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Fundamentals: Intrinsic vs. Instrumental Value

Video transcript

(intro music) Hi, I'm Kelley Schiffman. I'm a PhD student at Yale University, and today I want to talk about instrumental and intrinsic value. So philosophers like to distinguish between two ways in which something can have value, or worth. Something has intrinsic value when we value it simply for its own sake. For example, friendship or love, wisdom, pleasure, beauty, or health. Take friendship, for example. Now it's true that friendship is, in part, valuable because of other things it brings about. People with established friendships tend, for example, to live longer and be happier. But we don't value friendship merely because it has these good results. We think friendship is important or valuable in and of itself, independently of any good results it brings about. We therefore think that friendship is intrinsically valuable. Something, in contrast, has instrumental value when we value it not for its own sake, but rather because it helps us to get something else that we do value for its own sake. In other words, something has instrumental value when it serves as a means to some end that we value in and of itself. Money, for example, has mere instrumental value. No one wants money just for the sake of having money, I suppose unless you're a coin collector. Rather, people want money because money lets you buy certain things that you do value for their own sake. For example, you can use money to buy vitamins or medicine that contribute to your health, where health is an intrinsic good. Now, it's important to note that many things have both instrumental and intrinsic value. As we've noted already, friendship is such a case. So, too, is health. Health is good in and of itself, but it also lets you attain or achieve many other things. It's, therefore, also an instrumental good. Now, it's important to distinguish between instrumental and intrinsic value, because it helps you live better. Many people spend their lives pursuing, for example, money, thinking that somehow it's intrinsically valuable, it's good in and of itself, when really, if they reflected, they'd see that no, it's just good because it helps you to get other things, and then you could reprioritize accordingly. So this distinction between instrumental and intrinsic value is not only philosophically interesting, but practically important.