A book on ethics and philosophy of values

suivre sur twitter

6) The failure of the authority method


Finally, we can try to identify one last method, commonly used to try to establish the value of things: questioning specialists.
If we want to find the value of music, why not ask the music specialist - the musician? If we want to find the value of painting, why not ask the painter? Specialists, who have spent years with the object of their love, seem to be best placed to reveal its value to us.

This interesting idea seems to us to have two flaws.

Firstly, all the specialist learns about a thing is how to do it. Yes, the professional dancer will know how to dance better than we do, and that is what he will have learnt during his long years of training. However, he probably won't know any more than we do about the value of dance itself.
Indeed, the superiority of the specialist over us simple amateurs is that he is more experienced: he has more experience of the thing than we do; which is why we think that only he can find its value.
Nevertheless, what we have just suggested is that we cannot find the value of a thing by experience. It is clear that this method of questioning specialists is only a particular form of the empirical method.

On the other hand, to a specialist who insists, for example a painter, that he is the only one who can find the value of the painting, we will give him the answer that one of his peers, Apelles, an ancient painter, gave to a cobbler. The shoemaker, who specialised in shoes, laughed at the sandals that Apelles had depicted on one of his canvases: the painter repainted the sandals, but when the shoemaker returned the next day and began to criticise the rest of the painting: "Shoemaker, not beyond the shoe", he told him.
We, on the other hand, would reply to the painter who, as a specialist, claimed to be the only one in a position to determine the value of the painting: "Painter, not beyond the painting", and I would suggest that, since he gives the specialist supreme authority to judge his discipline, he should let the specialist in values, if there is one, speak for himself: the axiologist.

The failure of these five successive methods, methods used, it seems to us, without explicit conceptualisation, by common opinion or certain philosophers, may perhaps lead us to conclude: values are unfounded, because attempts to do so have always taken the form of one or other of these methods, and this phenomenon of the utmost importance, the lack of foundation of values, has its roots in the most ancient to the most contemporary thought.

The researcher who accepts this fact can then take it as an object of meditation and try to determine what the consequences might be. If the values are unfounded, how should we behave in life?