Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Intrinsic vs. Instrumental Value

Discussion of the concepts of intrinsic and instrumental value goes back at least as far as the ancient Greeks. It has pretty much gone unchallenged for all that time until the last hundred years or so, but even then there really haven't been any major challenges to the concept. The concept of human beings as intrinsically valuable is important when it comes to the discussion of abortion, and the concept of human rights, themselves, only make sense insofar as human beings are seen as intrinsically valuable. As was the case with my recent article about capacities, this is only a very basic discussion of these concepts. You can see this article here for a more in-depth treatment of these concepts.

Intrinsic value

When we say that something is intrinsically valuable, this means that something is valuable in itself. These are things that are pursued for their own sake, not to acquire something else. Things like happiness, truth, and goodness are all intrinsically valuable. You do not, or at least should not, pursue these things to get you something else, but they should be pursued because they are good in themselves. You don't need a reason to pursue truth; the fact that truth is good in itself is enough.

Human beings are likewise intrinsically valuable. They are valuable because they are rational agents. As intrinsically valuable entities, human beings are good in themselves and to use them as a means to an end (or, at least, merely as a means to an end) is wrong.

Now the question usually comes up, how does this apply to someone who provides us a service, such as a car mechanic or a musician? Aren't we using them as a means to an end when we hire them to perform a service? The answer to this is most definitely no. If you were to force a mechanic to fix your car against his will or to refuse to pay him after he performs that service, then that would obviously be wrong. But if you hire someone to fix your car (or provide music, or to operate on you, etc.), then you are using your money as a means to an end (see below), not the person. In this case, the mechanic is providing you with his time and expertise, and you are compensating him by providing him with money.

Instrumental value

Instrumental value is a type of extrinsic value because its value comes from outside itself. Something that is instrumentally valuable is valuable as a means to an end. So money and video games are instrumentally valuable. They are only valuable because we place value on them. If we did not value dollar bills, they would be worth no more than the paper that they're printed on (or the metal that they're minted with). We use things that are instrumentally valuable as a means to get us something else, usually something that's intrinsically valuable.

Animals are a controversial example. Animal rights activists consider animals to be intrinsically valuable, but I don't. As non-rational entities, they are not valuable in themselves but they are valuable only insofar as humans have need. As rational agents, we can recognize right from wrong and act accordingly. We can recognize duties and obligations that we have to others, duties and obligations that animals don't have to each other or to us because they simply cannot recognize when something is right or wrong. If a human kills another human, it is murder. If a lion kills a gazelle, it is not murder, because neither lions nor gazelles are rational agents.

Flora is another example of instrumental value. Plant-life and trees are not valuable in themselves, which is why it is not wrong to pluck roses to give a significant other or to chop down trees to make furniture or paper. These entities are only valuable insofar as people value them. They are valuable to us because they add beauty to our planet, they take in carbon dioxide and provide oxygen, they provide shade, they provide the raw materials for building fires, furniture, houses, and other things. But their value comes from without, not from within.

The difference between intrinsic and instrumental value is an important one for the abortion debate, because all human beings are intrinsically valuable. It is wrong to kill a human being for the sake of convenience, or because we find ourselves in a difficult situation (the difficult situation should be eliminated, not the human person). Not only does abortion kill an innocent human being, but it also treats them as a means to an end, something to be eliminated to make our lives easier. This is also one reason why comparing the unborn to an acorn (as is often done) is not only biologically inept, but a false analogy when comparing value. An acorn is the same entity as the oak tree it will become, but it is not seriously wrong to kill an acorn or an oak tree, whereas it is seriously wrong to kill a human being unjustly at any stage of development.


toephhemin said...

This is an important issue, but it seems that a crucial point is left wide open: what does a being's value (either intrinsic or extrinsic) actually mean for the way I interact with it? You seem to presume a Kantian answer to this question: value corresponds to my integration of that being into my realm of ends. I am therefore obligated to treat intrinsically valuable beings always as ends in themselves. Am I reading you right?

Clinton said...

Well, Kant believed that as intrinsically valuable beings, that we shouldn't treating human beings as *merely* a means to an end. He would argue that we do use our professors, for example, as a means to education. But treating them *merely* as a means to education is wrong. But in this case, I don't know if this is fundamentally different from my example of the automechanic above. It seems that we have a trade-off, the professor giving me his time and expertise, and I pay in to the college to receive his time and expertise. So either way, people should not treat other people as merely a means to an end.

toephhemin said...

Right. My question was just whether or not you were purposefully and approvingly using Kant.

Remember that the so-called "formulation according to human nature" is actually that one must act so as to treat humanity, whether in myself or another, always as an end in itself and never merely as a means. He doesn't say anything about treating the individual human as an end in herself. This notion gets hijacked in the later German idealists into something quite commensurable with the pro-choice position.

For example, if I were pro-choice, I could argue that humanity is better served if certain individual humans are killed. If I believe that the absolute takes precedence over the concrete, then I lose the dignity of the individual. From the general worldview espoused by many proponents of evolutionary biology, then, how can I affirm absolute dignity in an individual such that certain of his interests might prevail even over those of the species as a whole?

I'm not saying Kant held this, of course. But look at Fichte, Schelling, and ultimately Hegel for their idea of the Absolute. In Hegel, the State is the primary subject of "human rights."

It seems to me that you're better off sticking to the classical realists (like Aristotle) who will give you a metaphysics to back up your ethics. Just my uninvited $.02

Clinton said...

I ascribe to Aristotelian metaphysics, for the most part (it's pretty evident in a number of the articles I've written her), but I also agree with Kant on many things. It doesn't matter whether someone *can* say that humanity would be better served if some were to die, what matters is : are they right? The fact alone they can argue that way doesn't make them correct, and I would argue that they're not. I think it's indefensible to claim that humanity is better served if we allow the legal killing of people that some may find undesirable, or those that get in our way. Quite the contrary, that would make us no better than beasts if we were to think that way.

toephhemin said...

I agree that they'd be wrong to argue that way, and I'm suggesting that we'd have to jump off the Kantian ship in order to show why.

I didn't mean to suggest that you're not Aristotelean (it is indeed evident), but only that I was surprised to see a Kantian move from someone as Aristotelean as you seem to be. That little line from Kant, so attractive in separation from its overall place in his moral system of absolute autonomy, is frequently cited by those on our side, of course, and I only meant to note that it might end up being a false friend.

To conclude, I'm glad you welcome all discussion, and I hope that I didn't come across as disagreeing with you because, in general, I don't.

GEIxBattleRifle said...

Article is nothing more but a talk of morality and value. I see no reason why every unborn humans potential to get the intelligence to become a rational agent should be fulfilled.

ignorance_is_curable said...

You can blather all you want about "intrinsic value", but that doesn't mean it actually exists. It is just an excuse humans use to encourage Prejudice for humans over other life-forms. Stupid, in other words.

Just like all the "foundations" of anti-abortion arguments, the notion of "intrinsic value" is utterly worthless, because it is a LIE.

GEIxBattleRifle said...

Interestingly, I remember watching a documentary back in 2013 with my adoptive family that was labled ''The Superior human'' and it analyzed anthropocentrism and concluded that value is fundamentally an opinion, and since life forms naturally value their own traits, some humans are misled to believe that they are actually more valuable than most other life forms.
So really this claim of humans having ''intrinsic value'' is not really convincing to me especially when the entity making that claim is ANOTHER human!

Clinton said...

I'm not sure why this surprises you. Every article does not have to include a defense of the pro-life position. I have other articles that talk about why we have an obligation not to kill the unborn and to allow them to actualize their potentials.

Clinton said...

My friend Josh mentioned this to you a while ago. I don't think you intend to take it to heart. But I'll tell you right now that you're never going to convince me of anything. And not just because your arguments are off the mark, but because of the way you come across. I would be much more willing to engage with you if you could engage like an adult, and stop calling everyone who disagrees with you stupid. Plus, considering that you're not intellectually honest enough to consider the possibility that you could be wrong, nothing I say will change your mind anyway. So I don't see it as beneficial to respond to you. Just a few thoughts.

ignorance_is_curable said...

When you prove me wrong, I will admit it. But all you offer are mere unsupported CLAIMS, not Objective evidence. YOU are the one claiming that "intrinsic value" exists. That is the sort of "positive" statement that means YOU have the meet the associated "burden of proof". Except you never do. If you were right, you should have been easily able to point out a place where I made a mistake in what I wrote above. But, no, all you did was bemoan how I go about Debating, and you Lied about that.

I generally do NOT call the people who disagree with me "stupid". I call their ATTITUDES stupid, their ARGUMENTS stupid, their CONCLUSIONS stupid, their POLICIES stupid, and so on. Because those things provably ARE stupid.

I'm fully aware that you reach certain conclusions because Logic takes you to them from your chosen starting points. It takes intelligence, not stupidity, to properly do Logic. But, since your chosen starting points are fundamentally flawed, THAT'S why your conclusions are stupid.

Mirable said...

Bonobos are superior. They use sex, not war, to settle disputes:P

Clinton said...

You're not making your case here. Just because you disagree with a conclusion does not make it stupid, and that's exactly why I don't think there's any benefit to trying to reason with you. You already start from your preconceived notions. I hold no delusion of being able to convince you because you'll always find an excuse not to accept the conclusion.

ignorance_is_curable said...

You missed the fundamental point. I quite plainly indicated that your conclusions are worthless because Your Initial Data, that you feed into Logic, is fatally flawed. You CANNOT reach valid conclusions from invalid starting-data! That IS a Fact of Logic!

In this blog post here you talk a lot about one of the fundamental starting points that you use, to reach conclusions, and that fundamental starting point is fatally flawed; There Is No Such Thing As Intrinsic Value. NOTHING you have offered in any way proves that it exists. EVERYTHING you called "good" (or equivalent) is only valued that way by humans because life-forms such as humans CHOOSE to value those things that way. But other life-forms are able to make different valuations --And Therefore All Valuations Are Arbitrary, Not Intrinsic.

To a hungry tiger, a human is nothing more than fresh meat. The tiger does NOT recognize any claim by Stupidly Prejudiced humans, that humans have some greater value than that. But **IF** it was true, that humans actually did have a greater value, then why doesn't the tiger recognize it? A diamond has intrinsic hardness, and you can bet that a tiger IS able to recognize that....