autorité des valeurs