Higher Seminar in Practical Philosophy: Alexander Stöpfgeshoff


Date: Tuesday 28 March 2023

Time: 13.15 – 15.00

Location: D700

Alain LeRoy Locke on Accounting for All Kinds of Human Value


Alain LeRoy Locke (1885- 1954) is one of the few African-American philosophers active at the beginning of the 20th century. He also develops an early rejection of value realism. Locke aims to develop a middle ground between what he calls nihilism or anarchy and absolutism. For Locke, the nihilistic denial of all human value cannot account for the role of value in human life. We live by our values, and a proper account of human life needs to explain the role of imperatives. Absolutism, on the other hand, implies an unacceptable realist metaphysics about values.  Locke states, “In de-throning our absolutes, we must take care not to exile our imperatives, for after all, we live by them.” (Values and Imperatives, 34) Values are not grounded in “types of realms of value, but are rooted in modes or kinds of valuing” (Values and Imperatives, 34). For LeRoy Locke, to value something is to have an attitude towards it and “the primary judgments of value are emotional judgments … and the initial reference for value predication is based on a form-quality revealed in feeling and efficacious in valuation through feeling.” (Values and Imperatives, 39)

Locke’s account of value speaks directly to the contemporary problem how to explain the difference between kinds of value attitudes and judgments. What is special about moral attitudes? Moral attitudes cannot be mere forms of liking and disliking to explain the role morality places in our lives (Sturgeon, 1986; Miller, 2003). Locke addresses this problem explicitly. He attempts to explain all values (epistemic, moral, aesthetic, religious) and how they differ. Value feelings are not just primary forms of liking or disliking.

Each value has its distinctive feeling, which explains the difference between kinds of values and value judgments. Locke argues against an account that the content of a value judgment explains the difference between kinds of values. He brings up the example of “this logical proof is beautiful.” For Locke, this is an aesthetic judgment because of the specific aesthetic feelings involved. Anything can be an object of aesthetic judgment as long as the right feeling is involved. It is possible to have, for example, both moral and aesthetic feelings towards the same object. What makes moral judgment different from any other normative judgment is the specific moral feeling of conflict between what Locke calls temptation and inner conscience. This gives rise to a specific imperative unique to moral attitudes in comparison to, for example, aesthetic attitudes.