Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic (was Re: Is/Ought boundary)

Tim Freeman (
Wed, 31 Jul 1996 09:56:34 -0700

From: (Eric Watt Forste)
>Intrinsic goal: get some honey. Why? Because you just happen to want some

But that's just hiding things under the rug. Let's play a little harder:

Intrinsic goal: get some honey. Why? Because I just happen to want
some honey. Why? Because ... er ..., gee, I have this mental state
that says I desire honey. Why? Well, either the mental state is a
stupid mistake arising from general mental flakeyness (and the desire
for honey is therefore a stupid goal), or the mental state has some
valid cause outside of itself, such as evolution plus a need for
calories or nutritional completeness or some such. Why? Well, I need
calories or nutritional completeness so I can stay alive and healthy.
So now the goal has become either extrinsic or stupid, right?

If we call it extrinsic, we should take the trouble to remember the
original thing that made us want to call it intrinsic -- the emotion
with which it was held. It's the emotion that makes satisfying the
goal non-drudgery; I don't think it is important that the emotion is
the ultimate justification of the action. Emotions are quite
flexible, so it is very risky to use them as an ultimate

Quite often people think a goal is somehow "true" if you don't know
where it came from. This is quite analogous with Christians who think
that Faith is good simply because there is no rational reason to do
it. Yuck. I prefer extrinsic goals, since IMO the allegedly
intrinsic ones are either stupid goals or are really extrinsic goals
that are not well-understood. Calling them intrinsic stops the
understanding. Among non-philosophers, intrinsic goals are called
"fun". These are the frivolous goals Lyle was talking about.

Having fun is okay, but don't use it to justify your actions.

Tim Freeman