Rethinking Facts and Values


C.S.Peirce claimed that logic is a normative science. It is not about how people think, but how they ought to think, and so he classified it as a branch of ethics. Elsewhere he argued the contrapositive, that purely self-interested individuals would have to be irrational in all their inferences. They could not constitute valid thoughts regarding either the value of their ends or the reliability of their means. Determining value, like meaning more generally, depends on taking a participant stance within social and disciplinary practices. Any legitimacy that disciplines, and moral and rational practices more generally, have rests on the accountability provided by participating in such communal activities. “Objectivity” in the disciplines does not mean seeing things as they are in themselves, or somehow getting back to “the given” behind our interpretive activity, but seeing things in light of, and being accountable to, certain procedural and evidentiary norms. To invoke “norms” here is to recognize something that defies Hume’s law, as a norm is simultaneously a value grounded in a fact and a fact grounded in a value. This is not to simply affirm what Hume denies, but to question the dichotomy between facts and values he presupposes. A statement of fact is an act we must be accountable for, and our ethical task is not merely a matter of assessing and choosing between alternatives that are just there and thrust upon us, like railroad tracks laid down in advance, but a matter of constituting, and reconstituting, the paths themselves.

Author Information
Philip Shields, Beloit College, United States

Paper Information
Conference: ECERP2019
Stream: Ethics and Science

This paper is part of the ECERP2019 Conference Proceedings (View)
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