A book on ethics and philosophy of values

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It would be going too far to investigate how axiological intuitionism was formed, and in particular what influence epistemological intuitionism and moral intuitionism might have had on its emergence.

We could look, for example, to Pascal's 'spirit of finesse', as opposed to the 'geometrical spirit', and also to Père Bouhours' 'je ne sais quoi', as distant prefigurations of this intuition. Or in the debates between English intuitionists of the 17th century (Cudworth, Clarke, Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, Reid) concerning morality: is immediate access to an objective dimension of moral facts made possible by an intellectual faculty, by a form of sensitivity or "moral sense" or by a consciousness combining the functions of reason and sense?

The intuitionism of values seems to be perfectly described by Lavelle in his Traité des valeurs.
First of all, the author notes that axiological intuition is not simply passive contemplation, but participation in the value it intuits: Value is never given, in such a way that there is an assured experience that makes it possible to grasp it. Those who do not participate in value, as shown for example by aesthetic insensitivity, will never know what it is. Value is invisible and secret, and only reveals itself to those who seek it out and love it. It is easy to understand, then, why value eludes all those who want to grasp it as if they were grasping an object; to do so would be a kind of rape. It is perceived only by the delicacy of the soul; it is everywhere the same and all in new nuances each time 1.

This "active" rather than passive intuition leads Lavelle to describe not the problem of values, but the self-evidence of values: There is a self-evidence of value, just as there is a self-evidence of truth, beyond which it is impossible to go back. […] It is absurd to imagine that the mind can take a step forward when it wonders about the value of value, as well as about the being of being, or the thought of thought. There is a kind of repetition or logical circle here 2.

Lavelle then asserts that this evidence is produced in us by a kind of natural light, to use a Cartesian expression: The value judgement presupposes a light of its own which reveals it to us and which no discursive reason or external testimony is sufficient to produce. When we lack it, we are blind to value. It is obvious that no one can judge value except on the basis of a principle that he carries deep within himself 3.

From this point of view, reasoning, or even a simple value judgement, is only intended to clarify these intuitions, to make their meaning explicit, but in no case to grasp additional contents of meaning: It can be said that there is a feeling of value that the proper function of all value judgements is to analyse rather than to justify [...] This feeling may be obscure at first; it is the intelligence that takes possession of it. Intelligence invents nothing. It does not have to define what is true, beautiful or good, but only to recognise them, to purify them in such a way that no foreign elements are mixed in 4.

Mehl also shares this subaltern conception of the value judgement: Here and there, reasoning has only a secondary and, in a way, apologetic function. I can certainly deepen my knowledge of values, and then through analysis perfect their definition, but I cannot know anything other than what I was given to know the first time. I grasp it all at once in its unity and totality; this undivided knowledge leads me to speak of the intuition of values 5.

If we retort to the intuitionist that some people (myself, for example) do not have this intuition, he will speak with commiseration of "value blindness", analogous to the "colour blindness" of the blind. This is Mehl's conclusion: Since there is value blindness, it would seem that there must be value intuition 6. It then becomes pointless, as the axiologist tries to do, to try to grasp the value of things. We would then present a spectacle analogous to that of a blind man trying to find the colour of things through the mediation of judgements and proofs.

1. Traité des valeurs
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. De l'autorité des valeurs
6. Ibid.