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!)


In the theory that I have just criticized, the concept of value was hidden. If looking for a moral value amounts to searching for what is moral, we may ask ourselves what supplementary meaning is provided in this case by the term “value”. It seems that it is just an empty shell, a sound which does not involve any concept: the concept of value disappears entirely in this context and is hidden by that of moral.
Similarly, if we maintain that looking for an aesthetic value is no more than looking for what is beautiful, a little reflection shows that in this case, the concept of value disappears behind that of beauty and has no meaning in itself. Lastly, more generally, if “looking for the value of quality X” comes down to “defining the nature of X”, the concept of value becomes meaningless. The term “value” means nothing more than “essence”. At this rate, searching for the value of X amounts to searching for what belongs to the essence of X. However, it is obvious that the concepts of value and essence are radically different.

Now we can see that the confusion between value and quality leads to a dead end. If we admit that they are two independent concepts, irreducible to one another, then we provide a specific meaning to the concept of value. We can now understand the axiological question “Has such and such quality any value?”.

We then come to realize that value “overlooks” the notion of quality as all types of qualities will be examined from this perspective (namely based on this notion of value), throughout the axiological investigation, or, in other words, value is “meta-qualitative” ( “meta” means “external and superior to”) as it belongs to a sphere, which is completely different from that of qualities. We can now see what the specific field of axiology, its object of study, really is: it does not involve asking whether such and such idea or concept is fair, beautiful, true, etc. but to question if justice, beauty, truth, etc. have a value. This discipline leaves it up to ethics, aesthetics, and science to determine if something is fair, beautiful or true.

By way of consequence, it is understood that the notion of value cannot be expressed in a plural form as we do not ask ourselves whether morals have a moral value, beauty an aesthetic value, no more than whether courage has a brave value or fear a fearful value etc. Nevertheless, our aim is to determine whether all these qualities have a value, a concept whose meaning remains unchanged, whatever the quality. That is why there are no kinds of values. It can be concluded that value only has any sense when expressed in a singular form.
However, since the term of values, expressed in a plural form, is commonly employed in everyday language, I shall use it in the plural form at times. Nevertheless, it must be kept in mind that in doing so, I do not mean that there are different kinds of values.
This confusion may seem only to be grammatical, yet it has an extremely important consequence, which I now propose to examine.

It is generally agreed that Social Sciences pursue a scientific ideal: objectivity, achieved through the principle of neutrality, even if some researchers have a critical outlook on this ideal. We could define this principle as follows: to avoid using the notion of value when explaining a social or historical phenomenon, in other words, to avoid mixing judgments of facts and judgments of values. In a scientific study, no judgment of value whatsoever must be used. Only factual judgments may be employed as well as the hypotheses required to explain, classify or connect them. Value has been removed from the field of Social Sciences. This is also the case for the concept of quality as value and quality have been confounded. Is this approach justified? The distinction we have made between value and quality leads us to think afresh about the legitimacy of this removal, as regards the qualities.