In responding to a question it is necessary to understand the nature of the question and, further, to consider the nature of the terms in which an answer may be given. Failure to proceed properly at this point eliminates the possibility of a cogent and sound resolution of the question.

The present question, "What is value?" is one whose nature and whose terms available for its resolution are quite generally misunderstood. Thus, the purpose of this article is to clarify the nature of the question and to consider the further question of the terms of its resolution. The outcome of the article is largely negative, in that it is addressed to the removal of certain misunderstandings in the regards mentioned above.

With respect, first of all, to the nature of the question, the question, "What is value?" is a categorial question rather than a particular question. That is, the question concerns the meaning of the category of value qua value in distinction to the particular things which may or may not be valuable. The question, then, "What is value?" is distinct from, must not be confused with, the question, "What things are valuable?"

The distinction between the two questions may be clarified. We recognize, for example, that a state of affairs, say an intelligent state of the mind, is a value, or is good. We make the value judgment, "x is good." The recognition and judgment involve at least two moments: the attribution of a property, value, to a subject; the deeper-lying awareness of the value property itself. We must know what value itself is, must have a criterion of value, before we can affirm or deny of things that they are valuable. From the point of view of our experience-our valuations and valuational judgments-the awareness of value is required a priori. This general principle, that we must entertain the idea of value a priori to the recognition and attribution of value as qualifying instances, is, at least, remarked by Plato in the observation:

I think that if anything is beautiful besides absolute beauty

it is beautiful for no other reason than because it partakes

of absolute beauty , that beautiful things are

beautiful through beauty. 1

When it is seen that the question, "What is value?" is a categorial question concerning value itself and is therefore distinct from any particular question as to what things possess values, it becomes possible to consider with profit the further question as to whether values are absolute or relative. If one were to assert that values are fixed and universally valid for all times, persons, and situations, he would subscribe to absolutism. If he were to assert that values have no existence except as psychological and sociological facts, altering as individuals and societies undergo change, he would subscribe to relativism.

It is quite evident that the ethos of our time is weighted in favor of value relativism. For example, Professor Melville Herskovitch believes that the doctrine of relativism is supported by scientific evidence. He quotes from the experimental work of Professor Muzafer Sherif:

The psychological basis of the established social norms, such as stereotypes, fashions, conventions, customs and values, is the formation of common frames of reference as a product of the contact of individuals. Once such frames of reference are established and incorporated in the individual they enter as important factors to determine or modify his reactions to the situations he will face latersocial and even non-social at times, especially if the stimulus field is not well structured.2

To observe, however, that there are psychological determinants of value is not to settle the issue as to relativism or absolutism. On the contrary, the observation raises a very important question which, as a matter of fact, many relativists do not see. That there are psychological determinants of value may be interpreted in one of two ways: that they are factors in the experience of values or that they are factors in the constitution, or nature, of values.

Now, from the fact that there are various psychological determinants of the experience of values, that there are various processes of enculturation involved in societal activity, it does not follow that values are relative. That is, the relativity of valuations does not eo ipso entail the relativity of values. The distinction, mentioned above, may support this statement. The relativity of valuations may well obtain at the level of the recognition and judgment that certain things are or are not valuable. But this does not, necessarily, implicate value itself in any relativity in the sense that its nature and status are dependent upon, a variant of, the particular valuations. Once this distinction is recognized much of the force of value-relativism vanishes.

However, the proponent of value relativism may not close his case. He may assert further that values are created, or instituted, in the psychological determinants themselves. As dependent upon these determinants they are therefore relative. Now, this assertion concerns the categorial question of value qua value. The question is not "What things are valuable?" but "What is value itself?" And the question is approached on the presupposition that certain natural facts constitute the terms in which it may be answered. It is to this presupposition that attention must now be directed.

The view that there are certain natural facts which are constitutive and definitive of value is called naturalism. One variant of naturalism in value theory is the interest theory of value. It is probably quite widely held. The theory is given definitive formulation by Professor Ralph Barton Perry. He says that values are created, or instituted, in the psychological processes of desire and interest. To desire something, to take an interest in something - whether this is real or imaginary - is to institute value. Value is created by, dependent upon, an interest attitude. Value is the interest attitude; apart from the interest attitude there is no value at all. Perry states his thesis in the equation:

x is valuable = interest is taken in x. Value is thus a specific relation into which things possessing any ontological status whatsoever, whether real or imaginary, may enter with interested subjects. 3

Another writer, George Santayana, adopts substantially the same view, remarking that

Impulse makes value possible; and the value becomes actual when the impulse issues in processes that give it satisfaction and have conscious worth. 4

On this view, then, value is the relation between an interested subject and the object of interest. The psychological processes of interest and desire constitute the terms which are constitutive of value and which, therefore, may be definitively employed in the resolution of the value question.

There are, however, certain considerations which vitiate the interest theory in particular and value naturalism in general, which may assume forms other than that of the interest theory.

In the first place, the interest theory is inconsistent with the experience of values. From the point of view of our experiencing values, it is not true that values require the condition of interest on the part of the subject. There are "gratuitous values," values which come to us unsought for, which are experienced apart from any pre-existing interest. These cannot be created by interest. And there are "recognized values," values which we recognize as pre-existing to our interest in them, which, to be sure, is one factor involved in our espousal of them. The experience of guilt, in which we stand condemned in our unconcern for and rejection of values, is perhaps our deepest recognition of values - their integrity and power - as independent of the conditions of interest. For the values which call us into question, which pronounce against us and which we may eventually reject from incorporation into our moral personality, are certainly not those in which any pre-existing interest is taken. They cannot, therefore, be created in an interest attitude. In short, the experience of values discloses values as obtruding and given within the field of awareness apart from any pre-existing interest. Thus there is this evidence, drawn from experience, against the thesis of the interest theory that values are instituted in, dependent upon, an interest relation.

The interest theory could, of course, be rescued at this point by an appeal to a doctrine of "unconscious interests." It could be said that there are unconscious interests, or instincts, which constitute the determinants of value. But this suggestion cannot be taken seriously. It is patently ad hoc, and any theory can be saved ad hoc. It introduces the concept of instinct as a scientific concept, thereby creating difficulties coming from the side of science. It also requires a telic structure of the universe in order to account for instinct. These consequences, however, are devastating to naturalism and cannot be admitted by the interest theory, which is a form of naturalism.5

In the second place, there are certain analytic considerations which point up the untenability of naturalism in value, regardless of the particular form it may assume. The attempt to define value so as to reduce it to fact has certain consequences well worth considering.

Suppose, again, that the attempt is made to give a reductionistic definition of value in terms of the fact of interest. Value is any object of any interest. Now, the meaning of the idea of value is precisely equivalent to the idea of an interest relation. There is neither more nor less signification to the idea of value than to that of the idea of fact.

If this be the case, then what is really asserted in the statement, "Value is any object of any interest," is the statement, "Any object of any interest is any object of any interest." That is, the attempt to offer such a factual definition of value involves a redundancy. Further, on the supposition that value may be defined in terms of the fact of interest, the denial that value is any object of any interest is impossible. For the negative statement "Value is not any object of any interest" becomes "Any object of any interest is not any object of any interest." But this is a self-contradiction.

Another example may be taken. Assume that value means pleasure. Thus, in the sentence, "Pleasure is value," there are not two distinct ideas, "pleasure" and "value," but only one idea, namely "pleasure." The idea of value is, from the point of view of its signification, only the idea of pleasure in verbal disguise. The sentence, then, does not assert of one idea, "pleasure," another and distinct idea, "value." On the contrary, since there is only one idea, that of pleasure, involved in the sentence, it asserts the redundancy, "Pleasure is pleasure." And the sentence registering the denial that pleasure is value asserts a self-contradiction, "Pleasure is not pleasure." Since redundancies are uninformative and self-contradictions irrational, the cogency of a factual definition of value is quite dubious, to say the least.

The only way to eliminate these difficulties attending a naturalistic definition of value is to admit that the idea of value is a distinct, sui generis idea which is, therefore, irreducible to and untranslatable into terms of natural fact. And there is further evidence substantiating the thesis of the indefinability of value in terms of natural fact. The evidence is supplied from what is called the "open question." Given any naturalistic definition of value, it remains a significant open question whether the fact allegedly definitive of value is itself valuable, or good. To the definition of value as pleasure the question can significantly be asked, "Is pleasure good?" This, however, should be impossible, on the assumption that the value idea is precisely the factual idea. But the point is, the question is not an impossible one; it may be, and indeed is, significantly asked. That the idea of value can be significantly employed in a consideration of fact, into whose terms it is supposed to be definitively reduced, is evidence that it has a meaning which is not caught in those terms and that it therefore refers to that which is extra-factual. Thus, the idea of value remains intact, resisting any factual, or naturalistic, definition, and therefore signifies - if it signifies anything at all, i.e., is not non-sense - that which transcends matters of natural fact. 6

There are considerations of perhaps even a deeper-lying nature which also point up the difficulties involved in the attempt to provide a definition of value in terms of natural fact. The attempt so to define value is ruled by the desire, on the part of certain naturalists, to extend the procedures of empirical science to the realm of value.

Now, there are certain assumptions upon which, in the main, contemporary empirical science rests. The ultimate assumption is what is called "the empirical, or verifiability, criterion of meaning." This criterion requires that meaning be sense-meaning. A contemporary naturalist, Professor C. I. Lewis, states the criterion as follows:

it is demanded that any concept put forward or any proposition asserted shall have a definite denotation; that it shall be intelligible not only verbally and logically but in the further sense that one can specify those empirical items which would determine the applicability of the concept or constitute the verification of the proposition. Whatever cannot satisfy this demand is to be regarded as meaningless.7

Thus, a proposition is meaningful in an extra-logical sense when it is in principle capable of verification or disverification in terms of sense. That is, a proposition is thus meaningful when it portends passages of sense items which are, or would be, relevant as confirmation of disconfirmation of the proposition.

When this concept of meaning is taken seriously as exclusively constitutive of extra-logical meaning, objective knowledge is taken to consist exclusively in the actual verification of beliefs in terms of sense experience. In many instances, to be sure, the verification is complex and indirect; but even here the ultimate reference is to sense experience. Given, again, the radical espousal of the verifiability criterion of meaning, reality is equated with the sense-experienceable. The real world is precisely that which is in principle capable of being experienced in terms of sense.

As presupposing the verifiability concept of meaning and the consequent concepts of knowledge and reality, modern empirical science employs the methods of observation and experimentation so as to procure the data in which objective knowledge consists. What is central here is the concept of empirical meaning which governs the methodological procedures involved in the acquisition and interpretation of the data constitutive of the body of scientific knowledge.

Since it is ruled by the demands of the empiricist concept of meaning, empirical science may regard the idea of value as meaningful, indicative of knowable reality, only if it refers to some sense-specifiable state of affairs. Hence, the attempt is made, on the part of scientific naturalism, to offer a factual definition of value. Only as value is reduced to fact can value be amendable to the procedures and capabilities of empirical science. Thus, the factual definition of value, which the pre-suppositions of empirical science requires, is but reflective of the intent of those who rigidly adhere to the methodological commitments of empirical science to regard all and any knowable reality, in the area of value as well as in the area of fact, as sense-specifiable and therefore amendable to the procedural forms of science.

Now, since the verifiability concept of meaning governs the procedures of empirical science, the extension of science to the realm of value so as to secure the amenability of value to the formulations of science is legitimate only if a sufficient measure of soundness and validity can be given to that meaning-criterion. And just here a very serious problem emerges.

The attempt to provide the empiricist criterion of meaning, and therefore the foundations of empirical science, with the required measure of soundness admittedly involves serious difficulties. And the difficulties are compounded if the terms to be employed here are restricted to the scope acceptable to the scientific naturalist.

Plainly, the empiricist criterion of meaning, formulated in the proposition "Meaning is sense-meaning," cannot itself be meaningful in terms of sense. For it cannot be subjected to any test routine in terms of sense so as to be either confirmed or disconfirmed. Thus, it cannot be certified as true or false, and, accordingly, cannot be an item of knowledge. On the other hand, the criterion cannot be regarded as a definition, or proposal, of meaning. For it would then have a measure of arbitrariness which cannot be reconciled with the accepted import of the criterion as governing the conditions of scientific inquiry and knowledge.

About the most that can be said is that the criterion is comparable to a definition, but that it is not arbitrary. It is a clarification of a primitive idea, or notion, of meaning. Then, however, the further question must be raised as to the status of that primitive idea of meaning, and in particular, as to the nature and justification of its espousal.

It is clear that the espousal of the primitive idea of meaning as empirical cannot be justified on the grounds of cognition as defined by the principle of scientific empiricism. Since the meaning criterion defines the very conditions of inquiry and knowledge, its espousal cannot be based on, or justified in terms of, any cognitive procedure or body of knowledge. On the contrary, the espousal is essentially stipulative. The criterion is stipulated for the purpose of instituting and accounting for the structure of scientific knowledge. And this, in turn, implies that scientific knowledge, consisting in the descriptive explanation of phenomena, is held as an end. Thus it is that the concern with ends and purposes becomes involved in the espousal of the conditions of meaning and procedure necessary to the scientific enterprise.

If the conditions upon which empirical science is premised are rigidly and consistently adhered to, that science can provide no interpretation concerning ends and purposes, either as such or in reference to scientific knowledge. At first thought this statement may seem too extreme. But reflection reveals that it is not. Suppose, for example, that a proponent of scientific naturalism were to define value in terms of the interest theory and were, accordingly, to assert that science is a value instituted as such in the psychological processes of interest and desire. He might assert, further, that while the empirical concept of meaning cannot be cognitively supported, it can be axiologically supported in the sense that it is espoused for the purpose of realizing a value. It would thus appear that, within the framework of empirical science, a significant assertion could be made concerning the value character and import of ends and purposes as these provide a foundation for and a justification of the methodological commitments necessary to the institution of science.

Nevertheless, no consistent or adequate interpretation of ends and purposes as these are implicated in the pursuit of science has here been given from within the context provided by the empiricist principle. This can be easily demonstrated. The instant specification of value as factual in character, consisting in an interest relation, is at bottom dependent upon and reflective of the demands of the empirical meaning-criterion. The concept of man as but a complex natural organism sustaining dynamic relations with its environing world, from which relations values emerge, is a naturalistic view of man and the universe. It is structured upon the empirical concept of meaning as stipulating that reality, in value as well as in fact, be that which is in principle brought to view by the methods and procedures of empirical science. Since, then, value as thus defined is premised upon the concept of empirical meaning, it follows that the determination of scientific knowledge as a value is likewise premised upon that idea of meaning. It thus cannot be consistently maintained that scientific knowledge is a value which accounts for and justifies the empirical concept of meaning, because that concept of meaning is responsible for the factual determination of value as such and of scientific knowledge as a specific value. Hence, it is true that given the restrictions imposed by the principle of empiricism no consistent or adequate interpretation has been, or can be, offered concerning the nature and status of mans ends and purposes in existence, in particular as these are bound up with the institution and pursuit of scientific knowledge. If one addresses the instant question from within the context of these restrictions, he commits the petitio principii. If he addresses the question from without the context of these restrictions, he employs a metaphysics of meaning different from that which supports the scientific process and which cannot be accounted for in the terms indigenous to that process. As either an empirical scientist or a scientific naturalist he is, accordingly, forced to remain silent on this most profound and important issue.

Thus, the attempt to reduce value to fact is unsatisfactory, finally, because it ultimately rests upon certain stipulations as to meaning and procedure which procure a methodological definition of knowledge and reality, and which, in turn, implicate considerations of ends and purposes which cannot be significantly addressed. It goes well for the scientific naturalist to argue for the factual reduction of value on the grounds that this is required by his methodological procedures and definitions as ruled by his espoused criterion of meaning. But it goes ill for him at the point where his ultimate commitments implicate issues about which he is, in all consistency, forced to remain silent. In short, a naturalistic reduction of value, faced as we have seen with difficulties in certain other regards, appears all the more untenable as involving considerations in the presence of which the mind is issued into an ultimate unintelligibility.

This article, then, has indicated certain reasons why an answer to the categorial question, "What is value?" cannot be given in the terms of natural fact. To be sure, no positive answer to this question has been offered. None has been intended. One cannot say everything at once. It is, however, important that we be apprized of those terms, perhaps quite widely held today, which are inappropriate to the question.


1 Phaedo 100c-d, trans. H. N. Fowler, Loeb Classical library, No. 36 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1953), p. 345. The expression "absolute beauty," which is Fowlers translation of auto to kalov, is better rendered "

2 Melville J. Herskovitz, Man and His Works (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1948), p. 66.

3 Ralph Barton Perry. General Theory of Value (New York: Longsmans, Green & Co. , 1926), p. 116.

4 George Santayana, The Life of Reason: Reason in Common Sense (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1906), p. 223.

5 See Eliseo Vivas, The Moral Life and the Ethical Life (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1950), chap. iii.

6 See G. E. Moore, Principia Ethica (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1903), chap. i.

7 Clarence Irving Lewis, "Experience and Meaning," The Philosophical Review, XLIII (march, 1934), 125.