A book on ethics and philosophy of values

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2/ Critical examination of subjectivism


a) Classical subjectivism as a disguised form of nihilism

We need to imagine what is meant by the fundamental idea of subjectivism, according to which things have no value in themselves, but that it is human who attributes value to them (whether we project it fictitiously or actually create it). Have not we already come across the principle that "Things have no value in themselves" elsewhere? Is this not the very principle of axiological nihilism?
So we see that subjectivism and nihilism have a deep affinity, or more precisely: nihilism is one of the premises of subjectivism. We need to see whether subjectivism succeeds in overcoming, in its completion, the nihilism that is present in it at its origin, and we need to carry out this investigation for the two quite distinct types of subjectivism -classical and creative- that we have identified.

Classical subjectivism does not seem to go beyond nihilism in any way. Since value, qualities, good and evil, perfection and imperfection, do not really characterise the world, but are fictitious projections on our part, since they can only be found within our subjectivity, classical subjectivism 'empties' the world of its value: the world has no real value, which is the very principle of nihilism.

We can then try to infer from the results of our analysis of Hobbes's subjectivism a conclusion that applies to classical subjectivism in general. The question then arises: can subjectivism counter nihilism? Can it constitute a response, an alternative to nihilism?

It seems impossible, since in subjectivism, values never leave the mind of the subject, since the real world is as devoid of real, objective value as the nihilist claims. In the end, subjectivism concedes the only thing that nihilism claims: there is no real, objective value. Objective reality is the only terrain on which the nihilist ventures, the only one from which he asserts something. What the subjectivist adds about the values in people's ideas does not concern him, does not interest him, does not in any way contradict what he maintains.

Now we understand that the subjectivist is not opposed to the nihilist, since he is talking about something else (the mind, not the world). On the contrary, it integrates it (insofar as it claims to go beyond it) by conceding that there are no real values in the objective world, in and by things themselves. Subjectivism is therefore a kind of nihilism.

Moreover, insofar as it does not appear to him, it is a disguised, unconscious nihilism, and therefore brings nihilism to its maximum completion, since what is hidden can secretly govern what it is hidden in, without its authority ever being called into question. So if it turns out that our age is subjectivist, as some people maintain (we have already seen why this does not seem to be the case: because our post-contemporary age is devoid of any horizon), then since subjectivism is nihilism, unconscious of itself, nihilism would concretely rule our age. Subjectivism would thus have allowed the total victory of nihilism, by supporting it as the spirit of our age, but above all by concealing this fact, which would prevent us from becoming aware of the drama of our time.

In trying to prove that subjectivism boils down to nihilism, I do not claim to have thereby demonstrated its falsity.
That would imply that I considered that I had shown the falsity of nihilism. On the contrary, I consider nihilism to be a consistent - as well as fascinating - axiological doctrine and, following the epoché of values that we have promised to carry out, nihilism is not presupposed to be obviously false, but its truth remains to be examined, as is the case with all axiological doctrines.
In fact, I have just tried to prove that subjectivism is not a consistent doctrine, in the sense that it is distinct from any other (as a concept is only consistent if it is irreducible to another, its meaning being constituted by its difference), since it is in fact only a disguised form of nihilism. I therefore simply claim to have proposed an economy in our efforts: we do not have to examine the truth of two distinct doctrines, subjectivism and nihilism, but that it would suffice for us, if it were possible, to determine the truth or falsity of nihilism to find at the same time that of subjectivism.

In other words, I have not sought to show that subjectivism is false, but simply that it is not a consistent doctrine with a proper meaning.

However, this inference - from subjectivism to nihilism - is perhaps only valid for classical subjectivism. Could not creative subjectivism, insofar as it claims that the human being does not merely project fictitious values, but creates real values, be an effective response to nihilism? What encourages us to imagine such a possibility is the fact that its main theorist, Nietzsche, never stopped fighting, it seems, against nihilism. We must therefore give subjectivism another chance, and examine whether, in this new form, it can be accepted as a consistent doctrine.