Re: Immortality and Resources

Eric Watt Forste (
Wed, 29 Jan 1997 18:56:57 -0800

Jim Legg writes:
>Eric Watt Forste asks:
>> What is an "intrinsic value system"?
>Pister found a way to put the concept of intrinsic value across clearly. To
>the question What good is it?, he replied, What good are you?
>"That answer forces the questioner to confront the fact that he or she
>regards his or her own total value to exceed his or her instrumental value.
>Many people hope to be instrumentally valuable -- to be useful to family,
>friends, and society. But if we prove to be good for nothing, we believe,
>nevertheless, that we are still entitled to life, to liberty, to the
>pursuit of happiness. (If only instrumentally valuable people enjoyed a
>claim to live, the world might not be afflicted with human overpopulation
>and overconsumption; certainly we would have no need for expensive
>hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, and the like.) Human dignity and the
>respect it commands -- human ethical entitlement -- is grounded ultimately
>in our claim to possess intrinsic value. "

Okay. You're talking Kantian ethics. I can understand that. But
how will "intrinsic value systems" "free" us from money? We've had
intrinsic value systems since the European Enlightenment at least.
Either that, or you haven't really told me what you mean by "intrinsic
value systems".

The modern version of the core of ethical Kantianism (without all
that silly "intentions matter more than results" garbage) is a
division of the ethical world into persons and nonpersons, with
persons being defined as the locus of intrinsic value. What this
has to do with money, I have no idea. Nonetheless, it's very
interesting, because we used to have a nice simple hack of a
distinction between persons and nonpersons: the boundaries of the
species Homo sapiens. Nowadays, the distinction is growing less
clear all the time, which is a matter that Kantian moral philosophers
are simply going to have to deal with whether they like it or not
(at least, if they want to remain Kantian moral philosophers).

The discussion of Pister that you quote above also fails to
distinguish between valuers, treating "value" as something that is
independent of the valuer, rather than a relation between the valuer
and the valued. Thus the discussion confuses the individual's
"instrumental" value (value to *other* people) with the individual's
"intrinsic" value (value to oneself) as if these were similar,
comparable, or summable things. I suspect that these things are
distinct, and that to collapse them together in this manner leads
to confusion. This is pretty common in moral philosophy, though:
people start out assuming that an impartial ethical system is
preferable to a partial ethical system, and then use that assumption
to *prove* (heh heh) that an impartial ethical system is preferable
to a partial ethical system. Here, the assumption is sneaked in by
failing to distinguish between other people's value for oneself
and one's own value for oneself. As if one's "absolute value" was
a sum of these two fundamentally different things.

I tend to use an impartial ethical system (when I'm not just going
by hunch, which is what I do most of the time, but that's just me)
because I'm a shameless opportunist, and impartial ethics presents
me with more opportunities for positive-sum games. So does money, for
that matter.

Eric Watt Forste ++ ++