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Value Exploration — The Disquieting Arithmetic of Being Human



Pé-Curto A. D.



Consider Cleo. She has been admitted to a prestigious university on a sports fellowship. As her first semester progresses, she struggles to keep up with the requirements of her football curriculum and academic coursework. On a weekend, Cleo realizes she will have to choose between an important football game and reading Moore’s Principia Ethica for Monday’s exam—for which she has not prepared at all. According to the Orthodox View of the rational self, Cleo should weigh the expected values of her options in relation to the values she already knows and cares about: that is all Cleo needs to identify which option she should choose—namely, the option with the highest value. Cleo’s only personal input to the architecture of her choice situation consists of her pre-existing preferences, including that for football over philosophy.

The present proposal argues that the Orthodox View of the rational self stems from a mistaken assumption about value, namely the Quantitative Assumption. The proposal challenges the Quantitative Assumption and, therefore, the Orthodox View, by examining Quantitative Anomalies. The falsity of the Quantitative Assumption makes room for an alternative picture to the Orthodox View of how the rational self relates to value. The novel notion of Value Exploration lays the groundwork for such an alternative view. Thus, the proposal applies findings in formal axiology to the philosophy of mind and, in particular, the philosophy of the self.

The Quantitative Assumption underpins the Orthodox View of the rational self. According to the Quantitative Assumption, we can apply measurement and mathematical modeling to value as we apply them to physical quantities—such as liquid ounces of Rivella, a Swiss bubbly drink, and ounces of chocolate, another Swiss specialty. The Orthodox View requires the rational self to tend to their pre-existing preferences, e.g., by maximizing their satisfaction, as if value were a quantity. These pre-existing preferences take as objects the values that the self already knows and cares about rather than new values. The proposal challenges the Quantitative Assumption by expounding Quantitative Anomalies.

Quantitative Anomalies are phenomena in which value properties fail to satisfy key formal features of physical quantities, such as separability, additivity, and trichotomy. The proposal argues for a unified explanation of the variety of Quantitative Anomalies in terms of the feature of separability, which it deems fundamental. The proposal highlights the non-separability of value in contrast to the separability of quantities. Quantitative Anomalies suggest a more balanced view of the nature of value—partly quantitative and partly non-quantitative—than the Quantitative Assumption and make room for Value Exploration. Instead of tending to her pre-existing preference for football, Cleo can—and sometimes must—rationally explore new values, like the value of philosophy. The proposal identifies two types of Value Exploration.

First, Metaphysical Epiphanies are axiological discoveries about the metaphysical structure of value. For example, Cleo may realize that her friendship with Tony, during a pandemic, paradoxically consists of increased physical distance. Second, Axiological Creation is the metaphysical generation of new thick final values, often anonymous initially—like the value of democracy was created and anonymous initially.

The proposal highlights how both Metaphysical Epiphany and Axiological Creation can be about personal value, like the value for Cleo of her friendship with Tony, and impersonal value, like the value of democracy. Thus, Value Exploration is not limited to the exploration of personal, agent-centric values: it also concerns impersonal, agent-independent values. However, only Axiological Creation is a normative power, like promising, consenting, or requesting. According to the proposal, Axiological Creation is a special normative power that is metaphysically based on Radical Specific Value Emergence, a form of emergence that underpins Quantitative Anomalies previously studied by the applicant (Pe-Curto 2017, see Major Achievements).

In sum, the proposal develops a novel perspective on value, the rational self, and the relation between the two based on its findings in formal axiology. It applies its results to the many life situations isomorphic to Cleo’s, including hard and transformative choices, which allow for an axiological leap of faith and the exploration of new values.

Informazioni aggiuntive

Data d'inizio
Data di fine
24 Mesi
Enti finanziatori
In corso
Swiss National Science Foundation / Transitional Measures / SNSF Swiss Postdoctoral Fellowships