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!)


It may be summed up as follows: the axiological researcher has to feel the scandal of the problem of values, viz. the lack of foundation of values, and so the fact that extreme axiological positions are impossible to reject. But instead of being in the state of mind which normally derives from the scandalous nature of an event, namely indignation, he has to suspend all judgments of value, in an axiological epoché.

Why? For three reasons.

Firstly, for it is the state of mind which logically results from our ignorance, as we can see if we are honest with ourselves. If we knew why nihilism is an erroneous axiological position -in other words, if the foundation of values was known-, we could reject nihilism, and even be outraged at this doctrine, because we would know the reason of such a reject; but it is impossible, due to our ignorance, so it leads us to the suspension of our axiological judgments.

Secondly, because if the researcher is not in this state of mind, he can only be irritated by this enquiry into values, by this project of the constitution of an axiology. Such a man has never questioned his own judgments of value, and is in some way stuck in them. He trusts in his purposes, ideals, and finally in himself. Nothing has ever undermined his self-confidence: doubt is an unknown feeling. He coincides with himself, so to speak. It is useless to expose the axiological project to such a man. He will not tolerate to see the value of what he loves being called into question, and will reject any conclusion contrary to his own opinions.

Consequently, a simple test is to be proposed, to find if someone may be interested by the axiological investigation; can he tolerate that we conclude, at the end of our study, that what he loves has no value? In other words: will he change his tastes, if he is shown to have bad taste? Or will he refuse all demonstrations, to keep his so-called love intact?
In this last case, he will be like a stone for us, that is to say, none of our propositions will affect him; we will not stand on the same ground anymore, and have no longer relations with him. He does not hear us, so he is invincible in some way. But at the same time, he does not speak to us. So he cannot represent a threat for us, no more than this stone by the side of the road.

Thirdly, because it is probably impossible to found values if we have not, throughout our enquiry, given one chance at least to the axiological doctrines that we try to refute. We have to be neutral if we want to determine impartially what has a value, and what has not. For this, it is necessary that, in our reflection, all possible judgments of value be considered with equal respect as some authentic axiological positions, worthy of examination. If we brush aside all that seems absurd and scandalous to us, it becomes impossible to understand in-depth the problem of values, and then to solve it.

It is clear from what precedes that two kinds of character will be forevermore against the project of an axiology: those who have not realized that there is no foundation of values, and, like intuitionists for example, maintain that man knows naturally and immediately what has a value (which is always, as if by chance, the traditional triad: beautiful – true – good), and in the other hand those who have understood all this, and are aware of this scandalous absence of foundation, but take refuge in the fruitless feeling of indignation, in which they look for an answer to the axiological problem; but this is clearly impossible.


It is probably difficult to understand the meaning of this suspension of judgment. Perhaps it will be easier, if we take the Cartesian epoché as a model, for, in its radical nature, it appears to be close to the axiological epoché that we propose. But is the Cartesian doubt radical? Is it really a model to follow, for he who wants to abandon all his judgments of value? Let us consider the Cartesian approach, to try to answer this question.