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Entries in Value (7)


Logic and Value

Some preliminary thoughts on the nature of valuation as a human activity and how that fits with the rules of logic which we find embedded within the practice of language:

Language and Thought

Language consists of various things we do with sounds and symbols. A main part of language involves the use of naming and descriptive terms (words and phrases) to stand for the things we can discern (by observation and/or thought), as well as those operators (in words or phrases) by which we can combine the naming and descriptive terms in informative ways.

Language also includes various signaling practices (exclamations, gestures, expressions employed for evocative or invocative purposes) but these are not "about" terms (referential) and so can be set aside for the moment.

The purpose of any language is to inform, that is to convey information in order to communicate with other speakers.

The methods of combination applied to naming and descriptive terms, as represented by the non-naming and descriptive operators, constitute the logic (the basic and distinct rules) of any language.

But the rules of logic are themselves used, in any given language, according to other rules of practice, which are distinctive to each particular language, and to relevant contexts, in order to generate informative statements in any given language. That is, grammatical differences mask logical similarities from language to language and even within the same language.

Unlike the rules of linguistic practice (grammar), which are, to a large extent, contingent because they are governed by historical experiences of the speaker, by habits formed and preserved, and by physical possibility, the rules of logic, although manifested through the rules of practice (grammar) in many different ways, have a universal character, i.e., they are common to all languages so that the same thoughts can generally be expressed in them in various languages.

The study of any language consists of discovering how the practical rules of that language make use of, and manifest, the logical possibilities (the range of possible combinations of naming and descriptive terms) in the given language.

The study of logic, on the other hand . . .

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An Inventory of Value Approaches re: Moral Questions

Have been thinking a lot recently about the range of "theories" that have been current at one time or another in the history of philosophical inquiry into moral claims and of human claims about behavioral goodness in general. While it's hard to capture everything, I have compiled what seems to me a fairly exhaustive list of different moral "theories" which include some twenty possibilities. Of course I'm sure this isn't exhaustive and there are probably many nuances I have not adequately captured. Moreover, there are some strong similarities among some of the categories which suggests room for disagreement about which qualifies as which. I've tried in what follows to sort them as cleanly as I can and to identify a few of the main thinkers associated with each (where there are such associations to be made)

In the final analysis, I think it can be helpful to look at the range of possibilities and see what fits where and who and what may have been left out:

The Scope of Moral Accounts

Naturalistic Accounts (What we call "good" is some feature or phenomenon of the natural world.)


The Greeks broke ground by offering a variety of explanations which sought to go beyond the priestly and social admonitions of their particular culture, including that which we mean by our uses of the word “good.” The good, they proposed, was variously:

1) Whatever counts as the fullest exercise of man’s unique capabilities . . .

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Toward a Comprehensive Account of Value Discourse

Still working my way through Hall, on the 12th chapter now and have reached a point, I think, where I have enough of a sense of where he is headed with his analysis to make some comments:

Hall builds his account of valuing, and moral valuing specifically, on the notion that valuing just is emotion and that it occurs in parallel (though intermixed with) occurrences of perception (perceiving). He proposes that there are parallel linguistic forms within what he calls our conventional language (ordinary language governed by a convention-based grammar) which reflect or express the underlying elements (emotion and perception), with each having its own distinct logic, also occurring in rough parallel. Thus he argues that the polarities of truth and falsity represent the dichotomies intrinsic to perceptive/descriptive language, as represented by the truth tables of logic, while a favorable/non-favorable/indifferent trichotomy characterizes emotional language. Both forms of language, he proposes, in keeping with their underlying (natural) basis, i.e., reflecting the two ways we relate to the world around us, have semantic content. That is, they refer to entities outside themselves. This referential trait, he holds, is an expression of the fundamentally intentional nature of both.

For Hall, then, the solution to the problem posed by Hume's is/ought dichotomy is to demonstrate that Hume missed the linguistic/semantic character of value claims and to show that oughts and is's are interconnected because of their parallel reliance on the intentionality of the language user. . . .

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Finding reasons to do good

Empathy, the recognition of the experience of others, as if we ourselves were experiencing it, begins with similarities of behaviors . . ., similarities sufficient to convince us that we are in the presence of another mind, behaviors which we seem to be “programmed” to recognize and react to. It’s a species tool, one may say, for enabling a certain level of interaction with others of our kind – and, sometimes, beyond our kind . . .

To the extent empathy is just one of a variety of characteristics and behavioral traits that we happen to inherit from our progenitors, it’s not a given that we all have it, or that we all have it to the same degree. Genes have been known to misfire or even drop out of individual members of a species and so the expressions of them are lost. To the extent empathy, which enables us to identify with others – to put ourselves in their shoes and so feel their pains and joys as if they were our own – is just an inherited trait, it cannot be praised nor, its absence, condemned.

Yet much of what we think of as moral behavior hangs on empathy, on not doing to another what we would not have done to us or, put another and slightly more parochial way, of treating our neighbors as ourselves . . .

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The Value of Persons

The distinguishing characteristics of attributions of moral value and why adherence to a traditional interpretation of Wittgenstein on the private/public language distinction may not be enough.

An inquiry into the nature of moral judgments is not about whether this or that individual (or action) is moral but about whether there is anything at all that warrants being called moral and, if so, what is it and why? Particular moral codes or standards may or may not be moral at all in fact, and actual moral codes may be in conflict with one another, at least as regards particular and often critical issues so the point of a philosophical inquiry into moral questions cannot be to discover who or what is morally good but to discover what, if anything, moral goodness is. If moral judgments are an exercise in assessing a certain kind of value, suitable for a certain sort of thing, then they will be seen to be a sub-class of a more general category of value judgment. What distinguishes the sub-class we call moral is what we want to make clear.

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The Curiosity of Moral Claims

Are there reasons to be good?

. . . Moral valuing is about nothing less than valuing or disvaluing particular behaviors, either in isolation or as part of a continuum of activity we may undertake. And moral questions look like questions concerning what we should or should not do under certain circumstances . . . questions which go beyond the issue of what pleases us at this, or some future, moment. If it were just a matter of doing what pleases us, then, indeed, no action we can imagine could qualify as moral under the usual interpretation of that word. If we do what we do for our own benefit, for our advancement, for our pleasure, etc., then however moral a particular action may look to an outsider, lacking access to our motives, we would not as observers, if given sufficient information about the true motives behind it to recognize it as self-interested, agree that it was morally done.

Setting aside for the moment the notion that even actions unmotivated by a moral decision may have a good effect and may thus be deemed praiseworthy at some level, the realization that one chose the action in question for a non-moral, perhaps even an immoral, reason would fatally undermine its apparent praiseworthiness to any moral observer . . .

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Value and Moral Choice

Begins to consider the basis and justifications for making moral claims and relates this to the role of valuing and the nature of lawmaking itself.

Valuing is that added step we take concerning our needs, desires, preferences and so forth, when we arrange the possible things we can acquire or do along a hierarchy of choice. It’s an aspect of the reasoning process. Without the ability to differentiate and prioritize in this way, we could not act based on reasons but could, at best, be reactive, impetuous creatures only, choosing this or that in accord with the moment’s stimuli. And so it is with most of our animal brethren. But as you go up the evolutionary hierarchy, as you get to the point where an entity can think about its world and imagine a future, while remembering a past in relation to its present, the capacity to engage in this kind of thinking, to set values and act on them, becomes possible.

Can a dog value its food? Or its owner? Or the time allotted to it in the local park to run free in the open air? It seems difficult to imagine a creature with no more than a dog's capabilities valuing anything at all. It can certainly want those things and behave accordingly. But, to the extent it cannot think of them conceptually, cannot hold an idea of them in the abstract in its head, it seems odd to say that it it is valuing them.

And yet there is no great difference between a dog’s desire or need for its food, or for open air play, and our own . . .

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