The Problem of Values

ALL members of the Philosophical Association owe a debt of gratitude to the executive committee for formulating the question to be discussed at the next meeting. I am aware of no better way of expressing my own gratitude than to comply promptly with the request of the committee for submission of additional formulations of the question.

I shall first make a few remarks upon the formulation by four members of the committee.[2] I assume that in the question, "Is value something which is ultimate and which attaches itself to 'things' independently of consciousness, or of an organic being with desires and aversions? " the "or" is to be understood as marking a genuine alternative between "consciousness" and an "organic being with desires and aversions," not as indicating that the latter clause is in apposition with consciousness or explanatory of it. The alternative is genuine and important : for some may be inclined to connect the existence of values with organic behavior and yet not be willing to equate desires and aversions with "consciousness" — in fact, they may go so far as to hold that "consciousness" (in whatever sense the term is here used) is itself dependent upon matters connected with the desires and aversions of an organic being. Since, however, unconscious desires and aversions may appear to some to involve a contradiction in language, it would seem better to substitute a more objective term, such as selections and rejections; or better yet, to generalize the matter and make the alternative in question to be simply that of connection with the behavior of organic beings.

When the question is thus understood, some doubt arises as to the force of the term "ultimate" in the first alternative. Are values if regarded as variables of organic behavior less ultimate than if regarded as things irrespective of connection with organic behavior? And if the answer should be in the affirmative, what is the ground upon which this answer rests?

I have no doubt a successful discussion may be had on the basis of the formulation already presented. In some respects, however, the formulation seems unnecessarily tied up with the idealistic-realistic controversy. I recognize that this complication has the advantage of preserving continuity in the discussions from year to

( 269) year; yet it is possible that the questions at issue might, in the present juncture, be dealt with in the end more effectively if approached by a flank movement. At all events, I venture to submit the following list of questions :

1. Can the question of the status of values in philosophic discussion be approached apart from the question of the status of qualities?

2. Can values be separated from traits of organic behavior? If organic behavior has its own distinguishing traits, does the affirmation that values are traits of organic behavior imply their "subjectivity" ? If so, in what sense? Does connection with organic behavior imply their dependence upon awareness?

3. Do values antecede, or do they depend upon valuation-understanding by valuation a process of reflective estimation or judgment?

4. If they antecede, does valuation merely bring them to light without change, or does it modify antecedent values? Does it produce new values? If the latter occur, are the modification and production merely incidental or are they essential?

5. Can the place of intelligence in behavior in general (and in moral conduct in particular) be understood without implying that reflection reorganizes antecedent natural values?

6. What is the meaning of appreciation? Is it a particular mode of apprehending (knowing) values, or is it a name for the direct presence of values in experience? How is it related to valuation and criticism?

7. Does the presence of values in experience in general (or say religious values in particular) have an evidential import? That is to say, does the existence of religious values, for example, prove the existence of any class of objects beyond the values themselves? Or, again, does the presence in experience of any type of values purport to make the mind aware of something in the environment, taking that word in its widest possible sense? [This question may profitably be considered in connection with the first question, regarding qualities.]

8. If the answers to these questions should be in the negative, is the significance of such values for experience and for philosophy thereby determined to be null or illusory ? Can an affirmative answer to this question be maintained except on the assumption that all experience is, ipso facto, intended to be an awareness of objects?



  1. This paper is presented in response to the request of the committee that further formulations of this problem be submitted for publication.
  2. This Journal, Vol. X., page 165.

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