On the Axiological Cogito: Chapter One of Raymond Ruyer’s, Neofinalism
by David L. Duffy
Raymond Ruyer (1902-1987), le Sage de Nancy, significantly influenced French philosophy (he is quoted by Merleau-Ponty, Canguilhem, Deleuze and the enactivists, e.g. Varela and Weber), but was little referenced in English until recently.  His thinking has roots in Bergson and Whitehead, with Deleuze calling him “the latest of Leibniz’s great disciples.”  His Néofinalisme (1952) is supposedly the best summary of his system, but he produced many books, including the bestselling La Gnose de Princeton (1974) (again not translated into English), a philo-fictional secret history of 60’s science (Steady Staters etc), which was taken seriously by its readers.  He writes engagingly and clearly, so I find it hard to avoid quoting great slabs of him.
Wiklund summarises Ruyer as:
foursquarely maintain[ing] that meaning and direction (sens) are inherent in the inorganic and organic world, and that the activity of conscious man, firmly rooted in that world, is its natural prolongation. …[A]n action, as it unfolds itself in a spatiotemporal world of cause and effect, cannot be understood without reference to its goal. This finality of the action gives meaning to all that is purely a succession of causes and effects in it. 
Ruyer ranges over cybernetics, embryology, evolution and development, neurology, metaphysics and theology.
The first chapter of Neofinalism (the 2016 English translation) is “The Axiological Cogito.”  He starts by saying:
the spontaneous question today is no longer ‘is it true?’ but ‘what does it mean?’…The parallelism between the problem of God and the problem of Sens (Sense, Meaning) can also be observed between the types of arguments. The a priori or ontological argument becomes, in the order of Sense, the axiological cogito. Just as the ontological argument claims to prove that it is contradictory to deny God’s existence, so the axiological cogito tries to show that it is contradictory to completely deny finality and sense in general. But whereas the ontological argument, in many of its classical forms, seems to be a deplorable sophism, the axiological ‘cogito’ is perfectly irrefutable.
So what is the Axiological Cogito? He introduces it informally with the example of a behaviourist who “affirms that the behaviour of human beings, including himself, can always be described in terms of responses to stimuli…in strict conformity with a mechanical causality.” How can the behaviourist then believe he is more correct than his opponents, “[w]hy would truth-value attach to some [responses] and not to others?” This complements the famous jibe against Marx, railing at his opponents, even though the forces of historical determinism should mean they are incapable of saying anything else. Why, then, the rancour? “Each ‘I’ quite easily finds the others ‘absurd’ and is inclined to welcome the numerous and ingenious systems that consider humans as puppets driven by pure causes. But only a few speculative sophists can pretend not to exclude their ‘speaking person’ from the domain of validity of such systems.”
But the search for ultimate meaning and knowledge is directed toward a goal outside such a deterministic chain and so, by definition, transcends this possibility and implies freedom. I link this idea to the role of randomization in scientific experimentation, by which inference as to the truth becomes freed from the possibility of confounding by unknown/unknowable determining factors. I summarize this stance as “no true knowledge without truly free inquiry,” where freedom includes the possibility of injecting randomness into our doings.
Ruyer takes this argument from Jules Lequyer (1814-1862),  He quotes Lequyer’s Axiological Cogito as saying: “I seek a first truth, therefore I am free. Freedom is the first truth I sought, since the search for knowledge implies freedom, the positive condition of the search.”
Lequyer’s work was largely published posthumously by his friend Charles Renouvier (1815-1903), and directly influenced William James, Jean-Paul Sartre (and Camus, his death is mentioned in Sisyphus) as well as Open Theism.  Ruyer then formalises this argument in the form of the double dilemma of Renouvier. Lequyer’s original double dilemma is: “Two hypotheses: freedom or necessity. To choose between one and the other with one or the other. It is an act of freedom that affirms freedom.”
William James (1870) takes this up more directly as: “My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will.” 
Renouvier and then Ruyer generate four sentences from the two assertions about the human state and their negations and tests these for consistency. One statement is “in the determination of the philosopher’s consciousness,” and the other “with respect to the external truth of the matter.”
A1. Determined, I affirm my determinism. [“Determined and Knows It”]
A2. Free, I affirm my determinism. [Error Theory]
A3. Determined, I affirm my freedom. [Error Theory]
A4. Free, I affirm my freedom. [Radically Free]
The existentialist flavour is pretty clear, in that Ruyer argues both A1 and A3 are contradictory, because “my affirmation has just the appearance of an assertion: it is the effect of a pure cause a tergo.” And A2 is obviously contradictory. Ruyer skips over Lequyer’s idea that one can apply a proto-decision theoretic approach (“a maximum and a minimum at the same time, the least expense of belief for the greatest result”), and that there is no complete certainty in the choice of one of these, except that one (might) self-create by choosing A4.
Ruyer then tries the same for meaningfulness versus absurdity. Sens can mean direction, meaning and purpose in a slightly more explicit manner than in English, but not greatly so:
B1. Being a pure set of processes, I affirm that my activity is senseless [purposeless, directionless].
B2. Pursuing senseful [meaningful] ends, I affirm the absurd nature of my activity.
B3. Being a pure set of processes, I affirm that my activity has a sense [purpose].
B4. Pursuing senseful ends, I affirm that my activity has a sense.
He argues that B1 and B3 are self-refuting, and that B2 is “just” an assertion, so this completely undermines it. Of course, for the existentialists, I would see this as a succinct statement of their worldview. Ruyer points out that the double dilemma approach is fragile because the assertions are hypothetical stances, and it easy to smuggle in preconceptions, just as in the ontological argument. He claims the formulation above is safe from that problem. B1 and B2 for example, might be rewritten as:
B1-Alt. Under the supposition that I am a pure set of cause-effect processes, it would still be possible for me to correctly assert that I know all my acts, including this statement, are objectively without purpose.
B2-Alt. When I suppose it is the case that my nature is such that I am pursuing meaningful ends, it would still be possible for me to correctly assert that I know all my acts, including this statement, are objectively without goal or purpose.
Perhaps B2-Alt is a little too absurd now. Anyway I am quite attracted to the overall book length argument that “proves that existence, freedom, signifying or finalist activity, evaluation, and work according to a norm are intimately connected.”
Ruyer builds up from this to argue for widespread teleology, so that “buying bicarbonate at a pharmacy is an act of the organism, just like secreting pancreatic fluid…we no longer see in these habitual actions the biological acts that social activity covers over,” in language that might remind one of Peter Hacker. He is generally cautious regarding mechanism for this and thinks teleonomy and anti-teleology are incoherent and question-begging: “it is impossible to recognize a finalist sense in the invention of cooking utensils and to deny it to the organs of ingestion, digestion, and assimilation. The teeth are grinding tools, the stomach a retort and an automatic mixer.” But that comes in the later chapters of a very fast moving book.
 Wikipedia article on Raymond Ruyer. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Ruyer
Monoskop article on Raymond Ruyer. url: https://monoskop.org/Raymond_Ruyer
 Grosz, E. (2012). Deleuze, Ruyer and Becoming-Brain: The Music of Life’s Temporality. Parrhesia 15:1-13. url: http://www.parrhesiajournal.org/parrhesia15/parrhesia15_grosz.pdf
 Ruyer, R. (1952) Néo-finalisme. Paris: PUF.
 Wiklund, R.A. (1960). A Short Introduction to the Neofinalist Philosophy of Raymond Ruyer. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 21(2): 187-198.
 Ruyer, R. (2016). Neofinalism. Translated by Alyosha Edlebi. https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/neofinalism.
 Lequyer, J. (1865). La Recherche d’une première vérité. Fragments Posthumes [Ed par Charles-Bernard Renouvier]. https://archive.org/details/larecherchedune00lequgoog/page/n11
 Viney, D.W. (2013). Jules Lequyer (Lequier) (1814-1862). Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://www.iep.utm.edu/lequyer/
 From the Wikipedia article on William James https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_James