Inherent and Instrumental Values in Ethics

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Inherent and Instrumental Values in Ethics

The distinction between inherent and instrumental values in ethics could, in my view, be said to represent a contemporary version of both the eudaimonistic distinction between virtues as instruments and forms of happiness as the goals or ends to be achieved through these instruments, and of the deontological distinction between duties and the summum bonum to be, at least ultimately or in an afterlife, achieved through them. The paper identifies and explores what appears to be a threefold relationship between inherent and instrumental values. First, their mutual inseparability is found to be based in the very concept of instrumentality. Second, their parallelism in the relevant respects is seen also to be rooted in their instrumental relation. Third, and very significant, the inherent and instrumental values are discovered to be reversible so that what were inherent values can often become instrumental and vice-versa. Finally, and most importantly, the value and richness of human life is perceived to be nothing else than the function of the richness in values in ethics as well as in other spheres of human life.

I. Introduction

John Dewey holds the value concept as controversial since a survey of the current literature of the subject discloses that views on the subject range from the belief, at one extreme, that so-called 'values' are but emotional epithets or mere ejaculations, to the belief, at the other extreme, that a priori necessary standardized, rational values are the principles upon which art, science, and morals depend for their validity. And between these two conceptions lies a number of intermediate views. (1) One intermediate view says that values in general are things, beliefs, actions, emotions, and attitudes which are found acceptable, desirable, and even praiseworthy to the individual, to society, or to both of them. (2) We find as many different kinds of values as there are different areas of human life-intellectual, emotional, aesthetic, religious, moral, political, economic, etc. The distinction between inherent and instrumental values applies equally to each one of these fields. This chapter, however, will limit itself to the inquiry into the nature and relationship of the inherent and instrumental values in the field of morality with only an occasional excursus into other fields.

To indicate the meaning of these two kinds of values we could begin by saying that the inherent values are, roughly speaking, the desired results achieved through the operation of the instrumental values.
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