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Maija Kule. Foreword. Investigating values.

2 sējumu kolektīvās monogrāfijas "Vērtības: Eiropa un Latvija" priekšvārds, Rīga: FSI, 2016

Maija Kūle. Foreword. Investigating Values.

2 volumes. Riga: FSI, 2016



The present inter-disciplinary monograph about values in Europe and in Latvia crowns the sustained work of a group of researchers of various fields – philosophers, specialists of religious studies, life-story investigators, sociologists, a social anthropologists, art historian and others. The notion of values is an extremely ambitious one; it defies dictionary-related definitions or dependence on previous studies that have been based on assumed postulations about “real” existence of values in the manner of succumbing to definitive measurements. What is needed – it is philosophical reflexion on the subject of values, including ruminations as to what do we mean when using of this particular designation, what do we mean by communicative rationality, toleration, tradition and the emergence of common values.

            The book is based on the work of the research staff of the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the University of Latvia within the framework of State Research Programme “Letonics. History, language, culture, values” (Project Nr. 6). The research results have been reported at the 6-th Congress of Letonics in the year 2015, and the contents has gone into formating of the present monograph. The investigation of value problematics is consistent with the manifold state supported programms of social sciences and humanities, while the specifically philosophical, culturological and religious-studies approach is a distinguished feature of the present volume. The values are not considered here as ‘given’ (by way of measuring their frequency), but assumed to b received within culturally-determined constituated circumstances. The authors of the monograph concentrate their attention on the problematics of the sources, the status, the historicity, the contextuality of ethical archetypes, on human personal and social experiences.

            The book seeks to provide answers to several important questions.

(a)  What are values? Are there values?

(b)  How to interpret the plurality of values and the notion of value relativity? How to align pathos and ethos. Do we live in “a wordless society”, or is this an anomic sociality?

(c)  What factors have contributed to the formation of the (ethnic) values of the Latvians? How to interpret the present-day ethical notions connected with the social and political actualities of Latvia?

(d)  What is the ethical and moral point of view of the well-known European and Latvian thinkers?

(e)  What is the mode of generation of the values of a community?

(f)   What is the specific character of religious values, how are these values inherited and transmitted in Europe and in Latvia?

(g)  How are the values reflected in life-stories, in individual experience? To what an extent the life-stories are related to the available cultural and societal resources?

Part One of the monograph offers philosophical reflection on the interpretation of values, dealing with a wide range of theoretical issues. Have the values become just a vacuous notion, a kind of a substitute for specific interests and needs? Are we not excessively “subjectivising” values? Do not some teams of researchers offer just one kind of values as the primary ones neglecting any alternative approaches? In a word – is not the very act of value-investigation tantamount to a value system-building engagement, instead of scholarly value description and analysis? Could it be that the multiplicity of values may lead to a situation when the unity of values evaporate and relativism reigns over pluralistic approach? As to sociological investigations on value problematics – is there not a tendency here to take for granted the reality of the value existence and their comprehensibility? Philosophy tends to uphold a critical disposition and axiologically charged inquiry as to the essence of values. Sociology, on the other hand, is more concerned with the transformation of values into actions, susceptible to quantification and measurements as elements of societal praxis.

In Part One of the book Maija Kūle deals with methodologies used in scholarly value research. Philosophically values are not to be viewed as absolute, transcendental entities that are eternal and unchangeable. At the same time values should not be relegated to the status of an “opinion poll product” where millions of people are expressing their personal moral choices. Values, though changeable and changing, obtain of an objective quality and act with the force of an obligation. Value as a philosophical notion has been charged with manifold culturological connotations and has been subjected to various theoretical interpretations, as is exemplified by the present monograph.

Māra Rubene deals with a wide spectrum of philosophical thinkers by evaluating the work of Herder and Kant, of Heidegger and Nancy and pondering on the topicality of their views for the present time witnessing the collisions of passions and reason, of pathos and ethos. Modernity requires to furnish answers to the problems of continuity with regard to various generations, the relations between friends, between fathers and sons, mothers and daughters – questions about traditions and heredity. Māra Rubene specially stresses the role of traditions as values of communality. Her approach chimes in with practical issues discussed in the book concerning the preservation of religious values and the social and cultural value orientation in the life-stories section. The topics earmarked by Māra Rubene are further developed in the contributions by Igors Šuvajevs, Ģirts Jankovskis, Ella Buceniece, contained in Part Two of the monograph and in Part Five dealing with interpretations of life-story problematics.

Raivis Bičevskis deals with values within the context of modernist philosophical trends. He attempts to analyse societal life “outside of the world” – i.e. – without any deeper sense and values. The author proposes the following vision of the modern culture: people need images so as to make the reality bearable, but they need also a kind of reality to be able to bear the power of these images. We live within a visualised cultural sphere. This imaginary world lacks any certainty about values, these are substituted with reflections, phantoms. The ever-changing flux of images overwhelms the political subject, engaged, as he is, in taking resolute judgements. The author, by drawing on a number of modern philosophers (Kamper, Štrauss, Heidegger, Klages) invites us to distinguish between the assumed and received values and, by relinquishing the phantoms, recapture the reality.

A similar proposal – sociologically formatted – is addressed by Agita Misāne, who deals with the problematics of anomies. Her philosophical interpretation of the anomic state of affairs does not stop at the registration of the theoretical facticity – the author penetrates into the very depth of the modernistic vision. She deals with such basic categories as reason, imagination, thought, images. Has the present culture anything new to say concerning the relations between the mind (reason) and the imaginative capacity, what are the limits of the latter, and where does the will power begin to reign? Does the image superimposes itself over the thought, and how does this fact influence the value orientation?

The answer provided is the following: Yes, this is the way it does take place within the context of modernity in the present-day situation in Latvia. The consumer society paradigm requires an image-calculation abilities by using of respective mental technologies and logic. What is to be done? Is it possible to have a new look at the value problematics from a different angle? The answer proposed is a conceptually intricate one. The author draws attention to the nexus existing between annihilation of the will and the possibility to approach the world outside the precincts of the intentionality of the will.

Rihards Kūlis tackles the problem of the understanding of the will in philosophy; he draws attention to the question of relativization. A situation where everybody has only his/her own values is likely to produce nihilistic, egoistic outcome, leading subsequently the death of the shared values. The solutions proposed by the author chime in with the interpretations contained in Part Three of the monograph. It calls for distancing oneself from the subjective presumptions while keeping one’s identity intact.

Aija Predīte-Kleinhofa discusses the traditions of Latvian nationalism within a respective value framework. The formation of the Latvian sense of belonging and of communality has been connected with the establishment of the ethnic value peculiarities. The investigation covers a long period of the development Latvian linguistics, ethnography, history. The intellectual heritage of the past influence the present-day value orientations. Therefore the study of values has to be pursued in consonance with historical processes determining the origin of the Latvian national self-consciousness and in consonance with the specific features of the present-day modernistic, universalistic and urbanistic life-styles.

The authors of Part Two are concerned with the main trends that have influenced the value apprehension in Latvia as a territorial unit and as a sovereign state. These are the philosophical ideas of Imanuel Kant, Neokantians, Herder and their followers, Isiaiah Berlin, as well as of Latvian thinkers Jēkabs Osis, Teodors Celms, Pauls Jurēvičs; also of G. Loskie, Stanislavs Ladusāns, the prematurely deceased Elga Freiberga and the lesser-known teacher Jānis Sīlītis, who had died in the wave of repressions. Each one of these thinkers may provide ideas for the present-day situation, for some axiologically charged investigation, impulsating a far-better apprehension of some practical value questions.

The problem of values is closely linked with moral philosophy or ethics. The fundamental values – such as ‘the good’, ‘the beautiful’, ‘the true’ are inextricably bound together. The values determine the character of the society. The authors are of the opinion that a self-regulating societal pattern requires stability in facing inevitable obstacles. Jānis Nameisis Vējš refers to the present topicality – a situation concerning the legislative initiative envisaging changes in educational system by way of clarifying some notions of sexual education. The proposed changes have been met by contradicting appraisals, stimulating public discussion on value issues. It is important in such a situation to review the work of some of the classical philosophical solutions concerning the possibility of sharing the common cultural habitat by religious people and secularistically minded population, as is the case of Latvia and many other European countries. Questions of understanding, of co-operation, toleration and of critical thinking come to the fore. J. N. Vējš also advances the question of value-relativism. He holds that the causes of quasi-democracy are to be looked for in the inability to distinguish between theoretical notions of value objectivity from the situative character of value application. At times by way of fighting against relativism the phraseological juxtaposition is taking place in the form of confrontation between the anything goes position and the so called traditional values. This prevents the realisation of reasonable socio-ethical changes. Isaiah Berlin’s teaching about various conceptions of liberty, his ideas about incommeasurability of values, hierarchially nonstructured value pluralism is the kind of philosophical heritage offering a new point of view to the relativism problematics. Toleration requires to view ‘the other’ not as a burdening irritation, but as a part of the systemic wholeness of another, different culture. Each culture proceeds according to its own rhythmic patterns, according to its own symbolic meanings in manifesting of the unique universal humanity. Different values should not be used as causes for violence; the apprehension of what is the good and the true may differ while refraining from intransigent insistence on the one and only normative truth.

Part Three of the collectively designed monograph deals primarily with the social theories that are coming to the foreground in the present-day value investigation. Values are at one and the same time private and also public. One of the chief questions concerns the origin of the communal, the socially-shared values. What are the structural processual factors, what are the actions leading to the shared valuation of things?

Ella Buceniece considers the Enlightenment as a project, by turning to the views of Jurgen Habermass and Hanna Arendt concerning the social space and the specific microforms of the same – to salons, cafés, “table communities” (Tisch gessellschaft), where socially important conversations are taking place. Such places provide for the social equality of the participants and are usually anchored in humanistic concerns. The author considers that historically such groups became established in Latvia with the Herrnhutter (The Brethren) religious movement. Their meetings envisaged equality of both sexes and other forms of modern life-styles. One of the leaders of the Brethren Movement Georg Heinrich Loskil cherished the values of family, of religion, of peace and social community, and proclaimed in his spiritual hymns peace, mutual friendship and cooperation. The Enlightenment is an ongoing process; its values concerning the regard for human dignity, for freedom, for a cooperative and communicatively friendly society is an imperative requirement today in dealing with the present condition of technological and scientistic obsessiveness.

Maija Jankovska invites to turn attention to the Habermassian views concerning the intricate character of the societal integration issuing form the assumptions of the value pluralism. The author’s  proposals chime in with the pluralistic conception of Isaiah Berlin, as expounded in the text by Jānis N. Vējš. If Berlin upholds the idea of the coexistence of values, Habermass suggests to pay attention to rational communication with the view of reaching of public consensus by way of public discussion and argumentation. If society is intent on strengthening of democratically chosen values, a certain rationalization of the life-world and corresponding dialogue is the order of the day. The modern society is distinguished from the pre-modern one in that it offers a wider scope for the functioning of shared values and traditionally inheritable views.

J. Habermass holds that value judgements may be rational by being based on consensual agreement. He considers that it is necessary to engage in rationally argumented consensual discussion. Māris Kūlis accentuates a specific aspect of consensual agreement; he discusses the sensus communis principle, originating in rationally unconscious groups of communality obtaining of linguistic expression. Agita Misāne reminds about such partly forgotten concepts in Latvian sociology as “anomie” and “anomia”. Anomie is connected with the absence of norms, while anomia refers to an individual state of mind envisaging sceptical denial of the meaning and of sense. The anomic states in society are closely related to the notion of values, because in a situation when individual activities start appearing worthless, a nihilistic attitude toward social values is likely to set in.

Latvia belongs to societies exposed to anomic risks. Therefore investigation of values acquire top priority. A society that has witnessed the liquidation of the old restraint systems (e.g. – the one party system of the soviet period, command economy etc.) is prone to embrace value disorientation, for it lacks  a clear vision of the future. During the first decades after the reestablishment of statehood in 1990 the planned economy was substituted with free market economy and the system of private property.  These political and economic changes were stimulated with the help of respective legislative enactments. Changes in the spiritual sphere were slower in coming, they ripened in their own specific manner. Value-problematics issuing from  social anomies, deviant behaviour, false preconceptions and lack of moral sensibility is a “trade mark” of Latvia for almost thirty years now. Political and economic problems are besetting many citizens of the former USSR, for they had lived a significant part of their lives as inhabitants of socialist system. The younger generation is developing a new approach to the values, for they are living in a different socio-economic situation. The life-space of the European Union has become available for them, they avail themselves of the four basic human rights – free flow of goods and services, free flow of capital and labour. This means that the ideologically suffocating values of the totalitarian system have to be discarded, and a new value orientation of the open society containing historically changing and all-inclusive mentality has to be embraced.

The integration of society in Latvia is closely connected with values. Maija Jankovska by way of offering an interpretation of Habermass’ philosophy comes to a (conditionally) simple solution: we need not strive to arrive at a consensus based on rational argumentation (for in practice this simply does not take place – at least not in Latvia where such a tactic has not proved successful) but instead – to “soften down” of the demand to obtain a full-blown consensus and to “agree to disagree”, or rather – to be satisfied with half-measures, refraining from imposing of final solutions. Split societies would greatly benefit if the members of greatly differing views would attempt to penetrate into the argumentation of their opponents even without reaching a consensus, but engage in mutual toleration.

Welfare society requires a unified social fabric. Belief in common values fosters the formation of a patriotic attitude. Constitutional patriotism requires discussion about notions which go into the formulation of the values of the statehood. Leo Dribins tackles the questions of political significance –what is “state nation”, what is “the people of Latvia”, “state people”? Dribins’ investigation demonstrates that a model of communicative rationality is being born in Latvia (within the minds of social scientists as yet). A discussion of terminological and conceptual character which is important for value research is taking place.

The discussion about social and political values is not a terminated process, for the contextual setting of the use of the terms keeps constantly changing. Vladislavs Volkovs offers a contribution to the analysis of the term “ethnic minority”. He demonstrates the importance of a unified terminological system of the basic notions concerning the integration of society, that is to be arrived at during intensive prolonged discussions. The task of social scientists is to engage in the process of interpretation and formulation of the notions used in political and legislative enctments.

Thematization of the specifically religious issues is undertaken in Part Four of the monograph. Māra Grinfelde considers two lines of phenomenological approach with regard to religious values (R. Otto and M. Scheler). Both thinkers are united in the description of the experience of religious values and both equate religious values with the sense of holiness. The phenomenological tradition of axiology is significant in that it is capable of fixating of the difference between (a) the act of value experience, that gets manifested in [subjective] feelings, and (b) the object itself, given in the act of experiencing, and (c) the quality of values. The interrelation of these three levels in present-day axiological research is of great importance, it prevents the wholesale relativization and subjectivization of values while requiring the recognition of their objectivity and the assertion of their qualitative standards. The concept of quality calls for an evaluation within the process of historically situative experience. It is important to grasp the factual embodyness of the value experience

Experiences are of different kinds. Solveiga Krūmiņa-Koņkova has investigated the experiences of the mystical. She does not consider such an experience just as an amalgamation of feelings. It is a proper object of theological investigation, and it is important to find a rational description allowing to grasp – within possible limits – of the essence of the mystical experience. A situation has to be fixated when the personal experience “becomes cleansed of all human traits” and is not aligned with the value choices. For choice envisages differentiations that are not compatible with such an experience. The author draws on the works of Viktors Pentjušs, Juris Rubenis, and partly also on the heritage of philosopher and poet Roberts Mūks; she also draws on the work by Sandra Gintere and Linda Straume “The Way of the Soul. Introduction to Spiritual Discipline”. It is noteworthy that the future of Christianity is characterized by the author by reference to the idea of Karl Rahner to the effect that the future Christians will be mystics, or there will be no Christians at all.

Inese Runce and Nadežda Pazuhina in Part Four offer an analysis of the manner of identity-preservation of Roman Catholics and Old Believers in Latvia.

Part Five of the monograph contains articles on the value aspects of the life-stories contained in the collection “National Oral History” of the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology. Typological analysis of these life stories is available in a number of other publications, therefore the authors of the present work have concentrated their attention on specific issues. (a) They are refraining from following of the approved schemes of political history and are intent on fixating of the daily experiences of the people. (b) The authors pay attention to the apprehension of the dynamics of the social values as reflected in the life stories of individuals. (c) The authors concentrate on moral values within autobiographies. The study of life-stories avails the opportunity to ponder about personal identity and freedom.

Life-stories are seriously concerned with liberty as a value. Vieda Skultāne concentrates attention on liberty as a possibility of the choice of values. Drawing on the works of M. Foucault (some of them have been translated into Latvian) the author discusses several identity technologies. She shows that life-stories bespeak of the fact that individual sense of liberty may be cultivated even in a politically brutal and aggressive situation. This has been spoken about by J. Paul Sartre thus maximizing the possibilities of value choices. Vieda Skultāne refers also to MacIntyre – a philosopher of  more conservative inclinations, and accentuates the role of traditions.

Life-story research is concerned also with the interviews of those individuals, who have remained largelly unknown, while their contribution offers some significant facets of the epoch. Kaspars Zellis, by drawing on the every-day life experiences, offers theoretical generalizations as to routine life situations, and discusses some typical actions connected with possession (and dispossession) of material values at a time of uncertainty and flux.

The present monograph that is a product of collective research, bespeaks of the fact that the problematics of values is an intricate one and calls for a many-sided approach. Thus, one of the lessons to be drawn is to invite some of the people who hold that all the questions of values may be answered in a straightforward manner, to think again. The value studies call for the penetration into axiology. This requires philosophical apprehension and an ability not to fall into the trap of “either-or”, methodological mistake.

Ievietots: 02.12.2016