A book on ethics and philosophy of values

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4/ A first essential rule of the method of axiology

It may be inferred from what precedes, as a first fundamental rule of axiology, that at the beginning of the axiological enquiry, a special procedure must be followed, which is likely to offend our moral sense, namely to put all axiological judgments on an equal footing, whatever their content may be, on grounds of neutrality. We must not dismiss a priori any position of value, including those which seem most absurd or shocking.
We must “give a chance” to some axiological positions, most often brushed aside without justification, like that of nihilism or evil.

We find, as has been seen, a large number of books on morality in which the author tries to found morality without exposing, viz. listening, the theories which call it into question -nihilism, immoralism or amoralism- though they are precisely the ones to refute; but we cannot triumph over what we do not know.

As a result, the refutation of evil is bound to fail, because we do not know what this axiological position actually consists in. For instance, as noted above, ethics of duty and ethics of happiness have probably succeeded in refuting a certain kind of evil (the one which affirms that a wrong action is a duty for the first, the egoist for the seconds), but remain silent, in front of other forms of evil, including the most authentic one: the radical evil, namely the axiological position that evil has a value, or more value than good.

So if we really give a chance to extreme axiological positions, we must admit the possibility that, at the end of the investigation, we will discover that one of these two positions is the true axiological position, viz. the one which gives the most satisfactory answer to the question “what has a value?”. We must understand that the result of our enquiry may be that nothing has a value, or else that evil has more value than good.

So we should be afraid, since the result of axiology is not assured, and may knock down our own judgments of value, our existential choices as individuals, as well as the collective rules adopted by the society.
If it were the case, if for instance we discovered that nothing has value, what would we do? Run away, far from this discovery? Admit it, on the contrary? But how should we conduct ourselves? Should we, and could we, live like a nihilist?
As we see, the axiological investigation cannot be conducted in an atmosphere of serenity, but of anxiety and uneasiness, for it is possible that it reaches tragic conclusions, hard to bear.

In conclusion, we can give a final description of the state of mind of the axiologist: we have seen first that he has to suspend his judgments of value, viz. neither love nor hate anything; it appears at first sight that he should feel serene, for this psychological state seems equivalent to the stoic ataraxia, or even from the skeptical epoché, a way to happiness for wise men.
We see that it is not the case, and that the axiological epoché is characterized by a deep anguish, affecting anyone who performs it, because unlike the skeptical and stoic epochés, it does not aim at reaching happiness, or answering the question “how to reach happiness?”, but it aims at answering the question “what has a value?”, whose answer is likely to remove all possibility of happiness for man.

The axiologist is anything but indifferent in his enquiry, since it takes as object what is most important to him; but he must stay neutral, for methodological reasons, viz. stay indifferent to each of these axiological positions. As an axiologist, he hurts his most human feelings; but throughout his enquiry, he remains a man. It is this contradiction which makes that the state of mind of the axiologist essentially consists in an anxious suspension of all judgments of value.

Lastly, we must not dismiss the axiological positions that seem absurd, for instance: “the first ten numbers have a value”, “pain has a value”, “what lies under the piano of my brother has a value”.
In the contrary case, it would reveal that we misunderstand how radical the axiological epoché must be, for we should “give a chance” to each axiological position, before rejecting it. By the way, authentic axiological positions (like the ones which hold that evil, pain, sadness, non-being, laughter... have a value) have been brushed aside on the pretext of absurdity. So it is apparent that this criterion of absurdity is fundamentally poor, for everybody calls absurd all judgments of value which differ too much from their own ones.

This requirement of neutrality reveals something important.
If we were to say for instance that axiology aims to determine the value of things, it would imply that only things may have a value (and not actions, or immaterial entities, like metaphysical beings, which are not “things”, strictly speaking). We would straight off deprive without justification actions or immaterial entities of the ability to have values. In brief, the terms of the question betray it at once, by the presuppositions involved in this formulation.
In like manner, if we were to say that axiology aims to find the value of concepts, we would dogmatically dismiss everything that is not a concept, viz. the very things of which they are concepts, actions, metaphysical entities, etc.
Finally, if we say that we study the value of beings, then we exclude from the very start everything that does not exist, but is imaginary, like unicorns, and everything that is simply possible, or even impossible.

We are looking for, on the contrary, a formulation which does not betray the axiological question, and excludes nothing a priori, as to its value. So we have to find a term more general than 'thing', 'concept', 'action', 'being'… and for this reason we will speak of 'content of meaning', for this expression has the advantage to leave open the question whether this meaning is conveyed by a thing or a concept, whether it is to be met with in this reality or in another one, and whether it is possible or impossible; in other words, this term provides the advantage of involving nothing about the ontological reality of that which conveys this content of meaning.

So we will say, in order to reject a priori no axiological position at all, as it is necessary in an authentic epoché of values, that the project of axiology is to establish for each content of meaning = X whether it has a value or not.
Or again: the purpose of axiology is to determine the value of every content of meaning = X.