Philosophy of values


After considering the world,
The nihilist delivers this terrible sentence:
Nothing has value

Neither happiness nor human's existence
And the same goes for the rest: everything could disappear
No regrets!

What should we say?
Is it possible to show him that something at least,
Does have a value?

It is difficult, because nobody agrees:
For one, order has value
For the other, disorder
One loves to travel, the other prefers to read
Some shout ‘Long live the fatherland!’, others ‘Long live freedom!’.
One person loves the nature in which he walks, another destroys it

So there is no consensus, no point of agreement
In the area of values

Some even value violence
Love to cause harm and suffering
Evil is also an object of love!

What really has value?
How do you respond to a nihilist?
Here comes the most obscure problem:
The problem of values

How can it be resolved?
How do you find out what has real value?
What method should we use?

Probably by looking at an earlier problem,
Even more fundamental:
What is a value?

There are seemingly different types of value:
Economic, moral, aesthetic and religious values...
In fact, what I am looking for is the value of morality, religion, art and so on,
And the value of morality is not itself a moral value
Nor is the value of art an aesthetic value...

The plurality of things that have value does not entail the plurality of values
So value only makes sense in the singular
What we need to look for is what this unique value is, in the singular,
That all these things are likely to have.

Likewise, by value, we are not talking here about these qualities
That we attribute to an object or a person.

‘He is nice’, ‘This hammer is solid’, ‘This horse is fast’.
The question of value has not been advanced one inch by such judgements.
The real investigation must examine whether these qualities
Kindness, solidity, speed... all have a value.

So value is on another level, higher than that of qualities,
A meta qualitative level

Similarly, value is not the good, nor the end.
It is under the title of supreme good, or sovereign good,
Or ultimate end, that the philosophical tradition has sought
What is most valuable.

However, this overlooks the fact that the supreme value may be
Nothing good for us: it could be a danger to us,
If it turned out that the supreme value was evil, or nothingness
One possible outcome of our survey, alas!
In which case it would be inappropriate to call it a supreme good or an ultimate end.
The supreme value may be for us a good or an end,
But we have no right to take it for granted from the start.

In the same way, seeking value does not mean
Searching for the meaning of life
For perhaps what has value is the absurd

Indeed it is not because I find meaning in my life
For example, an activity that gives me fulfilment,
That the value of my life is founded to some extent on this

Similarly, research into values is not a moral issue:
What does the value of a work of art, or a piece of fruit, have to do with morality?
On the contrary, it is rather morality that is based on this research
Indeed, when we look for the basis of morality,
What we are trying to establish is the value of morality,
Or that good is more valuable than evil

It is not enough to establish that morality is a duty
Or that being moral makes us happy
Because we can always be told:
What has value is violating our duties
Or: what has value is the disappearance of human being,
And with it, our aspiration for happiness!

We see it: a lot of confusion
Words become entangled, mistaken for each other
So the problem of values could not be resolved
Perhaps because it has never been raised

So what is value?

Let us start with a provisional definition:
To have value is to be worthy of love
And occupy a high place in the hierarchy of all things.

We may modify it later
The conclusion of such research could lead to
A redefinition of the concept of value

The question: what has value?
Thus becomes: what is worthy of love?
And: what occupies a high place in the hierarchy?

What method should be used for this survey?

Some methods are only roads to nowhere
Which ones?

If you ask me, ‘What is this tree made of?’
I can answer: wood.
Now if you ask me: ‘Does it have any value?’,
I do not know what to say,
Nor which tool to use to answer this question,
For it is not because you cut it with an axe or saw it,
That something like value will magically appear to us

In the same way, I can conduct all possible experiments on a lamp,
Dismantling it, subjecting it to an electric current, etc.
I cannot seem to find its place in the hierarchy
However, I will know how it works, what it is made of and so on.

So it is not through experience that we can discover the value of a thing.
Experience can teach us what a thing is,
Gives us information about its essence
Or how it works, but nothing about its value.

Which is fortunate, because if that were the case,
We could not possibly know that murder is hateful,
Until we experience it for ourselves
By killing with our own hands,
And morality could only be professed by murderers

In the same way, it is not by identifying this or that quality in the thing
That we will solve the problem of values.
Trees are useful because we use their wood to heat our homes
All we have done is replace something whose value is unfounded - the tree
By something whose value is unfounded - utility.
Some argue that what is valuable is what is useless
And if we answer: utility has value, because it makes people happy,
That would only postpone the problem. Because we would then be asked:
What is the value of human happiness?
What the nihilist denies.
So the qualitative method leads to a regression to infinity.

Thus when we meet someone who loves something,
We can afford to concede that all qualities
Are present in this thing (beautiful, good, indispensable, enriching, etc.),
But to this astonished man, we must add:
‘Yes, but why is it lovable?’

What if we simply based our research on the obviousness?
Is it not obvious that pleasure is more valuable than pain?
That good is better than evil?
Is anyone who denies this not simply acting in bad faith?

In fact, any obvious judgment of this kind dissolves by itself
As soon as it is formulated
Thus it seems obvious that adventure is preferable to routine,
But are we actually seeing mass departures to the other side of the world?
Or that wealth is preferable to poverty: but some flee
Material possessions, to live as hermits in complete self-denial
And some people find in museums nothing but boredom.
One society condemns free love, another approves.
This disagreement goes so far as to pit men from the same society against each other,
From the same region, the same town, the same family.
Finally, everyone contradicts themselves,
Suddenly valuing something that only yesterday had bored them to tears
This is the essential truth of relativism:
There is nothing obvious about values!

Would we have better luck asking a specialist?
If we were to look for the value of dance, who would know the answer?
Someone who has never practised such an art, and remains heavy and ungainly?
Or an experienced dancer?
About the value of a painting: would you ask a great master,
Or a scribbler, who produces nothing but paintings in poor taste?

Now what is the difference between the specialist and the neophyte?
Apart from the fact that the former has far more experience in his field than the latter.
However, we have seen that experience does not tell us anything
About the value of a thing, but only about what it is, its essence.
Experienced dancers know much more about dance than we do
They feel it in their flesh and know how every muscle in their body
Must move, how every joint must bend, to charm us.
By dint of practice, they have come to know its thousand secrets.
But even at this stage of expertise, they do not know the value of it, just as we do.

On the other hand, if we must let the specialist have his say,
So who better to judge values than the values specialist?

Now we see that these four methods are nothing but
Paths that lead nowhere:
The use of experience, the search for qualities,
Pretending it is obvious and questioning the specialists

Always in this type of discussion,
We will encounter them and dismiss them

We seem to have lost our way
But certain things are already becoming clear
In our encounter with relativism
Including this essential point:
Every value judgement is opposed by an equal value judgement
Since none of them are well-founded
This is why there is a problem: the problem of values

We see that anything, no matter how absurd or cruel
Is loved by someone

It is a fascinating sight, and one that leaves us baffled,
And yet we are talking about us:
It is the spectacle of human love,
Ourselves in our thousand loves!

Hence this terrible consequence:
We must suspend our value judgements
Since these are unfounded, and as such have no legitimacy

So we need to stop condemning what we find contemptible
And praising what we find lovable.
It is a rather unusual state of mind, because you must somehow
Become like a sponge, loving and despising nothing

This is the exact opposite of the mindset of the dogmatist,
Who adheres to the first degree to his value judgements, somehow mired in them.
He lives entirely confident in the ends he has set for himself,
Nothing has ever shaken the substance of his life
He coincides with himself and knows no doubt.
The problem of values does not even appear to him as such.
For him, it is just a theoretical problem,
Simple entertainment to keep idle minds occupied.

There is no point in explaining our project to people like that
He cannot help but be irritated by such research, and cannot stand
To see the value of what he loves passed on to the question,
And will reject any conclusion that is not in line with his love.

Dogmatists can become activists if they devote their lives
To what they arbitrarily attribute value, in the mode of action.
Through this commitment, their relationship with the world is perpetual indignation.
They try to hide their powerlessness to establish the value of what they love
By vigorously and continuously protesting against
Value judgements that seem shocking, absurd, scandalous, etc., to them

They will try to move us and convince us of the validity of their struggle
Using all the irrational rhetorical resources at their disposal
They will shed tears, raise an accusing index finger,
Their voice trembling in the throes of emotion.
However, this indignation, while it may seduce for a moment, cannot convince
Because it rings hollow and carries no argument in itself
And we are not going to be intimidated any longer
By something like that.

So many tragic conclusions are possible in our research!
What will we do if we discover that nothing has value?
Or that what has value is evil?
Will we be able to withstand such a result?
Will we have the courage to accept it, or will we run away from it?
Every step we take must be accompanied by a deep sense of anxiety,
Because what is at stake is the most serious thing of all.

An anguished suspension of our value judgements,
So that is the mindset we need to get into,
If we want to tackle the problem of values authentically.

In this way at least, in our survey
We will not let our prejudices influence us
And we will remain impartial

Relativism sheds light, but it is only a starting point.
It does not put an end to the search for values, but rather initiates it:
Every value judgement is opposed by an equal value judgement
For the moment

While our age is relativistic, this does not mean that
Relativism is the only valid doctrine of values today
But what counts today is the cacophony
Of all the hierarchies of values that assert themselves loud and clear
With violence and chatter.

Relativism, fanaticism, patriotism, cosmopolitanism...
Our world does not appear to be one of a loss of meaning,
But the one of the expression of all possible meanings.

This is the source of contemporary anxiety:
The unconscious feeling that the values we believe in,
And that we defend, sometimes with weapons in our hands,
Remain unfounded

The absence of any foundation affects all axiological doctrines:
Relativism, subjectivism and nihilism do not appear to be more well-founded
Than the objectivism of values.
The impotence of objectivism is not a confirmation of relativism.

Post-modern impotence runs so deep
That the judgement ‘There are only relative values’
Is for the moment as unfounded as
The opposite judgement ‘There are absolute values’.

Similarly, nihilism is incapable of establishing the idea that ‘Nothing has value’:
The absence of any proof of the value of life is not, in itself,
A proof of the negative value of life.

What we see above all is this phenomenon:
The oblivion of value
Confused with related concepts: good, end, quality, etc.
A question betrayed, and therefore closed, from its earliest formulation

Here is a new sign:
The oblivion of the pleasure derived from the value of a thing,
Axiological pleasure.

The existence and nature of such a feeling is obvious:
When I think something has great value, is worthy of love,
So when I have a relationship, whatever it may be, with this thing
I will be delighted.
For example, a walk in the forest, for the nature lover.

We can even imagine that the so-called aesthetic pleasure
That the beauty of a thing inspires in us
Is in reality axiological pleasure, generated by its value.

I think strength has a value
I take pleasure in contemplating this square-jawed man
Or the waves unleashed by the power of the storm

I think that joy has a value
I am delighted to hear it again in the chirping of the birds in this garden
Or in the Mona Lisa's smile

In fact, it is not the beauty of the thing that I appreciate,
But the thing itself, or a part of it.
As we often do not like the whole object - the lion, for example,
But only one aspect of it - his power, his mane...
We think - wrongly - that we have to assume a quality in it,
Different from an ontological point of view: beauty.

Our gaze unnecessarily duplicates reality
In a Platonist way
In the end, beauty appears to be a useless redundancy:
There is no such thing as beauty, only contents of meaning
That we may or may not like!

So when two aesthetes disagree about a work of art
It is not because one has seen a mysterious quality, beauty
Which would not appear to the other, for who knows what reason,
Nor because ‘Beauty is subjective’.
This is because a piece of art has a multitude of meanings:
A subject, a period, a technique, colours, a conception of art, etc.,
And that the first attributes a value to one of them, while the second denies it.

In other words: the so-called aesthetic disagreement is actually
Axiological disagreement
And it can be resolved if we manage to solve the problem of values.

You might think the colour red is beautiful,
But is it not strange to attibute a value to it?
This will come as no surprise to anyone who has realised that
Everything is loved by man, including matter
Including the cold solidity of marble or granite.

Some people love matter for its own sake,
Others for the spiritual qualities it evokes in them
Like the serenity of the mountains, or the terror of the storm.

All these pleasures and displeasures can be explained without
Using the notion of beauty or aesthetics.

Now, there are a myriad of meanings in a work of art,
You never know which ones will be spotted by the viewer
And will be taken into account in a value judgement:
An infinite number of meanings can be chosen
And opposed by the viewer.

This struggle for meanings in our minds
Which determines the final reaction of pleasure and displeasure,
Is beyond our understanding.
We cannot therefore calculate mathematically
Whether we will like a work of art or not.

However, this complexity does not call anything into question:
The fact remains that this is the value,
Not the beauty of the content of meaning
Which determines whether or not there is pleasure.

Art loses nothing by the disappearance of aesthetics
The work of art is now seen as a thing that may show us
Contents of meaning of great value
Museums are places where you can live experiences of value,
Sometimes disconcerting!

So here is the value that resurfaces
From the oblivion into which it had sunk
But we cannot talk about oblivion or loss,
Of what never presented itself as a memory, nor as a gain.

Here, in any case, are the traps and pitfalls
Waiting for the unwary
Embarked on this perilous adventure:
The search for value!

Now it is our turn to venture out, groping our way forward
Is there any other way to get through the darkest night?

So let us ask ourselves:
Where do we look for the value of things?

In the object?
Our survey showed
That it was vain and naive to look for value in the object
As if by sawing the tree, it would appear to us

In fact, the relativism of our time is probably the result of
The millennial failure of value objectivism

Perhaps it would be more appropriate to look inwards,
And look for value in ourselves.
What if value lay not in the object but in the subject who contemplates it?
Perhaps we give the world its value...

The theory to be examined is as follows:
Human being does not project falsely, like fiction,
The value of things, but actually creates it, in other words
Value becomes as real as the thing to which it is attributed.
Human creates value like a sculptor creates a statue
Or the painter a picture

So the world is not devoid of value, as nihilism claims,
It is empty of values that subsist by themselves,
In things themselves
But is full of values given by human to things.

First of all, how is such a prodigy possible?
Do you think that when you look at an object and concentrate,
A value will pop into your head, passing through the air
And becoming incarnate in the thing?
Would not this idea of the gift of values be a kind of
Magical thinking?

Even supposing such a donation were possible,
This does not contradict nihilism.
Because then we concede that things do not have value in themselves.
If it is up to humans to give a value, it is because the world is devoid
Of any value; and this is precisely what nihilism affirms.
The only way to confront nihilism is to contradict what it says,
By showing that the world has value in and by itself.

After all, is not that a sign of incredible human pride?
Of absolute anthropocentrism?
Indeed, if the universe is devoid of all value, if it is human
Who creates values and gives them, in his great goodness, to the universe,
If human is a source of value for the world,
So the human being is the axiological, rather than the spatial, centre of the universe.

This doctrine therefore consists of an original combination
Of nihilism and anthropocentrism
Thus does not have to be considered for its own sake,
But it refers back to the examination of nihilism.

From these various pitfalls, we return to our original question:
Where to look for value?
From what has emerged,
Neither in the subject nor in the object
Either because we cannot give a value to the object,
Either because it cannot be found there

Could there be a third way?
Probably. Perhaps it is neither in the object nor in the subject
That value must be sought,
But in their relationship, and in this special relationship
Between object and subject in the field of value:

Since we are looking for what is worthy of love,
Maybe we need to elucidate the concept of love

Until now, we have been looking in vain for a solution to the problem of values
Either in the object or in the subject
Let us finally see if we can find this solution
In their relationship, that is, in love.

If you want to know what is lovable, ask love itself!

So let us follow this path to discover the landscapes it reveals.

We arrived, at the bend in the path,
To this ancient question, which has accompanied
The emergence of philosophy itself:
What is love?

Could it be a feeling that is born between two spirits and unites them?
In reality, love can be about any content of meaning
In this way, nature can be loved by walkers and ecologists alike.
Music too, by the clumsy child or the virtuoso...

Love is not just a feeling of pleasure
Taken at the thought or presence of the loved one

In reality, beneath this feeling of pleasure lies something else
Of a completely different nature.
Love is also a statement, a judgement, and even a thesis,
Which can be summed up as follows: ‘This, which I love, has value’.

Insofar as love attributes a value to the thing loved,
It says something about something, which is
The classic definition of judgement

It postulates a reality, that of a value in the being or object loved,
Which makes it a kind of theory, a thesis

This is precisely what differentiates love from desire
I can desire someone without valuing them
I want this apple pie, but I do not attribute it a high place
In the hierarchy of values
But when I fall in love, I value the beloved

Love now turns out to be both
A feeling and a thesis
Or rather, a thesis buried at the heart of a feeling.

It seems that this side of love has been ignored, or
Has received less attention than its irrational or sentimental side,
As studied or celebrated by psychoanalysis, religion, poetry,
Philosophy and more.

The question is: will we discover anything interesting
If we explore this hidden side of love?

First of all, we discover an essential condition of love,
Which appears in the form of a law, a law of love:
To love, you have to attribute a value to the beloved

If I break this law and say: ‘I love you, but you have no value’
My so-called love turns to contempt
A kind of contempt in disguise, masquerading as love.
We can no longer even claim the title of lover,
When we violate this condition.
We think we love, we want to love, but in reality we despise.

Beyond that, we discover that in this mysterious hidden side
The laws of love are concealed as essential conditions
And this question: what could be like
This table of the laws of love?

A second law is easily deduced:
The lover must defend the beloved when this one is attacked

Suppose the nihilist says to a nature lover:
‘Nature has no value’
And that the latter remains silent, instead of coming to the aid of the one he loves
By showing what makes it so valuable...
What kind of lover would he be? A very poor lover!

Here is another similar example:
Sometimes two lovers, in an assault of eloquence, throw themselves in each other's faces
‘I love you for no reason’ or ‘I love you without knowing why’.
That sounds admirable, but in reality it amounts to saying:
‘No matter how hard I look at you, I cannot see how you have any value’.

A kind of insult, then, disguised as a compliment
And so here again we find
A kind of contempt disguised as love

So we can reformulate this second law of love:
To love, we have to be able to show what makes the beloved so valuable

However, what have we seen just now?
That the problem of values has not been resolved
That every value judgement is opposed to an equal judgement
That values are not founded
And as a result we are unable to show
The value of what we love,
Nor the negative value of what we hate.

It appears that for the time being
Our loves turn out to be a kind of contempt in disguise,
Because our relationship with things and beings is of this form:
‘I love you without knowing why’, or ‘I love you for no reason’.
Therefore the human possibility of love remains to be thought.

Of course, there are some great love stories
There is no question of denying the most tender and delicate aspects of our lives.
Big feelings are real
But love is not just a feeling

This is simply a classic doctrine:
Love is conceived as an ideal, a goal towards which
We have strived without ever being able to reach it.
It is the possibility of achieving this task that seemed infinite
Which is raised again here.

Thus, love can no longer be taken for granted.
As long as love was seen as nothing more than a feeling of pleasure
It was easy for us to know whether we loved this or that being or object.
I enjoy looking at nature and walking in it, I love nature.
It is as simple as that.

If we now admit that love, because of its meaning,
Implies in itself conditions, so the question arises of knowing
If we have respected all these conditions in our relationship with the object.
If that is not the case, then our relationship with the object is no longer love,
But something completely different.

As a result, it is no longer certain that we love the object,
Although we intend to.
We want to love the object, but we cannot
Love becomes a problem

Now it is time to come back to our original question
How can this reflection on love enlighten
The problem of values?

From the earliest times, the problem of values has been posed in this way:
What must be loved?

However, the notion of right or duty is meaningless:
Where is this so-called duty? In the clouds? Is it based on reason?
On God? On the consent of the majority?
How do you respond to someone who says that what has a value
Is to disobey your duty, God, reason, or majority?

So, as long as we consider that the problem of values is a legal one,
Involving this famous right in the clouds, we cannot solve it

Against this, here is a new definition of value, which carefully avoids
The notion of right: to have value is to be lovable,
In other words, it can be loved, as a matter of fact.

This definition uses only the concept of love:
In fact, the obscure concept of value disappears completely
In the clearer one of love, and is nothing beyond that.
It can even be abandoned and the question:
‘What is of great value?’ be replaced by the question:
‘What is lovable?’ or ‘What can be loved?’

What can be loved?
Everything, it seems, and that was even our starting point:
Everything, even the most absurd or cruel, is loved

Nevertheless, as we have just seen,
Love is not just a feeling of pleasure,
And it could turn into disguised contempt,
If we break one of the laws of love.

If love becomes a problem,
‘What can be loved?’ is a real question.

Now we come to the heart of our answer to the problem of values:
We know that a thing which violates a single law of love
Cannot be loved.
Why? Because breaking these laws does not lead us to love,
But to disguised contempt.

If we can only access a thing by
One or more disguised contempt, this means that it is contemptible,
Because we can only access it through contempt,
And there is no way of having a loving relationship with it.
Since it can only be despised, it cannot be loved:
So it is simply not loveable, because we cannot love it by any means.

So finding the value of something is simple:
The first step is to identify all the laws of love
Once this table of laws has been drawn up, we need to check that
This object does not have such a nature that in our relationship with it,
We will automatically be breaking one of these laws.
If it violates one, it has no value; if it does not, it has value.

This list of laws has never been drawn up,
And so the problem of values has not been resolved.

If we want to determine what is edible, we need to know what eating is:
Provide your body with nutrients which enable it to function properly.
We then know that only what meets this criterion is edible,
And inedible, which is bad for our bodies.

So we deduce what is edible from what it means to eat
In the same way, we will deduce what is lovable from what it means to love.
This is what was implied by the phrase:
‘If you want to know what is lovable, ask love itself!’.

A method is proposed:
We must now try to apply it, to test its resistance:
Will it stand up to the test of reality?

To read the rest of the book, you can download it in PDF format.

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Axio: a book by Cyril Arnaud

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