End Value (and intrinsic and extrinsic value)

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It is a commonplace of philosophy that the different sorts of value that we ascribe to goods and states of affairs are of two kinds, end value and instrumental value. It has been the prevailing consensus that intrinsic and extrinsic value are interchangeable with these respective terms, or that intrinsic value supervenes on end value, and extrinsic value on instrumental value. I think that this is mistaken.

I think that it is evident that the distinction between end and instrumental value is the sort of value a good has for some other good or state of affairs. Yet I do not think that the connection between end value and intrinsic value is quite so evident. Rather, their connection is an assumption that should and will here be questioned.

Before going further I would like to concede that it may appear that I am begging the question by assuming the conclusion is true in order to prove the truth of the conclusion. In a way this is true. It is true because I am doing so to counter the same fallacy behind the necessary connection of intrinsic and end value, and extrinsic and instrumental value. Given that ‘intrinsic’ and ‘end’ do not have the same definition it seems that they must refer to different kinds of value – say, ‘value from itself’, and ‘value for nothing else’, respectively. As these two words refer to different kinds of value the onus is on the proponent of the necessary connection to show how one entails the other. It is not sufficient to say they are necessarily connected; a logical argument must be given. Yet no argument can be given that proves the terms’ necessary connection without assuming it. The intent of this paper is to lay out arguments for this necessary connection and draw attention to the assumptions. When faced with these assumptions, rather than assume that they are true, I intend to disprove them with examples that do not assume the connection and yet are intuitively acceptable. In this way, that intrinsic and end value are not necessarily connected is just as much of an assumption as that they are necessarily connected.

It will here be briefly noted that the term ‘intrinsic value’ is used rather than the term ‘value from intrinsic properties’, and likewise ‘extrinsic value’ employed rather than ‘value from extrinsic properties’. This is done to simplify the argument, and I think that the terms can be interchanged without affecting the intelligibility of the arguments. It is possible to simplify the arguments in this manner because when it is said that a good has value from extrinsic properties it is being said that the value of the good is extrinsic to it. It should not be thought that properties have value due to their giving instrumental or end value to the good. A good has properties but it must be remembered that we value the good and not the properties of the good. As such, ‘extrinsic value’ does not refer to the value of the extrinsic properties of a good, but the value a good has because of extrinsic properties. Thus, ‘extrinsic value’ labels the value a good has from its extrinsic properties without allowing the confusing that the properties are themselves valuable. Over the course of this paper it will be explained how a good has value from intrinsic and/or extrinsic properties.

But let us attend to the common conceptions on the connection between intrinsic and end value, and extrinsic and instrumental value. In regards to the first distinction, we can imagine a good that we value for its own sake and not for anything else, such as happiness (indulge me in my use of the classical example). There is nothing else for which we value happiness, so it is quite right to say that we value happiness non-instrumentally as an end. Moreover, in that we value happiness for itself and not for some other reason or good it seems quite reasonable to say that the value of happiness must come from happiness itself. For this reason it is said that the value of happiness is intrinsic to it, which is to say that the value of happiness comes from something internal to it – its intrinsic properties.

It seems to me that this is the common method of reasoning about the interplay between end and intrinsic value. We hold that there are goods and states of affairs that are valued for no further states of affairs and that therefore we must value those goods and states of affairs because of something about them. Our logic thus seems to be that, assuming that the object in question is valuable, if a good does not have value for something else then that good must have value in itself. Put more precisely, if a good has value as an end it must have intrinsic value. Of course this also entails that if a good does not have intrinsic value then it does not have end value. The standardized argument for this position is as follows:

Argument 1

  1. The good in question has value in some way.
  2. The good does not have value for another good.
  3. If the good in question has value in some way and the good does not have value for another good then that good has value for itself.
  4. Thus, the good in question has value for itself (end value).
  5. If the good has value for itself then that good has value from itself.
  6. Thus, the good in question has value from itself (intrinsic value).
  7. Therefore, a good that has end value has intrinsic value.

It might be thought unnecessary to standardize the argument as such but it has been done to reveal three assumptions in the argument. The first assumption is that the good has value, but this assumption is not of concern here. For now we should be attentive to premises (3) and (5). It will be shown that premise (5) is an assumption that can be disproven, invalidating the conclusion that a good has end value only if it has intrinsic value. Premise (3) is an assumption as well, yet it is not an assumption that is disprovable. If however we had reasoned in inverse of the argument laid out premise (3) would contain an assumption that is disprovable. Consider the standardization of the failed argument:

Argument 2

  1. The good in question has value in some way.
  2. The good in question has value from itself (intrinsic value).
  3. If the good has value from itself then the good does not have value from another good.
  4. Thus, the good in question does not have value from another good (intrinsic value).
  5. If the good in question does not have value from another good then that good has value for itself.
  6. Thus, the good in question has value for itself (end value).
  7. Therefore, a good that has value from intrinsic properties has end value.

Premise (3) contains an assumption that can be disproven by the existence of a good that has value both from itself and from something external to it. Such an example can be found in a life. Having a life is valuable in virtue of what is internal to it that makes it a life, such as those things internal to the good that make it valuable as that good, which in this case is existence itself. There are certain qualities and properties that a good has in virtue of it being that good, and it would have these qualities and properties whether or not there was anything else in the universe. If the qualities and properties that the good would have in isolation make that good valuable then that good has value from itself, which is to say that the good has intrinsic value. As such, we value life for properties that it would have in isolation, and therefore life has intrinsic value.

There are qualities and properties that a good would not have in isolation, and yet we value that good for those qualities and properties. These qualities and properties are not internal to the good such that these qualities and properties contribute to the extrinsic value of a good. If we value a good for qualities and properties that it would lack in isolation then we value that good because of its extrinsic value. Given that we value life for qualities and properties that would not exist in isolation, such as the ability to have friendships or enjoy art, it must be said that we value life for its extrinsic value. Thus, that we can conceive of an example that has both intrinsic and extrinsic value renders the argument unsound. As such, in the future we will only consider the argument that posits that a good that has end value has that value from intrinsic value.

A similar concern must inform our discussion of the connection between extrinsic and instrumental value. While it might seem commonplace that a good has instrumental value only if it has extrinsic value, such a way of thought can and must be rejected due to its dubitable assumptions. The argument for such a conclusion is as follows:

Argument 3

  1. The good in question has value in some way.
  2. The good has value for another good.
  3. If the good is valuable in some way and the good has value for another good then that good does not have value for itself.
  4. Thus, the good in question does not have value for itself (instrumental value).
  5. If the good does not have value for itself then that good does not have value from itself.
  6. Thus, the good in question does not have value from itself (extrinsic value).
  7. Therefore, a good that has instrumental value has extrinsic value.

Turning our attention to premise (3) it is certainly dubitable that a good with instrumental value cannot have end value. Perhaps this is a controversial example, but it seems that wisdom or knowledge has instrumental value for a good or happy life. Yet there are times when knowledge or wisdom lead to pain and displeasure due to awareness of great evil or misfortune. In these scenarios wisdom and knowledge do not lead to a more pleasurable life, yet we still value them. As such, there are times when knowledge and wisdom are valuable for nothing beyond them, which is to say that they are valuable as ends. Accordingly we must reject the preceding argument as unsound due to counterexamples that disprove its third premise.

As we must call into doubt the soundness of our reasoning that a good has instrumental value only if it has extrinsic value, let us consider a reversal of that reasoning. Along these lines we might say that a good has extrinsic value only if that good has instrumental value. In other words, a good has properties and qualities that would not exist in isolation, but because they do exist in relation to another good, those properties make that good value as an instrument for that other good. Such a line of reasoning is quite logical yet I suspect that there will be resistance to this line of reasoning once the assumptions are drawn out. What is being said here is that a good has value from the opposed good that the good in question is for. This amounts to reasoning that, assuming that the good in question has value, if a good does not have value from itself then the good in question has value for another good.

This may be a difficult pill to swallow as it seems quite counterintuitive that we reason from where the value of the good is from to what the good is valuable for. It seems to more closely mirror the way we speak about value if we move from the value a good has for something to where that value is from. However, while we may frequently speak about the connection between extrinsic and instrumental value in this way, this does not make it so. The point of the last standardized argument was to make evident that thinking about extrinsic and instrumental value in this mundane way conflicts with how we actually value goods. We must step around this way of connecting extrinsic and instrumental value and turn to a version that is compatible with a good having instrumental and end value. Such a version is available by reasoning that if a good has extrinsic value then that good has instrumental value. The argument for reasoning about the connection between extrinsic and instrumental value as being thus is:

Argument 4

  1. The good in question has value in some way.
  2. The good in question does not have value from itself.
  3. If the good in question has value and it does not have value from itself then the good in question has value from another good.
  4. The good in question has value from another good (extrinsic value).
  5. If the good in question has value from another good then the good in question has value for that other good (instrumental value).
  6. Thus, the good in question has value for another good (instrumental value).
  7. Therefore, a good that has extrinsic value has instrumental value.

We have now narrowed down the connection between value-for and value-from to the reasoning that a good has end value if it has intrinsic value and a good has extrinsic value if it has instrumental value. We have narrowed down the connections to these methods of reasoning about value because the arguments that a good has intrinsic value if it has end value and that a good has instrumental value if it has extrinsic value conflict with how we value goods. It will now be shown that the remaining methods of connecting value-for and value-from also conflict with how we value goods.

As laid out above, argument 1 and 4 contain assumptions in premise (3) that are not dubitable like those premises in arguments 2 and 3. Yet this does not mean we must accept their conclusions, as these conclusions are proven by assumptions of the truth of the conclusions in premise (5). In argument 1 premise (5) claims that a good that has end value has that value from intrinsic value – or that the end value of the good is from its intrinsic properties. In argument 4 premise (5) supposes that a good has value from extrinsic properties only if those properties are from that good having instrumental value for another good. So the two assumptions are as follows:

A1. A good has end value only if it has value from intrinsic properties.

A2. A good has value from extrinsic properties only if it has instrumental value.

The purpose of putting these two assumptions next to each other is to show that they can both be refuted by the same example, that being an example of a good with end value and extrinsic value. This is seen in that assumption (A1) is disproven by the example of a good with end value from extrinsic properties, and assumption (A2) is disproven by the example of a good with value from extrinsic properties from that good’s end value. Korsgaard (1983) and Kagan (1998) each offer examples of goods with end value from extrinsic properties but here we shall only consider one example, as only one is needed to disprove the assumption.

What is important to note is that we need not conceive of a good that has end value from extrinsic properties in a good with an absence of instrumental value. We have seen that a good can have both end value and instrumental value. As such, we can ignore whether a good has instrumental value and attend to whether the value that that good has as an end is from extrinsic properties.

It is certainly the case that automobiles have instrumental value as transportation. Yet it should also seem to be a not unusual fact that many people value their car not just for it being an instrument to getting from point A to point B, but because it is a car and perhaps a certain class of car. This might be due to the status symbol of a luxury automobile being such that a luxury car is valuable for its being a luxury car. In this way a luxury automobile has end value in the sense that it can be valued for not being for another good but rather for being a luxury car.

Yet as we have seen that a luxury car might have end value as a status symbol it seems evident that those properties that make the car valuable in this way would not exist if the luxury automobile was in isolation. What gives a luxury car end value as a status symbol is the properties that the car has in relation to other goods – specifically other cars. A luxury car cannot have value as a status symbol without the existence of other automobiles that are less expensive. In this way the properties of a luxury car that give it end value as a status symbol are extrinsic to the luxury automobile.

Thus, it is conceivable that a good may have end value from extrinsic properties, and I think that the example given is not farfetched, but is a way that persons actually value their luxury automobiles. It is therefore possible to doubt the assumptions (A1) and (A2) due to the way that we value goods in the world. Therefore, it is not necessarily true either that a good has end value only if it has value from intrinsic properties or that a good has value from extrinsic properties only if it has instrumental value.

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