John O’Neill, “The Varieties of Intrinsic Value”


1.       Non-instrumental value (an end value, not a means/use value)

          a.       While an instrumental value is a means to some end, an intrinsic value is an end in itself. "Intrinsic goods are goods that other goods are good for the sake of" (p. 119).

          b.       Examples:

                    i.        Valuing pleasure for its own sake or valuing a friend for her own sake and ?? valuing a forest for its beauty

                    ii.       Instrumental value: Valuing money because of what it can buy or valuing a friend because she lets you use her car, valuing a beautiful forest because it gives you this pleasurable aesthetic experience

2.       Non-relational value (a value not a function of relationships)

          a.       This is value things have (or are assigned) solely in virtue of their non-relational properties (properties that are characterizable without reference to other objects).

          b.       Examples

                    i.        Value of a person or a wildebeast (if she were the only thing in the world, she would still have value) and (perhaps) the value of a sculpture separate from what it represents or separate from its being an expression of an artist

                    ii.       Relational values:

                              (1)     Value of a person as a father;

                              (2)     Value of rarity/diversity/wilderness

                              (3)     The value of an artwork or beautiful forest based on its capacity to produce aesthetic gratification (Beardsley) or to produce fully engaged aesthetic experience (Goldman)

                    iii.      Aesthetic value as a relational value?

                              (1)     That it is relational does not prevent it from being intrinsic in the sense of non-instrumental

3.       Objective value (not a function of a subjective, conscious valuing)

          a.       This is value that is independent of the valuations of valuers. Its contrast is subjective value, value that is a function of valuing.

          b.       Examples

                    i.        “The good of greenfly”; what is good for a plant

                    ii.       Subjective value: the feeling of pleasure we get when we eat or take a hot bath or a wolf takes a cold drink of water on a hot day

                              (1)     The plant is benefitted by water, it is good for it, but there is no subjective appreciation of this good

          c.       Is aesthetic value an objective or subjective value?

                    i.        That aesthetic value is subjective, if it is, does not prevent if from being an intrinsic value (something we value for its own sake)

          d.       Note: O’Neill thinks environmental value provides a special argument for existence of objective value

                              (1)     (In the strong sense of value characterizable w/o reference to valuers/experiencers)

                    ii.       Objective instrumental value of non-sentient (non-valuing) entities (e.g., trees) is objective value

                              (1)     Anything that can flourish has a good in this sense

                              (2)      Water is good for a tree. This is an objective (value) fact. There is no subjectivity (consciousness) involved.

                                         (a)     (Thus not all instrumental value is subjective)


          e.       Note: O’Neill argues the objective good of living things does not entail an obligation to promote it

                              (1)     Is an is –ought gap (though no fact/value gap)

                    ii.       Permissible to be indifferent to the good of a virus or dictatorship

                    iii.      Need an argument for why we ought to promote the good of living things

          f.       His argument is that we ought to promote the good of living things because it is constitutive of (not instrumental to) a flourishing human life.

                    i.        Just as it is constitutive of a flourishing human life to value friends for their own sake

                    ii.       So it is constitutive of a flourishing human life to value and protect living things for their own sake

                    iii.      Pperhaps it is constitutive of a flourishing human life to value natural beauty for its own sake


          g.       These three senses of intrinsic value need to be distinguished from


4.       Anthropocentric value = value that is centered on or is solely concerned with humans.

          a.       There can be anthropocentric value that is not instrumental to human benefits (e.g., intrinsic value of humans)

          b.       Instrumental value need not be anthropocentric

                    i.        Non-anthropocentric, instrumental value: water having instrumental value for a tree,


5.       Is aesthetic value anthropocentric?

          a.       One might think yes, since it is only (?) humans who can appreciate aesthetic value

                    i.        But don’t animals experience (low level, sensual) aesthetic pleasure?

          b.       That “high level” aesthetic value is only a value that humans can experience or care about, does not mean that nature’s aesthetic value is anthropocentric in the sense of valuable only instrumentally to humans

          c.       Consider this analogy: Only humans care about moral value, but that doesn’t mean animals’ moral value is reducible to instrumental value to humans

                    i.        That only humans care about “high level” aesthetic value does not mean the aesthetic value of nature is reducible to instrumental value to humans

          d.       One needs to distinguish between source and object of value (see below)



6.       Source of value/object of value confusion

          a.       Even if the source of all value comes from humans (or better, conscious valuers), this does not mean the object of all value is humans/valuers

                    i.        One might intrinsically value a tree

          b.       Basic point intrinsic value #1(non-instrumental value) and #3 (objective value) totally unrelated; ethics and meta-ethics are independent

7.        A subjectivist meta-ethics (all value is a function of valuers) does not entail (as commonly thought) that nonhumans have only instrumental value, for we can (and do) value them for their own sake (i.e., intrinsically)

          a.       So denying that objective value exists does not mean we have to deny that nature has intrinsic (non-instrumental) value

                    i.        Including intrinsic aesthetic value


8.        Does the existence of instrumental values entail the existence of noninstrumental value?

          a.       O’Neill says yes: can’t have an infinite chain of instrumental values

          b.       Given the O’Neill argues for existence of objective instrumental value in nature, he seems also committed to objective intrinsic value in nature

9.       Is all instrumental value relational?

          a.       Yes

          b.       But not all relational values are instrumental

                    i.        We value wilderness in relation to its absence of human culture but that is not an instrumental, but intrinsic valuing


10.     That something is instrumentally valuable to a being doesn't mean that being instrumentally values it:

          a.       That water is instrumentally valuable to a tree doesn't mean that the tree values it instrumentally (for a tree can't value, at least in the sense of appreciate, find useful, in any conscious sense).

          b.       Thus being the beneficiary of an instrumental value doesn't mean one can instrumentally value.

          c.       (The assumption here is that valuing must be a conscious process or at least only something that can be done by a being who can consciously value. Does a permanently comatose person value his heart?)


11.     If beings who aren't conscious, experiencing valuers are assumed to "value" because things are good for them (the point above suggests this move is too quick)--the tree "values" water because water is good for the tree--this would not be a case of subjective value, because here the valuer is not a subject, but an object.

          a.       There is no inside to these kinds of "valuers"; nothing it is like to be them, and so they have no subjectivity.

          b.        So here you have a case of value depending on a "valuer" but this not a case of value depending on subjectivity.


12.     That a value property is relational (lacking intrinsic value in O'Neill's sense 2), doesn't mean it is subjective (lacking intrinsic value in his sense 3):

          a.        That the potato has nutritional value for the fungus is a relational value (the concept of nutritional value, since it is an instrumental value, relates two entities), but is not a subjective value (the fungus is not a subject, it has no mental states).


13.     The naturalistic fallacy can be looked at in two different ways:

          a.       (1) a gap between is and ought (description and prescription), and

          b.       (2) a gap between fact and value (description and evaluation).

          c.       O'Neill denies bridging gap 2 is fallacy:

                    i.        He thinks it a fact that water is good for trees; so here we have a value fact (a case where there is no gap between a fact and a value).

          d.       O’Neill does think there remains an is/ought gap:

                    i.        The (value) fact that water is good for trees, he thinks does not entail any obligation on our part.

          e.       There is another possible gap, not having to do with the naturalistic fallacy: the value-ought gap (evaluation and prescription).

                    i.        That something has value does not necessarily have implications for duty.

                    ii.       To get this connection one needs a theory of obligation that ties duty to value promotion.


14.     O’Neill on “real properties of an object”: A property is real

          a.       (1) If it exists without being experienced (weak sense)

                    i.        Dispositional properties: Color properties (and other secondary qualities) and perhaps aesthetic properties and aesthetic value

                    ii.       They exist (as capacities or dispositions) w/o being experienced (and hence are “real properties of an object)

          b.       (2) If it is characterizable w/o reference to experiencers (strong sense)

                    i.        Dispositional properties, including color properties and aesthetic properties/values (assumed to be dispositional)

                    ii.       Such properties are defined in terms of possible experiences and so are not real in this sense.



15.     That only humans are moral agents (can have moral duties) doesn't entail that only humans are moral subjects/patients (can be the beneficiaries of moral duties). So that morality only applies to humans in the first sense doesn't mean that beings other than humans aren't morally relevant for their own sake in the second sense. Thus that only humans are moral/immoral doesn't mean that morality can't include nonhumans in its scope of concerns.

16.     Consider the following argument: Since entities in nature are instrumentally valuable to each other, we should intrinsically value nature? What do you think?

17.     What is the connection between value and obligation (between a theory of the good=value and theory of morality=duty=obligation)?

          a.       For consequentialist (e.g., utilitarian) theories (and also teleological theories) of duty, the connection is straightforward: Duty depends on promoting (intrinsic?) value. So if nature is intrinsically valuable, then our duty (for a consequentialist) is to promote that value.

          b.       A non-consequentialist (deontologist) theories of duty it is much less straightforward, since they deny that one's duty is to promote the good. They think that one's duty is a function of obeying some moral principle (other than "one ought to promote the good"), such as treat individuals with respect, don't violate their rights, etc. If they were to identify the individuals to be respected by their possessing a kind of value, then we once again get a connection between duty and value (albeit an indirect one) even with a deontological theory of duty.

          c.       Main point: Value and obligation aren't the same and so one needs to specify the connection one has in mind between them.