Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Facts & Values, Truth & Objectivity

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).

'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

‘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

‘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

‘[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

‘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

'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

'Emotions...involve value judgments about important things, judgments in which, appraising an external object as salient for our own well-being, we acknowledge our neediness and incompleteness before parts of the world we do not fully control. [....] Emotions...view the world from the point of view of my own scheme of goals and objects, the things to which I attach value in a conception of what it is for me to live well.'—Martha C. Nussbaum

'[E]udaimonism is not ethical subjectivism. It is true that it exhibits great concern for the subject—the self of each person—for example, by insisting upon the importance of self-knowledge and self-development. But the self is here conceived 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. [....] For eudaimonistic individualism, it is the responsibility of persons to actualize objective value in the world.'—David L. Norton

The self-fulfilling life of each person requires more values than he or she personally realizes and is dependent upon others for these values. [...] Accordingly, the meaning of "autonomy," if the term is to be applicable, must be consistent with interdependence. ...[I]t means, not total self-sufficiency, but determining for oneslef what one's contributions to others should be and what use to make of the values provided by the self-fulfilling lives of others.'—David L. Norton

‘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

‘[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

'One difficulty in discussions of value is that the descriptive language we have for what we value or disvalue is broad and inexact, and the terms that are readily available turn out to fit cases that differ significantly in value. Is a life marked by selfishness undesirable, or inferior to one that is less selfish but otherwise similar? Nietzsche, in a section of Thus Spake Zarathustra, ironically entitled "On the Three Evils," points out, both for selfishness and for two other examples, that generalizations fail in the face of the variety of instances. Indeed, we can see that the 'selfishness' of a creative, work-absorbed artist might be much more positive than the 'selfishness' of a petty profiteer or a family tryrant. One reason that Nietzsche's preoccupation with value is pursued in oblique utterances is that anything resembling a formula can be misapplied by someone who is insensitive to significant differences among cases. Camus makes a related point when, after presenting some models of very good kinds of lives, he observes that a recommendation of the models does not include assurance that imitations of the models are to be esteemed. Nuances matter. The difficulty with language points toward one of the ways in which context, especially the context provided by an individual life, matters in the assessment of value. [....] The importance of context to value exacerbates what is in any case a serious problem. If, as Aristotle says, every subject has its due degree of precision, and that of ethics is not great, it must be admitted that the precision generally to be expected in discussion of value is very low indeed. There are two strategies that a philosopher who believes in, and wishes to convey, a hierarchy of values can pursue in an attempt to mitigate this. One is not to rely entirely on general characterizations of the hierarchy of values, but instead to fill in meaning by presenting a concrete (and highly contextual) example of someone whose life was marked by the highest values. Thus, much of the meaning of Plato's ethics is in the portrait of Socrates that emerges, the students who compiled The Analects of Confucius pursued much the same strategy. A second strategy is to indicate one's hierarchy of values in a way that allows for elements of irony and a pervasive sense of the personal and elusive nature of what is being talked about. This is the strategy of Nietzsche and Camus.'—Joel J. Kupperman

‘[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

'[O]rdinary people—which means all of us—find [the] story mode of moral discourse [i.e., the form which includes parable, the play, short story, the narrative poem, the novel and the film] uniquely palatable and nutritious; it seems perfectly designed to engage our moral faculties. Our moral understanding and the story form seem fitted for one another. No rote learning is necessary: it all seems to flow quite naturally. This is the way our moral faculty likes to operate. It is almost effortless to take in a story, pleasant even, though the story may be replete with moral discourse. The novel, in particular, is a text of a very different kind from the scientific treatise. It is also very different from the philosophical text, which is what philosophers, naturally, are most comfortable with. Thus the novel form has tended to be ignored by moral philosophers: it is not, for them, the place to look for canonical expressions of ethical truth. Yet, quite obviously, it is for most educated people one of the prime vehicles of ethical expression. (Film plays a similar role for the less word-minded.) In reading a novel we have ethical experiences, sometimes quite profound ones, and we reach ethical conclusions, condemning some characters and admiring others. We live a particular set of moral challenges (sitting there in our armchair) by entering into the lives of the characters introduced. [....] Stories can sharpen and clarify moral questions, encouraging a dialectic between the reader's own experiences and the trials of the characters he or she is reading about. A tremendous amount of moral thinking and feeling is done when reading novels (0r watching plays and films, or reading poetry and short stories). In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that for most people this is the primary way in which they acquire ethical attitudes, especially in contemporary culture. Our ethical knowledge is aesthetically mediated.'—Colin McGinn

Truth is objective; it is good to believe what is true; truth is a goal worthy of human inquiry; and truth is worth caring about for its own sake.‘Thinking about why we should care about truth tells us two things about it: first, that truth is, in part, a deeply normative property—it is a value. And second, this is a fact that any adequate theory of truth must account for. In light of this fact, I suggest that truth, like other values, should be understood as depending on, but not reducible to, lower-level properties. Yet which properties truth depends on or supervenes on may change with the type of belief in question. This opens the door to a type of pluralism: truth in ethics may be realized differently than in physics.’—Michael P. Lynch

‘Truth is a property that is good for beliefs to have. Since propositions are the content of beliefs, and it is the content of a belief and not the act of believing that is true, we can also say that truth is the property that makes a proposition good to believe.’—Michael P. Lynch

‘Objectivity calls for putting one’s idiosyncratic predilections and parochial preferences aside in forming one’s beliefs, evaluations and choices. It is a matter of proceeding in line not with one’s inclinations but with the dictates of impartial reason. The universality of reason must be recognized: What is rational for one person to do, to believe, or to value will thereby also of necessity be equally rational for all the rest of us who might find ourselves in the same circumstances. For rationality is inherently “objective:” it does not reconfigure itself to meet the idiosyncratic predilections of particular individuals. To be sure, objectivity will have to take context into account, seeing that different individuals and groups confront very different objective situations. Rationality is universal, but it is circumstantially universal—and objectivity with it. It is a matter of what “any of us” would do in one’s place. [….] The contextuality of good reasons can be reconciled with the universality of rationality itself by taking a hierarchical view of the process through which the absolutistic (and uniform) conception of ideal rationality is thought to bear context differently, on the resolution of concrete cases and particular situations.’—Nicholas Rescher

‘The content of an assertion is intrinsically related to a conceptual scheme. [….] In effect, propositions, true or false, are implicitly indexed to some conceptual scheme or schemes. [….] Facts are internal to conceptual schemes, or ways of dividing the world into objects, among which there can be equally acceptable alternatives. [….] [S]uch metaphysical pluralism is consistent with realism about truth.’—Michael P. Lynch

‘[I]n taking concepts to be flexible and fluid like, the pluralist is not saying that we are confused about our concepts. Rather, the point is that concepts are not absolutely determinate or closed; they do not have a fixed use in every possible situation. This does not imply, however, that no concepts have determinate uses in all actual situations. Some concepts may be perfectly determinate in actual situations, but not in all possible situations. [….] For the pluralist, concepts are…flexible; they are subject to possible extension in the fact of unforeseen circumstances. Hence, there can be irresolvable disagreements over how to apply any concept. In a sense, concepts are therefore always possibly vague in a nonpejorative sense; they have what Waismann called “open texture.”’—Michael P. Lynch

‘Minimally speaking, a proposition is true in the realist sense when things are as that proposition says they are. Some aspect of objective reality must simply be a certain way. If it is, then the proposition is true; if not, the proposition is false. The truth of the proposition hinges on the world alone, not on our thought about the world. In short, realism about truth minimally implies two commitments: (a) truth is an authentic property that some propositions have and others lack, and (b) the concept of truth is, in Putnam’s words, “radically non-epistemic;” that is, whether a proposition is true (in most cases) does not depend on what I or anyone else believes or knows. [….] According to correspondence accounts of truth, there are three metaphysical aspects to any true proposition: the proposition itself (the truth bearer), its correspondence (the truth relation), and the reality to which it corresponds (the truth marker). [….] In other words, propositions are true when they correspond to the facts.’—Michael P. Lynch

‘[T]here is no logical incoherence in supposing that facts and propositions are relative to conceptual schemes and that truth is the correspondence of (relative) propositions with (relative) facts.’—Michael P. Lynch

‘All truths are relative, yes, but our concept of truth needn’t be a relative concept.’—Michael P. Lynch

‘[T]he conditions under which a proposition is true are partly determined by the conceptual scheme in which the proposition is expressed. But what makes a proposition true is not its relation to a scheme but whether or not the conditions in question obtain. For a claim to be true (or false), the conditions must be relative to a scheme. Yet the reason that the claim is true is not because it is relative to a scheme (as the truth relativist must hold); it is true because it is the case.[….] A fact, in the human sense, is simply what is the case.’—Michael P. Lynch

‘[A] uniformitarian absolutism at the high-generality level of “what rationality is” is perfectly consonant with a pluralism and relativism at the lower level of concrete resolutions regarding “what is rational” within the contextual setting of particular cases. The ruling principles of rationality never uniquely constrain their more specific circumstantial implementations. At each step along the way we repeat the same basic situation: delimitation, yes; determination, no. The sought-for reconciliation between the universalistic absoluteness of rationality and the variability and relativity of its particular rulings is thus provided for by the consideration that the absolutism of principles operates at the highest level of the hierarchy of rational development, while there is ever “slack” and variability as one moves towards the lowest level of concrete determinations. The variability and relativity of good reasons at the level of our actual operations can indeed be reconciled with the absolutism of rationality itself by taking a hierarchical view of the process through which the absolutistic conception of ideal rationality is brought to bear on the resolution of concrete circumstances and particular situations.’—Nicholas Rescher

‘In characterizing a belief as objectively rational we are certainly not claiming that there is a universal consensus about it. No matter how sensible a contention on any significant issue may be, there is an ever-present prospect that some people—perhaps even many—will nevertheless quite defensibly and appropriately dissent from it. The validity of our judgments is emphatically not destroyed by finding that there are people who reject them.’—Nicholas Rescher

‘We have to come to terms with epistemic realities, which include: 1) the diversity in people’s experiences and cognitive situations; 2) the variation of “available data;" 3) the underdetermination of facts by data (all too frequently insufficient); 4) the variability of people’s cognitive values (evidential security, simplicity, etc.); and 5) the variation of cognitive methodology and the epistemic “state of the art.” Such factors—and others like them—make for an unavoidable difference in the beliefs, judgments, and evaluations even of otherwise “perfectly rational” people.’—Nicholas Rescher

‘If we are going to be rational we must take—and have no responsible choice but to take—the stance that our own standards (of truth, value, and choice) are the appropriate ones. Be it in employing or in evaluating them, we ourselves must see our own standards as authoritative because this, exactly, is what it is for them to be our own standards—their being our standards consists in our seeing them in this light. We have to see our standards in an absolutistic light—as the uniquely right appropriately valid ones—because this is what is at issue in their being our standards of authentic truth, value, or whatever. To insist that we should view them with indifference is to deny us all prospects of having any standards at all. Commitment at this level is simply unavoidable. Our cognitive or evaluative perspective would not be our perspective did we not deem it rationally superior to others.’—Nicholas Rescher

‘What people think to be true is clearly something that is person-variable and thus relative. We can take the line that “What is true?” is a question that different people can quite appropriately answer differently because of the interpersonal variability of available information. But what truth is all about is something that is…altogether definite and fixed. The evidentiation at issue in the epistemic sector is doubtless interpersonally and intercommunally variable. But variability on the side of information does not make for variation on the side of concepts.’—Nicholas Rescher

‘[W]e can (quite appropriately) disagree about what it is that is true and what good reasons are at hand, while yet maintaining an (appropriately) absolutistic view of what truth and good reasons are. The ideal nature of actual truth and of actual good reasons that inhere in our (defining) conceptions of inquiry establishes a clear limit to the implications of cognitive relativism. To re-emphasize: a pluralistic contextualism of potential basis-diversity is altogether compatible with an absolutistic commitment to our own basis. One can accept the prospect of alternatives as available to the community at large without seeing more than one of them appropriate for oneself. One can combine a pluralism of possible alternatives with an absolutistic position regarding ideal rationality and a firm and reasoned commitment to the standards intrinsic to one’s own position. We ourselves are bound to see our own (rationally adopted) standards as superior to the available alternatives—and are, presumably, rationally entitled to do so in light of the cognitive values we in actual fact endorse. The crux of the pluralism issue lies in the question of just what it is that one is being pluralistic about.’—Nicholas Rescher

‘The immense success of quantitative techniques in the mathematicizing-sciences has misled people into thinking that quantification is the only viable road to objectively cogent information. But think—is it really so? Where is it written that numbers alone yield genuine understanding—that judgment based on structural analysis or qualitative harmonization is unhelpful and uninformative, so that where numbers cannot enter, intelligibility flies away? (Modern mathematics itself is not all that quantitative, since it is deeply concerned with issues such as those of topology and group theory that deal with structures in a way that puts quantitative issues aside.) [….] To be sure, to acknowledge the limits of measurability is not to downgrade the whole process, let alone to propose its total abandonment. It is precisely because we are well advised to push the cause of measurement as far as we legitimately can that we need to be mindful of the line between meaningful measurement and meaningless quantifications. That we cannot draw this line better than seems to be the case at present is—or should be—a proper cause for justified chagrin. But for present purposes the salient point is that quantification does not carry measurability in its wake nor necessarily indicate objectivity. Polls quantify public opinion, but need they indicate anything objective? The sales price of entries in an art auction are perfectly good quantities, but they reflect no more than the elusive fashion and passion of the moment. There is nothing about quantities as such to indicate that they measure anything objective. Three lessons emerge: (1) While measurement requires quantification, quantification is not sufficient for measurement. (2) Quantification is neither necessary to nor sufficient for objectivity. (3) Actual measurement, while indeed sufficient for objectivity, is not necessary for it. The long and short of it is that the linkage between objectivity and quantification is more distant and more complex than is commonly envisioned.’—Nicholas Rescher

‘Any adequate worldview must recognize that the ongoing process of scientific inquiry is a process of conceptual innovation that always leaves various facts about the things of this world wholly outside the cognitive range of the inquirers of any particular period.’—Nicholas Rescher

‘[F]ailures of objectivity—wishful thinking, self-deception, bias-indulgence, and similar departures from the path of reason—may be convenient and even, in some degree, psychologically comforting. But they are ultimately indefensible. For if it is a viable defense of a position that we want, it is bound to be a rational one. In the final analysis, “Why be rational?” must be answered with the only rationally appropriate response: “Because rationality itself obliges us to be so.” In providing a rational justification of objectivity—and what other kind would we want?—the best we can do is to follow the essentially circular (but nonviciously circular!) line of establishing that reason herself endorses taking this course. The only validation of rationality’s recommendations that can reasonably be asked for—and the only one worth having—must lie in the consideration of the systemic self-sufficiency of reason. Reason’s self-recommendation is an important and necessary aspect of the legitimation of the rational enterprise. And in those matters where rationality counts, objectivity is the best policy by virtue of this very fact itself.’—Nicholas Rescher

‘Heeding the strictures of morality is part and parcel of a rational being’s cultivation of the good. For us rational creatures morality (the due care for the interests of rational beings) is an integral component of reason’s commitment to the enhancement of value. Reason’s commitment to the value of rationality accordingly carries in its wake a commitment to morality. The obligatoriness of morality ultimately roots in an ontological imperative to value realization with respect to self and world that is incumbent on free agents as such. On this ontological perspective, the ultimate basis of moral duty roots in the obligation we have as rational agents (toward ourselves and the world at large) to make the most and best of our opportunities for self-development. Moral obligation ultimately inheres in this ontological obligation to the realization of values in one’s own life.’—Nicholas Rescher

‘[T]he crucial question for rationality is not that of what we prefer but of what is in our best interests; not simply what we happen to desire but what is good for us in the sense of contributing to the realization of our true interests. The pursuit of what we want is rational only insofar as we have objectively sound reasons for deeming this to be want-deserving. The question of whether what we prefer is preferable, in the sense of deserving this preference, is always relevant. Ends can and (in the context of rationality) must be evaluated. It is not just beliefs that can be stupid, ill-advised, and inappropriate—that is to say, irrational—but ends as well. [….] What separates evaluations from mere preferences is that the former involves standards. In evaluating we bring criteria to bear on whose basis the ideas in question are rated as good or bad, superior or inferior, just or unjust, etc. Evaluations will, as such, have to be backed by reasons articulated in terms of the relevant norms—norms which ultimately inhere in the architecture of our generalizable needs.’—Nicholas Rescher

‘To proceed objectively is…to render oneself perspicuous to others by doing what any reasonable and normally constituted person would do in one’s place, thereby rendering one’s proceedings intelligible to anyone. When the members of a group are objective, they secure great advantages thereby: they lay the groundwork for community by paving the way for mutual understanding, communication, collaboration. And in cognitive matters they also sideline sources of error. For the essence of objectivity lies in its factoring out of one’s deliberations personal predilections, prejudices, idiosyncrasies, and the like that would stand in the way of intelligent people’s reaching the same result. Objectivity follows in reason’s wake because of its effectiveness as a means of averting both isolation and error.’—Nicholas Rescher

Global and historical meta-philosophical reflection helps us appreciate the manner in which reason is ‘embedded, articulated and manifested in culturally specific ways,’ the manner in which the ‘forms of rationality’ are ‘interculturally available even if they are not always interculturally instantiated.’ As Jonardon Ganeri notes, some paradigms of rationality, for instance the instrumentalist and epistemic conceptions, do not respect the oft-cited geo-historical division between East and West, while ‘others, for instance the Jaina notion of a rationality of reconciliation, or the modeling of reason by game-theory, are found in one but not the other [culture].’—Jonardon Ganeri

‘We learn most of what we know about what makes life worth living, and how to live it well, from non-scientific [or, if you prefer, non-legal] sources–biography, narrative history, serious journalism, and religious texts [I would add 'philosophy'], not to mention novels, poetry, drama and the visual arts. For Europeans at least, there is more insight to be got from a single volume by Jane Austen or Gustave Flaubert than a whole shelf of treatises on the social psychology of bourgeois love and marriage.’—John Ziman

‘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

‘To affirm that there can be several different systems all giving us, at the same time, varying and yet legitimate “true” metaphysical descriptions of the world does not…necessarily entail that there are many realities, that nothing is absolutely real, or, put less dramatically, that there is no such thing as a single, context neutral description or account of the world, that is, as the world really is. It only means that no metaphysical description of it can be outside every possible conceptual framework, but Reality itself is. Nor does it follow that any assertions about this “real” or “true” world beyond all conceptual frameworks, are nonsense. [....] The conceptual frameworks we build in the realm of rational thought are not useless just because they cannot describe Ultimate Reality. Serious examination of, reflection on, these explanatory and interpretive schemes, their differences and overlaps, are crucial to expanding and deepening our understanding of reality, even if these conceptual frameworks (any or all possible combinations and collections of them) cannot bring us the Absolute Truth. If nothing else, they enable us to understand the relativity of conceptual truths and structures, and make us see what Pascal meant when he said that the highest function of reason is to show us the limitations of reason.’—Nandini Iyer

References & Further Reading:

  • Anderson, Elizabeth. Value in Ethics and Economics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993.
  • Cottingham, John. The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy and Human Value. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  • Dupré, John. Human Nature and the Limits of Science. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 2001.
  • Ganeri, Jonardon. Philosophy in Classical India. London: Routledge, 2001.
  • Goldie, Peter. On Personality. London: Routledge, 2004.
  • Iyer, Nandini. “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” in Knut A. Jacobsen, ed. Theory and Practice of Yoga: Essays in Honour of Gerald James Larson. Leiden: Brill, 2005: 99-127.
  • Kupperman, Joel J. Value...and What Follows. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Lloyd, G.E.R. Cognitive Variations: Reflections on the Unity & Diversity of the Human Mind. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 2007.
  • Long, Jeffery D. "The Jain Doctrines of Relativity: A Philosophical Analysis," in Long's Jainism: An Introduction. London: I.B. Tauris, 2009: 141-171.
  • Lynch, Michael P. Truth in Context: An Essay on Pluralism and Objectivity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998.
  • Lynch, Michael P. True to Life: Why Truth Matters. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004.
  • Lynch, Michael P., ed. The Nature of Truth: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  • Mason, Elinor, “Value Pluralism,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/value-pluralism/.
  • McGinn, Colin. Ethics, Evil, and Fiction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Mou, Bo, ed. Two Roads to Wisdom? Chinese and Analytic Philosophical Traditions. Chicago, IL: Open Court, 2001.
  • Mulhall, Stephen. ‘Misplacing Freedom, Displacing the Imagination: Cavell and Murdoch on the Fact/Value Distinction,’ in Anthony O’Hear, ed. Philosophy, the Good, the True and the Beautiful. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 255-277.
  • Murdoch, Iris. The Sovereignty of Good. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970.
  • Murdoch, Iris. Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals. London: Penguin, 1993.
  • Newell, R.W. Objectivity, Empiricism and Truth. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986.
  • Norton, David L. Democracy and Moral Development: A Politics of Virtue. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1991.
  • Nozick, Robert. Philosophical Explanations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981.
  • Nussbaum, Martha C. Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
  • Nussbaum, Martha C. Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  • Parekh, Bhikhu. Rethinking Multiculturalism: Cultural Diversity and Political Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.
  • Putnam, Hilary. Reason, Truth and History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1981.
  • Putnam, Hilary (James Conant, ed.). Realism with a Human Face. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.
  • Putnam, Hilary. The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy and Other Essays. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002.
  • Rescher, Nicholas. Pluralism: Against the Demand for Consensus. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1993.
  • Rescher, Nicholas. The Validity of Values. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.
  • Rescher, Nicholas. Objectivity: The Obligations of Impersonal Reason. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997.
  • Rescher, Nicholas. Nature and Understanding: The Metaphysics and Method of Science. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 2000.
  • Rescher, Nicholas. Cognitive Pragmatism: The Theory of Knowledge in Pragmatic Perspective. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001.
  • Sen, Amartya. On Ethics and Economics. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1988.
  • Stocker, Michael. Plural and Conflicting Values. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1990.
  • Wedgwood, Ralph. The Nature of Normativity. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Wiggins, David. Needs, Values, Truth: Essays in the Philosophy of Value. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1998.
  • Wong, David B. Natural Moralities: A Defense of Pluralistic Relativism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • Ziman, John. Real Science: What It Is, and What It Means. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
  • Zimmerman, Michael J. The Nature of Intrinsic Value. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001.
  • Zimmerman, Michael J. “Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Value,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2007), Edward N. Zalta, ed. URL =http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2007/entires/value-intrinsic-extrinsic/


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