Objectivity of Value Judgments

“(1) Nature of Judgments of Value

judgments of value differ from judgments of fact in this important respect: they appraise the worth of objects, whereas factual-judgments merely describe objects. For instance, if ones judges that the flower or the rainbow is beautiful, or that the need is generous, one appraises its worth and deems it valuable. What we have called factual-judgments are different; they do not undertake to evaluate, but only to describe, a given environmental situation. ‘The rainbow is formed by the refraction of light-waves,’ ‘the flower is colored red,’ ‘The man who did this deed was seen by me’- these are examples of purely factual judgments. Value-judgments appraise the worth of objects, while factual judgments describe the nature of objects; in this lies the important difference between the two types.

(2) Objectivity of Value-Judgments

It is somtimes said that values are purely subjective in the sense that they are wholly relative to individual preferences…There is an element of truth in this view- just enough, in fact, to make it dangerous as an error. The element of truth is that values are in an important sense dependent upon the human mind for their existence. But the error involved in the assumption must not be overlooked. When we judge that an object has value, that the rainbow or the flower is beautiful or the deed generous, we feeel that the judgment is by no means an arbitrary one and that there is something in the objects so judged which makes the judgment necessary. We feel that in an important sense the rainbow or the flower is such that we must judge it beautiful, the deed is in its own right generous, the parcel of ground has its ‘real’ value which is independent of the fluctuations of the ‘market’ value, and so forth. In short, values seem to lie in objects just as truly as do colors and temperatures and all of the other qualities with which factual-judgments are concerned; values are beyond the arbitrary preferences of individual human beings. Of course, preferences do enter into the sitaution as an important element of it, as we shall see more fully later; but there is equally an aspect of that which is deemed valuable which is independent of individual preferences, some quality in the object that calls out these preferences. And if this be true then it follows that value-judgments are also in a sense descriptive, for values are in a sense factual; value-judgments are descriptive of those qualities in objects, whatever they may be, which evoke the appreciative response. Thus it is an error to suppose that value-judgments and factual-judgments are sharply sundered. In a sense all judgments are factual, in a sense namely that if they are real judgments they deal with facts. The difference between the two types of judgments is therefore primarily a difference of emphasis, the value-judgment emphasizing appreciation and the factual-judgment emphasizing description.”

(Cunningham, Problems of Philosophy, 350-51)


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