Max Scheler on the Phenomenology of Value

Value has obvious motivating character, and an almost as obvious cognitive dimension, but does it have a phenomenology? From listening to Clinton Tolley and the rest of his reading group on Max Scheler’s Formalism in Ethics and Non-Formal Ethics of Values this monday, it seems to me hat this philosopher thinks so.

But what would that be? How does value feel?

One might think that value feels however it feels to correctly judge something as valuable. This allows for a constitutive reading of the phenomenology of value – and for a way to argue for the objectivity of (at least some) values, so that it is not that feeling that something is valuable gives un defeasible justification to believe that it has value; instead, the relation between feeling and value is not cognitive but constitutive: something is valuable because of how it feels (to us, obviously). Something like this, I think, is what Juliana González defends, but certainly not Scheler.

Are truths the only things that can or cannot be objective? What about other sort of values? For example, can we distinguish between objective and non-objective (subjective?) beauty, or justice – without reducing it to the objectivity of the truth of our judgments of whether something is beautiful or just?

What is the relation between, say something being salty and the existence of beings with taste organs like ours? Realists would say that nothing ontological, only epistemic: being salty just is containing a lot of salt. Our taste organs are reliable indicators of the presence of (large enough quantities of) salt, that is it. Anti-realists say that it is ontologically constitutive – to be salty just is to taste certain way to us. But there is a long tradition of thinking of things in a third way so that, for example, being tasty is a relational property of salty things, beyond the presence of its material cause (salt itself), such that it relates to us in a certain way, i.e., it tastes in a certain way, because of the way we have the taste organs that we have. It seems to me that it is this third path that phenomenologists like Scheler pursue.

Seeing that p is not the same as seeing that “p” is true – in the later, the central object of one’s feeling is not the content of p but the truth-making relation between proposition and fact –, only in the former case we are feeling the truth value of a proposition; thus, only the second one ought to be recognized as feeling a value. Something similar must be available for other sorts of values. For instance, feeling motivated to, for example, care about an object is not the same as feeling that such object is valuable (to you) – again, in the former, the central content is the relation between the object, you and its value (to you) and it is this sort of feelings that we must call feeling of value.

But there is another way of thinking of the phenomenology of value: We can say that a feeling is a feeling of value if and only if the feeling needs to be explained by appealing to value, i.e., that the only/best way to explain why a subject has the feeling (instead of not having the feeling) and/or the sort of feeling it has (and not other) is because something (but not necessarily what the person feels) has some value.

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