A book on ethics and philosophy of values

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3/ The epoché of values

1/ Description and legitimation of the suspension of value judgments

Maybe the time has come to try to describe the state of mind that the researcher should adopt, if he wants to have a thorough understanding of the interest and results of axiology.

I have suggested that, values being not founded as long as this discipline is not constituted, it is for the moment impossible to prove or disprove the value of what we love or hate. We have also seen that an immense number of judgments of value are to be found in the axiological field. Finally, I have proposed the idea that, although a great part of them represent stunning, scandalous, absurd or immoral axiological positions, we cannot reject these.
What is the state of mind resulting from all this?

If there is no evidence in the domain of values, and that nothing can be said to have obviously a value, we have to suspend, not all our judgments in general, but all our judgments of value.
From the moment when we admit our complete ignorance of what has a value or not, we can no longer blame what seems despicable to us (violence, etc.) and praise what seems valuable to us. This axiological neutrality represents precisely what I am searching since the beginning of this reflection.

Such a state of mind occurs rarely. The point is, in some way, to become as a “sponge”, which neither loves nor hates anything. This state of mind, however risible it may seem, is the one which is necessarily adopted by an honest mind, viz. by he who understands and sincerely admits that no value is still founded.

This state of mind is the very opposite of this singular contemporary behavior, described by MacIntyre, and that we might call “perpetual indignation”. In brief, it consists in trying to hide our impossibility to found values by vigorously protesting against all judgments of value which seem shocking, scandalous or absurd to us.

MacIntyre notes that this phenomenon concerns in particular the moral judgments of value: In the United Nations declaration on human rights of 1949 what has since become the normal UN practice of not giving good reasons for any assertions whatsoever is followed with great rigor 1. So one will protest with the greatest energy against every violation of rights, as if this energy were equivalent to reasons, or were itself a reason. Since one does not succeed in dismissing the judgments of value that we do not like by logical means, like argumentation, one tries to dismiss them by pathological means, like our tone of voice, for example an indignant one, which is an inefficient procedure if any. More precisely this is not to say that protest cannot be effective; it is to say that it cannot be rationally effective 2.

Other pathological means like laughter or sarcasm will be used as well; thus we will laugh at the nihilist, etc. So we see media campaigns of Defence Committees for a given cause, perpetually outraged, trying to move people and convince us of the merit of their action, using every irrational rhetorical means available to them.

But Aristotle, already, in the Rhetoric, remarked that a rhetoric without enthymeme, viz. a syllogism or oratorical argument, was just a false science, based only on the skill of the orator to raise emotions: Proofs are the only things in it that come within the province of art; everything else [emotions raised by a discourse] is merely an accessory 3.

1. After virtue, ch. 6, p. 70
2. Ibid., p. 71
3. Rhetoric, Book I, ch. 1