Saturday, January 28, 2012

Facts & Values, Truth & Objectivity—An Introduction (Part I)

The following are snippets from various philosophers representative, I believe, of their thoughts on facts and values, and questions of truth and objectivity.* I have occasionally interjected my own formulations based on their views. I hope these often provocative and perspicuous reflections will prod one into exploring the articles and books from which they were drawn as found in the list of “sources and further reading” appended to the end of the material (with Part III). It is there that you will find the various arguments and explanations that make full sense of these passages as found in their original context. Although I teach in a Philosophy Department, the bulk of my formal training is in the study of religions, thus I’m an autodidact and amateur when it comes to (especially ‘professional’) philosophy. I suspect that is the case with most of our readers. Nonetheless, lack of formal training in this regard should not preclude us from assiduously cultivating an ardent interest in philosophical topics, particularly those having to do with such conventional subject areas as metaphysics, ethics, epistemology, the philosophy of psychology, philosophy of mind, or, for example, questions of consciousness, “meaning,” beauty, value, objectivity, “the good,” and truth more generally.

* Please bear in mind that, as David Wiggins reminds us, the “fact-value” distinction is not identical to the “is-ought” or “is-must” distinction, even if on occasion they overlap.

[This introductory series will be in three parts.]

Value(s) ‘refer to what is worth having or being, taken purely for its own sake, or what is such that (taken by itself, apart from anything it causes) it is preferable that it exist rather than not exist.’—Joel Kupperman

Value means goodness as an end: that which is worthwhile or desirable for its own sake.

We choose or determine that there be values, that they exist, but their character is independent of us.

To judge that something is good is to judge that it is properly valued.

Values are ‘intrinsic goods’ that by their nature enhance a life, that make a fundamental and positive contribution to human flourishing (eudaimonia).

‘Most philosophers who have written on the question of what has intrinsic value have not been hedonists; like Plato and Aristotle, they have thought that something besides pleasure and pain has intrinsic value. One of the most comprehensive lists of intrinsic goods that anyone has suggested is that given by William Frankena (1908-1994). It is this: life, consciousness, and activity; health and strength; pleasures and satisfactions of all or certain kinds; happiness, beatitude, contentment, etc.; truth; knowledge and true opinions of various kinds, understanding, wisdom; beauty, harmony, proportion in objects contemplated; aesthetic experience; morally good dispositions or virtues; mutual affection, love, friendship, cooperation; just distribution of goods and evils; harmony and proportion in one’s own life; power and experiences of achievement; self-expression; freedom; peace, security; adventure and novelty; and good reputation, honor and esteem, etc. (Presumably a corresponding list of intrinsic evils could be provided.) Almost any philosopher who has ever addressed the question of what has intrinsic value will find his or her answer represented in some way by one or more items on Frankena’s list. (Frankena himself notes that he does not explicitly include in his list the communion with and love and knowledge of God that certain philosophers believe to be the highest good, since he takes them to fall under the headings of ‘knowledge’ and ‘love.’) One conspicuous omission from the list, however, is the increasingly popular view that certain environmental entities or qualities have intrinsic value (although Frankena may again assert that these are implicitly represented by one or more items already on the list). Some find intrinsic value, for example, in certain “natural” environments (wilderness untouched by human hand); some find it in certain animal species; and so on.’—Michael J. Zimmerman

‘That which is extrinsically good is good, not (insofar as its extrinsic value is concerned) for its own sake, but for the sake of something else to which it is related in some way. For example, the goodness of helping others in time of need is plausibly thought to be extrinsic (at least in part), being derivative (at least in part) from the goodness of something else, such as these people’s needs being satisfied, or their experiencing pleasure, to which helping them is related in some causal way.’—Michael J. Zimmerman

Value judgments are implicit in emotions and in judgments that at first glance may not appear evaluative. Emotional states often function as indicators of our scale of values, of our appreciation and awareness of values.

‘[W]e notice something marked in the intentional perceptions and the beliefs characteristic of the emotions: they are concerned with value, they see their object as invested with value or importance. [….] The value perceived in the object appears to be of a particular sort. It appears to make reference to the person’s own flourishing. The object of the emotion is seen as important for some role it plays in the person’s own life. […] Another way of putting this point…is that the emotions appear to be eudaimonistic, that is, concerned with the person’s flourishing. And thinking for a moment about ancient Greek eudaimonistic ethical theories will help us to start thinking about the geography of the emotional life. In a eudaimonistic ethical theory, the central question asked a person is, “How should a human being live?” The answer to that question is the person’s conception of eudaimonia, or human flourishing, a complete human life. A conception of eudaimonia is taken to be inclusive of all to which the agent ascribes intrinsic value: if one can show someone that she has omitted something without which she would not think her life complete, then that is a sufficient argument for the addition of the item in question. Now the important point is this: in a eudaimonistic theory, the actions, relations, and persons that are included in the conception are not all valued simply on account of some instrumental relation they bear to the agent’s satisfaction. This is a mistake commonly made about such theories, under the influence of Utilitarianism and the misleading use of “happiness” as a translation for eudaimonia. Not only virtuous actions but also mutual relations of civic or personal love and friendship, in which the object is loved and benefited for his or her own sake, can qualify as constituent parts of a person’s eudaimonia. On the other hand, they are valued as constituents of a life that is my life and not someone else’s, as my actions, as people who are in some relation with me. For example, an Aristotelian really pursues social justice as a good in its own right: that is why she has put it into her conception of eudaimonia. She doesn’t want just any old conception, she wants the one that values things aright, in the way that a human being ought to. Once she puts it into her conception, however, she both seeks the intrinsic good of justice and seeks to be a person who performs just actions for their own sake.’—Martha Nussbaum

‘In reflecting about how a human being should live, a person may commend some very general goals as good for human beings in general: for example, friendship, parental love, civic responsibility. But she will also deliberate about which more concrete specification of each of these general ends she will prefer; some of this work still involves asking which specifications are to be commended for human beings in general. At some point in the process, however, we get to items that are not commended for all human beings, but are just her own ways of realizing the general human ends in her situation and context. For example, if the general goal were artistic cultivation and performance, she might realize this by playing the clarinet, but she would believe that other human beings can equally well realize it by dancing, or singing, or playing the oboe.’—Martha Nussbaum

‘If we ask what most people value most, the answers will fall mainly under three headings: ongoing features of one’s life (e.g., love, sets of personal relationships, a sense of success or achievement), particular experiences (e.g., moments of heightened awareness, or of euphoria or ecstasy), or things (e.g., money, expensive or attractive objects—perhaps only as a means, but very possibly for their own sake as well)’.—Joel Kupperman

‘To see something (e.g., a set of experiences, a way of life) as having high value is often to be motivated to promote it for other people in general, or to make it available to the people one most cares about, or to have for oneself.’—Joel Kupperman

‘Value or preciousness of persons has a dual role in my interpersonal actions. Your value generates a moral claim or constraint on my behavior toward you; because of your value, others (including me) ought to behave toward you in some ways, not in others. Also, my value is expressed in how I am best off behaving, in the kind of behavior that should flow from a being with my value, in how that value is shown or maintained in action. My value fixes what behavior should flow from me; your value fixes what behavior should flow toward you. Value manifests itself as a push and as a pull.’—Robert Nozick

There is a value cost to immoral behavior: The immoral life is a less valuable life than the moral one. ‘The immoral person thinks…his immoral behavior costs him nothing. But that is not true; he pays the cost of having a less valuable existence. He pays that penalty, though he doesn’t feel it or care about it.’—Robert Nozick

Structurally speaking, intrinsic value appears to be characterized by some degree of organic unity in which such unity suggests that the value of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Values are abstract structures that can be realized in various ways. For instance, a work of music can exemplify and refer to values.

‘Values are to be brought about, maintained, saved from destruction, prized and valued (where this last is some descriptive term of psychology plus the theory of action).’ We ought to ‘care about, accept, support, affirm, encourage, protect, guard, praise, seek, embrace, serve, be drawn toward, be attracted by, aspire toward, strive to realize, foster, express, nurture, delight in, respect, be inspired by, take joy in, resonate with, be loyal to, be dedicated to, celebrate values. With the very highest values, we are to be elevated by, enthralled by, love, adore, revere, be exalted by be awed before, find ecstasy in these highest values.’—Robert Nozick

‘We are born, as social animals, into a cultural world of value and disvalue—a world where certain things matter, as harmful, dangerous, comforting, warming and so on. If we have been brought up in the right way, we will be disposed reliably to recognize these values and disvalues and to respond as we should: as Aristotle says: “at the right times, about the right things, towards the right people, and in the right way.” And if this happens, then we will care in the right way about the things that matter: not simply caring for justice and kindness as if for some vague idea, but caring that particular people in particular circumstances are treated as they should be—with fairness, honesty and consideration, so that we get angry (justifiably angry) if this doesn’t happen. It will become “second nature” to have these responses, so that our own interests narrowly conceived, are quite naturally far from being our only consideration in deciding what to do. Being disposed reliably to be motivated by specifically other-regarding moral considerations is part of what it is to have a virtue.’—Peter Goldie

‘There are some individuals whose lives are infused by values, who pursue values with single-minded purity and intensity, who embody value to the greatest extent. These individuals glow with a special radiance. Epochal religious figures often have this quality. To be in their presence (or even to hear about them) is to be uplifted and drawn (at least temporarily) to pursue the best in oneself. There are less epochal figures as well, glowing with a special moral and value loveliness, whose presence uplifts us, whose example lures and inspires us.’— Robert Nozick

‘Values are organic unities; something is intrinsically valuable in accordance with its degree of organic unity. However, it does not follow that the realm of values itself exhibits high organic unity, that diverse and apparently conflicting values can be united in some higher unity or larger harmony. [Plato would say that the realm of values does exhibit a higher unity or harmony insofar as it is, in the beginning and in the end, so to speak, and to speak metaphysically, part of the Good.] The theme of the ineradicable plurality of values, of the conflict between different values that cannot all be realized, a theme presented in Antigone and later tragedies, has been subordinated in the history of philosophy to the theme or hope of the harmonious reconciliation of all values. Recently, however, the pluralism of values has received renewed attention.’ [This is true, but the pluralism of values does not rule out, in theory, the possible harmonious reconciliation of all values.] ’—Robert Nozick

‘A person who tracks bestness, who seeks value, will have to formulate her own package of value realization; she cannot simply “maximize” on the value dimension. This package need not be an aggregate, it can pattern and unify the diverse values it realizes. In thus patterning value, the person may emulate a previous pattern exhibited by a value exemplar, or described in some tradition, or she may create a new complex unity, sculpting the value contours of her life in an original, perhaps unique way. Some significant part of the vividness of characters we read about in fiction, history, or religious texts or scriptures is their individuality in (valuable) value contouring.’—Robert Nozick

‘We value being a unique self, and come therefore also to value the particular unique self someone is. Valuing that there is a unique self spills over to valuing, for itself, that unique self there is.’—Robert Nozick

‘[T]he perfectionist aspiration to self-development…to a harmoniously hierarchically ordered being [cf. here Plato’s distinguishing and ranking of the rational, spirited and appetitive parts of the soul]…[should not] be interpreted as a denigration of what one hopes to improve on or of others not so intent. If we are to strive for a state judged higher, then something also must be ranked lower: to judge something as less than the best need not involve any elitist contempt for it.’—Robert Nozick

‘It is not implausible to think we are elevated by others who are more developed than ourselves in their striving for harmonious hierarchical development and for a valuable life. We are aided and encouraged along our own path of development by their striving for self-development and purer feeling; contrast the effects on us of encountering those with a sour mixture of one-upmanship, self-aggrandizement, desire to dominate or destroy, and other festering emotions, the effects of wending our way and bending our attention, to their motivations and trajectories. Just as a cacophony of urban noise is an intrusion if your are trying to listen to a string quartet or compose your own, so a person in the course of his own self-improvement or development will want, if merely as a means, to help raise the developmental level of those around him (or else to move into an isolated community of like-spirited persons). He will want to help them along. Even if a person were able to maintain his level and rate of (spiritual) advance and development unperturbed by others around him [like Plotinus!], not dragged down by them no matter what their state, he would still lack the benefits of associating with others who are equally or more developed. First, there is the benefit of being helped along by good examples and good companions. We all know people, I hope, who bring out the best in us, people in whose presence we would be embarrassed to speak or act from unworthy motives, people who glow. In their presence we feel elevated. We are pushed or lured or nudged further along a path of development and perfection; rather, we are inspired to move ourselves along, in the direction shown. Second, there is the joy in encountering a like person, in the experience of the other and in the mutual recognition of the mutual joy. The most intense delights, surely, are these experiences, at least as they combine with, enrich, and transfigure other delights more frequently listed. One awful psychological deformity is the resentment of excellence, not merely the inability to delight or take pleasure in it—bad enough—but the envious desire for its absence. To avoid being the object of such envy, people will hide their own excellence and camouflage their delight in it. Not only does this deprive others of the encouragement of an example, and of the opportunity for happy mutual recognition, it also alters the person’s own experience. She does not simply feel the same delight only without expressing it; an unexpressed delight is not as delightful. Resentment and envy of moral and spiritual excellence is most awful. [….] At any rate, persons developing in value will not feel or dwell in such envy; they will seek out opportunities to share the joy of being on and moving along their path. They will aid others in their own (spiritual or developmental) advance, for the pleasure of their company. (In thus aiding, they will not focus their attention upon their own pleasure but rather upon what brings that pleasure—the developed state of the others.) There is a third reason for wanting other equally or more developed persons around: their appreciation is especially worth having. In a loving relationship with another adult, the worth of what they give, including themselves, depends partially upon their estimation of themselves—whether they give something they hold precious and valuable. [….] The developed or developing person will wish for like companions, for inspiring examples to aid him along his path, for joyous company, and for meaningful affirmation of his own worth. This is the opposite of the desire to be surrounded by submissive people less developed than oneself, the desire that they be less developed.’—Robert Nozick

‘The developed person will want to help perfect others; this is the most important aid he can give them. We want to find a way of living whereby our best energies and talents are poured out so as to speak to and improve the best energies and talents of others. We want to utilize our highest parts and energies in a way that helps others flourish.—Robert Nozick

‘[T]he investigation into what is worth our caring about is a quest for self-understanding, an attempt to make sense of our own valuational responses to the world.’—Elizabeth Anderson

‘[P]eople interpret and justify their valuations by exchanging reasons for them with the aim of reaching a common point of view from which others can achieve and reflectively endorse one another’s valuations. To judge that one’s valuations make sense is to judge that they would be endorsed from that hypothetical point of view. To be rational is to be suitably responsive to reasons offered by those attempting to reach that point of view.’—Elizabeth Anderson

‘[T]he grounds of a person’s reflectively held values (if she has any) lie in her conceptions of what kind of person she ought to be, what kinds of character, attitudes, concerns, and commitments she should have. I call such self-conceptions ideals. Ideals are objects not merely of desire but of aspiration. [….] Ideals give us perspectives from which to articulate and scrutinize the way we value things.’—Elizabeth Anderson

‘[M]oral development leads to self-identification and autonomous, self-directed living, but is associative as an interdependence based in a division of labor with respect to the realization of values. The self-fulfilling life of each person requires more values than he or she personally realizes and is dependent upon other for these values. The principle of this form of association is the complementarity of perfected differences. Accordingly this meaning of “autonomy,” if the term is to be applicable, must be consistent with interdependence. [This] means, not total self-sufficiency, but determining for oneself what one’s contributions to others should be and what use to make of the values provided by the self-fulfilling lives of others. To follow the lead of another person in a matter he or she understands better than we is not a lapse from autonomy into heteronomy but a mark of wisdom. [….] [T]he self here is conceived of as a task, a piece of work, namely the work of self-actualization. And self-actualization is the progressive objectivizing of subjectivity, ex-pressing it into the world. This recognition exposes as a fallacy the modern use of “objective” and “subjective” as mutually exclusive categories. Every human impulse in subjective in its origin and objective in its intentional outcome, and because its outcome is within it implicitly from its inception, there is nothing in personhood that is ‘merely subjective,’ that is, subjective in the exclusive sense. Narcissism (with which individualism is sometimes charged) is a pathology that tries to amputate from subjectivity its objective issue. It is real enough, and was a propensity of some romantic individualisms that judged experience by the occasions it affords for the refinement of the individual’s sensibilities. But the supposition that individualism is narcissistic subjectivism represents (again) a failure to recognize divergent kinds of individualism. For eudaimonistic individualism, it is the responsibility of persons to actualize objective value in the world.’—David L. Norton

‘[People] differ in temperament, interests, intellectual ability, aspirations, natural bent, spiritual quests, and the kind of life they wish to lead. They diverge in the values they have and have different weightings for the values they share. (They wish to live in different climates—some in mountains, plains, deserts, seashores, cities, towns.) There is no reason to think that there is one community which will serve as ideal for all people and much reason to think that there is not. [….] For each person, so far as objective criteria of goodness can tell (insofar as these exist), there is a wide range of very different kinds of life that tie as best; no other is objectively better for him than any other one in this range, and no one within the range is objectively better than any other.’—Robert Nozick

‘[Moral values] refer to things we consider worth cherishing and realizing in our lives. Since judgments of worth are based on reasons, values are things we have good reasons to cherish, which in our well-considered views deserve our allegiance and ought to form part of the good life. Universal moral values are those we have good reasons to believe to be worthy of the allegiance of all human beings, and are in that sense universally valid or binding. Moral values are meant for beings like us and intended to regulate our lives. Reasons relevant to a discussion of them are therefore of several kinds, such as our assessment of our moral capacities, what we take to be our basic tendencies and limits, the likely consequences of pursuing certain values, their compatibility, the ease with which they can be combined into a coherent way of life, and the past and present experience of societies that lived by them.’—Bhikhu Parekh


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