On Intolerables: A Study in the Logic of Valuation

Wilbur M. Urban


TO be able to say, `this is unthinkable, inconceivable,' and to say it with conviction, has ever been felt to be the beginning of wisdom. Man, greedy of this certainty, has tried in many different ways, often dogmatically and gratuitously, often with rare critical insight, and again with a final inner compunction, to set such limits to his thought and will.

But with time we have become critical of these fruitful exclusions. To be able to say with conviction, ‘such and such a thing is inconceivable,’ requires that one shall be either very knowing or unknowing, very simple or very astute. One learns that it is not inconceivable that water should be hard, that polyandry is not unthinkable. Our notions have been constantly revised, in the world of nature and morals alike, until finally there is nothing the opposite of which we find inconceivable except, perhaps, a few formal logical propositions.

On another point also man has learned wisdom in this matter. Not only has he discovered that he has constantly confused the unimaginable with the unthinkable, but that many propositions which he thought to be certain because their opposites are inconceivable, are really so merely because they are intolerable to his feeling and will. The philosophical saint of the Middle Ages found it inconceivable that the most perfect Being, having once been thought, should not also exist. To the post-Kantian

( 478) philosopher, on the other hand, it is "intolerable that the highest inspirations of reason, appreciative of values, should have no existence, power and validity in the world of reality." The Cartesian rationalist found it "inconceivable that God should deceive"; for the voluntarist of today it is intolerable that the world should be mere appearance, or illusion, and from this intolerability for his will he argues the absolute existence of its objects.[1]

In the light of these facts, the whole question of intolerables invites discussion, for no such discussion exists. If the existence of inconceivables, i, e., of propositions the opposites of which are inconceivable, is the sine qua non of an intellectualistic philosophy, so the sine qua non of any `value philosophy' must be the existence of certain ultimate value or values the opposites of which could properly be described as intolerables. The fact that precisely such intolerables are constantly being consciously or unconsciously assumed must be apparent to any one familiar with modern philosophy. Whether, as is often hastily supposed, they are ultimately reducible to the wilful and 'romantic' demand that the universe shall satisfy us, because the opposite would be in-tolerable, remains to be seen.

The question of the existence and nature of such intolerables is indeed the first problem which such a critical discussion invites.But immediately other questions arise. How is the intolerable related to the inconceivable? Are they two sides of the same shield, as is often supposed, for instance, in a type of idealism such as Bosanquet's? Are any propositions about reality deducible from them? What is their place in a system of values? These questions, and others like them, indicate the range of problems thus opened up, and the place such a discussion may properly claim in philosophical thought.

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And first as to the question of fact. Are there any intolerables? Intolerables überhaupt? There can be no doubt, I think, that we use this predicate with the same implication of universality with which we use inconceivability. Is such a use justifiable?

I have interested myself in gathering examples of those things that the philosophers find intolerable. They range all the way from the unrequited affection of the most ephemeral insect to the eternal pains of the damned, from the thought that two and two should not make four to the thought that the entire world of sense and thought should be an illusion. " Nietzsche," says Rickert, " found absolute physics intolerable, but who does not? "

It is apparent from the start that distinctions are here in order. In the first place, there is evidently an equivocation in our use of the term intolerable similar to that found in the term inconceivable. The inconceivable is often identified with the unimaginable. What we can contemplate in the sense of imagination is wholly a psychological matter. Similarly what we can tolerate in contemplation is in at least one sense of the word wholly a matter of sensibility.

That there are psychological limits to sense and sensibility we are well aware. I find things unbearable in this sense and pass into unconsciousness and die. So also, there are limits to my sympathetic contemplation of distress and horror, beyond which lies madness. On the other hand, we can get used to anything, it is said, even hanging, and in so far as sense and sensibility are concerned this seems to be very nearly true. It is in no wise different with that form of sensibility we call moral. It is in-tolerable, we cry, and to we tolerate it-first endure and finally embrace. There is scarcely an element of our moral sensibility (it is the old story of relativism) the opposite of which has not been found tolerable enough. The a priori intolerable, such as incest, seems a chimera.

Perhaps then we may say that as a matter of fact everything imaginable is also tolerable to some sensibility,-malevolent delight in torture, the contemplation of the pains of the damned,

(480) in short the opposites of all the ordinary objects of desire, sensibility and sympathy. Ugliness may become a delight, untruth an atmosphere in which we find ourselves at ease. Death, against which ordinary sensibility revolts, may become a boon, and complete extinction, which Ferrier thought a priori inconceivable, may not only be conceivable, but tolerable and actually willed. And as for the intolerables of the philosopher, `absolute physics' oran illusory world, these may not only be tolerable but, as any one who has read the philosophers knows, the source of peculiar de-lights. Nothing in itself is intolerable, and therefore, nothing in this sense is absolutely valuable. Actual transvaluation of values, even metaphysical values, is possible without limit.

But more than this-and this is a point that I consider especially worthy of note-there are innumerable situations actually intolerable to us in reality, that become tolerable enough in imagination and thought. I refer here to the extension of the limits of the tolerable through artistic forms of representation.

The cardinal illustration of this is, of course, tragedy. The paradox of tragedy, the topic of endless discussion, is just this: that we find the intolerable tolerable, that we take delight in pain, and that what we flee in reality, we seek in the form of aesthetic illusion. Tragedy is, however, merely the most conspicuous form of this curious division of our natures. That which one would not tolerate, much less will, in the world of moral realities, one not only endures but by sympathy actually wills in the world of poetry and fiction. Any one who has observed this curious world must have wondered at the strange indulgence crimes of passion and irresistible desires there enjoy; at the reversal of moral values, the possibility of indefinite transvaluation this world affords. But strangest of all is the extension of the tolerable in the tragic. Before the tragic destruction of the moral hero, for instance, we stand with a moral indifference, nay with a tragic elevation, an aesthetic delight, which presents, as Th. Lessing has said, an axiological fact of a peculiar and significant sort. It is just this extension of the tolerable through the aesthetic which commanded Nietzsche's attention. Insight into

(481) madness and error, even as a condition of life, would be without art "gar nicht auszuhalten." He suggests that in art we can bear what we otherwise could not.

With the psychology of these phenomena-with the debated question whether our sympathetic participation has to do with `real feeling' or Schein-gefühte-we need not bother ourselves here. It is sufficient that the assumption of the reality of the object is the condition of the aesthetic contemplation, and that a sphere of reality is created in which the limits of what is endurable and tolerable for our sensibility are immensely extended, and that this must be taken into account in our problem of ultimate intolerables. I emphasize the point here because of important bearings later.

If, then, to draw these facts together, we understand by the tolerable that which is endurable for sensibility, there seems ground for saying that no objects of such sensibility are intolerable überhaupt.


Is this then the end of our study? Rather may we not well ask whether this is really what is meant by the philosopher when in one way or another he makes use of this concept of the 'a priori intolerable,'-when, for instance, immortality is established for a Kant because the opposite is intolerable for the moral consciousness, or when Lotze finds it intolerable that the highest inspirations of reason, appreciative of values, are without power and validity in the world of reality? Evidently it is not. Whether rightly or not, these thinkers believe that such postulates as these, the opposites of which are for them intolerable, and for which they assume universality, are somehow independent of the mutations of sensibility described. Between sensibility and the apprehension of value a distinction is made, a distinction analogous to that made by such intellectualists as Anselm and Descartes between that which can be thought and not imagined, and that which can be imagined but not thought. Is such an analogy capable of being carried out? Is it not conceivable, at least, that, while there are no objects or situations which, as a result of

(482) habit and custom and dulling of sensitivity, may not become tolerable, and none which through imaginative contemplation in the aesthetic mode may not become not only endurable but actually enjoyed, there may yet be postulates of the will, the opposites of which would really be intolerable in this axiological sense?

I believe not only that the distinction here made is valid, but also that the philosophers who, in implying this distinction, insist that there are intolerables for the ' practical reason ' or for the `pure will' are essentially sound. They may be wrong in their definition of the intolerable; none of them may have hit upon that which is really intolerable; but the principle underlying their position is not only valid but of considerable theoretic importance. In developing my position I will make use of an illustration which seems almost made for our purpose. It is a paragraph from Wundt's Ethics on what might be characterized as the ' limits of moral contemplation.'

"If we could be absolutely assured," Wundt writes,[2] "of the misery of a descendant living two centuries hence, we should probably not be much disturbed. It would trouble us more to believe that the state and nation to which we belong were to perish in a few generations. The prospect would have to be postponed for several centuries at least before our knowledge that all the works of time must be destroyed would make it tolerable. But there is one idea that would be forever intolerable, though its realization were thought of as thousands of years distant: it is the thought that humanity with all its intellectual and moral toil, may vanish without leaving a trace, and that not even a memory of it may endure in any mind."From the intolerability of this conception Wundt actually goes on to infer the reality of its opposite. "The confidence in this reality is born," it is true, "of faith not of knowledge,"but of a "faith based on a dialectical analysis of the concept of moral end which shows that every given end is only proximate, not ultimate,-is thus finally a means to the attainment of an imperishable goal."


This is, I repeat, an illustration made, as it were, for our purpose, and is worth close consideration for several reasons.

In the first place it purports to be an empirical analysis of our actual sense of value, and is made by a psychologist not accustomed to speak hastily in such matters. It fairly represents what men feel in the matter; at least the answers to a questionnaire submitted to my students for a number of years leads me to think so. In the second place, the illustration brings out clearly the distinction between sensibility and value with which we have been concerned. For you will note that, as the matter is here presented, it is precisely the contemplation of the destruction of that which appeals most to our sensibility, namely our less remote descendants and the nation to which we are attached, that is tolerable, while the idea that is absolutely intolerable, no matter how remote in time its realization is conceived to be, is one that makes no immediate appeal to our sensibility and sympathy, namely the thought of the ultimate futility of effort, the ultimate destruction of values.

In the third place, it contains the nerve of all the arguments from the intolerable with which we are here concerned. However it may be phrased, whether as an "instinct which tells us that reality is the support of values"(Bosanquet), as the postulate that 'the universe must satisfy us' or as the 'conservation of values,'it is always because the opposite is intolerable that the truth of the propositions is believed.

Has then this intolerable the universality here claimed for it? As yet we are dealing merely with the question of fact, and I think we must admit that there are many who do not find it so. Not only do they find it wholly tolerable to contemplate the possibility of the opposite of this postulate of the conservation of values, but also the certainty of the still more drastic picture which physical science is supposed to give of our world and its passing away. Nietzsche may have found absolute physics intolerable, but certainty Mr. Russell and others do not.

I think, however, it is perfectly fair to doubt whether the expressions of the latter should be taken at their face value. When

(484) Mr. Russell, for example, in his discussion of tragedy in the essay entitled "The Free Man's Worship," finds it possible, not only to endure with resignation, but even to find a certain tragical elevation in the very thought that Wundt finds intolerable, may we not well ask whether it is not really an aesthetic attitude with which we are here concerned; whether it is not precisely a case of that extension of the tolerable through aesthetic contemplation of which we have already spoken? There are, as we have pointed out, probably no limits to what may be found tolerable in such aesthetic contemplation, but it may well be questioned whether such a mood can be, or should be taken as final.

That it is essentially an aesthetic attitude, and indeed one akin to that with which we face the destruction of the tragic hero, will not be doubted by any one who has read the essay in question. It is, moreover, a mood common enough, and one wholly accessible to any one with the powers of abstraction and isolation necessary to aesthetic contemplation. But that this dissociation of value and reality is ultimately possible may still be questioned. The question we have come upon here really involves one of the fundamental problems of value theory. Are the values of the true, the good, the beautiful, independent values; or do they all presuppose the ultimate value of reality? Von Hartmann has a striking passage that runs somewhat as follows : "The beauty-value of the world abstracts from all reality in that it is concerned wholly with aesthetic appearance. From the positive character of this value it follows, no more than from the world's value for knowledge, that also as reality, as a sum of objective real things, it has a positive value. Suppose the world were a paragon of evil, a miscarriage or a hell, it would still be a value for knowledge, and for the artist beautiful even though this were merely that the painter might study the light effects of this hell or the poet sing the pains of the damned."[3] Now what impresses me in a passage such as this is not the moral insensibility which seems to underlie it. I am willing to believe that the veriest hell might be endurable for the scientist while he is dis-

(485) -covering say new processes of combustion, or for the artist while he is striving to catch the light which in very truth never was on land or sea. I can indeed put myself in his place; I can share his moments of abstraction. But that he should say that this knowledge and beauty have value in any ultimate sense; that in the face of the complete dissociation of reality from the good, he can speak of values at all, passes my comprehension. Such dissociation is not intolerable for sensibility perhaps, but for any ultimate contemplation, ontological or metaphysical if you will, it is intolerable. Somehow the positive value of the beauty or the knowledge does imply that the objects, as reality, have a positive value.

That there are relative dissociations of this sort every one must of course admit. A novel, we are told, may reach the highest value of beauty and yet its characters may historically, as objects of logical truth connection, be without any value. Moreover, the deed of the hero may be a moral crime. On the other hand, an achievement may deserve the highest possible ethical estimation and yet may nowhere offer a hold for aesthetic enjoyment. These are perhaps extreme statements. It may well be questioned whether an element of logical truth connection is not a pre-supposition of beauty; whether the highest possible ethical estimation does not include an element of the aesthetic. But, assuming them to be relatively true, these partial dissociations cannot be taken as ultimate, nor can partial discrepancies between value and reality be pleaded as an argument for complete and final dissociation.[4] They represent moods of our sensibility, but it is false philosophy to crystallize these moods into absolute values. Life constantly shows us these values clashing with each other-our whole existence is filled with the tension of their opposing forces-but so soon as we attempt to live an entire life, to bring the moods of life together, these contradictions do be-come intolerable, and the contemplation of their final dissociation would be the genuinely axiological intolerable.

It may, of course, be said that we do not need to bring the moods of life together, to live an entire life, in order to value.

(486) We do not need to ask what the meaning or value of it all is in order to experience the separate values. Such a demand itself is, you may say, but an expression of individual wilfulness or sensibility. Either it is a matter of sensibility—it depends upon what sort of man you are, as Fichte would say—or a merely wilful voluntarism which declares that the willing of a unitary world is the condition of our discussing values at all. 'I am not such a man; I do not find it necessary to will such a world. Therefore the opposite is not intolerable. Therefore there is nothing more to say.

I do not believe that we are left in such a situation, and the reasons for this belief will appear in the course of the discussion. But, returning to the point which occasioned this digression, I feel sure we may at least say, after this study, that the tragical elevation in the face of a world totally indifferent to values is a mood of sensibility—a mood indeed that we may all share at times, but still with most of us a mood and not a belief. Its possibility is but an extreme case of certain psychological laws of our sensibility, and constitutes no valid argument against the essential intolerability of an absolute dissociation between value and reality.

In the case of Mr. Russell a certain luxuriating in the emotions which the contemplation of this dissociation induces, suggests even a kind of sentimentality. For him the good is not only a quality of some timeless essences, but the meaning of this quality is that these essences ought to exist, or, if anything exists at all, it ought to conform to them. That he should find a certain perverted sublimity in the contemplation of the "abysm of wrong" which the total indifference of reality to this demand discloses, may perhaps be conceivable. There seem to be no limits to possibility in this direction. But that he should think that the good is somehow good, notwithstanding, is hard to understand. One should not call names in philosophy, but this mythical good seems to have betrayed Mr. Russell into a form of sentimentality which is much more objectionable than that alleged to be displayed by those who say things must be valuable in order to exist at all.


Let us then seek to generalize the results of our analysis thus far. We have been concerned with the simple question of fact, and there are two facts which seem to be of importance. In the first place, if by `intolerable' we understand intolerable for some sensibility, there seem to be no limits to what our sensibility may find tolerable. Transvaluation of values seems to be in this sense practically unlimited. In the second place, the facts compel us to recognize that there is no value the opposite of which cannot be affirmed. That which is intolerable to the ethical consciousness may be tolerable from the aesthetic or scientific point of view. That which is intolerable to either of the latter may be easily taken up into the moral. But there seems good reason for believing that a distinction between sensibility and valuation is justified by the facts, that in this sense we may distinguish between an aesthetic imagination and a genuine contemplation of situations, and that for the latter there are situations that are genuinely intolerable, intolerable überhaupt. Such a situation is the absolute and final dissociation between value and reality which Wundt's illustration brings vividly before us.


Suppose then there is something intolerable, in this ultimate, axiological sense-what of it? Surely, the reader will exclaim, you do not propose even to consider the possibility of using that as a basis of any inference about reality. Certainly, it will be said, you ought not to assert the truth of any proposition about the world because you find the contemplation of its opposite intolerable. Even in formal logic the principle of the inconceivability of the opposite is already in bad odor; do you hope, at this late day, to reassert it in a region where it would be still more precarious?

To this I will answer merely that precisely such reasoning has formed the basis of a very respectable portion of philosophy, and I propose to examine it on its own merits. For by this time it must be clear, not only where the intolerable is supposed to be found, but also what use is made of it. There is, it is held,

(488) ‘an instinct that tells us that reality is the support of values,’ and in some way the certainty of that proposition is supposed to follow from the intolerability of the opposite. Lotze is certain that values have existence, power and validity in the real world because it is intolerable that they should not.' Bosanquet uses the same line of thought in his argument for immortality, showing however, that it is merely the 'conservation of values' that we really want. In short, there is a considerable body of philosophical thought that holds to the principle that `reality must be ultimately valuable,' or must 'conserve values,' however you may wish to express it, and rests the truth of this principle upon the intolerability of the opposite.

But why is it supposed that from this intolerability of the opposite we can conclude that there is this necessary relation between value and reality?

It is at this point evidently that our critical study begins. Wundt, as we have seen, rests it, not upon empirical knowledge, but upon what he calls a "dialectical analysis of the moral end," and in this, I think we may say, he fairly represents what is in the minds of thinkers of this type. Some such a priori necessity is, I presume, taken for granted in the view we have been ex-posing. But, in order that we may attack this problem with any hope of success, a more careful preliminary analysis is necessary, and I must ask the reader to bear with a somewhat technical discussion.

In the first place, the problem must be restated, and some-what more broadly. If this belief rests upon a dialectical analysis, it is ultimately an analysis of the value notion rather than of the moral end. For moral end may conceivably be but one type of end, and it is now generally admitted that ends presuppose values, rather than values ends. We have then the more ultimate question, whether the intolerability of the opposite of this relation of value to reality springs from any dialectical analysis of the value notion itself.

In the second place, the problem must be divided. We must first ask whether there are any a priori propositions about value

(489) at all, and whether these lead in any way to propositions about reality. It will then be time to ask whether this specific belief in the conservation of value is justified. For it is entirely possible that the first may be true and the second untrue.

Are there then any a priori elements in value, and valuation? That is, are there any a priori propositions about value; and if so, how are they related to actual, empirical valuation? Both of these questions, for they are really different questions, as we shall see, require the most careful consideration.

One way to approach the problem of the a priori is to ask this question, whether we can contemplate the opposite of a proposition. It is possible, for instance, to contemplate a world in which men never die, but not one in which two and two do not make four. "We feel,"says Mr. Russell, " that such a world, if there were one, would upset the whole fabric of our knowledge and reduce us to utter doubt."How is it now with the world of values? Are there any propositions here the contemplation of the opposite of which is-we will not as yet say intolerable, but impossible?

Now, as we have already seen, there are many things in this sphere also which men have thought they could not contemplate, but which nevertheless they can, perfectly well. It would be possible, I suppose, to contemplate a world in which any actual valuation should be reversed, a world for instance in which lying should be put above truth, and ugliness preferred to beauty, a world even in which one could say, "Evil (in the narrower sense) be thou. my good."We can contemplate a world in which men never die, and perhaps equally a world in which happiness is not better than unhappiness, or life better than death. It seems possible to contemplate any transvaluation of values whatsoever-at least that is the inference to be drawn from the results of the first part of this paper. There is no value the opposite of which cannot be affirmed.

But this by no means settles the question of the a priori in the realm of value. It must, for one thing, be patent that any such transvaluation, however complete, leaves the value re-

(490) -lation itself untouched. I may say, unhappiness is better than happiness, untruth better than truth, evil be thou my good, but the relation ‘better' in all cases remains. For myself, I think that this `form of value' is an inseparable aspect of all objects as such, that every object must fall somewhere in the scale of positive or negative value with the same a priori necessity that an object must be either existent or non-existent.[5] But without insisting upon this point, which may be disputed (it has been held for instance that this is true only of existents), it is sufficient for our purpose to make clear that, given any value objects, this relation is necessary, and that any transvaluation of values leaves the form of values untouched.

It is then impossible to contemplate a world in which values do not fall into a relation of `higher and lower.' Any value order is conceivable, because it is empirical in origin, but given a world in which there are any three values whatever, it is in-conceivable that one of them should not fall between the other two. This lies in the dialectical analysis of the value notion itself, and the opposite would upset the whole fabric of value no less than the contemplation of a world in which two and two do not make four would upset the whole fabric of our knowledge.[6]

There is then, I think, beyond question something that may be said a priori about value as such, quite apart from any relations of particular values to feeling and will. That there are other propositions of this character I do not deny, and am inclined in fact to believe. But this is sufficient for our present purpose.

Having found then something that may be said a priori about value, let us see what bearing it has upon our problem. Our question was this: Granted that there is any a priori know-ledge of value, can we proceed to any propositions about the relation of value to reality?

Now, if we examine closely the proposition under consideration, two things will, I think, become apparent. In the first place

(491) it is clear that, because we cannot contemplate a world of values in which the relations in question are not found, it by no means follows either that we know what these relations are, or in fact that there are any values in reality at all. From the inconceivability of the opposite no propositions about reality can be inferred.

In the second place, it is equally clear that while this proposition about values is one the opposite of which is inconceivable, it could scarcely be said to be intolerable. Indeed when one looks at the matter closely the ward 'intolerable' in this connection seems to be meaningless. It has meaning only in connection with feeling and will, and the proposition here made about value is concerned with value as such, with value as contemplated apart from reality and apart from feeling and will. For while every object that becomes a value, and thus enters into relations with feeling and will, takes on necessarily these relations, this 'value form,'the form lies in the nature of value itself, irrespective of any relation to feeling or will.

But let us look more deeply into the question. And first, let us see whether there is not after all some relation between the inconceivable and the intolerable. Certainly the inconceivable does not bring with it the intolerable, for intolerability has meaning only where feeling and will are concerned. But if there were some necessary dialectical relation between the cognition of value and actual valuation, between value and feeling and will, that which is intolerable might have some definite relation to the inconceivable.

That there is such a necessary relation between value and feeling and will is widely held. It is held, for instance, that it is a priori evident that we ought to pursue what is good. If, it is said, I have recognized that A is a value, then I must ration-ally will A. This, we may safely say, is an intuitive principle. But there is more than this. For, if it be true that of two values one is necessarily higher than the other, I ought rationally to seek the higher rather than the lower. Again, let us assume that, given two values, A and B, A plus B is greater than A or B

(492) alone; then it follows that I ought rationally to seek A plus B rather than A or B separately. This latter principle of the `maximization of value' was held by F. Brentano to be the one absolutely evident value law, wholly independent of any specific content, and as such the natural and intuitive sanction of morality. It is not necessary for our purpose to discuss either the ethical significance of these principles of `pure value' or how they are applied to the matter of fact of actual valuation. Our sole point here has been to show that there are, not only a priori propositions about values and their relation, but also about valuation, that there are intuitively necessary relations between the principles that apply to pure values and volition. In making this point, moreover, we have also seen that the very principle or principles, the opposite of which it is impossible to contemplate, are so related to will that, if we will at all, we must will according to them. It is impossible to contemplate our will as willing otherwise. In this respect the a priori propositions about value differ from others. The recognition that A is a value is itself already the beginning of willing it, and the willing of a value implies willing according to the intrinsic nature of value as such.

The first condition of a relation between the inconceivable and the intolerable, namely a relation of the a priori form of value to will and feeling, is thus secured. But observe what immediately follows. Think for a moment what this transition from the world of pure value laws to actual valuation (feeling and will) implies. Sharply as we may distinguish between the two, between laws of value as such and laws of will, does there not yet lie in the very possibility of this transition, nay in its very necessity, the presupposition that the object or ends of this will are possible? If actual volition (and valuation) is the realization of values in the world of existents, does not the possibility of such valuation presuppose that reality in its structure does not contradict the essential constitution of values? If, for instance, the principles of degree and of the 'maximization of value' lie in the very nature of value as such, would not then a world in which the opposite were true, that is, a world in which there were really no higher

(493) or lower (not merely in the limited ethical sense of course), and in which increase of value were impossible, would not such a world, I ask, be in very truth an intolerable world? We should then have to `will our world,' for no man can escape that, but in willing that world, we should will in accordance with principles thatare in direct contradiction with the structure of that world.

This is the critical point of our entire discussion. We do not say that such a situation is inconceivable. We do say that it is intolerable. And from that intolerability a belief in its opposite necessarily springs. Some belief about the relation of value to reality springs from the `dialectical analysis' of value itself and is not derived from our experience of values. In this respect the type of thinking we have had under examination is in possession of a sound intuition.[7]


With these general results of our technical analysis in mind, let us return to the more concrete world of ethical and religious aspiration in which the actual intolerables are found. Let us examine some of the suppositions which it has been found axiologically intolerable to contemplate.

That which Wundt found intolerable is that values, whatever they may be, should not be conserved. In this he represents a feeling so fundamental, that Höffding has thought himself justified in regarding such belief in conservation of value as the essence of all religion, and indeed, ventures so far as to call it an axiom. We have seen that there is reason for holding that there are propositions about the relations between value and reality the opposites of which are not only intolerable in the axio-

(494) -logical sense, but Also for which this intolerability constitutes a certain kind of evidence. Has this so-called axiom of the conservation of value this evidential character?

That which is already evident is the following. For valuation (and volition) to have any meaning, the world of reality must not be in contradiction with the a priori structure of value. The principles of serial order and of 'maximization of value,'lie in the nature of valuation as such. A world in which the opposite were true, that is a world in which there were really no higher and lower, and in which maximization of value were impossible, would be an intolerable world. The transition from abstract value and its laws to valuation presupposes to this extent the possibility of our volitional ends. Does it also presuppose the conservation of value?

On the surface at least, it certainly does not. It would, for instance, seem possible that actual valuation in the way of preference of the higher over the lower value, of the larger over the smaller, that will in the sense of increase of values, should go on in a world in which there was an actual shrinkage of values. Even if value were decreasing in the world, we could still apply the a priori principles of valuation to it. Valuation is not in-compatible with pessimism. We could make the best of a world actually going to the dogs.

But on closer inspection this scarcely seems to be the case. In the extreme case of pessimism cited (although there has never been an absolute pessimism either in religion or philosophy) there must at least be the continuance, the conservation, of the value order already achieved. As Höffding in his illuminating discussion of this subject remarks, "Even in pessimism there must be an underlying faith in the conservation of value, for were all value to disappear the relation between value and reality must disappear also."The fact of the matter is, to state the point briefly, valuation is an irreversible process. The postulate of maximization of value, which is merely the a priori law of value as such translated into terms of will, presupposes not only that the ends of will are possible, but progressively possible.


But this 'progressively possible' is in turn compatible only with irreversibility, and this implies conservation.[8]

In my awn mind, therefore, there is little doubt that the assumption of progress, or the irreversible process, is as essential to the logic of valuation as the assumption of the uniformity of nature is to science. There is just as little doubt that 'progress' or the maximization of value implies its conservation. That the opposite of this is conceivable I readily admit. Whether values are conserved is a matter of experience, and as in the case of "Justice" in Maeterlinck's Blue Bird, we may perhaps admit that "we have not lived long enough to know."But that the opposite is intolerable, and that from this intolerability springs an evidence of a peculiarly incontrovertible kind I am just as certain. For this we have all lived long enough, for it is not a matter of time at all. What is evident here is, not that values are conserved in the world, but rather that values are not really values, if the essence of value is not conserved.


In the space that remains to me I wish to make two further points which will serve to bring out more clearly the significance of the position here developed, and to guard against certain misconceptions. I have sought to show that as a matter of fact there are intolerables—not merely in a psychological, but in an ultimate, axiological sense. I wish now to ask: what is the significance of this for a theory or `system'of values? In the second place, I have accepted in principle the type of philosophy that takes as its corner-stone the 'belief that reality is the support of values.'I wish now to defend this position from what seems to be an attack based upon a gross caricature of its real meaning.

As regards the first point-the bearing of the fact of the `existence' of such intolerables upon the `system of values '—I think it must be clear by this time that we must be exceedingly

(496) wary in our use of this conception. It is, for instance, a tempting thought that we have in this principle of the intolerability of the opposite a means of determining ultimate values, the 'absolute' value or values, the highest good upon which all others depend. To make my meaning wholly clear I will take as illustration an actual use of the principle in this way. It is an argument used by Dürr in his Ethics to prove that personality and not 'life' is the highest value.

" That life (and the increase of life) is not the highest good, if not immediately evident, can be shown in the following way. The magnitude or importance of a value, in a certain sense, depends upon or corresponds to the unendurableness of its opposite. The opposite of life is death, certainly a wholly endurable condition. The opposite of the value which we have called personality or self consciousness is not, however, the passing away of consciousness, but the condition best described, perhaps, by the theologians under the term spiritual death. The absolute contradiction with one's self is the most frightful condition which the human mind can conceive. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that after a certain approach to this condition the unhappy individual whose fate this is, seeks to save himself through the repose of non-existence. Barbaric therefore is the imagination of those who see the essence of damnation in the eternal inescapability from such a condition. When once one has lived himself into this line of thought he can have no longer any doubt that the value of personality is the highest value for every man." [9]

Here, clearly, the principle of the intolerability of the opposite is used to establish the highest value, and since unendurableness is assumed to have degrees, to establish also, by implication, an order of values. Without committing ourselves too far to all the theoretical implications involved, we may, I think, readily admit that such a line of thought does establish what may be called a practical order of values. I am, for example, convinced that when in a similar fashion Paulsen asks us whether we can endure the contemplation of a life of unmixed pleasure (a state

(497) procured by a hypothetical drug that brings with it no pain or ill effects, but one in which there is no life-struggle or development of personality, no touch with reality), our negative answer does establish the fact that pleasure is not the highest value, and the realization of personality does take a higher place in the scale. Moreover, I believe that the determination of these practical absolutes, the minima and maxima of valuation, is the only way to develop an empirical scale of values, as I have developed at length in my book on " Valuation."

But this is obviously not the point at issue here. It is rather this. Can we use the principle of intolerability to establish some value or values as absolute upon which all the others depend,-for instance, the value of truth, or of personality? If so, we must reverse the position already taken. We have said that there is no single value of which the opposite may not be contemplated, none the opposite of which may not be affirmed, and I think we must hold fast to this conviction. From the intolerability of the opposite we can no more deduce actual values (this seems to be Münsterberg's method) than from the inconceivability of the opposite we can deduce propositions about existence.

It is the failure to recognize this fact that accounts for all the differences and contradictions in ethics and value-theory generally. We must recognize once and for all that there is nothing which is called value or not-value in actual experience which is absolute or possesses value wholly in itself,-neither life nor humanity, neither cosmos nor highest pleasure, neither personality nor state. And, on the contrary, there is nothing that experience teaches us to hate and avoid that is absolutely and for all cases shown to be not a value,-neither death nor loss of happiness, neither fame nor destruction, order nor anarchy. No single condition, no special function or quality can be called in itself valuable or valueless. There are, it is true, absolute elements in value, propositions the opposites of which are in-conceivable, but they concern the `form' of value, not its empirical content. There are absolute elements in valuation, there is that the opposite of which it is intolerable to contem-

(498) -plate; but it is not the opposite of any particular valuation, but rather of that which underlies all valuations,-namely, the postulate that if there is any value at all it shall have 'existence, power and validity in the world of reality,' that whatever is essential in our actual values, must be conserved.

The second point is the examination of what I consider to be a caricature of the real meaning of the point of view in philosophy under discussion. X refer to the attacks made upon it by a school of thought which, delighting to call itself realistic, thinks that by applying the question-begging epithet `romanticism,'the case is already half won. In rejecting this romanticism and all its works, it insists that `things need not be goad and beautiful or spiritual in order to exist at all.' It can contemplate with composure a world in which there were no necessary relations between value and reality, and even if it found the situation intolerable, this would be wholly irrelevant, for it is simply a psychological fact among other facts. This is the limit of its wisdom.

Now, after what has preceded, the present writer will hardly be accused of such simplicity of mind as to suppose that ' the universe must satisfy him,'and that, when he has once found out what it is that he really wants, he can be sure that that is the way things really are. I hope it is reasonably clear by this time that, like his realistic and tough-minded colleagues, he can also contemplate abstractly the possibility that things do not need to be valuable in order to exist, and that he is not Iikely to think that he can pass from the value of a thing to its existence. But it ought also to be clear that to characterize in such a fashion the view here developed is nothing less than a caricature.

This type of criticism has recently been stated vigorously by Mr. Bernard Muscio, in an article entitled "Degrees of Reality."[10] 1 It rests so clearly, I think, on just such a caricature of the position it attacks, that a brief examination of its main paint may serve to clarify the issue.

"The notion of degrees of reality is,"Mr. Muscio properly recog-

(499) -nizes, "eminently a value conception." "The ground and justification of the metaphysical argument which employs the notion is an assumption concerning the nature of the Universe; and philosophy is by no means compelled to make this assumption." " When we strip off the detail ... the inference from the existence of certain qualities in the parts of the universe to the proposition that the universe possesses these qualities in the highest possible degree, is an appeal to faith. . .. This assumption takes one of two forms: either, that what we believe to be the best exists, or, that the conditions exist for the realization of what we believe to be the best. The distinction between the two forms of the assumption may be disregarded so far as our present purpose is concerned. The judgment that every one is supposed to make may be stated in the form: The Universe will satisfy us. Having accepted this judgment as true, the task of philosophy is to discover what kind of Universe will satisfy us. When this has been done, philosophy has merely to add the footnote: The Universe, ultimate reality, has such and such a character"(p. 591).

Now I see no reason for dissenting from the statement that this assumption, viz., that the universe will satisfy us, is one that philosophy is by no means compelled to make. I think myself that it is wholly gratuitous. Also, though I do not think that this assumption is by any means the same as the assumption that what we believe to be the best exists, or that the conditions exist for realizing what we believe to be the best, yet I am ready to admit also that the latter are assumptions that philosophy is not bound to make. There is, I have repeatedly insisted, no value the opposite of which may not be affirmed, no value the opposite of which we cannot contemplate. But I do see every reason for doubting that the assumption that the universe will satisfy us is one that every one is supposed to make; and for doubting also that the conception of degrees of reality is based upon this assumption.

It is here that the caricature of the view under discussion, which makes it apparently so easy to demolish, is to be found.


Such a view is possible only in case we assume that value is adequately definable in terms of satisfaction of a subject, a view which the slightest acquaintance with the discussions of value would show to be untenable. The assumption which is really made, as we have already seen, is that reality does not contradict in its structure the a priori principles of valuation. As for the idea of degrees of reality, it has nothing to do with the assumption that the universe will satisfy us. It rests upon something quite different. It lies in the value nation as such, that every object has either actually or potentially a place in the scale of value, and this notion of degree inevitably transfers itself to reality which the value notion implies. But this implication has to do neither with desire nor belief, but only with insight. It does not rest upon the romantic or sentimental belief that things must satisfy us or be good or beautiful in order to exist, but upon the cool recognition that we are bound, by the very structure of our being, to act as though the order of value were also the order of reality; and that to deny this means the intolerable inanity of finding interest in the unreal. It has been a favorite pose of recent philosophy to grow eloquent over the superiority of the type of mind that can find pleasure in just this inanity, and can contemplate with equanimity the final divorce of value and reality-probably as a reaction against the excesses of pragmatism and of some forms of idealism. To me, as I have said, it does not seem heroic, but sentimentalism of the worst sort.




  1. Thus, Munsterberg says, "Our will is anchored in the depths and has become a valuation. with. absolute existence (italics mine), as soon as we will with the consciousness that we cannot possibly will otherwise as long as we will a world at all; that we would give away ourselves, and the world would lose its meaning, if we were not to will this will!" But to give away ourselves, to have the world lose its meaning, would be intolerable-this is I suppose the tacit completion of the argument.
  2. The Principles of Morality (Eng. translation), p. 82.
  3. Grundriss der Axiologie (System der Philosophie, Bd. V), p. 8.
  4. Bosanquet, The Principle of Individuality and Value, p. 300.
  5. See in this connection, Simmel, Philosophie des Geldes, chapter r.
  6. A similar position is taken by Th. Lessing in his Studien zur Wertaxiomatik. Leipzig, 1914, chapter 2.
  7. In saying this, however, two points must be kept in mind. We have not committed ourselves to any specific statement of this relation. Whether it includes necessarily the assumption that reality must be ultimately valuable, that values are progressively realized, or that values are conserved, are questions for further consideration. Again, it cannot be repeated too often that we do not infer this relation of value to reality from the inconceivability of the opposite. From the inconceivability of the opposite no propositions about reality can be inferred. But we hold that the genuinely intolerable is in a different position. We could not say that it is impossible abstractly to contemplate a world in which the structure of reality is in direct contradiction with value. 'Absolute physics,' though intolerable, is certainly possible to contemplate.
  8. See in this connection, Ostwald, Der Energetische Imperative, which, although there is abundant room for criticism of many of its positions, yet brings out this aspect of the logic of valuation admirably.
  9. Durr, Grundzüge der Ethik, p. 325.
  10. PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEW, November, 1913.

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