Dissertation

Do artworks, heritage sites, religious relics, family heirlooms, and non-living natural entities have intrinsic value—a value that they would have, to borrow G. E. Moore’s words, even “in absolute isolation?” If not, does this entail that they are only valuable for the sake of other things? I follow others in thinking that, even if they do not have intrinsic value, they can be valuable for their own sakes. They can have extrinsic final value. No one has shown, though, how or why an object can have such value. So, I develop an account of this value and highlight implications of the resulting view.

Part of the reason it is important to develop such an account is that it is natural to wonder, skeptically, whether the putative examples of extrinsic final value really are instances where the given object is valuable for its own sake. Among the examples offered are a pen used by Abe Lincoln, a dress worn by Princess Diana, and a family heirloom. Each is said to be valuable for its own sake given its relation to the relevant person. But one might suspect, instead, that these objects are merely valuable for the sake of other things, such as for the sake of “indirectly connecting us to a person we admire.”

In the first half of my dissertation, I respond to this line of thought. Drawing from the work of Samuel Scheffler, I begin by sketching an account of what it is to value something for its own sake, modifying ideas from Scheffler to distinguish this mode of valuing from what is involved with valuing something instrumentally. Then, developing an idea put forward by Guy Fletcher and by Rabinowicz and Rønnow-Rasmussen, I argue that there can be a reason to value an object for its own sake on account of its relation to someone one loves or admires, where it is one’s warranted love or admiration that renders it reasonable to value the object in this way. I identify a particular feature of love and admiration that shows exactly why this is the case. Then I highlight an upshot of the resulting account: it avoids a “wrong reason” objection facing alternative views that hold that one should value non-intrinsically-good entities for their own sakes because adopting such an attitude is conducive to some end.

In the second half of my dissertation, I explore the idea, mentioned by others, that wilderness has extrinsic final value. I first identify a variety of other natural entities, including species and ecosystems, that seem to have this sort of value too, and then I go on to sketch an account of their value. My view is that these entities can have final value if they stand in certain relations to other things that people are warranted in valuing in what I, following Christine Swanton, call a partly “passive” manner. One upshot of this account is that it justifies valuing nature for its own sake without presupposing a problematic metaphysical view according to which things such as mountains and rivers have a normative feature just in themselves. Second, it clarifies the values present in a world increasingly affected by humans, helping one determine when human influence does, and when it does not, undermine nature’s final value. In the final chapter of my dissertation, I draw out a third upshot of my view: nature’s historical value, which is often a species of extrinsic final value, offers better justification for preserving certain natural entities than does nature’s aesthetic value.