A book on ethics and philosophy of values

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We have just seen what, for these theories, the axiological problem consists of: can we find relations between the different values? In other words, the problem with values is not their foundation, but their connection. It is not the foundation of these values that poses a problem: these authors never question the fact that the beautiful, the true, the good, are really values; they accept this as self-evident.

Perhaps we can therefore say that the problem of values has remained ignored by these authors, because it lies precisely in the fact that no value can be taken for granted, and that the aim of axiological enquiry is precisely to determine what does and does not have value. So these theories do not aim to solve the problem of values: in fact, for them, there is no problem at all; they have remained deaf, in their self-confidence, to precisely that which resists the researcher's efforts.

However, these theories are not only wrong in that they do not even raise our problem; they go so far as to prevent us from posing it, by distorting the meaning of the concept that we must use, that of value, and which leads to the nonsense that constitutes the concept of "values" in the plural. The hypothesis I would like to support, on the contrary, is that the concept of value only makes sense in the singular. To do this, we need to go back over the various stages of the reasoning that leads these theories to such a result.

First of all, it is rightly observed that many quite different things can have a value: a painting, courage, pride, etc. Now a surreptitious inference is made: these things - which have a value - are themselves called values. In other words, what has value becomes a value in itself. In this way, we move from the verb "to have" to the verb "to be", without any legitimisation whatsoever. "X has a value" becomes "X is a value". Since X can be many things, as we have seen, we deduce that there is a plurality of values, i.e. we wrongly deduce the plurality of kinds of values from the plurality of objects that have a value. This deduction cannot be made, because it is based on a curious grammatical confusion between the verbs "to be" and "to have": yet there is an important difference between saying "a man has a nose" and "a man is a nose"...

Secondly, since the X in question that we say has - or is - a value is most often a quality (beautiful, just, good), we confuse value and quality, a confusion that we must now examine, since it is the second cause that leads us to posit value in the plural. By quality, we mean a property traditionally considered to have value: beautiful, funny, intelligent, useful, efficient, convenient, sober, are all qualities. The theory we oppose maintains that these qualities will each give rise to a different kind of value; for example, the quality "beautiful" would be nothing other than aesthetic value; or the quality "good" represents moral value.
We need to be aware of the direct consequence that seems to follow from this idea: the pure and simple disappearance of value. For then to ask about values would simply be to ask whether something is good or not, beautiful or not; and more generally whether such and such a thing has such and such a quality.

On the contrary, it seems to me that the enquiry into values has an entirely different purpose: its aim is not to determine whether a given act is moral (or has moral value), but to determine whether morality has value or not. Its purpose is not to determine whether a given object is beautiful, convenient, or useful, but to grasp the value of beauty, convenience, or usefulness, and more generally of all qualities. This implies that a value is not just a quality, but something that a quality may or may not have.
Quality therefore differs essentially from value in that quality either has or does not have value (that which possesses is different from that which is possessed). Value emerges now as irreducible to quality, as an autonomous entity that we must think of for itself: value appears where it had previously disappeared.