20 Pages

Smithian intrinsic value


G.E. Moore coined the phrase and developed the concept of intrinsic value at the beginning of the twentieth century (Moore 1902, 1912);1 it has continued to influence ethical theory ever since (Ross 1930; Audi 2004; Lemos 1994; T. Smith 1998; Zimmerman 2007. Cf. D’Arms and Jacobsen 2000; Rabinowicz and Rønnow-Rasmussen 2004). Lately, intrinsic value has dominated discussions in applied ethics, especially environmental ethics, where it plays central but contested roles in establishing moral considerability for non-human entities. As one environmental philosopher put it, ‘How to discover intrinsic value in nature is the defining problem for environmental ethics’ (Callicott 1999: 241).2

‘Intrinsic value’ also plays roles in ordinary ethical debates about topics as diverse as abortion, modern art, and whether to go to college.3 However, the notion is often used with imprecision. Christine Korsgaard (1996: 250) rightly distinguishes between ‘intrinsic’ value, which a thing ‘has … in itself ’ (vs. extrinsic value), and ‘final’ value, being ‘valued for its own sake’ (vs. instrumental value). These are different concepts, but ‘intrinsic value’ is often used for both. There are three main senses of intrinsic value: non-instrumental, non-

relational and trumping value. Something has non-instrumental value if pursued for its own sake, making it an ‘an end-in-itself ’ in Aristotle’s sense, rather than ‘a means to something else’ (Nicomachean Ethics, 1097a). Nonrelational value is the Moorean value that something has ‘solely in virtue of its intrinsic properties’ (O’Neill 2001: 165; cf. Korsgaard 1996: 249-74; Moore 1902, 1912; Ross 1930), independent of relations to other things. Finally, trumping value is that by virtue of which something overrides other considerations; Kant calls it ‘dignity’, which ‘is raised above all price and therefore admits of no equivalent’ (Kant 1900-, 4: 434). Common to all senses of intrinsic value is the implication that intrinsic

value implies moral considerability. For Aristotle, that something is an endin-itself gives it a privileged place within ethics. Although Aristotle allows that one might not promote certain ends-in-themselves when other ends are more pressing, ends-in-themselves are worth pursuing for their own sakes, other things being equal. For Moore, non-relational value is the basic category of moral considerability; ‘moral laws … are merely statements that certain

actions will have … effects [with intrinsic value]’ (Moore 1902: §89). And trumping values ‘trump’ precisely within moral deliberation. This essay develops a Smithian account of intrinsic value. I show how

Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (Smith 1976a, TMS) provides a normative framework for a rich ‘proper-attitude’ account of value. I then show that Smith can account for all three sorts of intrinsic value. I end by suggesting an even richer Smithian approach to intrinsic value that accounts for the wide variety of values implicit in proper attitudes.