The Relation of the Individual to the Social Value: Part 1


Urban, Wilbur M. “The Relation of the Individual to the Social Value Series. I.” The Philosophical Review 11, no. 2 (1902): 125. https://doi.org/10.2307/2176632


THROUGHOUT the history of philosophy the great systematic conceptions of value have been animated by one of two not uncertain motifs. Either the good is identified with the real i.e. its values are conceived to flow out of the metaphysical determination of the real; or the ethical consciousness, having determined its values, proceeds to identify the real with these. Spinoza’s system is a typical example of the first of these methods, and its inadequate treatment of ethical values is a significant consequence of his procedure. On the other hand, Plato's ethical idealism is forced to find in the phenomena of the real world the values with which he comes to his problem. In both cases fundamental difficulties ensue. The latter procedure involves the discovery of degrees of reality to correspond to the grades of value; while the method which starts with a determination of the real, and therefore deduces its concepts of value, is prone to deny the degrees of value affirmed by the valuing consciousness. In either case, the thinker is likely to be left with a stock of illusions in the one case, values which remain ungrounded; in the other, grades of reality which turn out to be illusory.

Now, despite the advance in detail of treatment, these two methods have remained relatively constant in the history of thought. It is maintained, according to the latter method, that to the consciousness of value there must correspond a moral world order, the detailed working out of which constitutes aground or sanction for the values of the individual. The principle of ‘equivalence in values' in the subjective consciousness, it is thought, can be seen working itself out in the objective world order in an eternal principle of justice. The principle of infinite 'increase of value,' which is a cardinal postulate of the individual order of values, it is held, manifests itself equally in the objective social order. Thus certain forms of idealism, eliminating the temporal moment, or minimizing the difficulties which arise out of the fact that the self and its individual value series is phenomenally a process in time occupying but a moment in the larger world order, seek to sanction or ground this individual series in the larger world process. It is clear, however, that even if Green's famous fifth chapter in the third book of the Prolegomena represents the ideal truth of human progress, even if, despite temporal mutations in values, there are certain ones ultimately permanent, such a view nevertheless ignores the essential problem of any individual self at any given time in history. For it ignores the mutations of value due to causal and economic laws, and it is precisely with these mutations that the individual consciousness must be concerned if it is to get its sanction, in any sense, out of the objective series or world order. The system of social values is a vast one, and, though its general direction may perhaps be metaphysically conceived as in the direction of the attainment of permanent values and of infinite increase of value, yet its actual curve shows many depressions, and it may be in one of these depressions that the entire individual series runs its course. The individual must express his meaning, affirm his values; and the problem remains to discover to what extent the social objective series, abstracted as a system of nature in time, admits of this expression, this affirmation. There are reasons for thinking that the phenomenal applications in time, of the principles of the individual value series, may involve contradictions which argue for a relative indifference of the two series to each other.

The other method of procedure approaches the problem, as we have seen, in the reverse order. It starts with the system of nature and its laws, with the real in its deterministic aspect, and seeks to reduce the values of the individual to aspects or phases of these laws. Such meanings or values as it does not find therein realized it calls illusory. Now, while not differing in principle from the earlier doctrines of the relativity of values, more recent theories of value have developed certain details of formulation, which have an important bearing upon this general question of the relation of the individual to the social value series. The monistic tendency in science has sought in turn to show that objective social values are governed by the same laws as economic values, and that economic laws are but aspects of larger biological processes. Such thinkers as Simmel and Ehrenfels look upon the principles of marginal and final utility as applicable directly to objective social values. For value is determined by affective dispositions, and with the empirical modifications of these occur mutations of value. Since the affective and volitional dispositions corresponding to social and ethical goods, are subject to the same physiological and psychological laws as those corresponding to economic goods, ethical valuation is subject to laws analogous to those that rule in the economic sphere. The consequence of this is that any given phenomenal value, as an objective value in the social order, is a function of objective forces abstracted from the valuing selves, like the abstractions, 'supply' and 'demand' in economics. As such, the value is part of a system of nature, and therefore cannot be conceived, as in anyway permanent or absolute. Any given phenomenal value, e.g. the social worth set upon a virtuous disposition of the will, as a phenomenon of the objective social order, cannot conceivably have its nature described in terms of a progressive, irreversible series of values, as, for instance, an approximation of the virtue to the absolute by a progressive growth in extension and intension, as described by Green. Any given worth, precisely because it is phenomenal and depends upon these phenomenal conditions, is subject to the principle of limiting value. All social ethical values have a reversible serial order. They rise and decline. If we could, so to speak, cut a cross section through the social consciousness at any time, just as in a cross section of the individual consciousness we find some states appearing, others in the center of consciousness, and still others just disappearing, so in the social consciousness we should find three classes of values, those that are aspiring, those that are normal, and still others that are outlived. It follows that, though the more general and abstract worth’s such as the moral activities that are described by the virtues may have indefinitely longer periods of endurance, there are, nevertheless, no values, in any sense absolute, to be found in the social order. As a consequence, the principle of ' infinite increase of value ' finds no objective expression in the social series. The individual value series finds in the social order, as a system of nature, no ground, no sanction for making absolute any given worth; in fact, any attempt to apply any such conception leads to contradictions. Nor does the principle of 'equivalence of value' which underlies the concept of justice, get any sanction in the objective order, conceived as a system of nature.


Now that the inner meaning of the ethical Self, as an individual series, is this progression in the direction of infinite increase of value, it could not possibly apply its principle to any particular phenomenal social value without developing contradictions. Let us first conceive this increase of value in terms of the universalization of an idea, or of an affective or volitional disposition. No matter how general or abstract this valued disposition or idea be conceived, its universalization has only subjective value. When introduced into the objective causal nexus, its universalization would destroy its value, just as surely as the increase of the quantity of a good destroys or diminishes the economic value of the same. Thus, while altruism, because of our constitutional lack of it, as an attitude of an individual might be conceived as increased indefinitely, yet as a good in society, its value rests upon the lack of it, and its increase indefinitely would of necessity lead to the recognition of egoism as a virtue. This, Meinong expresses by distinguishing between Steigerungs-fahigerr and nicht-SteigerungsfahigerAltruismus. Nor is the case much better for a purely material interpretation of this principle in terms of increase of pleasure. To say nothing of the difficulty of reconciling a continuous increase of pleasure with its equality of distribution, a difficulty which hedonism always meets when it attempts to do justice to the inner meanings of the ethical subject, the more fundamental difficulty arises, namely, whether natural laws make conceivable any real increase of pleasure in the social series, whether all our activity is not rather concerned with its redistribution. Does not then, Simmel asks, our attempt to apply any such subjective principle of increase of value to any particular object of value in the social consciousness turn out to be irrational, illusory?


We are here brought face to face with an ultimate problem of methodology. The problem in its simplest form is this: Whatever a value may be for an individual, whatever may be the grounds of his valuation, whatever of absolute and infinite meaning it may for him seem to contain, must it not, as soon as it takes its place as a phenomenon, as a function of forces of valuation, conceived as part of an external system of nature, follow causal laws, and thus suffer a fate which is for him irrational or in some sense meaningless and indifferent? In the light of the foregoing reflections, either this question may be asked, or the alternative one, viz., whether the postulates of absolute objective values and of infinite increase of value which characterize the individual consciousness are not from the larger point of view of the system of nature, illusory. The latter of these alternatives is clearly accepted by Ehrenfels. Even in the subject an indefinite increase of a given phenomenal value, say a virtuous disposition, is impossible on account of the working of these laws which we have been considering. Nay more even the power of valuing itself, as a function, is limited by the economy of the nervous system to modifications of which the affective dispositions must ultimately be reduced, and from which the laws of mutation of values spring. As valuation involves energy, and the nervous energy is limited, the increase of the sense of value is itself limited. All absolute valuation of an individual Ehrenfels conceives as springing out of an aesthetic isolation of the individual, which may have a utility for the social order, but which has no ultimate epistemological significance. On the other hand, there are thinkers, such as Simmel, who find in this unique characteristic of the individual value series, its postulate of infinite increase of value, a relative truth. While unable, in view of their recognition of these laws which govern the fate of objective social values and the mutations of value that follow, to conceive of the subject applying its inmost meaning to any given phenomenal content of social value, nevertheless they believe that there may be an indefinite increase of energy of valuation in the subject. The moral end cannot be formulated in terms of any social content, however abstract, but only in terms of the function of the subject. The imperative, though an irreducible characteristic of the individual value series, cannot be applied in any absolute sense to any given social content without involving contradictions. Yet this imperative character of the individual value series expresses itself in continuous Zweck-setsung, however phenomenal and ephemeral the particular ends may be, and in this very function the essence of individual morality is found. Inner valuation occupies the unique position of getting its content out of reality, butat the same time, of forever negating the real in favor of new values which in turn determine reality itself. So also, Krueger sees in the mere functional end of "highest possible energy of valuation," independent of content, the essence of the ethical life.


We have considered thus at length these two possible methods of determining values, their consequences, and difficulties, in order that we may properly understand and estimate a third possible position, which is receiving recognition at the present time. We have, accordingly, contrasted the individual series of the Self, and its peculiar meaning as a progressive irreversible series with reference to an imperative absolute, with the reversible serial order, which characterizes the life history of any phenomenal content of social valuation, in order that we may raise the question whether, instead of being related as mutually supplementary or contradictory, these series may not indeed be in some sense mutually indifferent. The system of objective values, conceived as a system of nature, has shown itself in certain respects refractory to the affirmation of the principles of individual valuation, at least in so far as the individual seeks in the system of nature as sanction for the absolute moment in his sense of value. May there not be a sense in which they are mutually indifferent to each other?


A certain pragmatic indifference of the individual sense of value to the consequences of a deterministic science is in the air. Those who have read Maeterlinck's essays on justice Have doubtless been impressed with this effort of the dramatic sense to free itself from the old objective and quasi-physical concept of justice, which has been the backbone of so much of the tragic. Having given up the idea of an objective, social, or metaphysical justice, he takes refuge in an inner mystical conception which makes justice indifferent to the system of nature. But this conception, that the indifference of nature to the ethical values of the individual Self may be made an hypothesis upon which to construct an idealistic theory of values, has actually received philosophical expression in the two great representatives of the most modern philosophy of value. Nietzsche and Guyau are different as are the values which they succeed in finally affirming, are at one on this fundamental point, that what are illusions from the standpoint of the system of nature are, in the system of values, fundamentally true. The usefulness of these values for life is their ultimate test. Indifferent to the causality of history and nature alike, and also to the social values which this social system has produced, the individual subject of values is to find in the nature of his own series its sufficient reason and justification. But while Nietzsche’s pragmatic affirmation of this doctrine represents a significant undercurrent in thought, Guyau's formulation is of more importance for our study, because he brings the problem down to the plane of an epistemological examination of the valuing consciousness itself. In his study of morality, he examines, in turn, the optimistic and pessimistic views of the world order, as hypothetical bases of ethical values. He concludes that neither of these, were it capable of rational proof, as it is not, is, in so far as it is a theory of the system of nature objectively viewed, a sufficient ground for ethical values.


In consequence of contradictions similar to those discussed above, he decides in favor of the hypothesis of "indifference of ethical values to the system of nature." The sanction of the individual’s ethical values is to be found alone in the concrete activity of life itself, in life not viewed as a phenomenon to be judged externally as part of a system of nature, but as containing in itself its own principle of valuation, its own sufficiency. The consequence of this principle of indifference is the banishment from the sphere of ethical values of the principles of causal sanction and of distributive justice. In so far as under these rubrics the system of nature is conceived to be the source of sanction of individual ethical values, our conception is in error. There is no immediate bond, either causal or rational, between ethical values as values and social values as part of a system of nature. Having handed over to a morally indifferent nature, manifesting itself in economic laws, all the truth there is in the quantitative conceptions of causal sanction and distributive justice, he seeks to construct out of the inner dialectic of the processes of life itself, as a more ultimate reality than the abstractions of external nature, its own sufficient reason. This inner norm, independent of the fate of values in the system of nature, is found in increased intensity of life, volitional, emotional, and intellectual, which has as its correlative and condition the most complete expansion. In interpreting individual value as a function of activity, and indeed as a function of these two processes of intensity and expansion, he does not, it is to be observed, conceive of intensity and expansion as related to each other as in the logic of formal thought, nor yet as the intensity and extensity of demand and supply in the economy of material goods. They do not vary inversely but directly. Guyau clearly conceives of the possibility of an indefinite increase of sympathy both in intensity and extension, and, through the medium of the aesthetic values, without the point of satiety, of an indefinite increase of social synergy. This position is similar to that taken by Tarde in a recent article in the Revue Philosophique, where he argues for an indefinite increase of energy of social belief and confidence, as possible through the development of aesthetic goods in which satisfaction is not limited by the economic laws of consumption.


That which interests us in this doctrine of Guyau is his effort to recognize the characteristic law of the Self's individual value series, and at the same time to do justice to the causal principles that rule the social value series when abstracted as a part of the system of nature. This characteristic law he defines as a concomitant increase in both intensity and expansion of life, of the volitional and affective dispositions of the subject. The sufficient reason of this individual series, if sufficient reason it may be called, consists precisely in this function. No value of the subject can find its sanction in the content of the social series. The fate of no objective value can essentially affect the significance of the subject's value series. The theory expressly discards all objective sanction whether causal or rational. Now, whatever maybe the arguments for abandoning the conception of objective sanctions, they can all be traced back to contradictions which arise necessarily out of the attempt to carry principles of inner valuation over into the objective series conceived as a system of nature. An examination of these principles from a more logical point of view will enable us to understand the epistemological meaning of a theory of indifference.


The evaluating consciousness discloses two principles of valuation, ‘equivalence of value,' and 'increase of value.' An act of volition may get its ground or sanction by establishing an equivalence of value between the act and some already accepted value. This equivalence may be conceived as being established merely between processes of the subject, as for instance, equivalence in the intension and extension of ideas or sentiments, or as an equivalence between a subjective and an objective value. There is also a second aspect of the sanctioning consciousness which consists in the imputation of increase of value to the willing subject, or his states of consciousness, on the assumption of the possibility of continuous increase of value. Now, the difficulties involved in conceiving these principles of sanction as depending for their meaning and their realization upon the causal constitution of the objective social value series, may be stated in the following general terms. In the first place, the principle of 'equivalence of values,' if it contemplates the establishment of equivalences between individual and social values, therefore, objective, causal, sanction and distributive justice, involves the reduction of both series to an abstract quantitative or logical middle term. Both of the classical doctrines of sanction follow this procedure. The hedonistic doctrine seeks to find in the abstraction of a quantitatively determinable pleasure-continuum the middle term to which it may reduce the values of each series. The rationalistic doctrine, on the other hand, in order to get an objective measure which shall establish an equivalence between subjective and objective values, conceives of the external order as a system of rational universals, and determines the degree of inner value by the extent to which compulsory universals are present in consciousness. It is clear that in either case we have to do with an abstraction, which, in order to get a common term for the two different series, ignores characteristic qualities of the subjective series. In the interests of the quantitative conception, hedonism abstracts from the second, inner, aspect of the valued states of the subject, namely, their breadth and depth in the personality, the extent to which they implicate the entire experience of the subject. To measure the value of a sentiment or disposition of a subject in terms of its objective universality or capability of universalization, is again to abstract wholly from the element of affective intensity, which, as a condition of all volition, is involved in all valuation. We cannot escape the conclusion that both of these doctrines of objective sanction are built upon abstractions ; that the establishment of equivalences of value, which constitutes the sufficient reason of ethical valuation, is not possible between subjective and objective values, but is rather a process of the valuing subject alone, among his own states.


In the second place, if these equivalences are to be established between the values of the individual and social series, then for the second principle of progressive imputation of value to get any meaning, side by side with the subjective imputation of the developing personality, there must be a corresponding increase of value, in terms either of quantity or universality, ascribed to the latter’s phenomenal acts as social goods. That is, with the Steigerungs-fahigkeit of his disposition should follow a correspondingSteigerungs-fahigkeit of the social value or good. Theological consequences of this external doctrine of sanction are therefore disastrous for this second principle of inner sanction. If the "paradox of value," whether in its hedonistic or energetic interpretation, is forever setting limits to the development and expansion of objective values, and if the individual values are bound by the principle of equivalence to the fate of the external values, then only one conclusion is possible, namely, that of Ehrenfels the principle of progressive imputation of values has no real basis either in the individual or social series, but is rather an aesthetic illusion, the reason for which is to be found in the aestheticization of the bearer of values, the Self, from the system of nature.


We are brought finally to the point where we see that these two principles when abstracted from the subject of valuation and carried over into an external system of nature, are in mutual contradiction, and that this reduces one or both to illusion. This comes out especially clearly in the difficulties encountered in the attempt of Sidgwick to coordinate justice and benevolence. The practical difficulties involved in reconciling justice and benevolence have a profound logical basis. For while distributive justice contemplates merely the establishment of ideal equivalence between the individual's sense of value and the objective values of the social consciousness, on the basis of a mediating quantitative, conception, benevolence has in mind the simple increase of value, as for instance quantity of pleasure in the social series, irrespective of these equivalences. If distributive justice is conceived as an objective apportionment of goods, a correspondence of objective and subjective values, then it implies the existence of given fixed quantum of some abstract substratum of values, say pleasure, in order that the quantitative process may get started. On the other hand, benevolence, hedonistically interpreted, implies the possibility of an indefinite increase of this substratum of pleasure. But these two assumptions are in contradiction. It is not surprising then that Sidgwick should have felt himself forced to subordinate justice to benevolence, in fact to reduce the former to a purely economic role. He makes it clear to us that, to say nothing of the abstractions of freedom and opportunity, not even pleasure is a sufficiently abstract and homogeneous term to admit of an a priori application of distributive justice.


Benevolence, or the principle of increase, becomes then the dominating concept in his system, and justice, or equivalence, is conceived as being worked out by the economic laws of supply and demand. In fact, he seeks to reduce the idea of justice itself to a generalization of the impulses to reward favors and return injuries in kind. "Whenever a man is said to deserve a reward for service to society, the meaning is that it is expedient to reward him in order that he and others may be induced to render similar services by the expectation of similar rewards." Thus, is the idea of desert substituted for that of abstract equality, and thus also is justice handed over to the economic system of nature. It is, it will be observed, the same conclusion reached by Guyau, i.e., that distributive justice is really not an ethical principle at all, but merely an economic conception. Le principe: a chacun selonses oeuvres, est. un simple principe economique; il resume fort bien I' ideal de la justice commutative et des contrats sociaux, nullementcelui d'une justice absolue qui domminent a chacun selon son intention morale. And it is in view of such considerations that Guyau argues for an indifference of ethical values to the working out of values in the external world order.


This concept of the indifference of ethical values to nature, when closely examined, resolves itself then into the hypothesis of a relative indifference of two aspects of the fundamental principle of rational sufficiency. The valuing, sanctioning, consciousness, since it springs ultimately out of a striving will, the very principle of whose being is to rise, in the terms of Spinoza to a higher degree of reality, in the terms of the hedonists to higher degrees of pleasure, in the words of the idealists to higher degrees of perfection, can pass judgments ultimately only on the assumption of the possibility of an infinite series of progressive values. On the other hand, the external system of nature, abstracted from the volitional source of valuation, is ultimately conceived in terms of the causal principle of mere equivalence of forces, which is found to have its roots ultimately in a quantitative conception which denies increase of value and energy, and contemplates merely transformation, displacement, and re-arrangement. In my monograph, History of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, etc., it was pointed out that while this principle arose in an identification of reality and value, in a metaphysical attempt to evaluate the total world, the entire history of reflection upon the principle has nevertheless resulted in a tendency to eliminate the worth-categories in favor of a mechanization of the principle. This ejection of the worth categories resulted ultimately in a formulation, for the purposes of logic, of a dualistic application of the law. On the one hand, in the terms of Wundt, the Law of Ground reduces itself, in its application to external reality, to a principle of equivalence of forces, based upon conservation of energy. On the other hand, the inner sufficiency of judgment and will is concerned with equivalences of value and assumes an infinite increase of mental energy. The latter is the inner sufficiency of the will, the former is an application of the principle of sufficiency to a system of nature abstracted from the inner meaning and sufficiency. Whatever be their ultimate union in an idealistic metaphysic, methodologically they remain dualistic.


Now, that there is an ultimate dualism in reason, and, consequently an ultimate difference of these two series of values, is highly improbable. Certainly, the present writer, fresh from the reading of Professor Royce's second volume of The World and the Individual, has no desire so to argue. At the same time, as a methodological principle, this hypothesis of the relative indifference of the individual series of values, as a series, to the content and mutations of content in the social series, may be made fruitful for the understanding of certain questions that arise on the lower plane of the scientific study of ethical values. It deserves consideration in the same manner as the principle psyche-physical parallelism as an epistemological modus Vivendi. It is the purpose of the second portion of this paper to seek to discover the precise meaning that may be given to this concept of indifference, and the extent of its application. This will involve critical study of the concept of simultaneous increase in intensity and expansion (Guyau), intension and extension (Bradley), as a category of the Self, or as the law of the individual value series, and also lead to an attempt to bring it into harmony with the laws of objective value.


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