What Does Naturalizing Values Mean?June 27, 2021
The nature and source of value constitutes an important philosophical problem. Whether there are values different from facts, whether values can be reduced to facts, whether values are transcendent (outside or beyond nature), etc. A set of questions has almost always occupied the minds of thinkers.
Perhaps the most fundamental principle of modern physics is the principle of inertia. According to this principle, matter does not contain its own principle of motion. It acts only under the influence of external forces. In this respect, it is not possible to talk about the purposeful or non-real causes that determine the movement of the elements that make up nature. In this respect, one cannot speak of the existence of forms in the Aristotelian sense or of spirits that give unity to organisms in nature itself. According to Dewey, this change in our understanding of nature and physics has led to the elimination of goals and ultimately values from nature.
On the other hand, according to Dewey, the problem of value took a different form with modern philosophy. The exclusion of purposes (target or non-definitive causes) from our understanding of nature and the perception of nature in a mechanical order based on effective (agent) causes have created a major problem regarding the nature and space of values. How can a person, who is a part of a nature that does not have any purpose or value, make room for the values he tries to organize his life? What will be the source of these values?
According to Dewey, two different ways were followed in solving the problem in question. While a group of thinkers try to identify values with a source (God, pure reason, etc.) beyond or above nature; a second group sought a subjective ground (satisfaction of desires, pleasures, etc.). Dewey tries to go beyond both approaches. Consistent with his own point of view, he tries to explain the values naturally, but does not want to leave them to individual subjective preferences. Dewey’s approach to this issue is similar to his approach to scientific assumptions: to leave no room for absolute certainty at any given moment and yet make progress possible. How can this be achieved as far as values are concerned? At this point, Dewey finds his way out by associating the issue with rational behaviors.
We can summarize the issue as follows: Experiencing anything and finding it satisfying involves a subjectivity. Something gives us a certain pleasure. To transcend this subjectivity and say that something is satisfactory requires an act of judgment. When we make a judgment, we no longer speak of a subjective experience we have had, but of an object itself being one way or the other. Our ability to make this judgment includes the price we pay to get what we have experienced, the results that occur after experiencing the pleasure in question, whether we can have the same experience in the future, and all these factors together. After all these evaluations, to say that a certain action will give a good result is to make a certain prediction. As can be seen, when it comes to values, making the necessary evaluations using our minds is not different from performing scientific activities. In this respect, the field of science and values are intertwined with each other. Ultimately, we make a prediction about the future by evaluating whether something is satisfactory in a certain way. To say that something is valuable is to say that it is and will continue to be pleasant, satisfying in the context of current causes and effects. In this respect, value judgments can be right or wrong, and their formation includes the use of reason within a certain method, just like scientific concepts and theories.
Here’s an objection to Dewey’s approach: It can explain what people value, but it cannot tell whether there is something truly valuable or valuable in itself. What could be Dewey’s response to this objection?
According to Dewey, it is not possible to talk about something absolutely valuable independently of a rational inquiry. We can relate his approach to this issue with Peirce’s approach. The closest thing to good in itself is what the scientific community agrees is desirable and good.
In this respect, there is a mutual interaction and dependency between people’s activities and their thoughts or values. Seeking certainties and values independent of these interactions goes completely against the spirit of pragmatism.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook