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Intrinsic vs. instrumental value

One of the concepts conservationists often try to use to indicate the limitations of economic approaches to valuation is to distinguish between things that have intrinsic value and those that have instrumental value.

Biodiversity, those who argue in this vein would claim, is intrinsically valuable. Attempts to quantify this intrinsic value, seem wrongheaded. How can you put a price on the existence of a species or an ecosystem if it has its own value independent of humans?

Perhaps if we all agreed about the source of intrinsic value in nature, arguing that biodiveristy is intrinsically valuable would be compelling.3 Things that are intrinsically valuable seem to be of virtually infinite value, so it is worth almost any price to save them. Unfortunately, I doubt that we'll ever agree on the source of intrinsic value in nature. To see why, let's take a brief tour through some different ethical theories.


next up previous
Next: Consequentialist vs. non-consequentialist theories Up: Assigning a value to Previous: Introduction
Kent Holsinger 2013-11-10