Does self transparency mean that human like existence, and nothing else, can be intrinsically valuable?

I was thinking maybe it is, becasue humans are capable of positing themselves as valuable, while objective facts are in a sense removed from the ways of thinking and acting that make them valuable, that it's my facticity - though modulated by transcendence into something better or worse than it would otherwise be - that has value.

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    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 7:29
  • edited out the reasoning, which evidently was unhelpful
    – user67675
    Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 18:53

4 Answers 4


Human existence may or may not be valuable but it is definitely consequential. Humans and all life forms suffer due to becoming. There is birth , ageing and death, which results into suffering.

Given the seriousness of the problem we generate valuable knowledge and strategies to deal with the suffering. In this sense human existence is valuable too. We build schools , hospitals, food supply chains , money based economic systems etc , all to mitigate the suffering of human life.

In this sense human existence is better than the star dust.

  • do you mean that overcoming suffering is valuable, rather than not suffering per se? makes sense i think
    – user67675
    Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 7:02
  • "Beings are at first unmanifested, they manifest, then become unmanifested again. What is there to lament in all of this?"
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Oct 28, 2023 at 18:02
  • maybe all philosophy is about suffering and different ways of conceptualising it and in what way it should be overcome..
    – user67675
    Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 19:08
  • 1
    @prof_ghost yes. It is possible. Commented Oct 30, 2023 at 3:29

Great question. We are made of the same stuff as space dust, but arranged in a different way. I guess that we consider space dust to be the inert raw materials for building other things, and it's only when the other things are built from it that we find it valuable. To take an everyday example, sand and rocks in the ground contain raw materials that are not in themselves especially valuable. A kilo of sand probably costs a few pence in the UK (you can buy a ton bag for £50), and most of that is the cost of digging it out, transporting it and paying for all the admin associated with ordering, paying, etc. Yet a kilo of raw materials fashioned into a top-end laptop is worth maybe ten thousand times more. That example was very concrete, and expressed in terms of the economic value of things. But it is analogous in some ways to the more abstract types of value. We value a beautiful flower more than the raw soil and water from which it grows. We value a painting more than the raw materials that make up paint. We have a tendency to value humans above all (admittedly, there's plenty of evidence around us that some people don't put human life at the top of their values list). By instinct I tend to be quite Darwinian, so I assume the answer to why we value one thing more than another is because we have evolved to do so.

  • that makes sense, though i'm not drawn to evolution to ground ethics. i guess my point/question is less if a human is more valuable than anything else, than the value we grant them is peculiarly innate (intrinsic?)
    – user67675
    Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 11:29
  • Cheers, Prof! I think I'm the wrong person to try to answer your last point, because I don't believe any values are innate. I do think humans are extra special, however! Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 11:41
  • "I am especially fond of them."
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Oct 28, 2023 at 17:58

Your phrasing of the question reminds me of Christine Korsgaard's argument in this vein, but I would like to start out a detailed response by adverting to the SEP article on intrinsic and extrinsic value. Now Plato would have said that the Form of the Good participates in Itself, necessarily and by Its nature, but was It to be thought of as human-like so much? (It was said to be beyond even Truth in "dignity and might," whatever that means.) The above-linked article compares the process of apprehending something as intrinsically valuable to an Aristotelian consideration (the procedure of the understanding in recognizing the supreme importance of eudaimonia):

At some point, though, you would have to put an end to the questions [of what is good dependent on what else is good], not because you would have grown tired of them (though that is a distinct possibility), but because you would be forced to recognize that, if one thing derives its goodness from some other thing, which derives its goodness from yet a third thing, and so on, there must come a point at which you reach something whose goodness is not derivative in this way, something that “just is” good in its own right, something whose goodness is the source of, and thus explains, the goodness to be found in all the other things that precede it on the list. It is at this point that you will have arrived at intrinsic goodness (cf. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1094a).

Kant talked of ends-in-themselves modulo the formulation of the categorical imperative, and by speaking of what must never be only a means to other ends, he was echoing Aristotle's definition of substance as that which is not, in the objective order of essence, an attribute of other things but is what predicates are applied to. (The tie-in is that Kant extrapolated the category of substance from the categorical function in logic.) But it was G. E. Moore, if I remember correctly, who coined, or at least popularized, the phrase "intrinsic value," such that we now have the agent-relative/agent-neutral distinction in practical reasoning, or earlier as such the good-for/just-good distinction.

When we resist the notion of agent-neutral, and hence possibly intrinsic, value, as such, we are thinking, "The word 'value' represents a relation of determination: such-and-such is valued by someone or better I value this thing..." Value thus appears as a relation instead of a monadic predicate, which gives it the appearance of not being such as is intrinsic to anything. But then in turn there are fitting-attitude theories of value, where things can have intrinsic properties that normatively call for their (the things') being valued. For a weird and probably unbelievable example, suppose it was fitting to cherish lumps of gold: then suppose a statue is made of gold; it follows that we are to cherish such a statue for its seemingly inherent property of being made of gold.⚜️

An easier route is to simply deny that the felicity of, "I value some X," is exhaustive as far as an analysis of the concept of value goes. Again, the Form of the Good would not be good just because It happened to value Itself, but It is fitting that It do so, and this fittingness, as the Form of Fitting Attitudes, is then just the same Form all over again.

Why, then, if it were not for Kosgaardian reasons, would we think to limit the possibility of intrinsic value just to agents who are able to think, "I value some X"? Why not join strong environmental ethicists (deep ecologists) in declaring the intrinsic value of the existent world? Or then why not echo those who declare the pure value of existence per se?

⚜️Once we realize how difficult it is to differentiate intrinsic from extrinsic properties in general, our unbelief will grow all the more!

  • i wouldn't say it makes no sense to value even a small amnount of space dust more tthan another human life. but i do think that by way of our potential to experience e.g. pain, whatever, there is something different about human existence. i'm aware of deep ecology anyway
    – user67675
    Commented Oct 28, 2023 at 0:50
  • @prof_post there is something different about sentient life, and it affects the value of that life in some way, but I suppose I am asking about a fairly abstract level of the issue: are propositions like, "X has intrinsic value," synthetic or analytic? What about questions of degrees of value? But then normativity and prioritization come into play, of course. Commented Oct 28, 2023 at 1:03
  • idk the answer to questions of that sort, but thanks for the replies
    – user67675
    Commented Oct 28, 2023 at 1:28
  • anyway, why do you suppose that i (or kosgaard) suppose that intrrinsic value is analytic?
    – user67675
    Commented Oct 28, 2023 at 1:48
  • 1
    @prof_post a transcendental argument is, roughly, one that reasons from the nontrivial possible reality of something to the possibility of our being able to know that reality substantively. And don't worry, half the time I don't even know what I'm trying to get at ;) Commented Oct 28, 2023 at 2:17

I consider your question an example of mixing up two categories:

  • The category of facts
  • and the category of values.

Hence I doubt that your question can be answered on a sound basis.

  • not my downvote. i'm confused why i'm mixing anything up, but i respect that it's your honest opinion
    – user67675
    Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 6:55

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