Strange, then, that we should think of values as a problem. Values and more specifically evaluations of things as good or bad help guide us through the world and help us survive
Andrew sayer lancaster university july2011pres
Who‟s Afraid of Critical Social
Early social science was
18th/early19th century –
description/explanation and normative
evaluation were intermixed . . . E.g.
Adam Smith on the division of labour.
“The man whose whole life is spent
performing a few simple operations . . .
has no occasion to exert his
understanding . . . He naturally loses,
therefore, the habit of such exertion,
and generally becomes as stupid and
ignorant as it is possible for a human
creature to become.” (Smith, 1776,
2.V.I., art.2, pp.302-3).
The Long Decline of CSS
• Slow expulsion of critique, evaluation, values from
„science‟ over last 200 years
• Not only attempted expulsion of values from science
but expulsion of reason from values (subjectivisation
• Weak capacity for normative reason in social science
• Reflects rise of liberal modernism
• Indifference to normative character of everyday life –
Critical Social Science 1970s - Now:
From Audacity to Timidity . . . and
• Emancipatory – disclosing oppression
• Reflexivity, disclosing hidden presuppositions, sceptical
“the ever-so-slightly critical theory of today”. (Barry Barnes,
2000, p. 127)
Critique in retreat?
Pierre Bourdieu Critique has . . .
“retreated into the „small
world‟ of academe, where it
enchants itself with itself
without ever being in a
position to really threaten
anyone about anything.”
Values as subjective and opposed
to reason – as „bias‟, a
„contaminant‟ threatening social
“Whenever the person of science introduces
his personal value judgment, a full
understanding of the facts ceases” (Weber, Science
as a Vocation, 1946, p.146).
• Positivist: Social science should strive to
exclude values in order to achieve objectivity
• Radical: Social science is unavoidably value-
laden, so it can‟t pretend to be objective
• I.e. both agree values and objectivity are
opposed to one another – and confuse different
meanings of „objectivity‟ (true and value-free)
The Fact-Value Family of
is – ought
fact – value
reason – emotion
science - ideology
positive – normative
objective - subjective
Values within reason?
• Values as abstract,
sedimented (e)valuations of
• Values influence/are
influenced by valuations
• Open to challenge – but then
so too are factual claims
A relation to the world of
• Our relation to the world is one of concern/ –
not merely cognitive or practical
• Consequence of sentience, neediness – capable
yet vulnerable – can flourish or suffer
Between normative and positive
• Positive (descriptive/explanatory) = world-
• Normative (evaluative, directive) = world-
But which are „needs‟, „desire‟, „flourishing‟,
Is - ought binary excludes evaluation
Beyond the fact-value dichotomy:
„Thick ethical concepts‟
E.g. „oppression‟, „domination‟, „abuse‟,
„racism‟, „sexism‟, „humiliation‟, suffering‟,
(Thin ethical concepts – „good‟, „bad‟)
Descriptive and evaluative content are inseparable in
thick ethical descriptions – valuation needed for
Well-being as objective – i.e. a state of being -
of which we have partial, fallible knowledge –
that we try to identify, discover and create
• Pluralist, not relativist – i.e. can take a variety of
forms but not merely a matter of one‟s point of view
or wishful thinking
• E.g. being healthy, having the social bases of self-
respect; being secure from violence; being able to
give and receive care
(Sen and Nussbaum‟s „Capabilities Approach‟)
Theories of value
• Subjectivism/emotivism – „personal values‟
• Conventionalism – „what we do round here‟ –
product of norms
• Objectivist/relational – assessments of well- or
“ a critique is not a matter of saying that
things are not right as they are. It is a matter
of pointing out on what kinds of assumptions,
what kinds of familiar, unchallenged,
unconsidered modes of thought the practices
that we accept rest.”
(1998, Interview with Didier Eribon, 1981. In
L.Kritzman (ed) Foucault: Politics, Philosophy,
Culture, N.Y.: Routledge, p.155).
On the contrary . . .
Critical in What Sense?
1. Critical of other research
2. Critique as scepticism
3. Critique as partisan – left/right, defending
4. Critique as de-naturalisation
5. Critique highlights the way discourse
shapes the social world, including subjects
Critical in What Sense? (cont‟d)
6. Critical of false beliefs and practices based on them.
7. Critique of false beliefs and practices based on them,
incorporating explanations of why they are held
(Marxist concept of critique) - should be able to
“explain the apparent truth of the theory that it shows
to be false” (Bourdieu, 2005, p.215)
8. Critique of irrationality/contradictions
9. Critique of injustice, avoidable suffering, involving
standpoint of well-being, ethics.
Telling others what to do? . . .
“The role of an intellectual is not to tell others
what they have to do. By what right would he
do so? The work of the intellectual is not to
shape others‟ political will: it is, through the
analyses that he carried out in his own field, to
question over and over again what is
postulated as self-evident, to disturb people‟s
mental habits, the way they do and think
things.” Foucault (1997a, p.131).
• A critical social science worthy of the name is
about suffering, restricted flourishing and its
• Its critical standpoint requires some conception of
• Its political orientation follows rather than
• We need to re-unite social science and normative
thought (e.g. moral and political philosophy) . . .
„Is‟ and „Ought‟ and the
“It is hard to think of any other widely used phrase in the history of philosophy
that is such a spectacular misnomer” (Bernard Williams, 1985, p.121).
• Factual statements don‟t logically entail value statements . . . So?
• Not a matter of logic
• Logical deduction not the only form of inference
• „Valuey facts‟
• „Ought >> Is‟ relationships a problem?
• Only dogmatically-held values are a problem (Anderson)
Critical Standpoints (1): Reduction
of Illusion - Truth
• False consciousness? Or are people infallible?!
Critical Standpoints (3): Need,
reduction of suffering, restricted
• People as capable of well-being or ill-
being, vulnerable, dependent social beings
Critical Standpoints (2) Freedom
• Foucault? E.g. implicit in studies of power?
- problem of „crypto-normativity‟
• “[C]ritique is understood as an interrogation of the terms
by which life is constrained”
(Judith Butler, Undoing Gender)
[Why should constraint be a problem?]
• Critique as the identification of „unwanted determinations‟
[Which ones should we want?]
Four Conceptions of Action and
1. Causal - material
2. Hermeneutic – meaningful
3. Causal-hermeneutic (e.g. Weber, CR)
- people as sentient, needy, desiring beings, capable of
flourishing or suffering, forming attachments and
commitments, suspended between things as they are and
as they might become, for better or worse, and as they
need or want them to become;
* includes „cultural(ly-autonomous)‟ needs
Qualified Ethical Naturalism
• The meaning of good and bad ultimately relate to
needs, capacities for flourishing and suffering . . .
1. Cultures influence bodies.
2. Needs, flourishing and suffering always culturally
interpreted – fallibly.
3. Some goods and needs are wholly culturally constructed.
“We feel that even when all possible scientific
questions have been answered, the problems of
life remain completely untouched.”
(Wittgenstein, 1922, Tractatus Logico-
Evaluative judgement and the work
• “. . . if we consider what the work of attention is like, how
continuously it goes on, and how imperceptibly it builds up
structures of value round about us, we shall not be surprised
that at crucial moments of choice most of the business of
choosing is already over. This does not imply that we are not
free, certainly not. But it implies that the exercise of our
freedom is a small piecemeal business which goes on all the
time and not a grandiose leaping about unimpeded at important
moments. The moral life, on this view, is something that goes
on continually, not something that is switched off in between
the occurrence of explicit moral choices. What happens in
between such choices is indeed what is crucial.” (Murdoch,
1970, p. 36).
Capabilities Approach (Sen,
• Substantive freedoms to choose a life one has
reason to value – to have access to
„functionings‟ – „beings and havings‟ that are
E.g. being healthy, having the social bases of
self-respect; bodily integrity - being secure