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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Implications of Subjectivism about value

G.E. Moore thought that claims about intrinsic value cannot be coherently endorsed by 'subjectivists' about value. Subjectivism is, generally speaking, the view that the constitutive grounds of value reside in agents and not in the objects of agents' evaluations. Toni Ronnow-Rassmussen, in his paper "Subjectivism and Objectivism" denies this. His idea is that Moore's suggestion falsely assumes that subjectivists about value must reject the "Invariance thesis," which states: "the final value of an object is invariant over possible worlds" (257). Ronnow-Rassmussen makes a convincing case for thinking that (i) subjectivist positions vary with respect to their pronouncements about constitutive grounds of value, and (ii) at least some versions of subjectivism can accomodate the invariance thesis. If Ronnow-Rasmussen is right about this, then the divide between objectivists and subjectivists is not as clearly demarcated as we would be inclined to think.

An interesting consequence of this idea is that theses about epistemic value which make recourse to claims about the final value of (for example) knowledge or justification, might well be compatible with value subjectivism, at the very least the varieties that are compatible with the invariance thesis. Adopting subjectivism as a formal metaethical thesis, with respect to which we then assess the value of epistemic concepts, might very well open up creative new ways of addressing traditional problems about the value of knowledge--problems that have been previously discussed in a way that implicitly assumes an objectivist view of the constitutive grounds of value. At the least, this is I think an issue worth exploring.

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