Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Value-Predicates & Being and Time

In BT, Heidegger writes,

value predicates cannot tell us anything at all new about the Being of goods, but would merely presuppose again that goods have pure presence-at-hand as their kind of Being. Values would then be determinate characteristics which a Thing possesses, and they would be present-at-hand. They would have their sole ultimate ontolgoical source in our previously laying down the actuality of Things as the fundamental stratum. But even pre-phenomenological experience shows that in an entity which is supposedly a Thing, there is something tht will not become fully intelligible through Thinghood alone. Thus, the Being of Things has to be rounded out. What then does the Being of values or their 'validity' really amount to ontologically? And what does it signify ontologically for Things to be 'invested' with values in this way? (BT, H. 99)

A Few Things:

First, I cannot tell if 'goods' here refer to moral goods, or are goods meant in terms of instrumental goods like when one looks at a shop sign reading "goods and services."

This sounds like Heidegger has reached the often observed gap between fact and value. The above passage reads as if it is skeptical about equating values with material objects that are judged valuable.

Moreover, the problems of metaethics and the objectivity of values has always talked about values as enduring reasons of action for one agent and others like the agent. Agent-neutral values, as it were, inherent the talk of what Heidegger would call present-at-hand.

Any thoughts?


Anonymous said...

Hi there,

A few thoughts… on your thoughts.

1. I would agree that the use of the term ‘goods’ is a bit ambiguous- though taking into consideration Heidegger’s critique to Cartesian ‘substance’ or extension (which this passage points to), the term ‘goods’ is far more akin to your later presumption, i.e. ‘goods and services’. It might be appropriate to ask why Macquarrie and Robinson decided against the use of the terms ‘entities’ or ‘equipment’, though we may find that these terms are unsuitable due to excessive baggage they carry throughout the rest of H’s text.

2. I find the tone that you have associated with Heidegger’s use (Macquarrie and Robinson’s use actually) of the term ‘value’ to be a bit misleading. ‘Value’ here, as I understand it, is used to emphasize the demarcate 'significance' that is fleeting from the being of ‘goods’ as interpreted via the Cartesian ontological model- namely a model where a substance or ontological substratum can be predicated with ‘beautiful’, ‘ugly’, ‘useful’, ‘useless’ and so on. This ‘value’, in my opinion (how I believe Heidegger is using it), strays from the moral tone that your last comment insinuates. There are ways to read B&T through the lens of metaethics or the problem of agency, though I am skeptical that this is a suitable passage to support these positions. Perhaps I have misunderstood you - please let me know if I have.

Nevertheless, I appreciate you pointing this portion of the text out. Though I would argue that B&T is the clearest of his well known works, I too find myself reeling over these difficult and encrypted passages.


Pre-Carbondale Philosopher said...

Concerning (2): Yeah, Anonymous, I see how someone would say I'm misleading here. However, note that he says "determinate characteristics" just as reasons for action are determined by how valuable one might find an object. We might be talking about a superficial level of value, such as equating what is valuable with a preference-states. For example, I prefer to write and philosophize only with my favorite pen and then the problematic is how desire arises in our "practical coping". I'm unsure.

Secondly, I don't think I am using value in a strictly moral tone, but more in the sense of agency that discussions invoking practical reasoning might suggest. In this way, I'm using value to mean only reason for action whether those reasons be moral ones or instrumental means-to-end reasoning.

If, as you suggest, Heidegger wants to say something about predicating properties onto objects understood as Cartesian substances, then those value predicates attached to cases like moral judgments in which one judges an action are analogous to the cases of attributing them aesthetic value-predicates. If this analogy holds, then while it may not be read here as offering some metaethical insight, then at the very least there is a way to takle what is being said here as having an implication for some metaethical inquiry.

I'm not really advocating reading this passage as a metaethical passage. But, I do find it striking that I don't know what he is doing, and it can be read as possibly offering some insights in that direction.

Anonymous said...

It is also worth mentioning that, against his usual targets such as Descartes, Heidegger has the neo-Kantians in mind here (Rickert & co.) and hence we get 'goods' instead of equipment.