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 my opinion, despite appearances, quality (or its opposite, defect) involves no consideration of value.

Let us take a few examples: beautiful, fair, weak, cowardly, and surprising are qualities (positive or negative, i.e. defects). I maintain that when we attribute qualities to a thing, we are not making a judgment of values, but a judgment of facts. Thus, judgments such as “Socrates is good” or “This soldier is acting cowardly” are of the same nature (and specifically express the same type of objectivity) as “This pot is made of clay”.
I can empirically observe that such and such soldier is a coward by watching him run away when the bombing begins. I can, in this case, base my reasoning on my experience, such as when I want to know what a pot is made of. Similarly, it is an empirical finding, a matter of experience, that Socrates is considered as “better” than a tyrant. This fact is beyond doubt, such as the material the pot is made of.

In contrast, the value of this quality is not a fact i.e. goodness (or cowardice). This is a problematic point: the problem of values.

Thus “Socrates is good” is a judgment of fact, “Goodness has a value” is a judgment of value. This implies that the notion of good does not include any consideration of value, otherwise “Socrates is good” would in itself be a judgment of value.

The meaning of the term “quality” now seems to be clear: above all, qualities are empirical properties, similar to other types of properties. “Cowardly” or “good” are empirical properties, which are comparable to the “melting point” or the “solidity” of a material. However, qualities do not appear as such due to the fact that we attribute to them something which we do not attribute to “standard” properties (such as physical properties: heavy, hard, light…): a value. A value is not empirical and we believe that qualities themselves are not empirical. The fact that we attribute a value to certain properties is not based on any reason. It is only custom-based and it is nothing but mere a belief or opinion. We have dogmatically separated justice, beauty, etc., from other properties.

In other words, qualities are properties to which man has, rightly or wrongly, attributed a value. If we had considered that they have no value, they would have appeared as what they really are, namely empirical properties, as indifferent and observable as that of the hardness of a material.

We can see that, by attributing a value to certain properties, man has removed the certainty of their existence. However, according to our study, it seems that the reality of these qualities is as certain as that of other properties, and that it is their value which is uncertain.

Therefore, we have to reconsider the traditional distinction made between factual and value judgments as the field of facts is considerably extended by our conclusion that all qualities belong thereto. We can conclude that the precautionary measures taken by Sociology, History, or other social sciences to ban every consideration of quality in order to avoid every judgment of value and maintain a factual basis (considered as more objective) are useless.