A System of Pragmatic Idealism, Volume II

A System of Pragmatic Idealism, Volume II: The Validity of Values, A Normative Theory of Evaluative Rationality

Nichohs Rescher
Copyright Date: 1983
Pages: 278
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  • Book Info
    A System of Pragmatic Idealism, Volume II
    Book Description:

    This is the second of the three volumes of A System of Pragmatic Idealism, a series that will synthesize the life's work of the philosopher Nicholas Rescher. Rescher's numerous books and articles, which address almost every major philosophical topic, reflect a unified approach: the combination of pragmatism and idealism characteristic of his thinking throughout his career. The three related but independently readable books of the series present Rescher's system as a whole. In combining leading ideas of European continental idealism and American pragmatism in a new way, Rescher has created an integrated philosophical position in which the central concepts of these two traditions become a coherent totality. The initial volume in the series was dedicated to epistemology, the philosophy of science, and the philosophy of nature. In The Validity of Values, Rescher sets out a normative theory of rationality. Looking at issues of value theory, ethics, and practical philosophy, this second volume of the trilogy has as its theme the utility of values for a proper understanding of ourselves and the world we live in. Rescher's key thesis, which is argued from various angles and points of departure, is that rationality as such and in general is bound up with the theory and practice of rational evaluation. The third volume of the series will deal with the nature of philosophical inquiry itself.

    Originally published in 1992.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6312-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Displays
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xiv)

    The significance of values and evaluation is a central theme of philosophical idealism. And the utility of values for a proper understanding of ourselves and the world we live in is also the leitmotiv of the present book, whose general tenor could accordingly be characterized as that of an axiological idealism. Its central theme is the important role of values in understanding ourselves, the environing world, and our place within it.

    In the endeavor to expound this position, the book sets out a normative theory of rationality. Its key thesis—which is argued pragmatically from various angles and points of...

    • One The Reach of Reason
      (pp. 3-25)

      Rationality is a matter of the intelligent pursuit of appropriate objectives—of proceeding in what we do in line with cogent reasons. Whether in cognitive, practical, or evaluative matters, rationality accordingly has two distinguishable although inseparable aspects: the one personal, private, and particular; the other impersonal, public, and universal. The private (particularized) aspect turns on what is advisablefor the agent,duly considering his or her own personal situation and circumstances—the agent’s idiosyncratic information, experience, opportunities, capabilities, talents, objectives, aspirations, needs, and wants. (Note that we here construe “circumstances” very broadly, including not only the outer and situational but...

    • Two Maximization, Optimization, and Rationality
      (pp. 26-44)

      Rationality demands a due care for the realization of values. But this is not a matter ofmaximization.Rather, what it demands isoptimization,which is, in fact, something quite different. Yet the issue is complex and demands closer scrutiny.

      There is a widespread tendency to view rationality as committed to maximization, taking rational choice to consist in maximizing something called “utility.” Practitioners of economics, social-choice theory, game theory, management science, and other exponents of “the theory of rational decision” are virtually unanimous in endorsing this approach of construing rationality in terms of utility maximization.¹ They commonly hold that the...

    • Three The Rationality of Values and Evaluations
      (pp. 45-62)

      In an oft-cited passage in book 3 of theNicomachean Ethics,Aristotle wrote:

      We deliberate not about ends but about means. For a doctor does not deliberate whether he shall heal, nor an orator whether he shall persuade, nor a statesman whether he shall produce law and order, nor does any one else deliberate about his end. They assume the end and consider how and by what means it is to be attained; and if it seems to be produced by several means they consider by which it is most easily and best produced, while if it is achieved by...

    • Four How Wide Is the Gap between Facts and Values?
      (pp. 65-92)

      Can values be derived from facts? Is it possible to effect a valid inferential transition from factual premises to an evaluative conclusion?

      This issue is well worth the considerable philosophical toil and struggle that has been expended on it over the years.¹ Large and substantial philosophical positions are at stake with this apparently small-scale and seemingly technical question. As Hume remarked, a person who makes mistakes in factual matters is at worst stupid or incompetent, but a person who is mistaken in evaluative matters—for example, who prizes what properly deserves to be disdained—would for this very reason be...

    • Five Values in the Face of Natural Science
      (pp. 93-110)

      Philosophers and scientists sometimes maintain that a Darwinian evolutionary account of the origin of mind and its operations is bound to be deficient because it leaves no room for intentionality, with the result that meaning and purpose are banished not just from the sphere of inanimate nature but from the human domain as well. The theory of evolution provides for the emergence of new organic types through the competitive elimination of those organisms that are comparatively less efficient in the struggle for reproductive survival within the niche at issue. Such a purely "mechanical" account of organic development, so opponents of...

    • Six What Is a Person?
      (pp. 113-128)

      Perhaps the most significant and far-reaching single fact about us is that we arepersons.For it is this, above all, that determines our self-image and our self-understanding—our view of the sort of beings that we ourselves are. Being persons (i.e., duly self-appreciative rational agents) is even more important for us, more crucial to our status in the world's scheme of things, than our beingpeople(members of the speciesHomo sapiens). Human beings are merely members of a biological species; persons are members of a functionally constituted category that transcends merely biological limits.

      But what is it to...

    • Seven The Power of Ideals
      (pp. 129-139)

      Ideals are values of a rather special sort. They pivot about the question “If I could shape the world in my own way, how would I have it be?”Everyvoluntary action of ours is in some manner a remaking of the world—or at any rate, of a very small corner of it—by projecting into reality a situation that otherwise would not be. To act intelligently is to act with due reference to the direction in which our own actions shift the course of things. And this is exactly where ideals come into play. Our ideals guide and...

    • Eight The Meaning of Life
      (pp. 140-152)

      In the opening passage of an essay on the meaning of life, the contemporary English philosopher David Wiggins assigns this issue to “the class of questions not in good order, or best not answered just as they stand.”¹ But however awkward and inconvenient a philosopher may find it to grapple with such questions posed by ordinary people, they cannot in good conscience be avoided.

      To be sure, a philosopher must unravel complications. For the question of the meaning of life does have a misleading air of directness about it. The closer one looks at it, the more complicated and many-sided...

    • Nine Optimism and Pessimism
      (pp. 155-172)

      One’s evaluative stance regarding the position of humanity in the world’s scheme of things is one of the most characteristic and informative aspects of a person’s makeup. In this connection, the quarrel between optimism and pessimism has been raging since classical antiquity. Following the lead of the Socrates of Plato’sTimaeus,the Stoics taught that the world’s arrangements are designed for the best and promote the good of all.¹ The followers of Hegesias maintained to the contrary that nature is fundamentally unfriendly and so operates as to make the attainment of well-being(eudaimonia)impossible for us.² The two conflicting tendencies...

    • Ten Moral Objectivity (Are There Moral Facts?)
      (pp. 173-186)

      There are two distinct modes of moral egalitarianism. Both agree in holding that all moral codes are of equal validity-status, that each is as good as any other. But one mode—indifferentism—sees all as being alikevalid;the other—nihilism—sees all as being alikeinvalid.The former, indifferentist approach takes the syncretistic line of an indiscriminate openness and acceptance; the latter, nihilistic approach takes the defeatist line of a total negativity and rejection. Either way, the prospect of areasonedendorsement of one moral position over against others is excluded.

      Both doctrines are deeply problematic, however. Moral indifferentism...

    • Eleven Moral Values as Immune to Relativism
      (pp. 187-205)

      Moral pluralism is unavoidable: moral codes can appropriately differ from one society to another. Does this fact not entail an indifferentist relativism to the effect that, in the end, “anything goes,” by making morality into what is ultimately just a matter of local custom?

      Anthropologists and even, alas, philosophers often say things like “The Wazonga tribe deems it morally proper (or even mandatory) to sacrifice firstborn female children to the tribal gods.” But there are big problems here. This way of talking betokens lamentably loose thinking. For compare:

      (1) The Wazonga habitually (customarily) sacrifice. . . .

      (2) The Wazonga...

    • Twelve Moral Rationality: Why Be Moral?
      (pp. 206-230)

      Two questions must be distinguished: (1) what does morality require of us; what must one do to count as a morally good person? and (2) why should we do that which morality requires; why be a morally good person at all? The former question is one that can (nay, must) be addressed by essentially linguistic/conceptual means deployed in the preceding chapter, the problem being one of determining whether an agent comforms to the specifications of “moral agency” in the light of the conception that is definitionally at issue here. The latter question, however, presses beyond this conceptual level to pose...

    • Thirteen Rationality and Happiness
      (pp. 233-245)

      Is rationality a good thing? The question has a rhetorical air about it. Rationality, after all, is a matter of the intelligent pursuit of appropriate ends.¹ And this is by its very nature a positive quality—a “perfection,” in the philosophical terminology of an earlier day. Still, when everything is said and done, the question still remains: Are rational people happier? Does this key aspect of the human condition—the proper use of our intelligence—pay off for us in this regard? This theme harks back to deliberations that the thinkers of ancient Greece posed in the question “Is the...

    • Fourteen Values, Pragmatism, and Idealism
      (pp. 246-254)

      The cognitive machinery at the disposal of us humans in our quest for factual knowledge has developed over the course of time owing to the utility of its application in the real world. Its origination has a profoundly pragmatic character, rooting in its capacity to satisfy a need of ours by enabling us to categorize, describe, and explain what goes on about us. It is a resource of operational adjustment to the real world, geared to orienting us cognitively in our existential environment. Insofar as our machinery of factual description is out of touch with reality—does not apply to...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 255-260)
  12. Name Index
    (pp. 261-262)
  13. Subject Index
    (pp. 263-264)