Re: Is/Ought boundary (was Re: Trans-extropian principles)

Eric Watt Forste (
Wed, 31 Jul 1996 21:19:06 -0700

At 10:49 AM 7/31/96, Max More wrote:
>Ayn Rand distinguished intrinsic, subjective and objective values. Intrinsic
>values, in the sense she used it, were values that you had to hold even if
>they were of no personal significance. If service to others is an intrinsic
>value, you ought to do it even if you don't want to and even if it's bad for
>you. Rand (correctly I think) denied the existence of intrinsic values in
>this sense.

Given this way of defining the terminology, what I call "intrinsic" is
probably what Rand would've called "subjective", and I'm not in significant
disagreement with her about the nonexistence of what she referred to as
"intrinsic" values.

For me, intrinsic just means "not instrumental". Different people have
different intrinsic goals, and generally this is what they love doing.
Mathematicians love to do math, bicyclists love to cycle, artists love to
make art, gardeners love to garden, scientists love to do science, cooks
love to cook, programmers love to program, and philosophers love to
philosophize. When these things are done best, they are done "for
themselves", and not as instruments to some further end. So even though a
mathematician's value for mathematical beauty and an artist's value for
artistic creation are, in their "highest" form, not instrumental to any
further end, I don't want to seem to demean these kinds of values (which I
think are very important) by calling them "subjective". Yet it's also
widely recognized that it is somewhat demeaning to these activities and
purposes to insist that they serve as a means to some further "functional"
end (although they very often do, over and above their intrinsic worth).
Hence, I call them "intrinsic", but I accept them as diverse givens. It's
possible that they are subjective, but I don't want to call them that
because "subjective" has been heaped with bad and misleading connotations.

I've never cared too much for the subjective/objective distinction. (This
is why I use "intrinsic" in a different sense than Rand used: so I can
avoid the word "subjective".) For any particular philosophical problem, the
s/o distinction usually seems to melt away the closer you try to look at
the boundaries. But not only is it a confusing distinction, it's also one
that people get personally invested in, and that tends to degrade the
quality of discourse.

Eric Watt Forste <>