The Objectivity of Value-Judgements

  • Hugo Meynell
Part of the New Studies in Practical Philosophy book series (NSPP)


In the first chapter, I set out an assumption, that what is good in human action and disposition has a great deal to do with what contributes to human happiness and fulfilment, and tends to minimise human misery and frustration.1 The arguments of the intervening chapters have largely depended on this assumption, which will now be justified in the face of some sophisticated philosophical objections which have been raised against it. The principal objection may be summarised as follows. To say that an action or disposition tends to promote happiness or to minimise misery is to make a judgement of fact about it; to say that it is good or bad is to make a value-judgement. But there is no valid inference from any set of merely factual judgements to any judgement of value.


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  1. 1.
    Cf. pp. 1–3 above.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, III, i, 1; G. E. Moore, Principia Ethica (Cambridge, 1956) chs 1 and 2.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    John Wisdom, Philosophy and Psychoanalysis (Oxford, 1953) p. 103.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Cf. A. G. N. Flew, ‘Theology and Falsification’, in Flew and R. C. MacIntyre (eds), New Essays in Philosophical Theology (London, 1955) p. 97.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    R. G. Collingwood, The Principles of Art (Oxford, 1938) p. 7.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    R. M. Hare, ‘Geach: Good and Evil’ in Philippa Foot (ed.), Theories of Ethics (London, 1967) p. 78.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Foot, Theories of Ethics, Introduction, p. 9.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (Oxford, 1958) 1, sec. 66f.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Hare, ‘Geach: Good and Evil’, p. 79.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
  11. 11.
    I have argued this at length in ‘Remarks on the Foundations of Aesthetics’, British Journal of Aesthetics (January, 1968).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Hare, ‘Geach: Good and Evil’, pp. 78–80.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    On the notions of ‘happiness’ and ‘fulfilment’, cf. pp. 1–5 above.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    J. S. Mill, System of Logic, I, viii, 7. Cf. A. N. Prior, Logic and the Basis of Ethics (Oxford, 1949) pp. 10–11.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, I, 66f.; Aristotle, Metaphysics, III, 2.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, I, 79.Google Scholar
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  18. 18.
    Foot, Theories of Ethics, Introduction, p. 11.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    The ruling of Thomas Aquinas, that the unjust prescriptions of a tyrant put no one under obligation, is closely comparable (Summa Theologica, Ia, IIae, xc, 1).Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Cf. cases where the happiness of some is promoted at the cost of the unhappiness of others; or where an act is intuitively bad to one set of persons and not to another.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Exactly at what point the ‘obvious preponderance’ ceases to be such is impossible to determine. But that the boundary between the categories is not sharp does not imply that the categories themselves are useless or the distinction they mark illusory. To take an analogy, it is impossible to determine exactly where in England the Midlands end and the South begins, but this does not prevent, say, Nottingham from being quite definitely in the Midlands and Winchester being quite definitely in the South.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, III, i, 1.Google Scholar

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© Hugo Meynell 1981

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  • Hugo Meynell

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