The topic of intrinsic value is of fundamental importance for ethical theory. Many major moral theories recognize at least some prima facie duty to promote what is intrinsically valuable or good or to choose actions whose total consequences are intrinsically better than the total consequences of alternative actions. Furthermore, any account of what it is to lead a good human life would seem to require an account of what kinds of experiences and activities are good in themselves. In order to understand the nature of a good life or the requirement to promote what is intrinsically good or better, we must understand what it is for something to be intrinsically good or intrinsically better than something else. We must also appreciate what kinds of things have this type of value and how the patterns and relationships between various goods and evils can affect the intrinsic value of a life or an outcome. Philosophical reflection on these issues may lead us to wonder whether there can be knowledge or warranted belief about what kinds of things have intrinsic value and, if so, what is the source of that warrant. In other words, we may ask what, if anything, makes some of our beliefs about intrinsic value more reasonable than others. Such philosophical reflection may also lead us to wonder about the objects of moral belief and knowledge, how such things as moral facts and properties are related to “natural” or nonethical facts and properties. In these ways, philosophical thought about intrinsic value and its nature raises questions of moral epistemology and moral ontology.
My main concern in this chapter is to explicate the concept of intrinsic value. I discuss and defend the view that the concept of intrinsic value may be explicated in terms of the concept of “correct” or “required” emotion. I am not especially concerned with whether this explication amounts to a definition or philosophical analysis of the concept of intrinsic value, nor am I especially interested in “reducing” the concept of intrinsic value to certain other concepts. I am simply concerned with explaining what I take intrinsic value to be or, alternatively, what it is for something to be intrinsically valuable.
I wish to begin, however, by describing certain general views belonging to one traditional way of thinking about intrinsic value. These views are among the main theses of a tradition whose representatives include Franz Brentano, G. E. Moore, W. D. Ross, and A. C. Ewing. In stating these general views, I shall be describing, in part, the core of this tradition. I do this for two reasons. First, though I shall not undertake to defend them in this chapter, I think these theses pertaining to the nature and concept of intrinsic value are both plausible and true. Second, and more important, these remarks will provide some general background against which the explication of intrinsic value may proceed. It is hoped that these remarks will help illustrate in rough outline the concept with which I am concerned.
First, the traditional view holds that if something is intrinsically good, it is not intrinsically bad or intrinsically neutral or indifferent; and if something is intrinsically bad, it is not intrinsically good or indifferent.
If there is mathematical knowledge, then there is knowledge of mathematical facts and there are mathematical states of affairs that obtain. Similarly, if there is psychological knowledge, some psychological facts are known and there are psychological states of affairs that obtain. According to the traditional view described at the beginning of Chapter 1, there is knowledge of intrinsic value. We know that some things are intrinsically good, others intrinsically bad, and that some things are intrinsically better than others. If there is such knowledge, there are ethical facts and if there are ethical facts, some ethical states of affairs obtain. Ethical knowledge implies the existence of ethical facts and states of affairs, just as mathematical and psychological knowledge implies the existence of mathematical and psychological facts and states of affairs.
THE OBJECTS OF ORDINARY ETHICAL BELIEF AND KNOWLEDGE
If we know that some things are intrinsically good, then presumably there are facts and states of affairs of the form “X is intrinsically good.” Thus, if we know that someone's being pleased is intrinsically good, presumably there is a state of affairs, someone's being pleased is intrinsically good, that obtains. I assume that if there are ethical states of affairs, there are also ethical properties and relations. I assume that whenever a state of affairs of the form “Xis intrinsically good” obtains, there is a property of being intrinsically good that is exemplified. In any case, we may say that according to the traditional view, if there is ethical knowledge, then there are objects of that knowledge, ethical objects or entities, that are known.
In the last chapter, it was claimed that in making an ordinary judgment that something is intrinsically good, one is attributing to it the property of being intrinsically good, or accepting a state of affairs of the form “X is intrinsically good.” It was argued that it is reasonable for us to believe that this property and such states of affairs are not identical with or analyzable by any natural state of affairs or property. The ontological distinctiveness of intrinsic value is one of the theses of the traditional view set forth in Chapter 1. But a further claim, central to that tradition, is that there is knowledge that some things are intrinsically good, some bad, and some better than others. The claim that we have such knowledge is accepted by philosophers such as Brentano, Moore, and Ross, though it is not clear that they agree about how we have it or what is the nature of such knowledge.
PRELIMINARY REMARKS AND ASSUMPTIONS
I begin, however, by stating four general assumptions about the nature of epistemic justification or warrant and two more specific assumptions about justified belief in intrinsic value. Let us begin with the general assumptions. First, I assume that there is a difference between justified belief and true belief. The set of one's justified beliefs need not be identical with the set of one's true beliefs. If a person makes a lucky guess about the outcome of a horse race, forming a belief about the winner on the advice of his tea leaf reader, his belief might be true but unjustified.
In Book X of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle refers to a kind of argument intended to show that pleasure is not the only intrinsic good:
Plato uses a similar argument in his refutation that pleasure is the good; a pleasant life, he says, is the more desirable when combined with practical wisdom than without it; but if pleasure is better in combination with something else, it is not the good, since the good cannot become more desirable by the addition of something to it.
The argument presupposes the general principle that if a whole consisting in A and B is intrinsically better than its part A, then B must also be intrinsically good. Given this assumption, one may argue that since the whole consisting in pleasure and practical wisdom is better than pleasure alone, it follows that practical wisdom must also be intrinsically good and that pleasure is not the sole intrinsic good. The principle presupposed in this argument seems initially plausible, for it seems plausible to think that if a whole is better than one of its parts, then its greater value must be due to the presence of another good part. The assumption on which this argument rests implicitly denies what Moore called the “principle of organic unities.”
In Principia Ethica, Moore states and accepts two principles concerning intrinsic value. These are the principle of organic unities and the thesis of universality. According to the principle of organic unities, “the value of a whole must not be assumed to be the same as the sum of the values of its parts.” We may understand the principle of organic unities to tell us that the value of some wholes is not the same as the sum of the values of their parts.
I wish to consider briefly some familiar attempts to provide a naturalistic analysis of the concept of intrinsic preferability. The following attempts either have implications it is reasonable for us to reject or are not really analyses of intrinsic preferability. Let us consider states of affairs of the following form:
(1) X is intrinsically better than Y.
Can (1) be given a hedonistic analysis such as the following?
(2) X implies a greater balance of pleasure over pain than Y.
If (1) can be analyzed in terms of (2), there must be a mutual implication between them. Unfortunately, it is far from clear that hedonism is true or that there is a mutual implication between (1) and (2). One familiar objection to hedonism concerns Schadenfreude, taking pleasure or joy in the suffering or sorrow of another, and Mitleid,sorrow in another person's sorrow. Suppose that Jones is pleased that Smith is suffering, X, and that Brown is sad that Smith is suffering, Y. Even if X implies a greater balance of pleasure over pain than Y, it is not obvious that Xis intrinsically better than y. Concerning joy in the suffering of another, Schopenhauer writes, “In a certain sense the opposite of envy is the habit of gloating over the misfortunes of others. At any rate, whereas the former is human, the latter is diabolical. There is no sign more infallible of an entirely bad heart, and of profound moral worthlessness than open and candid enjoyment of seeing other people suffer.”
What kinds of things are intrinsically good? Traditionally, a variety of things have been thought to be intrinsically good: pleasure, morally good emotions, the satisfaction of desire, correct judgment, knowledge, understanding, consciousness itself, beauty, and, in at least some cases, the flourishing of nonsentient life. In this chapter and the next, I defend the view that most of these things are intrinsically good. In this chapter, however, I focus on the nature and value of pleasure and hedonism in general.
SENSORY AND NONSENSORY PLEASURE
I wish to consider briefly three views on the nature of sensory and nonsensory pleasure. These views are those of Butchvarov, the Chisholm-Brentano view, and a recent proposal by Fred Feldman. Examples of sensory pleasures are gustatory and olfactory pleasures and the pleasures of a warm bath or massage. Examples of nonsensory pleasure are being pleased that one's work is going well, being pleased that one's newborn child is healthy, and being pleased that one's spouse has won the lottery. In earlier chapters, we have used examples of nonsensory pleasures to illustrate the principle of organic unities.
With respect to sensory pleasures, there seems to be no common distinctive sensation or sense content that we can point to as the pleasure. The pleasures of a warm bath, a massage, and a fragrant odor are very different, yet each of these is a sensory pleasure. As different as these pleasures are, they seem to have more in common with one another than they have with nonsensory pleasures.
In this chapter, I consider what are the bearers of intrinsic value or what are the kinds of things that are intrinsically valuable. Are they abstract objects or concrete, particular things or both? If they are abstract objects, then are they properties, facts, or states of affairs? If they are particulars, are such things as persons, apples, and cars bearers of intrinsic value?
THE BEARERS OF VALUE: ABSTRACT OBJECTS
What are the bearers of intrinsic value? What are the kinds of things that have intrinsic value? Among the traditional candidates, we may distinguish between those that are abstract objects and those that are concrete, individual things such as persons, dogs, and cars. Let us begin by considering the former.
Concerning abstract objects, there are at least three main candidates: properties, states of affairs, and facts or states of affairs that obtain. Ordinary discourse sometimes suggests that properties are intrinsically good or bad. People sometimes say such things as “Pleasure and wisdom are intrinsically good” and “Pain is intrinsically bad.” The view that some properties are intrinsically good has been defended by Panayot Butchvarov. Some philosophers, including Chisholm, have held that states of affairs are the bearers of value. Others have held that facts are bearers of value. This view has been defended by W. D. Ross, who writes, “what is good or bad is always something properly expressed by a that-clause, i.e. an objective, or as I shall prefer to call it, a fact.” In this section, I defend the view that facts or states of affairs that obtain have intrinsic value, whereas properties and states of affairs that do not obtain do not have intrinsic value.
Many philosophers have held that knowledge, understanding, and wisdom are intrinsically good. This is the view of Plato, Aristotle, St. Thomas, Brentano, and W. D. Ross. Yet many have questioned the intrinsic value of knowledge. Would it really be intrinsically good if someone knew how many lunar mountains are over 4,000 feet or knew every brand of peanut butter made in North America? Such knowledge strikes us as trivia, which is to say that we don't take it to be very valuable. In contrast to the views of many philosophers, Moore writes, “it appears that knowledge, though having little or no intrinsic value in itself, is an absolutely essential constituent in the highest goods, and contributes immensely to their value.” For Moore, knowledge is an element in certain great goods, but it has “little or no value in itself.”
What are we to say about the value of knowledge? It is clear that having correct beliefs or knowledge is intrinsically better than having incorrect beliefs. No one could fittingly prefer having incorrect beliefs to correct beliefs. Brentano tells us that preferring error for its own sake to correct belief is simply perverse. It is clear that having knowledge or correct beliefs is not intrinsically bad. No one could fittingly hate as such the having of knowledge or correct beliefs. Knowledge or correct belief must be either something intrinsically good or neutral. If either knowledge or correct belief is neutral, then each is most likely a positive neutral. If either were a negative or strict neutral, then, given what we've said in the last chapter, it would be intrinsically bad for anyone to take pleasure in someone's knowing something.
I wish to consider briefly Chisholm's attempt to define an organic unity. One merit of his approach is that it does not make use of the notion of a “sum” of values. In Brentano and Intrinsic Value, he offers the following definitions:
(D1) P is a part of Q = Df Q is necessarily such that (a) if it obtains then P obtains, and (b) whoever conceives Q conceives P.
(D2) Some of the goodness of G is defeated by W = Df. B is a good part of W and better than W; and if Whas a bad part that is worse than W, then that bad part is part of G.
(D3) Some of the badness of B is defeated by W-Df B is a bad part of W and worse than W; and if W has a good part that is better than W, then that good part is a part of B.
Given the definition of a part in (D1), every state of affairs is a part of itself. Thus, in (D2) and (D3) we should take the definition of “part” to refer to “proper parts.”,P is a proper part of Q if and only if P is a part of Q and Q is not a part of P.
The defeat of goodness can be illustrated by pleasure in the bad. Consider the state of affairs, Smith's being pleased that Jones is suffering.
In this chapter, I discuss and defend the existence of “higher goods.” In the first section, I explain what such goods would be and consider some examples that tend support their existence. The existence of such goods has been accepted by many philosophers, including Franz Brentano, Blaise Pascal, W. D. Ross, and perhaps Aristotle and John Stuart Mill. In the second section, I consider a problem that arises for the existence of higher goods if we reject certain extravagant claims that some of their defenders, such as Ross, have made about them. I argue that even if such claims are false, the existence of higher goods can be defended. The defense I offer presupposes a principle analogous to the principle of organic unities, a principle I call the “principle of rank.” In the third section, I consider briefly the importance of such goods for Mill's distinction between the quantity and quality of pleasures. In the fourth section, I discuss the importance of higher goods and the principle of summation. This discussion of higher goods, organic unities, and summation continues the discussion of these issues from the last chapter.
In “Overpopulation and the Quality of Life,” Derek Parfit imagines a choice between two futures, the century of ecstasy and the drab eternity. In the former, he would live for another hundred years, with a life of extremely high quality. In the latter, he would live forever a life that was barely worth living.
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