Monday, January 30, 2012

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

[The series was introduced in our prior post.]

‘[E]motions can reveal value that they contain. But in addition, people’s characters and their value can be revealed by emotions. [….] [E]motions reveal not just our values and evaluations but much of our interior and exterior worlds….’—Michael Stocker (with Elizabeth Hegeman)

‘Emotions may show valuings rather than value: how a person values something, not the value something has or the value the person takes it to have. Sometimes people have emotions that contain and reveal valuings, not values; and sometimes people have emotions that reveal a lack of valuing, even in the face of acknowledged value.’—Michael Stocker (with Elizabeth Hegeman)

Emotions can be evaluatively accurate and informative, therefore we can justly say that emotions are epistemologically important for evaluations and evaluative knowledge.

‘[T]he values and evaluations of one’s having or not having certain emotions, and of the ways one has or does not have them, are rarely, if ever, central to our important ethical works, and they are often enough not even mentioned, much less discussed, in those works [among a few notable exceptions, Iris Murdoch’s The Sovereignty of Good, 1970, is mentioned]. However, I do not think that their absence from our works on ethics shows that these issues lack importance. I think, rather, that it shows an important lack, and indeed something of a lack of importance, in our work in ethics.’—Michael Stocker (with Elizabeth Hegeman)

‘[We] should respect our emotional responses and listen to what they have to say to us and about us. But they are not the final arbiter: our emotional responses should be held for examination and reflection. Of course, this cannot be done from an emotionless, purely rational perspective, for there is no such standpoint, but it should be done in the light of reason and of our other emotional responses to the other things we value. And if this examination and reflections shows that our emotional responses are not appropriate, then the emotion should cease.’—Peter Goldie

‘Values enter into the very definition of what a fact is; the realm of facts cannot be defined or specified without utilizing certain values. Values enter into the process of knowing a fact; without utilizing or presupposing certain values, we cannot determine which is the realm of facts, we cannot know the real from the unreal.’—Robert Nozick

Rational acceptability in the natural sciences depends ‘on such cognitive virtues as “coherence” and “functional simplicity,” show[ing] that at least some value terms stand for properties of the things they are applied to, and not just for feelings of the person who uses the terms.’—Hilary Putnam

Our knowledge of the world presupposes values, indeed, what comes to count as the real world depends upon our values. This is evidenced in the ‘implicit standards and skills on the basis of which we decide whether someone is able to give a true, adequate, and perspicuous account of even the simplest perceptual facts…’—Hilary Putnam

‘[F]act, (or truth) and rationality are interdependent notions. A fact is something that it is rational to believe, or, more precisely, the notion of a fact (or a true statement) is an idealization of the notion of a statement that it is rational to believe. [….] [B]eing rational involves having criteria of relevance as well as criteria of rational acceptability, and…all of our values are involved in our criteria of relevance. The decision that a picture of the world is true (or true by our present lights, or “as true as anything is”) and answers the relevant questions (as well as we are able to answer them) rests on and reveals our total system of value commitments. A being with no values would have no facts either. The way in which criteria of relevance involves values, at least indirectly, may be seen by examining the simplest statement. Take the sentence “The cat is on the mat.” If someone actually makes this judgment in a particular context, then he employs conceptual resources—the notions “cat,” “on,” and “mat”—which are provided by a particular culture, and whose presence and ubiquity reveal something about the interests and values of that culture, and of almost every culture. We have the category “cat” because we regard the division of the world into animals and non-animals as significant, and we are further interested in what species as given animal belongs to. It is relevant that there is a cat on the mat and not just a thing. We have the category “mat” because we regard the division of inanimate things into artifacts and non-artifacts as significant, and we are further interested in the purpose and nature a particular artifact has. It is relevant that it is a mat that the cat is on and just something. We have the category “on” because we are interested in spatial relations. Notice what we have: we took the most banal statement imaginable, “the cat is on the mat,” and we found that the presuppositions which make this statement a relevant one in certain contexts include the significance of the categories animate/inanimate, purpose, and space. To a mind with no disposition to regard these as relevant categories, “the cat is on the mat” would be as irrational as “the number of hexagonal objects in this room is 76” would be, uttered in the middle of a tête-à-tête between young lovers. Not only do very general facts about our value system show themselves in our categories (artifacts, species name, term for a spatial relation) but, our more specific values (for example, sensitivity and compassion), also show up in the use we make of specific classificatory words (‘considerate,’ ‘selfish’). To repeat, our criteria of relevance rest on and reveal our whole system of values.’—Hilary Putnam

‘There are a variety of reasons why we are tempted to draw a line between “facts” and “values”—and to draw it in such a way that “values” are put outside the realm of rational argument altogether. For one thing, it is much easier to say, “that’s a value judgment,” meaning, “that’s just a matter of subjective preference,” than to do what Socrates tried to teach us: to examine who we are and what our deepest convictions are and hold those convictions up to the searching test of reflective examination.’—Hilary Putnam

‘(1) In ordinary circumstances, there is usually a fact of the matter as to whether the statements people make are warranted or not. [….] (2) Whether a statement is warranted or no is independent of whether the majority of one’s cultural peers would say it is warranted or unwarranted. (3) Our norms and standards of warranted assertibility are historical products; they evolve in time. (4) Our norms and standards always reflect our interests and values. Our picture of intellectual flourishing is part of, and only makes sense as part of, our picture of human flourishing in general. (5) Our norms and standards of anything—including warranted assertibility—are capable of reform. There are better and worse norms and standards.’—Hilary Putnam

‘The moral life is not intermittent or specialised, it is not a peculiar or separate area of our existence…. [W]e are always deploying and directing our energy, refining it or blunting it, purifying it or corrupting it…. “Sensitivity” is a word which may be in place here…. Happenings in consciousness so vague as to be almost non-existent can have “moral colour”… (“But are you saying that every single second has a moral tag?” Yes, roughly.)’—Iris Murdoch

Because our states of consciousness and action presuppose perceptual (or epistemic) discrimination, any such discrimination is subject to moral evaluation.

‘The moral point is that “facts” are set up as such by human (that is moral) agents. Much of our life is taken up by truth-seeking, imagining, questioning. We relate to facts through truth and truthfulness, and come to recognise and discover that there are different modes and levels of insight and understanding. In many familiar ways, various values pervade and colour what we take to be the reality of our world; wherein we constantly evaluate our own values and those of others, and judge and determine forms of consciousness and modes of being.’—Iris Murdoch

‘In recognizing the compelling power of values, and of logical principles (their normative, or what is sometimes called their ‘magnetic quality’), we humans are plainly recognizing something that goes beyond the observed facts of the natural world. And the theistic outlook now proposes to interpret these features as signifying the presence, beyond the empirical world, of a transcendent supernatural domain that is by its very nature normative—rational and moral. The two principal categories of the normative, the rational and the good, are features which traditional theology has held to apply to God in virtue of his very nature. God is goodness itself (Aquinas), he is the Logos—ultimate rationality (St. John). In short, beyond, or behind, the observable universe—the sequence of events that is simply one contingent happening after another—there is for the theist a domain of eternal value and reason, a domain that impinges on our empirical world, making us respond to something beyond the mere sequence brute facts. We human creatures (since we are ourselves rational and moral beings, at least in part) are responsive to reason and value, and in being so responsive we participate, however dimly, in the divine nature.’—John Cottingham


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