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!)


It would be a step too far to search how the axiological intuitionism was formed, in particular what role the epistemological and moral intuitionism have played in its development. We could, for instance, look for in the “spirit of finesse” as defined by Pascal, in opposition to the “spirit of geometry”, but also in the “je ne sais quoi” of Father Bouhours, some foreshadowing of this intuition. Or in the debate between English intuitionists of the 17th century (Cudworth, Clarke, Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, Reid) about ethics: is the immediate understanding of the objective dimension of moral facts made possible by an intellectual faculty, by a kind of sensibility (or “moral sense”), or by a conscience combining both reason and senses?

The intuitionism of values seems to be perfectly described by Lavelle in his Treatise of values.
Firstly, he remarks that the axiological intuition is not simple passive contemplation, but a real participation to the value in question: Value is never given, through a specific experience. He who does not participate to the value, like in the case of aesthetic insensitivity. Value is invisible and secret, and appears only to the one who looks for it, and loves it. We understand now why value escapes from the grasp of the ones who think they can hold it as we hold an object; it would be a kind of rape. Value is perceived only by the delicateness of mind; it is the same everywhere, and every time in new nuances 1.

This notion of “active” intuition leads Lavelle to speak not of the problem of values, but rather of the evidence of values: there is an evidence of value, as there is an evidence of the truth, beyond which it is impossible to progress […] It is absurd to imagine that the mind could make a step further in its enquiry into the value of the value, as well as the being of being, or the thought of thought. There is, here, a kind of redundancy or of logical circle 2.

Then Lavelle affirms that this evidence is produced in us by a sort of natural light, to use a Cartesian notion: the judgment of value requires a specific light which reveals value to us, and that neither reason nor any testimony can produce in us. If this light is absent, we are blind to value. It is obvious that everybody evaluates things only from a principle that he carries within him 3.

From this perspective, the reasoning, or even the simple judgment of value, serves only to clarify these intuitions, make their meaning more explicit; it cannot help us to discover additional contents of meanings: we can say that there is a feeling of value which all judgments of value analyze, rather than justify […] This feeling may be obscure at first; intelligence takes possession of it. Intelligence invents nothing. It does not have to define the true, beautiful, and good, but only to recognize them, and purify them so that there is no blend with any foreign elements 4.

Mehl has the same conception of the judgment of value, as a subordinate function of the mind: Here, the reasoning plays only a secondary role. It is true that I can deepen my knowledge of value, then by analysis improve its definition, but I cannot discover anything else than what I knew from the outset. I understand it immediately in its unity and totality; that is why I speak of ‘intuition of values’ 5.

If we reply to the intuitionist that some people (for example myself) have no intuition at all, he will speak with disdain of “blindness to values”. It is his conclusion: As there is a blindness to values, it seems that there is an intuition of values 6. So it is useless to try, as the axiologist does, to find the value of things. We would look like a blind man who tries to find, by the mediation of judgments and proofs, the color of things.


1. Treatise of values
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. About the authority of values
6. Ibid.