Philosophy and the Problem of Value[1]

Albert P. Brogan


IN Plato's dialogue, the Chamides, in the midst of a search for the definition of temperance or sound-mindedness, there is an interesting argument as to whether the belief or wisdom involved in sound-mindedness should be defined as a science of sciences. Is there a knowledge of knowledges and of ignorances, a science both of itself and of other sciences and non-sciences? Even if there were such a science, would it be essential to sound-mindedness? The final suggestion, in the searching and inconclusive dialogue, is that we need a knowledge of the good, or, as we should now say, a philosophy of value. The specialists in Platonic studies discuss the possible historical references in this dialogue to the contending views of Hippias and Prodicus. I am not now concerned with the historical problem, but I cite this opposition of views as an indication of a rift in the interpretation of the meaning of philosophy that has come down through millennia. Is the problem of value basic or central in philosophy, or is it merely incidental to other problems? Plato's own answer to this question seems to be as clear as any of his beliefs can be discovered to be. The problem of the good runs through most of the early dialogues. In the Republic the final stage of philosophical training is that dialectic which is to furnish a rational knowledge of the good. In the Philebus we have one of the most careful treatments of the problem of the good to be found in

( 106) philosophical literature. Unfortunately, we can make only a guess as to the contents of Plato's lost lecture on the good. In spite of the wide range of topics within the Platonic writings, the problem of value is clearly treated as the basic or central problem of philosophy. My purpose in this paper is to attempt a fresh formulation of this interpretation of philosophy.

What is the nature and what is the function of philosophy today? Obviously, philosophy has meant different things during the evolution of human thought. No doubt it will continue to change in the future. But what is it now? We need take no interest in somewhat pedantic disputes over the exact boundary-line that might be drawn with respect to this point and that point as to whether they are to be considered within or without the field of philosophy. We shall always have border-line problems and they are frequently of minor importance. Our question concerns the central problem or. problems of philosophy. As the special sciences have been separated from philosophy in modern times, there have remained highly divergent interpretations of the essential nature of philosophy. Today we hear such different doctrines as that philosophy is the study of ultimate reality, that it finds reality behind appearances, that it leads us to that totality which is ultimately real, that it is the synthesis of all the sciences, that it examines the presuppositions of the sciences, that it explains the principles of knowledge which are implied in all science, that it is nothing but the method of the sciences, that its task is to show that there can be no philosophy except the sciences, that it studies the ultimate forms according to which the universe is constituted, that it is merely mathematical logic with a set of analytical or tautological propositions, that it harmonizes traditions with modern science, that it is a philosophy of life. Of course these statements do not exhaust the list, but they show the extreme diversity of statement. Frequently it is difficult to see what is common to such statements except a name.

It should be possible to state in some reasonable way what we mean when we say that a certain question is philosophical. Even if there are many debatable border-line questions, surely there must be many that most of us would agree to consider. philosophical. What are they? I wish to state an hypothesis as to

( 107) the nature of the central philosophical questions. After this hypothesis has been stated, it will be compared with what seem to be the main rival theses in contemporary thought. The argument will be concluded with a short and fragmentary account of philosophical methods for this hypothesis as to the nature of philosophy.


There is nothing new in the hypothesis here presented. The doctrine that the primary task of philosophy is the study or. the theory of value has been held by many thinkers throughout the ages; but it seems to me that it needs to be stated freshly because it has frequently been presented in partial or inadequate forms which have led to misunderstanding.

There is one misunderstanding that is particularly important. It must be confessed that I have been guilty of this misunderstanding in the past. Many writers on the theory of value seem to hold the mistaken doctrine that such subjects as ethics and aesthetics are value-studies; and that the theory of value is concerned with such studies and with the general theory of value that may constitute their basis, but that such theoretical subjects as logic and epistemology do not constitute part of the study of value. A dualism of this type has been frequently held, and it is usually based on some assumptions to the effect that value-theory is concerned with the affective or desiderative side of experience, whereas logic and epistemology embody pure thought or reason untainted by such things as feeling or desire. If this were the case, I should not hold that philosophy is identical with the study of value. I shall urge that there is no such dualism.

The course of my main argument will be as follows. I shall first attempt to show that all main divisions of philosophy really do involve value-problems. Logic, epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, æsthetics, and some related fields, will be surveyed to show that there is a value-problem in each field. Then the question of a general field of value will be considered. The conclusion will be reached that all problems that are primarily problems of value are philosophical. The next main part of the argument will at-tempt to refute doctrines that hold that philosophy should be interpreted as dealing either entirely or primarily with problems

( 108) different from that of value. Here the problems of logic, epistemology and metaphysics will be reconsidered in an attempt to show that there are no philosophical problems in these fields other than that of value and whatever may be involved in it.

Let us first consider the related problems of logic and epistemology in an attempt to show that there is a value-problem in each of these subjects.

Knowledge is not a thing or relation or event or process to which we can point. Many thinkers talk as though it were something as denotable as tables or chairs. Whatever the adequate definition of it may be, it must be characterized, at least in one universal aspect, as belief, judgment, thought, inference, or assumption, that has been subjected or that can be subjected to critical evaluation and justification. In its first characterization, knowledge is trustworthy belief. It is a belief or a system of beliefs that can be logically justified. Within logical justification I include everything that may be thought relevant and adequate in logic and epistemology and scientific method. When we consider the trustworthiness of a belief apart from chains or systems of beliefs it is usual to speak of epistemology. When we consider beliefs in chains of deductive or, inductive proof or in other systematic interconnections we usually consider the subject as being logic. Yet, fundamentally, there is little difference here. In all these problems we are considering the logical evaluation or criticism of beliefs as purporting to be knowledge.

Many philosophers seem to long for the good old days when they could be competent experts in the field of psychology. For better or for worse, those days are gone, probably never to return. The task of the philosopher now in this field is the same as his primary task has always been, to show what distinguishes more trustworthy from less trustworthy thought. Our beliefs, in all their groupings, are found, under critical or evaluative examination, to fall into a scale. With no pretence here of an adequate account of the matter, it seems that beliefs constitute a scale which runs from what might be called zero probability or zero evidence or zero plausibility to more and more probability. When this logical trustworthiness is such that we think it is not reason-ably to be questioned under present conditions we call it practical

( 109) certainty. The concept of absolute certainty in knowledge seems to me to have the same objectionable characteristics as the notion of an absolute best or perfection has in the theory of ethics or in the general theory of value. In trivial statements of common life, provided no embarrassing questions are asked, and in the tautologies of analytic logic, credulous philosophers find instances of alleged absolute certainties. It seems probable that in the significant hypotheses with which science is mainly concerned, there can be no final summation of evidence. Every hypothesis is subject to further examination, to further criticism, to further testing of its plausibility. Modesty suggests that we recognize that our reasonable claim is to the effect that one hypothesis is truer than another in the light of the available evidence. That is, one hypothesis is more plausible than another, more probable, more trustworthy. This fact of a scale of logical value is the central fact of logic and epistemology. Logic and epistemology are parts of the general theory of value.

Traditional logic has usually recognized that it is concerned with the evaluation of inferences. But it has usually been so obsessed by the trivial tautologies embodied in so-called immediate inference and in the forms of the syllogism that its deductive logic has been sterile. The newer symbolic logic or mathematical logic, which is really a more adequate deductive logic, has been a great stimulus to recent philosophy. But the actual propositions of deductive logic are primarily tautologies. The tautological forms of deductive logic have their value for the processes of knowledge. But the main function of the newer mathematical logic is to be found in its definitions and analyses. The more elaborate forms of propositions, especially in their relational aspects, the enlargement of the old syllogisms into a generalized logic of classes, the structure of a logic of relations-these discoveries constitute the chief contribution of mathematical logic to the processes of knowledge.

I do not wish to make dogmatic and unsupported statements here as to the fundamental principles of inductive logic, probable implication or inference, and the nature of probability. But no account can be adequate which does not include a treatment of the subject as a criticism or evaluation of belief and inference.

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We must deny the adequacy of mere numerical calculations as a complete account of probability. Alleged intuitions of indefinable probability-relations merely dodge the problem. The basic fact must be that certain methods of thinking give us more probable or more trustworthy conclusions than we could have otherwise. If induction and probability are stripped of their character of logical value, they lose all logical or philosophical significance.

Those who insist that the deductive and the inductive aspects of logic must be brought together into one comprehensive movement of reflective thought must admit, as in Dewey's analysis of reflective thought, that the final decision deals with the logically better hypothesis. From a worker in the physical sciences, Irving Langmuir. I wish to quote these statements, which indicate our problem, no matter how much more elaboration and criticism may be needed.

" Our choice, therefore, does not lie between fact and hypothesis, but only between two concepts (or better two models) which enable us to give a better or worse description of natural phenomena. By better or worse we mean approximately : simpler or more complicated, more or less convenient, more or less general."[2]

The task of the philosophical logician is to formulate and criticize these principles of logical valuation. Are we always justified in assuming that the simpler hypothesis is the logically sounder? What is the logical validity to be found in the guiding principles of simplicity, economy, unity, comprehensiveness, consistency? How do the concepts of continuity or discontinuity, causality or tychism, things or events, qualities or relations, function in our task of acquiring trustworthy belief ? Such problems run through our entire intellectual enterprise. They are fundamentally problems of logical evaluation. But they are all too often treated naïvely and dogmatically without due recognition of the problems of logical value involved.

No doubt many philosophers who deny that philosophy is primarily the study of value take this position because they think that philosophy is primarily metaphysics or ontology. When I

( 111) compare the present hypothesis with alternative doctrines, it will be argued that what is usually called metaphysics embodies an uncritical and illegitimate use of the categories of independence and dependence. This questionable use of concepts finds application in most of the traditional types of metaphysics, in the controversy over monism and pluralism, in realistic metaphysics in many varieties, in the controversy over realities or things in themselves that are assumed to be behind appearances, in the absolutistic doctrine of a whole for which the parts are mere aspects or appearances, and in the many varieties of idealistic or personalistic or subjective theories. I shall argue that the reasoned proofs which have been offered for such doctrines are fallacious because of an uncritical use of the concepts of dependence and independence. In other words, it will be argued that there is no proper sphere of philosophical knowledge in connection with these problems. Of course there is a philosophical problem here in the logical criticism or evaluation of our concepts or categories in these fields.

It is possible to treat metaphysics as a value-study in which the categories of real and unreal or the notion of degrees of reality are interpreted as involving value-characteristics. If real means important, or significant, or meaningful, then metaphysics might be treated as a value-study concerned with such problems. Or if degrees of reality refer to the concept of perfection, it is clear that such a study involves the problem of value. I do not wish to deny the possibility of such a value-interpretation of meta-physics, though I doubt the wisdom of talking about reality when we mean value. On the other hand, if reality is used to mean existence, then it must be insisted that existence is not a value-term. Philosophy must treat the use of the categories of existence and non-existence from the logical or epistemological point of view. That is, philosophy treats the categories of reality or existence as elements in the process of knowledge. A claim to have knowledge about existence raises the question of logical value in that claim, but the facts of existence about which we claim to have knowledge are matters for ordinary experience or for the special sciences rather than for philosophy.

There is no justification for the assertion that philosophy can

( 112) claim to have knowledge about existence, or reality in this sense, in a way that can be superior to the beliefs of common sense and science. Ultimately, philosophy must take its existential assumptions, as far as it needs them, from the special sciences. There is no royal road to existence. What occurs in the physical, biological, psychological, and social spheres must be determined by the special sciences that deal with these matters. No doubt philosophy must criticize the logic that is used in the sciences, but this criticism cannot give a substitute for. the sciences. The categories which seem to give knowledge in the special sciences must have some appearance of validity, and their improvement will come partly from the specialists who are advancing knowledge in the special sciences. What knowledge indicates as the facts of the physical world is found in a laboratory and not in a philosophical library. The philosopher's contribution to this problem can be nothing but the study and valuation of the more or less basic categories and assumptions involved in science and scientific method.

The field of ethics has frequently been treated as identical with the entire theory of value. But such usage tends to ignore the peculiar problems of moral value and to give an unduly moralistic emphasis to the general problem of value. Ethics studies what-ever is involved in the distinction between right and wrong in conduct or between what ought to be done and what ought not to be done. The central problems in ethics are matters of moral valuation, to which problems of history and psychology are subordinate.

Those writers who follow G. E. Moore in analysing such moral concepts as right into dependence on general value-concepts such as good (or better, as I would say) seem to me to be correct in general though frequently they simplify moral phenomena too hastily and too radically. But even writers, such as W. D. Ross, who insist that right cannot be defined in relation to goodness or value in general, must recognize that the moral concepts they accept as ultimate are value-concepts, though special rather than general. It may be that some special value-concepts are not reducible to the concepts of general value such as good or better. Similar theories might be defended about logical or æsthetic as

( 113) well as about moral value. Such theories involve a more complicated theory about values, both general and special. Whether moral value is reducible to general value or is irreducible, we need more adequate analyses and morphologies of moral phenomena in the light of their similarities and their differences to other types of value.

Many aspects of what is called aesthetics and the theory of art do not seem to be philosophical in nature. The psychology of artistic creation and enjoyment is a matter for empirical psychology. But philosophy must include the philosophy of the criticism of art and esthetic value, both as to the meaning and criteria of aesthetic value and as to the place of art in life and in relation to other values. Whatever our theories about the meaning and the nature of beauty and other aesthetic concepts, the study of such problems is a study of one type of value. It must be approached both separately as a detailed field of study and inclusively in relation to other kinds of value.

Whether religion is primarily a problem of value, whether there are special religious values such as the sacred or the holy, whether religion is concerned with all human values in their cosmic or their social setting, are questions which obviously constitute part of the study of value, but which I shall not now discuss. There are many other fields in which similar problems of value arise. Is economics concerned with economic values primarily or is it concerned with prices or with the study of economic institutions in their historical setting? Is there a field of legal values or should the study of law be purely descriptive, and in either case what is the relation of law to ethics? Is philosophy of history possible as a study of progress? Must the theory of education be based on a study of educational values, and how are they related to other values? Into these and similar questions we must not here enter. Wherever there is a basic question about the nature of value or about the critique of valuations there is a philosophical question. On the other hand, many problems in these fields are not problems of philosophy. I shall not attempt to set up any exact boundary-lines here.

Whether the fields of ethical, esthetic, logical, and other types of valuation are merely similar in certain respects without any

( 114) identical basis, or whether there is an underlying general theory of value, is one of the debatable questions that we must not argue here. It seems to me more probable that there is a general field to which all the special values are related. Philosophy then is the study of the general nature of value and also the study of its special fields, such as the logical and the ethical. In one sense the general nature of value is the basic problem of philosophy. From the point of view of methodology, however, the problems involved in the logical values are basic, since we are assuming the logical principles involved when we attempt to have knowledge about value in general.

I have been concerned to formulate what seem to me to be the central problems of philosophy. I do not wish to tie this hypothesis to any of my own thoughts to the effect that the theory of value needs to be entirely re-studied in the light of a relational analysis. This relational analysis is itself a doctrine about the value for knowledge of the type of relational logic developed in recent mathematical logic, as well as in correlational statistics. But whether this particular type of analysis is sound, or rather logically better than the previous types, we need not debate. My present contention is merely that the basic problems of philosophy are problems of value, to be studied as best we may.

So the thesis is that philosophy is now to be considered as the study of the general and of the special fields of value. There is no other part of philosophy which is prior to the problem of value, there is no other separate part of philosophy, and there is no part of it at all that is not concerned with the problem of value.

It is to be admitted that there are boundary-problems here as elsewhere. There are problems that are partly about value and partly different. This fact can be observed most obviously in ethics, where many problems involve both the specific question of value and also other questions of psychology and the various social sciences. But the discovery of borderline-problems is no excuse for failure to determine the exact nature of the central problems of philosophy.

It should be admitted that, even if the argument is sound as to how we today are to state our problem of philosophy, the future

( 115) course of thought will modify or improve our formulation. What we now call the problem of value may in the future be stated in other terms or in other, relations. But this possibility is a general characteristic of all aspects of the knowing process.

The formulation that has been given above concerning the nature of philosophy has been concerned with a somewhat technical analysis of the essential problems of philosophy. Perhaps a simple and positive statement is now in order. Philosophy is quite literally, as the Greeks called it, the love of wisdom. The specialist in the various scientific and scholarly disciplines abstracts from the question of the reasonableness of his attitudes to his subject-matter, He takes for granted the competency of the human mind to know facts and to deal with them in knowing or in living. The philosopher must overcome this abstraction of subject-matter from human attitude. He must ask whether we know what we think we know, how trustworthy is our knowledge in each field, what constitutes trustworthy belief, and how is our belief to be tested and criticized. He is not concerned merely with the causal analysis of human attitudes, as in psychology, though obviously he must use whatever information of this sort the psychologist can give. The philosopher's problem is with the wisdom and reasonableness of human attitudes. Nor is he concerned with the knowing attitude alone. He is concerned just as fundamentally with the reasonableness of our attitudes in such matters as ethics and æsthetics. The specialist in social or artistic matters may take for granted his assumptions about welfare or the ends of living and his assumptions about art and beauty. But the philosopher must criticize and study these basic assumptions. He seeks to formulate the principles that should guide our basic assumptions as to what is right or what is beautiful. He is concerned with the general principles of all our valuation as well as with the principles of our special types of valuation. Moreover he is concerned with the principles involved in a synthesis of all our valuations. He seeks wisdom concerning the place and the importance in life of knowledge and morality and art and religion. Both the critical analysis of the special and general values and the synthesis of all values into a synoptic attitude to life and the world constitute the love of wisdom that we call philosophy.

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Now that the present hypothesis has been stated, let us consider some alternatives. It would be an interesting but too lengthy discussion to trace the changing emphases in the meaning of philosophy during the past twenty-five centuries. Instead I shall ex-amine a few of the outstanding doctrines now prevailing.

Probably the most important rival theory is the doctrine that philosophy is the study of reality, or perhaps of ultimate or absolute reality. This is not the somewhat trivial doctrine that the philosopher should be the encyclopædist of all knowledge, The doctrine is that the philosopher is seeking a reality that is different from the facts studied by the special sciences. Sometimes this reality is treated as behind phenomena, sometimes it is treated as a totality that includes the phenomena as aspects or parts. In either case, the philosopher is supposed to deal with the materials of common sense and science but he is supposed to go deeper or higher. I need not repeat here the short remarks above about the use of the term real as a value-category. When reality refers not to value but to an assumed ultimate existence, we encounter a questionable use of some concepts or categories which I wish to criticize briefly.

The metaphysics of the type now under consideration makes very uncritical use of the concepts of dependence and independence. When it is asserted that reality is ultimately monistic, dualistic, or pluralistic, or that reality is dependent upon mind or experience, or is independent of mind or experience, in short when monism, dualism, pluralism, idealism, or realism, is under discussion, the argument assumes some questionable doctrines about the categories of dependence and independence. I wish to argue that the use of these categories by all parties in most metaphysical discussion is unsound. The conclusion of my argument here will at-tempt to eliminate this aspect of philosophy.

For many years I have felt that there was something seriously wrong in the essentials of the arguments and doctrines that prevail in what is called metaphysics. Usually I have been inclined simply to leave the subject alone. A recent attempt to re-state the problem of objectivity versus subjectivity in the general theory of value, however, has led me to formulate a contention about meta-

( 117) -physics which I wish to state here very briefly. The argument, in short, is that there are certain fields in which the concepts of dependence and independence have specifiable meanings and verifications, but that these fields do not include the problems usually called metaphysical, and that the prevailing doctrines and arguments in metaphysics are unsound because of an uncritical use of these concepts.

There are two fields in which I can find significant uses of the concepts of dependence and independence. One is mathematics and any other study which uses the deductive-system form. The other is the use of statistics for inductive studies.

In a deductive system we may have two or more postulates which are assumed or proved to be consistent. The question then arises whether the postulates are independent. For the sake of brevity I shall limit the discussion to the case of mutual dependence or independence. In the deductive field two or more postulates are mutually independent when and only when neither is deductively implied by the other, or, in different language, when and only when either is consistent with the negation or contradictory of the other. Two or more postulates are mutually de-pendent when and only when either implies the other, or when and only when either is inconsistent with the negation or contradictory of the other. In the final analysis the use of the concepts is to be tested by the presence or the absence of logical contradiction in a set of propositions. Here contradiction is not used in any vague sense, but means the joint affirmation of a proposition and its negation. For this there is in principle a definite test. There are, of course, difficulties in applying such a test under some conditions, but the criterion is definite. There either is or is not self-contradiction within a set of propositions.

The other use of these concepts is to be found in inductive or statistical studies. The simplest use here may be found in the statistics of attributes. There are several equations in use but the meaning is essentially the same in all. Attributes A and B are mutually independent if the proportion of A's amongst the B's is the same as in the universe at large, or if the ratio of A's to non-A's amongst the B's is equal to the ratio of A's to non-A's amongst the non-B's. In dealing with two-term relations we

( 118) have similar formulæ to the effect that two orders are mutually independent if the coefficient of correlation, based on the sum of the squares of the differences, is approximately zero.

In considering these formulæ we notice that the statistical usage of the concepts of dependence and independence is usually a matter of degree. Attributes or relations are more or less de-pendent if certain figures are approximated; they are more or less independent if other figures are approximated.

We should not assume that the deductive and the statistical uses of the concepts of dependence and independence are the only possible uses. There may be an indefinite number of them. But the two uses in deduction and in statistics are the only ones I have been able to discover that seem to me to be logically valid or sound. I have never found the slightest hint anywhere of any other valid application of these concepts. How can they be validly applied by us to the usual metaphysical or epistemological theses? Surely every candid thinker today realizes that it is possible to enunciate metaphysical systems that are either monistic or pluralistic, either realistic or idealistic, without that type of self-contradiction that is involved in the deductive use of the concepts of dependence and independence. Moreover, anyone who uses the statistical formulæ will find no way of applying them to the traditional metaphysical disputes. I cannot find any evidence to indicate that these disputes are answerable with any valid proof, either deductive or inductive.

Moreover, it seems that these traditional problems make a very uncritical use of a type of question about contrary-to-fact statements. In general, we may say that there is no way of answering the question, what would the universe be if it were different from what it is? One can have idle fancy here but not knowledge. Everything is what it is in the relations it does have to everything else. It is only under certain conditions that one can significantly ask or answer the question what anything would be if anything else were different. If one is not considering deductive propositions, one can answer such questions only by applying statistical formulæ to changes that occur in nature or that are made to occur by manipulation either in nature or in a laboratory. One has significant knowledge about the empirical world only when it is

( 119) based on actualities rather than on contrary-to-fact suppositions. So far as our now available methods of knowledge go, the usual type of metaphysics seems to be incurably invalid.

Many recent thinkers, who realize the dangers in the meta-physical dogmas here criticized, tend to a treatment of philosophy as being logic. It may be that from a certain standpoint the problem of logical value is more central in philosophy than any other special type of value, since logical value is presupposed in our reflective inquiry into the nature of any type of value. But this is a question as to the interrelations among the value-studies, which need not be debated here. The theory to be criticized is the doctrine that philosophy is to be identified with logic, or with logic and epistemology, treated as non-value-subjects. It was argued above that there is a problem of logical value. Here I wish to deny that any problem should be called philosophical in the study of logic or epistemology unless it involves a problem of logical value. In other words, there are no philosophical problems of logic or epistemology save as problems of logical value are raised.

The history of science or of thinking is not a philosophical problem if treated merely as a record of historical facts. The philosophical problem arises only when there is an evaluation as to the increasing adequacy or trustworthiness of the thought. So a genetic study of thinking from childhood to maturity is psycho-logy until the problem of the logical value of the thinking is considered. The psychology of perception, of learning, of meaning, of thinking or inference, can no longer be considered within the scope of philosophy, however much the philosopher needs to learn about these subjects from psychologists. In so far as logic and epistemology pretend to be metaphysical in their content or implications, the objections listed above apply to them. I can see no alternative except the frank recognition that these subjects are concerned with the critique or evaluation of beliefs and related processes from the standpoint of their logical trustworthiness. In other words, these subjects are philosophical only as they are treated from the standpoint of value. So there is no rival hypothesis here that can be defended.

A recent variation on the theory that philosophy is logic as a

( 120) non-value-subject may be found in what I shall call the tautological school of philosophy. Some thinkers, following Whitehead, Russell, and Wittgenstein, treat philosophy as being essentially deductive logic, with the principles of the Principia Mathematica as the main example of philosophical propositions. As Russell has said, the propositions in those books are something very like tautologies. In some sense they are principles of consistency or non-contradiction in fact or inference. No doubt it is true that deductive inference in violation of these propositions is fallacious. But I cannot think that all of philosophy is contained in tautologies or even that all of logic is. Deductive implication and deductive inference do seem to have the characteristics described in the Principia Mathematica, with whatever correction time may show. But deductive implication is only one aspect of logic, and only one very small part of philosophy. Perhaps it is well that we have specialists in logic who investigate details of logic without consideration of the problem of logical value upon which all such details must rest if they are genuinely philosophical. But when this study is stripped of its problem of logical value it tends to unite or merge with the abstractions of pure mathematics. Here we have one of the boundary-line problems about which I shall not be dogmatic.

Another hypothesis is the belief that any theory, any hypothesis, any definition of concepts, may constitute the work of philosophy. It needs little consideration to see that the special sciences will formulate their own theories, and that they will define their own concepts in the light of their own needs. Philosophy here can be nothing but amateurish, unless it frankly turns over to the scientists the needs of each subject as a specialty. What the scientist does not do, however, and what the philosopher should do, is to consider systematically the logical value of the methods and the categories that are used or that may be used in the sciences, as well as in other aspects of experience.

A somewhat different form of the doctrine that philosophy is logic may be found in the doctrine that it is the same as analysis. No doubt it involves analysis, but so does every subject. Is all analysis philosophy? That would be a bold claim for which I can see no. justification. Every subject of thought involves anal-

( 121) -ysis. To assert that philosophy is identical with analysis implies that it is an aspect of every subject. Sometimes we do use the word philosophical as equivalent to 'analytical, but this usage is a remnant of the former merging of all subjects. in philosophy. Such an interpretation of philosophy implies that there is no separate discipline to be called by that name. Moreover, philosophy is not merely analytic. Analysis of philosophical problems is one aspect of its task, but there is no reason to think that it should be merely analytic. It may need to use other methods than that of analysis, as I shall argue later. So it involves analysis but is not to be identified with it. Moreover, it seems clear that we should state what is to be analysed in philosophy, Mathematics involves analysis. Every science includes analysis. A study is part of philosophy only if it involves the study of value both by analytic methods and by whatever others may be helpful.

The doctrine may be held that philosophy is the logically prior study of all the forms of possibilities, while the special sciences ascertain which form of possibility, as described by philosophy, happens in this particular universe to have attained actualization. But such a task for philosophy can amount to nothing but a study of whatever is not self-contradictory. There is no reason to think that non-contradiction has any properties other than absence of contradiction. And any science can discover for itself whether its structure is free from contradiction without a special communication from philosophy.

Does philosophy have any special capacity to intuite forms, or essences, or structures, which are logically prior to and independent of the empirical contents and facts of scientific description? It can reasonably claim to investigate the forms of the structures of knowledge. But here we are dealing with the logical values of our knowledge-systems. No doubt we intuite or cognize the forms and essences involved in our logical construction. But apart from what is involved in our cognitive methods, systems, and concepts, there is no special set of forms prior to the facts dealt with in the special sciences.

Logic deals with the trustworthiness of our beliefs and inferences. In the process of trying to advance science and knowledge

( 122) we define or assume various systems of concepts or categories. The critique of categories now in use or the attempt to formulate new systems of categories is a proper function of philosophy. But such discussions should be treated as a study of the tools of human knowledge, not as Platonic myths about what a deity or an angel might know. The categories or concepts of particular and universal, substance and event, physical and mental, and many similar ones, are tools in the human process of knowing. What may be a good tool at one stage of knowledge may be followed by a better at another.

We may pass over with mere mention the notion of some per-sons that the sole function of philosophy today is to commit suicide, or to show that there are no genuinely philosophical problems. No doubt many scientists have such ideas, but the answer is obviously to develop philosophical material which will win the esteem of these sceptics about philosophy. Perhaps they are not without some justification in regard to much of what passes as philosophy today.

It may be suspected that I have been arguing that philosophy should be a philosophy of life. This is not the case. I understand philosophy of life to mean an attempt to popularize philosophy and consider only those problems and materials that are understandable by persons without special training. It is an attempt to exclude from consideration the more difficult problems connected with logic and epistemology, or with the categories of science and knowledge, and an attempt to preach salvation for those who have an interest in living but none in the basic problems of philosophical theory. There is a place for philosophy of life. It belongs among the popularizations of philosophy. But it is neither the central nor the basic aspect of philosophy. The task of the philosopher is to investigate and to teach the theory of value. The world will be saved, if it is saved, by many kinds of person, not just by philosophers.

It is obvious that the theory I am urging is in many ways similar. to the doctrine expressed by John Dewey in the last chapter of his Experience and Nature. I find myself frequently agreeing with the larger aspects of his thought but disagreeing with many of the details. It was partly by the writings of Dewey that I was

( 123) persuaded that logical valuation is a part of the general theory of value. But to say that in some sense all philosophy is a branch of morals, or that it is a method of understanding and rectifying specific social ills, seems to me to need serious qualification. Nor can I agree that the task of philosophy is to adjust the body of traditions to new scientific and political tendencies. Many of us must reject these views even while agreeing that philosophy has as its central task the problem of value or criticism.

Only brief consideration can be given to several eclectic theories. The doctrine that philosophy has two parts, one critical and the other. speculative, might be taken to mean that critical philosophy is what I have called philosophy of value, but that metaphysical or theological speculation constitutes another part of philosophy. My previous arguments against the traditional concepts of meta-physics show that there is no place for such speculation within the sphere of philosophy as a body of knowledge. Another view holds that philosophy deals with methodology, metaphysics and value. In this scheme the methodology and value deal with logical and non-logical value, and the second part is the traditional meta-physics. Ralph Barton Perry, in his delightfully written little book, A Defence of Philosophy, has told us that philosophy seeks the bottom and the whole of things. While science seeks relative realities, causes, truths, and values, philosophy seeks the ultimate bottom and the ultimate totality in each of these four problems. Thus science seeks only a cause that is also an effect, but philosophy seeks a cause that is an absolute cause and that is not also an effect. It seems to me that such doctrines make assumptions about bottoms and totalities without any logical justification and without any possibility of proving the theories to be proved.

Finally, I must refer to such writers as Muensterberg, Rickert, and Urban. These writers resemble pragmatists in treating philosophy as being critical or evaluative, but they have doctrines of absolute values. My objection to their formulation of the nature of philosophy is that they tend to state the questions of philosophy in such a. way as to assume the answers. The doctrine that philosophy is the study of value does not imply any particular theory as to the nature of value. These writers have frequently tended to be dogmatic system-builders rather than critical inves-

( 124) -tigators. The doctrine that philosophy is the study of value should not be tied down to the theories either of American pragmatism or of German absolutism.

Our, discussion has now dealt with the theory that philosophy is to be defined as the study of value, and this hypothesis has been compared with the most prominent alternatives in contemporary thought. No doubt it will be admitted that, in some sense and with whatever interpretation, there is such a study as the theory of value. The study of value has usually been included as one main function of philosophy. The hypothesis that philosophy is identical with the study of value does not claim infallible demonstration. No theory in philosophy should make such a claim. But it seems probable that we should now include nothing in philosophy as a rational body of knowledge other than the study of value.


The hypothesis that philosophy should be interpreted as the study of value or valuation raises the question as to the methodology for philosophy thus defined. My concluding remarks will be limited to a few questions and suggestions concerning philosophical methods.

For our present purposes we need not consider the problems of the nature or the methods of introductory courses or texts in philosophy. Nor are we concerned here with the methodology of the history of philosophy, important as that may be. The important problem is the methods of investigation or research into the questions of philosophy. What are they? The hundreds of persons in this country who teach undergraduate and graduate courses in philosophy and who write articles and books cannot all claim to be geniuses above the need of rational methodology. But I can find nowhere an adequate and systematic account of the methods to be used in philosophical investigation. Much of our work seems to exhibit the self-confidence with which, when we were blindfolded children, we pinned a tail an the donkey's picture. Can we today, in the light of modern science, assume that the human mind just naturally judges truly? I must confess that I am unable to be so sublimely optimistic. We need an adequate formulation of a philosophical methodology. Our task is

( 125) not that of pretending that we have a method capable of giving us absolute certainty; it is the task of formulating methods and criteria which probably enable us to increase the reliability of our beliefs. Our basic assumption is that more critical methods give us more trustworthy beliefs than do less critical ones. We observe what are the critical methods that seem to be more or. less reliable in the mathematical, the statistical, the historical, and the laboratory studies. But what are the methods for use when the mind studies its own standards and values? The philosopher finds it easy to talk about method in general, or scientific method in particular. He observes the scientist when he seems to be successful, and so announces the procedure of science. But he does not make dear his own method in philosophy. He explains how the scientist is empirical but not how the philosopher, is so. He commends the scientist for insisting on the verification of every theory, but he seldom attempts to verify his own philosophizing, nor does he explain how this could be done. We say that we follow the methods of reflective thought. But what are the methods of reflective thought when it is not functioning in the special sciences but is considering its own standards?

Most of the classical systems of philosophy have been deeply concerned with problems of method. But when philosophy included all or most of the special sciences the discussions about method naturally did not make a distinction between methods for the sciences and methods for philosophy. Some of the methods that are trustworthy in the special sciences may be transferred without change to the study of philosophy. But philosophy has separate problems of its own; it may not be able to use some of the methods of the special sciences and it may need additional methods that are not applicable in the special sciences. We can hardly deny that our study of philosophical problems should involve careful analysis of our terms and concepts. We use analysis and definition. We may formulate our theories in a deductive system. We may test systems for consistency. We may study the implications of our axioms or postulates. We may study alternative systems. We may aim at completeness in our study of the considerations involved in a philosophical problem. We may try to be empirical, though it is not clear how we can

( 126) reasonably be empirical in dealing with some philosophical problems. It is not clear whether we can adequately verify the theories about problems that are really philosophical. We may be coöperative and attempt to get common understanding among philosophers, but it is not clear that agreement among philosophers is a very adequate test for philosophical truth. We may try to be on guard against the fallacies that frequently mislead philosophers, but we are not agreed as to what are the sources of fallacious thinking in philosophy, We can be original and inventive, at times, but we are vague as to the methods for testing our inventions.

It is obvious that in some sense philosophy should be synthetic and synoptic. But how should we be synoptic? Surely philosophy is not an outline of all knowledge. We may say it is synoptic of all the values involved in our activities and experiences. But this tells us nothing as to the mode of the synopsis. Not every synopsis is adequate philosophy. How can we distinguish the more from the less adequate synoptic thinking?

We may appeal to immediate experience or we may claim some faculty of logical intuition. But in either case it seems clear. that we make many debatable assumptions that determine the character of our philosophical theories. We may attempt to list some statements that are not called in question at the present time, and so seek a foundation for an alleged certainty or infallibility of philosophical argument. But there is some reason for thinking that the search for certainty and the claim to have certainty constitute the main sources of fallacious thinking in philosophy. By reversal the philosophies of certainty beget barren extremes of scepticism and agnosticism. We need a systematic methodology for philosophy, but at present we must admit that we have only its fragmentary beginnings.

n times past I have distressed many of my colleagues by strange attempts to apply the mathematical logic of relations to the analysis of the basic value-concepts and the specific ethical concepts. Is not the use of such analysis necessary in all aspects of philosophy, perhaps even in the concepts of truth and knowledge ?

In even worse ways, I have attempted to use the methods of statistics, especially the methods of the statistics of correlations,

( 127) to throw light on ethical problems. No doubt I have been at fault in allowing people to think that I think, what I do not think, that statistics alone can settle philosophical problems. But may it not be possible that our reflective criticisms and valuations may be improved by being in contact with those empirical facts which are closely connected with our problems ? Can some philosophical theories be given at least partial verification by confrontation with empirical facts?

I do not mean to suggest that the problem of value can be studied by nothing but the two methods of the logic of relations and correlational statistics. There may be many methods which no one has yet tried. Should we not experiment with any possible method to see if it helps?

If philosophy is defined either as a study of value or as a study of our evaluative attitudes, it seems that one of the most basic difficulties in philosophical methodology is to be found in what is frequently called the problem of the objectivity or subjectivity of value. There is a common problem of the influence of so-called subjective attitudes on all our beliefs or thinking processes. But in many of the special sciences, especially in the mathematical and the laboratory sciences, this so-called subjective coloring may be . avoided or standardized, at least in part. It is clear that if philosophy studies values or evaluative attitudes the question of subjectivity and objectivity is extremely important for philosophical method.

The hypothesis that philosophy is the study of value should not be tied to any specific theory concerning the objectivity or subjectivity of value. But we may have an objective and an investigative approach to the problem of value, however subjective value may be in its final interpretation.

The problem of the objectivity and subjectivity of value has many phases. But in one of its most important aspects, objective means independent of human attitude or judgment, and subjective means dependent on human attitude or judgment. Of course there are many subdivisions of the problem. But if my previous argument is sound, to the effect that our concepts of independence and dependence have restricted ranges of application, it follows that we must be critical and cautious in our assertions about this

( 128) aspect of the problem of the objectivity or, subjectivity of value. How does one know or prove either objectivity or subjectivity in this problem? What is the methodology for such proof?

Moreover, our theories concerning this problem have been very restricted. Frequently it is assumed that value is objective and independent, either as a set of ultimate essences to be known by intuition, as in the doctrines of G. E. Moore and certain followers of E. Husserl, such as M. Scheler and N. Hartmann, or as characters having metaphysical or theological references, as in such idealists as Bernard Bosanquet. These writers tend to a rationalistic theory of value. Other writers tend to affective theories. Either, they reduce value to such things as pleasure or interest, or they regard value-judgments as being expressions of feeling or interest. In other words, most of our theories tend to what may be a one sided rationalism or a one-sided emotionalism. The rationalists are ` objectivists ' and the others are partially or entirely `subjectivists'. I suspect that we should learn to be sceptical concerning both types of theory of value. The recognition that value involves both logical and epistemological factors and also ethical and æsthetical factors suggests the importance of a more critical attitude concerning its objectivity or subjectivity.

Philosophers have discussed many hypotheses as to the relation of sense and thought in our knowledge of the physical world. But the relation of reflective thought to feeling or desire in the determination of our valuations has been treated very dogmatically and arbitrarily. Some have insisted that non-affective thought or reason or intuition gives us insight into values. Others have held that all valuations must be reduced to non-reflective feelings or interests. Must not the entire problem of the relation between such processes as preferences and such processes as reflective thinking be studied freshly and completely as a basis for an adequate general theory of value?


These fragmentary observations about method must suffice. I have tried to state the only consistent and workable definition that I know concerning the nature of philosophy. An adequate methodology for such a philosophy is still to be formulated. Fragments about methods can be learned from many classical and contemporary philosophers. But we need to become more critical and more self conscious as to the dangers and the controls in this business of philosophical investigation. As we define our task more adequately, both as to the nature of our, problems and as to the methods of investigation, we shall realize that each generation must make its own attempt to state its own philosophy. Philosophy is like all other knowledge in that it must constantly be treated afresh. And the fresh treatment will not deal merely with conclusions; it will attempt to state ever more adequately the nature of philosophy itself and the methods of investigation for philosophical problems.



  1. The presidential address to the Western Division of the American Philosophical Association at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, March 25, 1932.
  2. Irving Langmuir, " Modern Concepts in Physics and Their Relation to Chemistry ", SCIENCE, Vol. LXX, p. 393.

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