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On § 6: the “objectivity” of value orientations
In virtue of ethical pragmatics: part 5 of 6

  March 19, 2014 gary e. davis  

My title here is quoting from JH’s introductory section, where he indicates the topics of his upcoming discussion. §6 is to be about that. But, at the end of § 5, he says that §6 is to be about “the ‘objectivity’ of values.” In fact, the section begins with concern about “the objectivity of value judgments” (223 bot.) and never focuses on the other two aspects.

The three are importantly different: values, value orientations, and value judgments. The importance of distinctions could be called a value: Distinguishing (a) X, (b) X orientations, and (c) X judgments is valuable (which is an understated endorsement of a kind of matter that is very valuable in philosophy generally: conceptual distinctions). One could orient one’s action (e.g., deliberations) by including the value of these distinctions (as token of the importance of this kind of value: distinctions). Thus, the threesome itself could be a value orientation. One might do well to do so, i.e., to include appreciation of the differences in activity. That’s a value judgment.

Consider the value of healthy living. This is not primarily about the state of affairs of a life that’s healthy (the value of be-ing healthy); it’s primarily about the very active engagement in maintaining or obtaining-and-sustaining that state of affairs (healthy living; be-ing healthy). Orientation by the value actualizes the value. The value is otherwise virtual, merely “realized” phenomenally as good in abstract, as possibility, or conceptually grasped as part of what’s good for a life. It’s not yet really real, i.e., actualized. (To be “realized,” in the sense of mentally attending to the state of affairs as valuable is not yet to make the value “real,” actual.)

If you want to avoid dis-ease as much as possible in future years (lethargy, pain, etc., as well as specific medical diseases) and live better in old age (avoid catastrophic events, retain mental lucidity, or postpone frailty), then continuously healthy living is required. The general validity of this point is objectively the case. So, conscientiousness toward healthy living is generally regarded as much better than lack of conscientiousness. Such conscientiousness could be called a great good. It is objectively good to care. What is best regarded as constitutive for caring for well-being is not disputed among health professionals. In a nutshell: Orient your life intelligently! Eat right, exercise moderately, and stay true to smart self care, in light of action-orienting fidelity to current and evolving health information.

In any case, the locus of interest here is lifeworld-based, not at the level of inquiry or inquirial values. The latter is the locus of Habermas’s earlier discussion. But the feasibility of an ethical continuum that well appropriates general interests is not obviously served by dwelling with the structure of inquiry—though the issue of distinguishing values, orientations, and judgments is surely relevant.

My example value complex (or concept) of healthy living seems to exemplify the claim (JH now rendering Putnam—[with my qualifier]) that “true value judgments [may often] represent truth-analogous values—‘ought-implying facts’” (224mid.). This is not to say that the facticity of all widely-endorsed values in action orientations can be empirically warranted.

(But, in this case, one should distinguish evidence-based statements from some homogeneous concept of empiricality. A statement may be assertable with a high enough degree of evidence-based confidence to deserve to be regarded as objectively the case for authoritative practice—e.g., clinical practice guidelines in medicine, experienced counseling, master teaching—even though controlled experimentation has not established the assertion with statistical “certainty.” Master teachers may know—believe with high confidence—much about development that is highly important, but have no idea how the empirical literature warrents this.)

“However,” continues JH, “to extend cognitive realism to values is to postulate facts that are ‘queer’ (in Mackie’s sense) inasmuch as they run counter to our grammatical intuitions.” But judging cognitive claims—reliability of facticity—via linguistic analysis is untenable, given the developmental-habituational nature of reliable values. (I’ll designate reliability of long-employed values for orientation of action as reliabilism, which associates to this school of epistemology.) If one occludes the lifeworld-based background, no wonder reliabilism (“cognitive realism”) would seem occult, i.e., seeming to have “ontological connotations” (224mid.) that don’t make sense to linguitic analysis.

The alternatives for warranting values may have been merely “empirical judgments” or “queer facts” when Putnam made his career (mid-20th C.). But arguing with the middle of the past century seems antedated by the evolution of cognitive science and related work of the past couple of decades.

True to form, the real alternatives for Habermas are empirical and socio-normative. (Life-based normativity, what’s good for “my life,” including epistemic reliabilism—epistemic value—or ethical value, are not part of JH’s sense of normativity.) “[T]here are different senses in which judgments can be correct, depending on whether their content is empirical or normative.” So, back to Kant: “Kant takes account of this intuition....” in terms of “...the regulation of the will of desiring and acting subjects” (224bot.). I can’t take this seriously vis-à-vis the relevance of life-based valuing of caring for one’s well-being, aspiring to live well, to flourish, and to orient action by highly appealing and reliable values. But it’s interesting to track why JH is doing this, as part of understanding how thinking differently may well go (go well, be better, be good).

For Kant and Habermas (but not Putnam!), the creepy problem of self control allows for direct connection with moral categoriality. JH: “Assertoric judgments that say what is the case are valid in a different sense than moral judgments that say what is categorically binding.” This jump from life-oriented value (Putnam’s interest, I presume) to legislative interest is analogous to JH’s earlier jump (focus of my discussion of § 5) away from lifeworld concerns (e.g., cognitive development) to an exclusive domain of formal inquiry.

JH: “Putnam attacks this deontological conception” (225top). Surprise, surprise. “Rightly, he begins by attacking the strict separation of duty and inclination, which leaves no room for the fact that values demand recognition.” The domain of inclination would be that lifeworld background which yields reliabilist orientation for interests of action. But JH is stacking the deck by presuming that the situation is one of “values demand[ing] recognition.” This, again, is the venue of willful justification that is not what lifeworld-based values are primarily for; they’re for orienting one’s life. (Below, I return to this important difference: between life-based valuing and desire for recognition of what one values.)

Thus, as JH renders Putnam’s stance, “the entire universe of preferable and desirable phenomena required for the good life are to be captured within the horizon of rational speech.” Yes and no. No: because, again, the primary venue is orientation of one’s life (be it daily or long viewed). JH’s “horizonal” sociocentrism of rationalization keeps attention away from the “vertical” (temporal, long-termed) dimension of primary, action-/life-orienting values. The primacy of value is enactional; values are actualized by being the orientation of action. So, an analysis of value statements is stacking the deck: “To describe is to take a stance,” but what’s being described (“‘thick’ evaluative descriptions”) is about stances of life-oriented action, not derivative efforts to explain why one acted as one preferred. Actors “see through the spectacles of their world-disclosing language how they ought to respond” because the world disclosing (the salience of preference) does give guidance to action. In order to satisfy one’s preference, one is required to act satisfactorily. This is not about being able to comply with convention by grace of linguistic socialization!:

As native speakers, they “know” intuitively what is creepy about a person’s appearance, what is attractive or repelling about some encounter, what is irritating about some experience—indeed, why one situation is significant at all and another irrelevant.

This conventionism trivializes the life-orienting venue of values that orient particular actions. Yet, taking a higher road into “a culture’s practical wisdom” (226top) is just indicating part of the resource base that a person draws on, for orienting one’s life. One selects from heritage in the long road of individuating a life (“enowning my life,” which sustains aspiration to make life as good as one can do as well as one can).

“Of course,” JH continues, “values that are constitutive for a community’s form of life are intersubjectively recognized in that community.” But this is misleading. Most persons have no idea what values are “constitutive for a...form of life.” They have awareness and appreciation of many community-consolidating values, which is less about “recognition” than it’s about appropriation for the sake of individualized life orientation. (Even the normally sociocentric life is a small network within the nebulous community.) And the action-relevant awareness is an appreciation that isn’t homogenous within any given network, let alone among very individuated persons. A tapesty of value-spherical appropriation is different for everyone (or every network) because lives are lived, at heart, singularly. (No child should grow to be a replica of their parents’ views!)

Living a life well is the good basis for having confidence about warranting one’s preferences to others. In that case, desire for appreciation by the other comes into play—which, by the way, is a better (richer) notion than minimalist desire for recognition. What we want is engagement in the main relationships of our lives; and there, appreciation between and among “us” is highly important. On the basis of that, we warrant ourselves to relative strangers, as a matter of desiring recognition, at least.

“And insofar as this recognition is based on sound reasons, the objectivity of value judgments expresses more than the social fact of the acceptance of underlying normative standards within a cultural framework.” Yet, those standards are primarily about our well-being, which is increasingly modernized as a matter of one’s well-being, “my well-being,” the actualization of potentials, the making of good lives. This is why we so highly value good education and opportunity for making one’s own way well.

Ironically, the more that education and individuation is taken to heart, the less that value may seem culture specific. Actualizing one’s potential is not a culture-specific value. Gaining well-educated independence is not a culture-specific value.

Though this is my view, I endorse JH’s “this” accredited to Putnam, in his ending to § 6:

“This seems to speak against the idea that the validity of ethical knowledge is culture-specific and that such knowledge can provide no guidance outside the relevant traditions and forms of life.”

That's because the validity of ethical knowledge belongs to the life, derivatively to accountability, and that validity exemplifies the goods of living well that give life Meaningful fulfillment, as well as healthy pleasure. The more deeply this is lived and thought, the less culturally relative it becomes (I would argue). Positive psychology—which is richly engaged in transcultural issues—standardly distinguishes “hedonic” happiness and “eudaimonic” happiness as being determinably valid cross-cultural notions. The field is quite mature.

Wholly, happiness is lived cohering of what can be analytically differentiated. Aspiring to wholly happy living is surely idealistic, but one eventually learns, at best, to be fruitfully “realistic,” living without excessive perfectionism. (The value of perfectibility is generative for growth, like a receding horizon on a wonderful journey. Love the journey; don't try to capture the horizon.) Flourishing prudently (and fairly) can be done excellently. Living in virtue of pragmatics seems inherently appealing, as well as admirable. It’s not a force of en-stanced argument; it’s an appeal as living “argument.” I think that the basis which this may provide for working with classically “ethical” issues can be as deeply transcultural—appreciating general interests—as interaction may desire.

NEXT: part 4 here, re: § 7 of the essay –|– main page of “In virtue... / Introduction

Also: This discussion is associated with the “being well” area of

Be fair. © 2014, g. e. davis.