A book on ethics and philosophy of values

suivre sur twitter

B/ In the subject?


1/ Definition and presentation of the two types of subjectivism


I define axiological subjectivism as the doctrine which asserts that value does not in itself belong to things (as objectivism claims), but that it is human being who attributes it to things. On the basis of this common definition, two types of subjectivism can be - radically - distinguished, depending on the exact meaning given to the term "attribute" in the expression "Human attributes value to things".

According to the first kind of subjectivism, by "attribute" we mean the idea that value, created by human, or rather engendered by our desire, remains within us, and constitutes no more than a fiction, a mere concept that does not concern the real world.
"Human attributes value to things" simply means that we project onto the world values that the world does not really have; these are human values, that concern only us, that have meaning only for us. We can call this axiological position subjectivism, because it consists of the assertion that values reside only in subjectivity, and have no objectivity whatsoever.

The second type of subjectivism is the exact opposite, and it is somewhat embarrassing to group together under the same word two positions that are so far apart. This second axiological position considers that human attributes values to the world, but that we do not simply project them, but actually create them, in other words that the value becomes as real as the thing to which it is attributed. Human creates value, just as the sculptor creates a statue or the painter a painting; but the fact that this value, although real, or objective, was created by us, remains a kind of subjectivism.
I propose to call this second axiological position "creative subjectivism", to differentiate it from the first, which we shall call "classical subjectivism" (rather than "sterile subjectivism", an expression which we feel has too negative a connotation to do justice to this doctrine).

I propose to examine this doctrine - in its dual aspects - in an attempt to grasp its meaning and legitimacy.


a) The prehistory of subjectivism: Protagoras

Presented in this way, it would seem that axiological subjectivism is a particular application, in the field of values, of Protagoras' famous sentence: Man is the measure of all things. As a result, this doctrine would be as old as the opposing thought, objectivism, and we might think that it corresponds to a way of apprehending the world that certain people would instinctively adopt, whatever the era; in other words, there would be no instinctive priority given to objectivism.
We do not know exactly what Protagoras meant by presenting "man as the measure of all things": perhaps he was not referring to this or that particular man, but to man as a species, in which case this would be a kind of "speciesism".

In fact, we are not particularly interested in examining the limbo that surrounded and accompanied the birth of subjectivism, but in focusing on the period that saw subjectivism assert itself with force as a consistent axiological doctrine (and not simply as an enigmatic sentence such as that of Protagoras): the seventeenth century.