"On Mattering", Naomi Scheman
If one is committed to distinguishing between facts and values, a claim that something matters would seem to fall on the value side—a “matter of concern,” in Bruno Latour’s terms, rather than a “matter of fact.” I want to suggest that thinking about mattering destabilizes the distinction between matters of fact and matters of concern, between facts and values, by helping to dislodge a picture of “pure facts” as rationally compelling belief so long as untainted by the value judgments that would lead us to act on them. Mattering also challenges a picture of values and valuing as distinctively human: the “entanglement” of facts with values that Hilary Putnam argues is endemic to facts as we encounter them is, I will suggest, operative as well in the non-human world. The entanglement of facts with values is part of what undermines the supposed motivational inertness of facts, making some apparently straightforward, bare facts (such as those marshaled by the Black Lives Matter movement) motivationally potent, a potency (perversely) revealed by some people’s refusal or inability to recognize or acknowledge them, a phenomenon explored by the emerging field of epistemologies of ignorance. On the other hand, while entanglement with values can lend motivational potency to facts, such entanglement has often been taken to undermine facts’ doxastic potency, that is, their supposed ability—with respect to rational subjects—to compel belief. Motivational inertness and doxastic potency are connected: as rational believers, we are expected to accept demonstrable facts, while as free agents, we are allowed and expected both to have our own opinions about whether things ought to be as the facts tell us they are, as well as to choose how to act in the face of those facts. I want to suggest that thinking about how it is that value-entangled facts—facts that matter—are both motivationally and doxastically potent can help us think about the ethics and politics of belief. Mattering, I will go on to suggest, has ontological as well as epistemological consequences: certain matters of fact (concerning race, for example) are constituted as matters of concern: that is, they are socially constructed in value-laden ways, as things or kinds of things that matter—but they are not for that reason unreal. To exist because of mattering is, I will urge, to really, robustly, objectively exist, a claim I want to speculatively connect with alternative conceptions of matter, emerging in a range of different fields and harkening back to Spinoza, according to which matter matters: the non-human, even non-living, world is characterized by what I call non-indifference. Mattering—that quintessentially evaluational affair—is, I will suggest, metaphysically fundamental: without it there would be no things, and no facts.