It seems most moral philosophers say that morality needs intrinsic value

Intrinsic value has traditionally been thought to lie at the heart of ethics. Philosophers use a number of terms to refer to such value. The intrinsic value of something is said to be the value that that thing has “in itself,” or “for its own sake,” or “as such,” or “in its own right.” Extrinsic value is value that is not intrinsic.

Many philosophers take intrinsic value to be crucial to a variety of moral judgments

And this isn't the same thing as non-accidental:

As J. Michael Dunn (1990) notes, some authors have used ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’ to mean ‘essential’ and ‘accidental’. Dunn is surely right in saying that this is a misuse of the terms.

Does any philosopher say that all moral value is non-accidental, but not intrinsic?

Philosophers do sometimes seem to characterise "value" as being non-accidental: e.g. Wittgenstein in the Tractatus 6.41

If there is a value which is of value, it must lie outside all happening and being-so. For all happening and being-so is accidental. What makes it non-accidental cannot lie in the world, for otherwise this would again be accidental. It must lie outside the world.


moral values have their transcendental existence outside the domain of contingent facts


Value is non-accidental

that as Anscombe seems to say

Wittgenstein [is]... speaking of value as a non-accidental feature of the world

  • can anyone help me improve this question? i think the basic idea makes sense
    – user6917
    Aug 29, 2015 at 12:11
  • @MoziburUllah i'll edit a few more times yet... the paraphrase of what witt. said is legit i'll find the 2nardy source quote
    – user6917
    Aug 29, 2015 at 14:57
  • @MoziburUllah there was a typo in the paraphrase. 2ndary source "summarises" that proposition here books.google.co.uk/… scroll up a page
    – user6917
    Aug 29, 2015 at 15:15
  • ok now i'm getting more downvotes, weird :(
    – user6917
    Aug 29, 2015 at 18:57
  • If a question isn't working, either get help formulating it from someone or just accept that the question isn't working. You've edited this question enough that the system is flagging it.
    – virmaior
    Sep 1, 2015 at 14:25

3 Answers 3


If there is a value which is of value, it must lie outside all happening and being-so.

Wittgenstein isn't denying that there are values which are contingent; perhaps historically contingent or culturally specific - the concern of the anthropologist - but he's interested here in isolating a value that is permenant and so 'outside of all happening and being-so'.

It's referring to an argument in Plato of the Form of the Good; and like him he locates it outside of this world by the following reasoning:

For all happening and being-so is accidental.

Accidental meaning contingent here; and thus non-accidental meaning permanent

What makes it non-accidental cannot lie in the world, for otherwise this would again be accidental.

And hence

It must lie outside the world.

This may seem like a strange thesis to locate the source of values outside of the world (and perhaps this is where Nietzsche comes in by relocating values to the world);

But a similar argument shows that a physical law such as the law of conservation of energy - which is a permanent law of physics - a law that has value by virtue of its permanance, cannot lie in the world:

For no amount of experiment can establish this law, as it is not deductive but inductive (once a general framework is established, ie Hamiltonian or Lagrangian Mechanics - the law can be deduced); but the fact remains: physical theories that are of permanent value are not in this, our contingent world of accident, happening and being-so.

  • did you read the link i included in the comment for my answer? it explicitly says what you deny
    – user6917
    Aug 31, 2015 at 8:38
  • or what you seem to deny ? i'm not suggesting that no-one values anything contingently.
    – user6917
    Aug 31, 2015 at 8:50

There is one whole class of moral thinkers for whom there is a single motivation, which is to be served by morality, but for whom that value is imputed by the process of the motivation, and does not lie within the thing itself. I will call these 'Motiviationalists' for my ignorance of what tradition might call them, and I will call their favored yardstick their 'motivation'.

The Cynics' freedom, the Stoics' nature, the dictates of the less abstract and more personal versions of the Jewish/Christian/Muslim God, the hedonist/Utilitarian/economist pleasure, true survival for Schopenhauer, true Will for Nietzsche, etc.

This motivation judges the value of things, and the things to which it lends value have value. They do not have value in-and-of-themselves, but only insofar as they reflect the motivation. The same sex act can be valued or valueless depending upon the pleasure derived in that specific instance. The same decision can be in accord with one persons's will and not in accord with another's, and its value for each of them is still equally absolute.

Sometimes the motivation itself is seen as being the only value, but to trace value in that way robs you of all applications to actual moral situations, the value considered has to be applied to things or people in order to really be value. Pleasure that might be experienced is not pleasure, only that which is experienced. The absolute value of God does not have moral force without instances to which to apply his Law.

Also, God can declare someone's life of infinite value one moment, and in the next, after some abomination, he can find it of no value, and require the person be killed. The same goes for utility, and all the other forms of this same framing. Value can evaporate or spontaneously arise, to the extent it reflects the motivating force.

This makes value contingent, but not accidental. The value is still derived from 'outside the world' and is absolute both before and after the act of alienation from the 'motivation'.

So I think this whole way of looking at things from a single motivation that is not necessarily fixed or objective, produces value that is neither innate, nor accidental, but is still contingent.

  • i downvoted; i was probably wrong to... i could get what you said - but should i ?
    – user6917
    Aug 29, 2015 at 23:44
  • The main point just follows up your own 'God' observation. If you base your morality on a certain kind of God, or you have some other external force you have chosen to follow in God's place, the same argument applies that you applied at the end of your own answer -- the value derives from that force the same way it would follow from God's rules.
    – user9166
    Aug 30, 2015 at 1:09
  • But also, you imply you want this judgement to be non-contingent. Well, the Hebrew God of Deuteronomy surely makes the value of human life contingent. It stops having value once you do something that betrays the tribe too completely, like adultery. Because the punishment is mandatory and it is death.
    – user9166
    Aug 30, 2015 at 1:11
  • So, yeah, I think you should be able to follow more general forms of your own argument.
    – user9166
    Aug 30, 2015 at 1:17
  • 1
    Eh, that's alright. There is a sense in which you probably should not follow the answer. If you recall, my last long, confusing answer to one of your questions was debunking this whole approach of 'morality as an optimization problem'. The whole arc that I have labeled here, is, to my mind, barren, even though it leads through five of my very most favorite philosophers. The inability to find value intrinsic to the things valued may be part of its ultimate internal instability as an approach.
    – user9166
    Aug 31, 2015 at 1:26

What about those that think value is derived from God? Surely that would not be an "intrinsic value": but it seems absurd to say that just because the value is from His law that it cannot really be a moral claim.

So, while I haven't yet encountered any non religious examples which might show that moral value need not be intrinsic, I believe it needn't be.

  • maybe the prohibition against patricide is non-accidental, but that is because of something else - like the value of not being an orphan. then it seems the prohibition may be intrinsically rational: but not intrinsically good. what is intrinsically good is intrinsically rational, and how can the opposite to be true? IMVHO the value would be self evident [though i have no means to demonstrate that]
    – user6917
    Sep 1, 2015 at 16:01
  • 1
    The prohibition against patricide matters because once you are an adult, waiting for your folks to die off so you can take their place is inconvenient for the entitled. At that point, there is no fear of being an orphan. So your argument is lost on me. Kant obviously thought the intrinsically good was intrinsically rational, but only from a standpoint outside individuality. We pass away and the Earth abides...
    – user9166
    Sep 1, 2015 at 18:59

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