An Examination of the Concept of Intrinsic Value

Categories: Ethics

Introduction

The concept of Intrinsic and Extrinsic values is a controversial issue in Philosophy, especially in Ethics. Some philosopher argue that there is no such a thing as intrinsic value of things, while other philosopher are of the contrary view and they say that some values of things are indeed intrinsic. This paper investigates the concept of intrinsic value; the paper seeks to answer the question of whether or not there is such a thing as intrinsic value. To achieve this end, arguments for both the proponents and the opponent of the concept of intrinsic value are reviewed, followed by the conclusion based on the analyzed arguments.

On the proponent side, the arguments of Plato, Aristotle, G.E Moore and William Frankena are reviewed, and on the opponent side, the arguments of Alex Hagerstom, John Dewey, and Immanuel Kant are reviewed. In the paper, I have strongly argued that there is no such a thing as intrinsic value. The paper is a five paragraph argumentative essay; the parts are: Introduction, Narration, Affirmation, Refutation, and Conclusion.

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Narration

Intrinsic value has variously been defined by philosophers as a value that something has, in itself, for its own sake, or as such (Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Value, n.p., Web). What this means is that intrinsic value of a thing is the value that a thing has that is not derived from anything else. On the other hand, extrinsic value of a thing is the value that a thing has, but the value is derived from something else.

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One example of the alleged intrinsic value is pleasure. Plato and his student Aristotle were agreed that pleasure is sought for its own sake, and not for the sake of any other value. On the contrary, both Plato and Aristotle were agreed that pain is extrinsically bad and it is to be avoided by all means (Stanford Encyclopaedia: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Value, n.p., Web). One example of something with extrinsic value is money. People don’t seek money for its own sake, money’s value lies in its ability to purchase other things; money is just a medium of exchange and it does not have any intrinsic value of its own. A critical and objective look at the concept of intrinsic value shows that there is indeed no such a thing as intrinsic value. This will become clear in the following sections.

Affirmation

A critical look at the concept of intrinsic value shows that the concept is vague, subjective, and does not denote any existing reality. For better explanation of my point on this issue, let me use one of the alleged intrinsic values, I will use the value of pleasure to explain my position on this issue. Pleasure is probably one of the things that many people believe that it has an intrinsic value. The main point given in support of this claim is that pleasure is sought for its own sake, but not for the sake of anything else. But is pleasure really sought for its own sake? At the end of this paper, it will become crystal clear that no value is sought for its own sake. The falsity of the concept of intrinsic value becomes clear when one asks the metaphysical question of whether really there is such a thing as intrinsic value. For a very long time, the philosophers did not reflect on this very important question. It was simply believed that some things have intrinsic goodness or value in them. But when we say intrinsic value of something, are we really talking of an actually existing value in a thing, or what do we really mean?

Is intrinsic value of something an objective reality or it is just a subjective assumption that there is intrinsic value in some things. An honest answer to these important metaphysical questions will lay bare the main flaws in the concept of intrinsic value. Before we answer that important metaphysical question, and for better flow of ideas and exposition of the weaknesses of the concept of intrinsic value, let us first look analytically at the meaning of intrinsic value of things. The main question that arises when we linguistically analyze the concept of intrinsic value is, does the intrinsic value of a thing denote a certain property of a thing, state of affairs of the thing, or does it denote facts? (Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Value, n.p., web) This linguistic question is clearly related to the metaphysical question of whether or not intrinsic values of things refer to an actually existing value. On the linguistic question of what the intrinsic value of a thing denotes, philosophers are not in agreement.

Some Philosophers argue that intrinsic value of a thing denote an actual property of a thing, other philosophers argue that the intrinsic value of a thing denote state of affairs of things, while others argue that intrinsic value of a thing denote actual facts about things. These differences among philosophers shows that the concept of intrinsic value is vague and ambiguous, it is actually difficult to tell what actually the intrinsic value of a thing denotes. This is one of the weaknesses of the concept of intrinsic value. On the metaphysical question of whether or not the intrinsic value of a thing denotes an actually existing reality, philosophers are sharply dividend. The position that one takes on this issue mainly depend on the school of thought that one has subscribed to.

According to the proponents of emotivism, well represented by the philosopher Axel Hagerstrom, when we talk of intrinsic values, we are not talking of objective reality, existing extra mentally, but we are simply expressing our emotions and our feelings (Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Values, n.p, web.). This means that when we talk about intrinsic values of things, we are not actually talking about intrinsic values existing outside our minds but we are just expressing our emotions and feelings about other things. This view has been severely criticised by other philosophers but there are many scholars who subscribe to this view. The Emotivism view is actually related to the Immanuel Kant’s epistemological view.

According to Kant, we cannot know things in themselves (Stampf and Fieser, 292). Immanuel Kant argued that we cannot have actual knowledge of things because we perceive things only as they appear to us but not as they are in themselves. Immanuel Kant therefore was of the view that our knowledge of reality is purely subjective and we cannot have an objective knowledge of things outside our minds, this is because we are limited in our way of perceiving thing and we are not able to perceive thing as they are, we only perceive them as they appear to us. According to this Kantian epistemological view therefore, we cannot perceive intrinsic values of things as they are, but we can only perceive them as they appear to us.

The emotivism and the Kantian epistemological view brings to the fore our subjectivity and our limitations in perceiving the intrinsic values of things. This means that what we call intrinsic values of things is actually not an objective, extra mental reality, but only a subjective expression of our perception of things. This therefore means that intrinsic values of things do not actually exist; there is no such a thing as extrinsic values of things. Another response to the metaphysical question on whether or not intrinsic values of things refer to actually existing reality came from one of the strong American advocates of pragmatism school of thought. According to John Dewey, we are living in a constantly changing world; Dewey saw reality as being in a constant state of change. Dewey therefore contended that it is a mistake to try to give a list of changeless and timeless intrinsic values (Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Values, n.p., web.).

Although Dewey did not explicitly deny the possibility of intrinsic values he however, in principle, denied the possibility of an objective, timeless intrinsic values of things. This is because if we maintain that everything is in a constant state of change, then what we are saying in essence is that we cannot objectively talk about anything because by the time we start talking about it, it will already have changed into something else. This position of Dewey on the intrinsic value of things helps us to understand the complexity of reality and our limitations, as human beings, to know with certainty, the reality as it is. Dewey was of the view that we cannot know reality as it is because reality is in constant change, rather than pretending to know things in themselves, we better be content with the little aspect of reality that we can perceive and use that limited knowledge for our good.

The different views of the philosophers that we have reviewed and analyzed show the difficulty of objectively talking about intrinsic values. This is because first, the concept of intrinsic value is vague and ambiguous, i.e. it is actually very difficult to tell what the alleged intrinsic values denote, do the intrinsic values denote properties, state of affairs, or facts about thing? The second difficulty with the concept of intrinsic values is the presumption that intrinsic values are objective realities, having independent existence outside our minds. But this is purely presumption; there is no strong argument to prove the existence of intrinsic values. As the Hagerstrom has argued, what we mostly call intrinsic values are merely expressions of our emotions and feelings towards other things. Emmanuel Kant also has shown us the limitations of our minds to know things in themselves; Dewey also has exposed our limitations to know things as they are because reality is in constant state of change.

The conclusion to these views is that we cannot objectively know things in themselves, what this means in essence is that we cannot know the intrinsic values of things; we simply have no way of objectively knowing the alleged intrinsic values of things. What we therefore call intrinsic value of things is simply subjective expression of our perceptions and feelings towards other things. There is indeed no such thing as intrinsic values of things.

Refutation

The main argument propounded by the proponent of the concept of intrinsic value is that, if we investigate the reasons why we act in a certain manner, we will find that, in some cases, we can give very sufficient reasons why we act in such a way, however in some other cases, the only sufficient reason that we can give is that,” it is simply good to act in this manner” (Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Values, n.p., web.). The proponents of the concept of intrinsic value then conclude that, what we mean by the statement that, “it is simply good to act in this manner”, is that the thing we are talking about or doing has an intrinsic good, in other words what we mean is that the goodness of that thing or that kind of action is nonderivative, i.e. the goodness is not derived from any other thing. This therefore means that, that particular thing/action is done for its own sake, and this means that the thing/ action has intrinsic value.

The proponents of the concept of intrinsic value argue that if we follow the chain of reasons as to why we act certain manner, we will come to a point where the only reason we can give is simply that, “it is simply good to act in such a manner”. For instance if we are asked the question of why we help the people in need, we can answer that we help those in need because it is good to help them, but if we are pressed further on why it is good to help those in need, we can answer that, it is simply good to help those in need. This therefore means that helping those in need is good nonderivatively, i.e. we don’t help those in need for any other reason, but simply because it is good to do so. Plato and Aristotle were strongly of this view in regard to intrinsic value; G.E Moore and William Frankena too had the same argument in support of the concept of intrinsic value. The proponents of the concept of intrinsic value therefore contend that intrinsic value is a reality, and that the intrinsic value of things is actually knowable, contrary to the views of the criques of the concept of intrinsic value.

Conclusion

The main weakness of the argument of the proponents of the concept of intrinsic value is the presupposition that some actions are simply done for their own sake, and not for any derivative good. But, this view is clearly contrary to the philosophical view that all values are supervenient upon certain nonevaluative features of the thing that has the value(s) (Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Value, n.p., web). This therefore means that nothing is done for its own sake. We simply conclude that some things have intrinsic value simply because of our inability to perceive and to understand the nonevaluative features of the thing alleged to have intrinsic value. This position therefore refutes the argument of the proponents of the intrinsic value concept.

To sum up our argument, intrinsic value concept is flawed, vague, presumptuous, and false. The concept has no basis in reality. It is simply a concept that has been formulated in ignorance due to human inability to know reality as it is. The concept therefore should be discarded.

Works Cited

  1. Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. “Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Value”. Published: 22/10/2002. Web.
  2. Stumpf, S.E, James, F. Philosophy: History and Problems. 6th edt. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003.

Cite this page

An Examination of the Concept of Intrinsic Value. (2021, Sep 29). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/an-examination-of-the-concept-of-intrinsic-value-essay

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