We value things in many different registers. Some we call good or bad, others right or wrong and others, beautiful or ugly. Some, too, we judge true or false—for even truth and falsehood can be understood as a form of valuing.
The status of being true is ascribed to statements when these are thought to match what they are statements about and in so doing provide better guidance for speakers and their interlocutors in the course of choosing which statements to rely on when acting. We have the idea that truth is whatever we say insofar as it matches how things really are in the world. It is this kind of picture that we have in mind when we speak of truth.
But how do we know there is ever any actual matching between the words spoken and the world we speak those words about? After all, the world we know (that we can see, speak of, etc.) is contained in our thoughts about it, both expressed publicly or privately considered, and so is always embodied in language in some form. There is no distinct reality apart from what we know of it or can, at least in principle, know of it. If there is language and world, it is yet always the case that the world is already entirely contained in our language. It’s not that we don’t acknowledge a world beyond the linguistic, of course, but that the very notion of the world, in all its ramifications and variations, is only extant, as notion, in the expressive capacities language provides us with.
But this only means that the dichotomy between language and world that we recognize is somewhat artificial. We must assume a world about which language speaks, towards which it is directed, because language, itself, makes that dichotomy so. Language delineates a world but it’s not as if there is language and world, one apart from the other, for language implies the world and the very idea of having a world implies a language in which it is had.
Thus we assume the language-world dichotomy and, in doing so, live within it. Thus, too, the notion of truth as match between words and the world arises. But to the extent we are inside that world it is not the matching that characterizes the truth status of a belief but the effectiveness of it, i.e., that when we rely upon it, it works.
We assume that this successful result arises from the matching of the thought with the the thing thought about in the same way we assume a map captures the features of the world it is a map of. Yet the map, itself, is nothing like the world it depicts. Its lines and squiggles, its notations and color variations are not actual pictures of the world they are about. They are, rather, symbols which we treat as representing the part of the world mapped. They represent the world in virtue of the ways in which we use them, i.e., as markers to follow when taking the map as guide. We speak of the map as picturing the world in this representative way where the representing is entirely a function of how we make use of the map and its markings.
An accurate map is a reliable one in the circumstances in which such reliability is required, but very different looking maps may depict, and so represent, the same part of the world and, though having little to nothing in common, may represent that aspect of the world with equivalent functionality. There are line maps and topological maps and Mercator projections among many other mapping conventions which enable us to depict the world. Different purposes may lead us to make and use very different looking maps. Yet each may be reliable in its own way for those particular purposes just as they may depict the same aspect of the world.
Truth claims, statements which we take to accurately depict how things are in the world, that is, function like this, for truth assertions stand on the notion that the statements seen as “true” are the ones we ought to choose as a basis for acting because of their greater reliability relative to those other assertions and potential assertions which we deem “untrue.”
Truth is thus the condition of being the more reliable assertion about the world, all other things being equal, than other possible assertions we can make where reliability is determined by the successful outcomes we achieve or expect to achieve by relying on these assertions. Thus, what is true, what earns that appellation in our discourse, are just those statements which we make, or can make, about the world which best enable us to make our way in the world. To be true is to be the better report of what is, where being better is determined by the report’s capacity to provide us with better information, better guidance, in selecting our next or subsequent courses of action.
Ascriptions of truth, then, are a form of valuing, too, where valuing is understood as that activity by which we apply judgment (deliberation) to things in the world (as embodied in our thoughts about the world—or the statements we make that express those thoughts). We make value distinctions in order to arrange the things we say according to their power to warrant their selection by us as reasons to act. Truth is thus a valuing modality no less than goodness or rightness are.
Valuing constitutes that function which underlies our capacity to choose deliberatively. It differs from mere animal choice in this way: It involves choosing through a thinking process which consists of holding in our minds thoughts about the world and arranging these according to their preferability based on the reasons we have for assigning preferability. But the absence of this valuing capacity does not mean action or preference or choice cannot happen, for many creatures engage with the world based on their felt inclinations to act. But lacking the ability to assign and arrange relational order to the various things we can pick out as referents, the possibility of valuing is foreclosed. The point of valuing, of having the capacity to make deliberative choices, is in the advantage(s) such choices give the choosers. Valuing enables entities with this capacity to arrive at a more useful picture of how things are and, therefore, of what they should do.
Valuing organizes things of all types (so long as they can be distinguished as things among other things) according to preferential status and this applies as much to truth claims as to ascriptions of other kinds of valuing that we do, including so-called practical judgments, aesthetic judgment and ethics.
The Roots of Valuation
Having preferences is a feature of beings which have interests—in particular, an interest in their own continuation (survival), and in the things that enhance or favor that survival. These “things” are features observed as aspects of the world which, through their observation, prompt in their observers feelings which motivate and are manifested either as bodily experiences of need (e.g., hunger, thirst, sexual urges, itches, etc., etc.) or psychological states (unease, fear, anguish, longing), any and all of which are irritants to the organism that must be addressed. As such, the organism on experiencing any of these will act, all other things being equal, to ameliorate the lack in itself that the feeling represents to it. But to have an interest is not just to feel such things, for many animals feel these things and yet cannot be said to have interests as such—to engage, that is, in valuing, for to value, an entity must first be aware of the gap in itself (which the feeling represents) as a gap and thus be able to see it as a thing to be filled. The entity must be aware, that is, of this gap as a need which it has, it must experience it as a want. Still more, to be an instance of valuing and not just of a need or desire, it must be seen in the context of other possibilities. It must, that is, be grasped as one thing amongst an array of things that can or may be realized as well. Valuing implies sorting according to comparisons and for that the entity needs the capacity to hold in its mind an array of possibilities, i.e., a complex world in which not only things are found but in which their different modes of relation to the entity are also seen to exist.
Having an interest—the basis of valuing—implies the capacity to depict a world and ourselves within it. Thus valuing requires a functional capacity to represent in order to enable the valuer to “see” its wants and needs as part of its world, in all their myriad relations to the other things of that world.
To have interests, as opposed to having mere wants and needs, is thus to live in a world of reasons and judgments, a world in which time and place extend out beyond each present moment and location. To have that sort of world, to see one’s world as that, to live in a place of temporal and spatial extension, one must have the ability to possess and make use of concepts which can only occur if we have a discursive structure such as language provides, and in which, alone, concepts occur. Thus language, with its various capacities, is a prerequisite for the kind of conceptual life we live.
But if truth claims are also a form of valuing, then representing, which hinges on the ability to differentiate phenomena according to their various relations, one to the other, a capacity made possible by the structures of language, must also depend on valuing, for truth is the condition in which relations are determined to be real or unreal—there or not there—and the things defined by such relations to exist or not to exist. Statements which adequately reflect that kind of relation (when a thing is X or when it is Y) are true to the extent that they enable us to interact most effectively with Xs and Ys. To have such statements we must have the capacity to represent Xs and Ys. Yet representing presumes differentiation which, itself, can only occur when truth valuation is possible. Thus valuing and representing are not isolated phenomena but occur in concert, one with the other. To value we must have a complex represented world in which value relations occur and to have such a world we must have the ability to distinguish between good representations and bad. Both the horizontal and vertical vectors of rationality must be in place for either vector to work at all.
What this suggests is that neither value nor representation is the more basic but that both are built into a common phenomenon: discursive language. With language comes the possibility of visualizing our world in an extended way and the concomitant possibility of comparing and engaging with the elements of that extended world behaviorally. We can no more imagine a world of description only than we can one of valuation alone for both are vectors of a shared rational life. Both are aspects of the phenomenon of existence within a realm of reasons.
Belief can be described as the unifying function of value and representation, the nexus between them for we are said to believe something when we take the statement that expresses it as reliable enough to act upon. We come to act in ways we call believing as part of our practice of ascribing truth value to statements about the observed world. Belief is not to be seen, therefore, as some particular or peculiar state of mind but, rather--while it may occur in tandem with whatever mental states accompany our acts and inclinations to act--it is those acts and inclinations that express the thoughts about the world that we have. Such mental states are varied and typically consist of thoughts about the things we observe, or can conceptualize as observables. They are the thoughts we have which accompany, and prompt, statements about things which we take to be true. It is in this phenomenon, then, that value and representation touch common ground. Thus, to the extent that we can and do speak of the things we value (things we place on a scale of relation to things we want or feel a need for) we do it by acknowledging the truth of some statements relative to others, thereby expressing our belief in (i.e., our possession of whatever mental states accompany our inclinations to act) what the statements report. We take X to be true because we have some justification that we count as a justification for thinking that (though not all things we take as true are taken thus via a process of deliberative thought, some, perhaps most, things we call "true" we call that in a purely reactive way. Our beliefs, understood as our mental states concerning particular things, precede and are a necessary precondition of ascribing truth value.
Values and Facts
It takes both facts and values (representation and valuations) to have beliefs about the world, a world that includes within its framework a broad panoply of types of things, from discrete entities, to observed processes, to abstract constructs, to our own selves and the selves of others who have what we have: subjectness.
Value may not be derivable from any particular facts (the representations we take to have truth value) but neither are facts strictly derivable from what we value. Both coordinate, however, in the mix of our discourse and behaviors if we are to operate in the world. And the nexus of the two vectors, of valuation and representation, is formed in the beliefs we hold about the world. That is, truth claims are belief claims, for to believe in some X is to ascribe truth value to statements which assert X by characterizing some aspect of the world as X. And it is this capacity to have beliefs about the world, to have a distinction between the true and the false, that makes other kinds of valuing possible. Thus our claims about the good things to pursue, the right things to do, the beautiful things to be experienced all hinge on beliefs about what is the case in the world around us.
Good things are good and beautiful are beautiful to the extent the world is a certain way and not another. In this sense facts do imply values because valuing is just one of the two dimensions within which we depict our world. If representing is about establishing what are and are not facts, then valuing is about establishing what we may or may not care about, what answers to our particular interests as subjects in the world.
On close examination we learn that truth ascriptions have the same form as other value ascriptions except that they are applied to a different kind of object (to the words we use to represent the world rather than to the things we represent by those words). When we assert the truth of statements we are, in essence, informing our interlocutors that we take such statements to be warrants for action, all else being equal, and that we will act if the circumstances are in place for such action, in accord with our statements. To speak of some words or phrases, some statements, as true, is thus to make a claim of belief. This latter claim does not reflect any unique mental experience but only the general state of mind which makes us prone to act in accord with those words we call “true.”
Truth and falsity are valuational functions within this cognitive framework, just as describing and reporting are representational functions. Yet, because we cannot represent without a capacity to distinguish between the true and the untrue, and we cannot value without the capacity to represent relational facts, these two dimensions, fact and value, representing and valuing, cannot be separated. They occur coequally as dimensions of our cognitive capabilities.
To have interests at all there must be subjectness, the condition of being an aware entity, one that has experiences of want and need with relation to its world. To be a subject is central to our manner of being in the world because it determines our very presence in it. There is no world without a subject even if there is a world independent of all particular subjects. Yet having interests is not just about having wants and needs, for all animals have these and most, if not all, presumably experience them as wants on some level—at least as far as we can tell. What makes wants and needs into interests, however, is knowing that we have them, knowing they are ours. Insofar as the world is a particular depiction of the phenomena we experience, it demands an experiencer (one capable of depicting it) for it to be that world—even if the world is there whether it is ever experienced or not. This seeming paradox reflects the way in which we think of the world, for paradoxes are cognitive phenomena not observational ones.
Wants and needs become interests when we can think about having them and about what having them means for us. And interests, being conceptualizable, which they must be to be interests and not mere wants and needs, imply valuation for valuing is about sorting and prioritizing which becomes feasible as soon as we have the capacity to think about and differentiate things. Valuing thus requires subjectness, the condition of having awareness of one’s world as it impinges on one’s sensory apparatus. But it demands more: the capacity to be aware of one’s interests in relation to one’s world.
The world we stand in is that because of what it contains but also because it contains us. This valuational dimension of our cognitive capacity reflects this particular state in which we stand to the world, just as the representational dimension, which enables us to have a world in which to stand, is constituted by what we, as subjects, can observe. And just as representing consists of our capacity to distinguish likenesses and differences in a world of observed complexity, reflecting the capacity to recognize and distinguish relational variations between observed phenomena, so valuing can be understood as that function we perform by sorting those relations that occur between ourselves and our objects of reference—a sorting we undertake in order to decide what to do.
This process of considering our actions, and doing them, is enabled by the valuing function which underlies and makes choosing and acting possible in creatures like ourselves. And beliefs occur when we ascribe value to certain representing statements but not to others, reflecting the process by which we differentiate our thoughts by the anticipated effectiveness of the claims expressing them. Belief is thus the nexus of these two functions, valuing and representing. It consists of the various mental states in which we find ourselves when, in representing particular aspects of our world through language (either expressed through sounds or symbols, in a public manner) or pre-linguistically (in an unarticulated way as acted upon or disposed to lead to actions by the subject). Even a cat can believe in a sense for it can believe that the mouse it saw only moments before is on the other side of a barrier, whether it is actually there or not. But belief of the sort we experience addresses not only our immediate world, as the cat’s belief does, but the extended one, where wants and needs and preferences become valuation.
Belief is not a particular sort of internal experience but the condition in which a subject finds itself thinking or claiming or acting as if some statement about the world is true. That is, belief is the phenomenon of ascribing truth to statements, i.e., the condition of taking some statement or other as warrant for some action with which it is associated. Belief is the disposition to act in certain ways in response to certain statements, which is to say no more than that belief is a matter of ascribing truth to certain statements.
When we say that a certain describing or naming statement is true we are effectively expressing our belief in it. It is this capacity to have beliefs about a complex world that extends beyond the here and the now that enables the differentiation between horizontally related statements (representations) which permits us to describe and report about our world and which, when applied to the vertically related ones, permits us to value the things in and around us.
But this is not to suggest that animals lacking a valuational capacity cannot choose and act, for other animals certainly do behave in this manner. It’s only to note that the sort of thing we characterize as “valuing” involves more than just favoring some things and disfavoring others (and acting in accordance with such feelings). Valuing demands a capacity to think about our own favored choices and rank them in terms of our various states of affinity and disaffinity for them. Valuing requires realization of a world that extends beyond this present moment, in this present space. The valuer does its work by comparing the competing subjective attachments (expressive of our particular affinities or disaffinities) to one another in rational ways, i.e., in terms of the reasons they present us with for choosing them. Valuing may have its root in the non-rational occurrence of experienced needs, manifested as wants or desires in the experiencing entity, but until those needs are themselves made objects of judgment in their own right, objects of rational consideration that is—which is only possible within an abstract picture of the world—they do not constitute valuations but are merely expressions of the feelings of a moment.
Valuing happens when the added dimensions of rational thought enable creatures having a mental life, i.e., with the status of being subjects in a world of objects, to add their own preferences into their depicted world. That is, representation, which makes rational thought possible, must also be sufficiently developed to incorporate the valuing self into the world of rational differentiations to make valuation, as distinct, from mere feelings of preference, possible. We must be able to think about the subject-object relations which determine our place in the world before we can turn our felt needs into values. But once we can think about our world in this way, and ourselves firmly ensconced within it, we have entered the domain of valuation for representing, when robust enough to enable us to identify and include ourselves in what is represented, makes possible the mechanism of valuation. Here valuing is recognized as an essential aspect of being the type of cognitively capable beings we are.
Value claims involve ranking particular types of objects in terms of the desirability of their features. In cases of truth claims, the objects we rank are statements and we rank them in accordance with the degree of their conformity to the things they are statements about. Valuing, as the activity by which we arrange things according to their preferability (in relation to ourselves), a preferability which will be determined by the manner in which the things in question affect us, the observing subjects, stands therefore on our awareness of our needs in relation to what lies before us.
That is we must have both needs (and the wants they manifest as) and the capacity to be aware of them as our needs.
Here the two elements of cognitive depiction converge. To value requires representation while representing implies valuation through the potential to differentiate beliefs (the statements that express them) in terms of their capacity to enable a successful depiction of how things are. Neither representing nor valuing happens without the other—though representing, being grounded in more basic stimulus-response relations found in other creatures than ourselves, appears to be the more basic in that it must first be present, in at least rudimentary form, before it can evolve into recognition of subjective preferences sufficient to allow their differentiation for sorting purposes—an outcome of increasing brain capacity which enables interaction with the complex variety of things that is our world.
Until we reach a level where sounds or symbols can be deployed representationally (that is, as proxies, for the purpose of depicting the world we observe rather than merely for signaling), valuing as distinct from wanting, needing and liking, does not happen. The felt needs of a subject must be seen by the subject as facts in that subject’s world no less than those things in the world that excite those feelings if valuation, as opposed to preferring or wanting, is to occur. When the subject thinks about its world, it must do so representationally, for it cannot think about anything otherwise. And it must have this representational capacity to value in order to distinguish true from false or else it cannot represent successfully. So the two capacities, to see a world and be in it, must occur simultaneously.
However, other animals can distinguish things in their world without representing them just as they can have and act on preferences without valuing anything at all. Valuing happens only when cognition in the agent achieves a certain level of representing. Then and only then can we say of a preference that it is also a value.
Different observed phenomena, of course, have different effects upon observing agents. The things we call good are those that meet a need by satisfying the want which the need manifests as—are called good, that is, when the satisfaction of that need is judged to be in order. To be a value and not just a want, we must be able to treat our experienced needs as not merely preferences but as something more, as so-called goods (as in the good things to have or do). A thing becomes good, and not merely desirable, when we think there is something about it which constitutes a further reason for us to choose it. That something will be some feature or features which it possesses and which excite a preference within us such that that preference is taken by us as a reason to act.
That is, it’s not enough to want or prefer something for us to speak of it as having value. We must also be of the opinion that there is reason to act on that preference or want, to perform actions which will realize it or contribute to its realization, a reason, that is, which we can also and separately consider good. If having reasons makes preferences into values, those reasons must themselves be valued to count as reasons to act on the preference being considered.
Thus reasons, like other objects of our consideration, are also relevant for valuational judgments. Being true is one sort of value that a statement, taken to serve as a reason, can have. But it’s not the only sort. Other valuational assessments come into play including consideration of the status a statement, taken as a reason to act, may have relative to a panoply of other statements which may command our belief. True statements may be those which we count as according most effectively with the aspect of the world it is directed at. But it must also be consistent with other statements we believe about related aspects of the world. And it must reflect an appropriate usage, as in how it comes to mean what we take it to mean and whether or not it fits within the rules of the system in which it has been deployed. Is it a logical outgrowth of the premises that precede it in the discourse and does it reflect the actual way we use language when it is applied? Consistency and rules of usage also matter in assessing reasons though truth value will matter heavily (if not always outweighing other factors) in cases where the reason we give ourselves for acting is directed at bringing about certain outcomes in the world.
The Range of Valuation
Things are called right when they are of the sort that can enable us to gain things we think good, i.e., when they conduce to good results, while the term “good,” itself, applies to particular phenomena in the observed world, or to situations and circumstances consisting of arrangements of such phenomena, when those phenomena are potential satisfiers or our need-based desires. Things are called “right,” that is, when they enable acquisition of things we determine to be good and things are called “good” when there is something about them which also constitutes reason to acquire them.
In this sense, the actions we may take, or the things we acquire or do to enable some action, are seen to be the proper objects of ascriptions of rightness or wrongness, while the things we bring into being through those actions, whether this amounts to possession of something or the potential to possess it, are thought of as "good" or "bad". These terms are all somewhat interchangeable, to be sure, but generally have certain applications which are exclusive to them. Is it right to seek our fortune? Shut the window? Tell a lie? Rightness or wrongness applies to actions and to the tools they enable us to make use of while goodness and badness to the objects of those actions. A right action leads to a good result. In this sense, rightness and goodness are tightly bound up in our actions and tendencies to act.
Other forms of valuing arise when we recognize in things features that stir us to certain kinds of experiences, e.g., to admiration or awe. Beautiful things are those things which possess, in their features, the capacity to generate in us a certain kind of complex emotional response (because we can be moved to certain kinds of experiences by certain complex stimuli). A many-hued sunset or a cleverly played sonata or a compelling novel can all move us through the complexity of the experiences they generate in us, stirring emotions of awe and admiration and so forth, each of which is pleasing to us in its own way. Even observations that cause us revulsion can achieve beauty, too, albeit in more complex ways, e.g., through experiences of catharsis and the like (the tragedy of Hamlet or Oedipus Rex). Complex phenomena like sunsets, sonatas and stories have the power to prompt in us states which lead us to certain kinds of acts: applauding, exclaiming, sighing and so forth, but also certain inner experiences which we typically have in tandem with these behaviors and which we take to be expressed by the behaviors.
The very complexity involved in producing such experiences implies complexity in the underlying factors in our subjective lives which predispose us to these behavioral responses, though they may happen in us as a result of training or education as well as occurring in us in a sometimes unmediated way, e.g., as the natural expressions of a naïve creature; for the ability to be moved emotionally is not confined to subjects with representational cognitive capacities. Even an untutored man may respond to the beauty of a woman or a sunset though the sorts of things and the quality of responses may be adjusted by the level and kind of educational experiences the man has had.
Certain kinds of psychological preparation may be needed at times to prepare us for aesthetic responsiveness, of course, or even to bring it about at all, e.g., an education of sensibilities through learned familiarity with the more granular aspects of the complex phenomenon that moves us may enhance or even produce in us the capacity for such responses if we did not already have such a capacity manifest in ourselves. Still an educated palette or sensibility is not evidence of pure behavioral conditioning alone for one may also self-educate or learn through introspective activity, too.
One who has been educated in the finer points of music or sculpture will find these kinds of objects moving in ways the uneducated observer may not experience for lack of that education. Thus ascriptions of beauty or their equivalent are partly, at least, a function of the education/exposure of the ascriber. But such ascriptions stand on something more basic, i.e., the capacity of phenomena to stir certain types of experience in the subjects who are prone to make them.
Valuing is about relating things in the world to one another through ascertaining their relations to ourselves and all such relations must vary according to their manner of affecting us (both in terms of type of affect and complexity). Thus good things are good because they present us with reasons to pursue and acquire them; right things are right because they conduce toward the acquisition of good things; beautiful things because they conduce toward the occurrence of certain states which are thought good to have, all other things being equal; and, of course, true claims are held to be that because they consist of statements (or propositions taken as potential statements) that are most likely to yield good results when acting in the world. A thing is valued, then, in any of its registers, for its potential for greater effectiveness on some felt need we may experience and even truth claims are understandable as a variation of this phenomenon.
In this we can conclude that whatever is valued is thought good either directly in itself or indirectly in terms of its relation to something else, that is thought good in the first way, and that this goodness is best understood as the condition of giving the observing subject a reason to choose it. The best way of understanding the concept of goodness then is to say it is that state or condition in which anything we may refer to, whether conceived concretely as a thing in the world or abstractly as a construct of things in the world, stands to us as presenting us with a reason or reasons to go after or acquire it, make use of it, or just to possess it. If X is good that is just to say that there is something about X (whatever type of something X is likely to possess) which is also a reason to choose X.
But, of course, what counts as acquisition of the referenced object will vary according to the type of thing referred to. We may acquire a pocketful of coins or gain access to an aesthetically appealing item; but we will perform the acts involved in acquiring these, and use the tools that enable their acquisition. This is also the sense in which statements having truth value are seen to have that, for they are performed (in this case they are spoken or written), which is to say no more than that true sentences are that because they can be used more effectively than other sentences by speakers and interlocutors. Unlike coins true statements are not pocketed or accessed but spoken (performed).
Valuing as Activity
Valuing is about having reasons to “get” the things valued, and it is the condition of being subject to such reasons in the consideration of a valuing agent that constitutes the value ascribed to the things in question. That is, value or goodness is not a property of the thing that has it (as some have described it) but a status, a condition in which the valued thing is thought to stand. Yet reasons are varied and change with circumstances. Goodness is not an absolute appellation but circumstance-driven, i.e., dependent on the context of use, a context which includes the nature of the valuer itself. So it is futile to look in the things themselves for the value they are said to have.
The features that make anything good are, themselves, neutral in the world absent a valuing entity, a subject, to ascribe that goodness. And such ascriptions may be applied by a subject to any object of that subject’s reference which can be differentiated in a way that implies relation to the subject, including both actions which the subject takes (or may be prepared to take) with regard to some other referenced object, as well as the objects the actions are directed at themselves.
The Moral Register
It is when it comes to valuing actions, of course, that the moral dimension kicks in, for the question of when things are right or wrong to do—in the sense that goes beyond instrumental efficacy—is the fundamentally moral one. Of course, things that are right or wrong to do may be so in an instrumental way: “Do our actions effectively serve their intended purpose?” But the moral query differs from that since it is not to any obvious efficacy or effect that we look for moral valuation but to something else.
The practical or instrumental question with regard to what we should do at any given moment is easily answered according to the skills we bring to our representative understanding of our world and the information we take from that world. The more comprehensively and accurately we represent the world, the greater the likelihood that we shall be able to determine the instrumental rightness or wrongness of any action. But the goodness or badness of the wanting itself, of the preference we experience and which serves to motivate our subsequent actions is less easily resolved for here there is more to be evaluated than the efficacy of the action alone. In the moral case we want to know whether the objective of the action, the thing we mean to accomplish by it, is itself good or bad regardless of whether or not the effectiveness of the action directed at achieving it is sufficient to do the job. Moral goodness or badness cannot merely depend on the degree to which the action promises results that meet our own needs and wants for the moral problem is not merely what is the most effective thing to do for ourselves but why the thing we do is one we should contemplate doing at all.
In other words, the moral case takes the action in question as an object in itself, regardless of the instrumental value it is perceived to possess. While actions can be evaluated as right or wrong in terms of their capacity to achieve good or bad results, the moral case considers the value of actions in a different way, i.e., in terms of their status as things we should desire to possess. That is, as objects of reference in their own right.
Rightness or wrongness in an instrumental sense, when ascribed to actions, hinges on the actions’ outcomes which are separately evaluatable as good or bad (based on the degree to which they meet or can be expected to meet our felt needs and wants). But moral valuation sets aside such outcomes (what features the acquired phenomena may have which appeal to our needs and wants) in favor of examining and determining the action’s value in terms of the nature of the action itself. Of course you cannot separate an action's outcome from the intentional aspect motivating it, for outcomes are expected with every intention. But the moral case is the one in which we look at the action in terms of the intention behind it rather than its actual result in the world.
But how can actions be valued in a way that is other than ascribing ordinary rightness or wrongness to it? How can we discover when rightness or wrongness is rooted not in an action’s results but in its very nature as an act? Acts, to the extent that they can be descriptively circumscribed, must be as susceptible to ascriptions of goodness or badness just as the objects of those actions are. This is the question which must be answered if we are to explain the moral case in a manner which places it firmly within the valuational constellation.
If valuing happens across a range of areas in our lives, from assessing good things to those that are right or beautiful or true—and all these instances are explainable as the activity of identifying and organizing the identified relation which the object earning the value ascription has to the ascriber (in the context of all other relevant relations)—then only the moral case seems to stand apart here. In such cases, the relation of object to subject is simply not enough. (Such relations are understood as the outcome supported by the reasons which the object or objective give to the subject to act, based on the object’s capacity to meet that subject’s needs and wants).
This is so because our own individual needs and wants are irrelevant to the quality of the actions we undertake in the moral case. That is, when our actions are viewed, not as steps we may take to gain our objectives, but as things we can acquire in their own right (performing an action, after all, also involves achieving it--which is just to say that to do it is to take that action as one's own) then the actions themselves become the objects or objectives we have for doing them.
Moral valuing thus is about treating actions as fit objects for valuation, too, and not merely as the bridges we must cross in order to get those other objects we may want.