The Ecological Citizen

A free-to-access publication confronting human supremacy in defence of the Earth



What is the difference between intrinsic value and instrumental value?


Intrinsic value (also sometimes called 'inherent value') is value which is ultimate. It neither can be, nor needs to be, further grounded or justified. Something with intrinsic value has value in and as itself, for its own sake.

Instrumental value is valuable for being useful. Something with instrumental value is valued because it helps one to actualise some other goal or purpose whose value, relative to the instrumental item, is intrinsic. Questions of usefulness or effectiveness can arise, but questions of value still pertain to the final goal.

There is no reason why something cannot have both intrinsic and instrumental value, depending on context and perspective.

There is sometimes unnecessary confusion over whether intrinsic value is 'objective' or 'subjective' (usually 'merely' so). Like most things that matter, value requires both a world with certain properties and at least one valuer to become real or meaningful in our experience. It is therefore both objective – 'really there' – and personal or psychological: 'for us'. The fact that it really exists doesn't mean it doesn't need to be apprehended, and the fact that it needs to be apprehended doesn't mean it doesn't really exist.

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For further reading, see: Curry P (2017) Ecological Ethics: An Introduction, Polity Press.



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