Sunday, September 13, 2009


I finished a slow reading of “A Theory of Value,” by J. David Velleman (Ethics 118, April 2008), which was very rewarding. I feel that Velleman will be a central resource for me; I look forward to reading more of his work (which I’ve had for some time; and received his new book, How We Get Along [Cambridge UP, 2009], a set of lectures, last week).

“A Theory of Value” depends on a general sense of practical reason that is constituted by a conception of the “intelligibility” of an intention, intelligibility being an all-things-considered holism toward what one is all-in-all doing presently (relative to one’s life Project, I would add), in light of which one acts appropriately. Appropriateness is relative to intelligibility. Intelligibility is, in turn, relative to one’s individuality, as a matter of individuation (degree of cultivation), sense of the world generally (in which one is committed), and idiosyncrasy.

The first words of his essay turn out to be a capsule of his view: “Value is what something has when it is valuable, and being valuable is just being appropriate to value.” Being appropriate is relative to an at-least-implicit “standard of intelligibility” whereby something is preferred.
As the intelligibility of a response is more closely tied to our individual characters, the response is susceptible to more specific guidance from a personal standard of correctness; as the intelligibility of a response is more closely tied to our shared nature and practices, the response is susceptible to more specific guidance from an interpersonal standard; and as sensibilities can be more or less intelligible in themselves, the standard of intelligibility in relation to them can be better or worse standards....Practical reason therefore favors cultivating appreciative responses to things that belong to general kinds.
Those kinds would be what we might call high values, such as humanistic values (including “moral” values) and highly-admirable values of character, artistic values, political values, etc.

“Practical” reason, for Velleman, is not functionalistic reason, an aspect that all reasonable action includes. Practical reason gives valuable intent to a behavior relative to the intelligibility of one's self understanding. Holism of intelligibility is an implicature of one’s life, with which one’s self identity is entwined. Being “practical” is a matter of one’s invested habitation.
I grant that there is a sense of the term ‘practical reasoning’ that means “practically useful reasoning,” like the sense of ‘practical shoes’ that means “practically useful shoes.”...But I am using the term ‘practical reasoning’ in the sense....[of] reasoning that defines the realm of the practical rather than reasoning that has a function within that realm.
That “realm,” I would argue (in accord with Velleman), is one’s engaged life, led by its prevailing purpose: growth of marriage and family, growth of career, completing a prevailing project, etc.

This is followed up at “valuing idealization as aspirational appeal.”