A book on ethics and philosophy of values

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2/ A comparison of the axiological epoché with Cartesian epoché


Descartes, as we know, proposes a hyperbolic doubt, to determine whether there is any proposition that can withstand this doubt, i.e. that is of indubitable truth. This doubt, described at length in the first two Meditations, is presented as radical by Descartes; and this radicality seems to us to be generally accepted, even if we have noted the possibility of a logical circle, between the cogito that founds the existence of God and God who would ultimately found the truth of the cogito as well.

I would like to raise this question again: is Descartes' doubt really radical and hyperbolic? Is there something that Descartes secretly and unconsciously admits as a postulate at the very heart of his doubt?

This is precisely what it seems to me; a careful reading can reveal, in my opinion, an axiological theory (about what has value and what does not). Descartes did not discard this axiological theory at the very heart of his doubt; on the contrary, he secretly preserved it and relied on it, not to bring the "cogito" itself to light, but to "emerge" from it, i.e. to take the subsequent step of determining the existence of God, on which he would base his assurance of the truth of the world.

It seems that Descartes' axiological theory can be broken down into two parts. First, he tries to prove that God is the supreme value, using three arguments to do so. This then leads him, once he has established this, to try to prove God's existence on the basis of precisely this result, i.e. he tries to deduce God's existence from his value.
It is this double movement that I propose to expose and question.

First of all, it should be noted that Descartes does not use the term "value" but "perfection" to formulate his axiology. For example, to give just one of many examples, Descartes never speaks of the "infinite value" of God, but of his "sovereign perfection": God, on the other hand, I take to be actually infinite, so that nothing can be added to his perfection 1.
This term applies not only to God but also to other things, from the moment they have what we would call a value: Since our ideas can’t get their forms or their being except from external objects or from ourselves, they can’t represent any reality or perfection that isn’t either in those objects or in ourselves 2. Thus, for example, freedom has not a value, but a perfection: In our case indifference is a defect rather than a perfection of freedom 3.
For Descartes, therefore, God is the supreme value: That substance which we understand to be supremely perfect and in which we conceive absolutely nothing involving defect or limitation of its perfection, is called God 4.

On what does he base this assertion? On three ideas, the legitimacy of which we will now examine.

First of all, he states that the traditionally received meaning of the idea of God is that of a perfect being. The idea of a perfect being has been called "God", so God is perfect: I based the proof of the existence of God on the idea that I find in myself of a supremely perfect being, which is the ordinary notion we have of God 5.
The principle underlying this reasoning is as follows: God is perfect, therefore he is the supreme value. This is based on two premises:

On the one hand, perfection has value, and even the greatest value: to be perfect is to have the greatest value...
And secondly: we can use the concept of perfection (instead of that of value) to pose and solve the problem of values: value and perfection are interchangeable synonyms.

However, these two premises seem uncertain to me.

Indeed, we can imagine (this is what our axiological epoché has taught us) an axiological position that would assert, on the contrary, that what has value is imperfection. For example: that a sketch can be more interesting than a finished work of art, and even that it is its incompleteness that gives it its value (for example, didn't the Venus de Milo acquire some of its status as a masterpiece because its two arms are lost forever?) Similarly, there are many minds for whom the part is more beautiful than the whole, the hypothesis than the system, the charm than the beauty, the attempt than the success, and even the defeat than the victory. Isn't the nihilist, moreover, the person who denies that perfection has any value?

On the other hand, the concept of perfection does not seem to us to be adequate for posing the axiological problem. To understand this, we need to ask ourselves: what do we really mean when we say that such and such a thing is perfect?

1. Metaphysical Meditations, III
2. Letter to Vattier, 22 February 1638
3. Letter to Mersenne, 21 April 1641
4. Replies to 2nd objections, Def VIII
5. Letter to Mersenne, July 1641
6. Traité des valeurs, tome I