- Roughly, values are what we are disposed to value. Less roughly, we have this schematic definition: Something of the appropriate category is a value if and only if we would be disposed, under ideal conditions, to value it.
- It raises five questions.
- What is the favourable attitude of 'valuing'?
- What is the 'appropriate category' of things?
- What conditions are 'ideal' for valuing?
- Who are 'we'?
- What is the modal status of the equivalence?
- By answering these questions, I shall advance a version of the dispositional theory of value.
- I begin by classifying the theory that is going to emerge.
- First, it is naturalistic: it advances an analytic definition of value. It is naturalistic in another sense too: it fits into a naturalistic metaphysics. It invokes only such entities and distinctions as we need to believe in anyway, and needs nothing extra before it can deliver the values. It reduces facts about value to facts about our psychology.
- The theory is subjective: it analyses value in terms of our attitudes. But it is not subjective in the narrower sense of implying that value is a topic on which whatever we may think is automatically true, or on which there is no truth at all. Nor does it imply that if we had been differently disposed, different things would have been values. Not quite – but it comes too close for comfort.
- The theory is internalist: it makes a conceptual connection between value and motivation. But it offers no guarantee that everyone must be motivated to pursue whatever is of value; still less, whatever he judges to be of value. The connection is defeasible, in more ways than one.
- The theory is cognitive: it allows us to seek and to gain knowledge about what is valuable. This knowledge is a posteriori knowledge of contingent matters of fact. It could in principle be gained by psychological experimentation. But it is more likely to be gained by difficult exercises of imagination, carried out perhaps in a philosopher's or a novelist's armchair.
- The theory is conditionally relativist: it does not exclude the possibility that there may be no such thing as value simpliciter, just value for this or that population. But it does not imply relativity, not even when taken together with what we know about the diversity of what people actually value. It leaves the question open.
- Is it a form of realism about value? That question is hard. I leave it for the end. ….
Originally part of Three way Symposium: "Dispositional Theories of Value", Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, Vol. 63 (1989), pp. 89-111+113-137+139-174. See also:-
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