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!)


2/ Critical examination of subjectivism


a) The classical subjectivism, as a disguised form of nihilism

We must understand the meaning of the main idea of subjectivism, according to which things have no value in themselves, but man gives it to them (whether he projects his own subjective ideas, or really creates it). Have we not already seen this principle “things have no value in themselves” elsewhere? Is this not the very principle of the axiological nihilism?
We see it: subjectivism and nihilism have a deep affinity, or more precisely: nihilism is one of the premises of subjectivism. We need to determine whether subjectivism, in its completion, succeeds in overcoming nihilism, originally in it, and we need to ask this question for each of the two distinct types of subjectivism -classical and creative- that I have identified.

The classical subjectivism does not overcome nihilism, in any way, I think. Since value, qualities, good and evil, perfection and imperfection do not really characterize our world, but are mere fictitious projections, since they can be found only in our subjectivity, the classical subjectivism empties world of its value: in reality, world has no value, which consists in the very principle of nihilism.

From this analysis of the subjectivism of Hobbes, a conclusion, valid for the classical subjectivism in general, can be inferred. Can subjectivism counter nihilism? Can this doctrine provide an answer, an alternative, to nihilism?
It seems impossible, since in subjectivism, values never leave the spirit of the subject, and real world is as deprived of value as the nihilist holds. To sum up, the subjectivist grants the main nihilistic idea: there is no real objective value. The objective reality is the only ground on which the nihilist stands, the only one of which he speaks. What the subjectivist adds, about values in human spirit, does neither concern him nor contradict what he says: he could not care less about that.

Now we understand that the subjectivist does not counter the nihilist, since he talks about different things (spirit, and not world). On the contrary, he includes the nihilistic doctrine, by granting that there are no values in the real world, in things themselves. In other words, subjectivism is a kind of nihilism.

Moreover, as the subjectivist is not aware of this, it is a disguised nihilism, unconscious, and so brings it to completion, since what is hidden can secretly govern that in which it is concealed, without its authority being challenged. Thus if it were true that our epoch is subjectivist, as some maintain, - and we have already seen that it is not the case, since our post-modern epoch is deprived of horizon- then as subjectivism is a kind of nihilism, nihilism would be the truth of our time. Subjectivism would be the cause of the victory of nihilism, by establishing it as spirit of the age, and, above all, by disguising this fact, so that we would be unconscious of the drama of our time.

I do not pretend, by proving that subjectivism is reducible to nihilism, to prove its falsity.
This would imply that I consider myself as having established that nihilism is an error. But, on the contrary, I consider the nihilism as a consistent – and very interesting - axiological doctrine, and after the epoché described in an earlier chapter, I do not presuppose that nihilism is obviously false; in fact, this has yet to be determined, as it is the case with all axiological doctrines.
However, I have just tried to show that subjectivism is not a consistent doctrine; indeed, a concept is consistent only if it cannot be reduced to another one, because its meaning is constituted by its difference with other concepts – but subjectivism is only a kind of nihilism. I just pretend that we can save time: we do not have to examine the truth of two distinct doctrines, subjectivism and nihilism, but it would be sufficient to decide the truth of nihilism to decide, at the same time, that of subjectivism.

In other words, I have just tried to show, not that subjectivism is false, but that it is not a consistent doctrine, having a specific meaning.

However this inference –from subjectivism to nihilism- might apply only to classical subjectivism. Is the creative subjectivism, holding that man does not merely project fictitious values, but creates real ones, an effective response to nihilism? It seems so, since its main theorist, Nietzsche, is known to be a fierce opponent of nihilism.

We must give another chance to the subjectivism, and examine whether it can be considered as a consistent doctrine, under this new form.