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!)


5) The failure of the authority method


We may, finally, examine a last method used by common sense to found the value of things: the questioning of specialists.

If we wish to determine the value of music, why not ask a music specialist, namely a musician? And as for the value of a painting, who else better than a painter could provide an answer?
The specialists, who have spent years dealing with the object of their love, seem to be the most capable when it comes to revealing its value.

This interesting idea is quite doubtful for two reasons. To begin with, what a specialist learns is to “use” the object of his specialisation, in the most general sense of the term (performing it, building it, etc.). A professional dancer can dance better than us and it is precisely what he has learnt during his long years of training. However, he probably does not know more than us about the actual value of dancing.

The superiority of a specialist over us, simple amateurs, is that he is more experienced than us. He has more experience of the thing in question, which is why it is assumed that he alone can determine its value. Nevertheless, I have just attempted to show that we cannot define the value of something based on experience. It appears that this authority method, which consists in questioning a specialist, is nothing but a particular form of the empirical method.

On the other hand, if a specialist, for example a painter, were to claim that he alone can determine the value of a painting, my answer would be the same as that provided by the ancient Greek artist, Apelles, to a cobbler. The cobbler, a shoe specialist, was laughing at the sandals represented in an Apelles’ painting. Apelles made the corrections suggested by the cobbler but when he came back the next day, and proceeded to criticise the rest of the painting, Apelles said: “Shoemaker, not beyond the shoe”.
In a comparable way, I will answer this painter, who claims to be the only person entitled to determine the value of a painting, as follows: “Painter, not beyond the painting”. And I will suggest, since he assigns, to the specialist of a discipline, the (pas de virgule?) supreme authority of judgement, that he let the specialist of values, if he exists, do the talking, namely an axiologist.

The failure of these five successive methods, used without any explicit conceptualisation by common sense or certain philosophers, allows us to conclude that values are probably not founded, for any attempts have followed one of these methods. This major failure dates back to the most antic thought.

If we admit this, we need to identify the consequences of this state of things. If values are not founded, what existential behaviour must we adopt?