The formal axiologies represent a progress upon intuitionism.
Indeed, they recognize at least that there is something like a problem of values, and they suppose that a discipline aiming at solving this problem must be developed.
Moreover, the fact that they reject any attempt to determine what has or not a value, but only search the formal laws on which axiology must be based, reveals that they rely on an epoché of values, having admitted that values are not yet founded.
However, the limit of the formal axiologies is included in their very project: they do not claim to reveal any truth about the content of axiology itself (in other words, to teach us what has a value), but only to constitute a formal framework in which axiology could be developed.
Their epoché does not simply provide a critical review on the value of everything, but makes the axiological question itself disappear.
Here, like in the case of intuitionism, the problem of values does not arise, since the point is precisely to avoid thinking about the very content of value judgments. Husserl agrees himself:
what is good cannot be found formaliter, nor can what is true be found by the mere formal logic, and so we cannot decide formaliter what is objectively best, and what is practically required 1.
Thus thanks to Brentano, we shall know that the existence of a positive value X is itself a positive value, but we shall never know what is this X which has a positive value.
To sum up, either the formal axiology remains formal, and in this case will be unable to resolve (or even raise) the problem of values, or we try to deduce the content of axiology from these formal axioms, but it seems to be impossible, because nothing in the axioms mentioned above enables us to identify the X whose existence is positive, or whose value might be added to that of Y.
Furthermore, the formal axiologies try to avoid presuppositions of any kind, by the epoché on which they are based. Is it really the case? I do not think so.
Thus, instead of considering axiology as an autonomous discipline, having its specific method and concepts, the proponents of a formal axiology try to develop it on the model of geometry (or logic, for Husserl), based on a set of propositions logically linked to each other, from axioms. So the formal axiology is full of presuppositions, contrary to what its proponents claim. These presuppositions could be summed up as follows:
1/ a value is something which can be multiplied, added, or equaled with something else.
Therefore the formal axiology presupposes a definition of the value, which is not obvious. If indeed, the purpose of the formal axiology is to study the “empty form of the value as such”, this enquiry uses a definition of value on which all axioms are based. But the definition of the value used in formal axiologies is doubtful, built on the presuppositions and biases of these authors and of their time; for example, Husserl considers that axiology is a practical discipline (I have tried to show that it is not the case). So the definition of value as a practical concept is not obvious.
2/ The method which must be used to resolve the problem of values is the deduction of propositions from axioms.
That is, again, not obvious. The method on which axiology must be based, in order to determine the value of something, may be completely different, and we can even imagine that it looks like no known methods, used in other disciplines. Perhaps has axiology its own method, a new and specific one?
To conclude, it seems to me that the projects of formal axiology represent substantial progress in the study of value, breaking with all “philosophy of value” and marks the birth of the axiology as discipline. But this birth means all at once the disappearance of this discipline, being devoid of any content at the very time of its emergence. Only the form of this discipline, which is probably not the right one, is conserved, derisory skeleton of a stillborn child.
It is an interesting paradox that in its origin, axiology has become a discipline by the very abandonment of the question of values.
So we see that the axiological objectivism cannot, in its different forms, satisfy us. Whether this doctrine uses some implicit methods (qualitative or empirical method, etc.), or more elaborate methods (like the intuitionism or the formal axiology), it cannot provide any answer to the axiological problem.
Since we have reached an impasse, we must seek elsewhere. Perhaps the opposite approach is interesting; instead of searching value in things, or in the world, it might be more relevant to “turn our eyes towards ourselves”, and to search value in us, in the subject. I call this the ‘axiological subjectivism’ and we are now going to examine this doctrine.
1. Ibid, section I, §19