Many (if not most) philosophers agree that knowledge has value. However, does it have intrinsic value, or is its value purely in its ability to affect things outside of the realm of knowledge? Are there some philosophers who would state, "knowledge is good," without stating a reason for it such as "knowledge lets you do things in the world around you that would be neigh impossible without it" or "knowledge lets you be closer to God?"

The closest I have seen is "collecting knowledge is good because you never know when you will need it," which is still based on its ability to create value in realms outside of pure knowledge.

Phrasing it differently, do any philosophers consider knowledge to be the ends, or is it always a means to an end?

  • The closest I can think of is the Existentialist creating our own meaning, where the specific case is that of philosophers and scientists creating their own meaning which happens to be collecting more knowledge. Dec 14, 2015 at 1:13
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    Socrates, right? (The only virtue is knowledge; ignorance the only vice...)
    – Joseph Weissman
    Dec 14, 2015 at 1:21
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    Good question. I remember vaguely hearing an argument about this point during a friends' dissertation defense. He's an objective list theorist and puts knowledge on the list.
    – virmaior
    Dec 14, 2015 at 2:22
  • Any knowledge which adds to a person's capability to understand life and therefore to meaningfully adapt their lifestyle and behavior so as to become more psychologically mature and to gain a better sense of composure has 'intrinsic' value. Spinoza's three kinds of knowledge [TIE- Treatise on Improving the Intellect] teaches us to not put too much stock in any knowledge which comes to us through hearsay or gossip. We can avoid pontificating on things we have no firsthand knowledge about by marking this. Knowing our limits and where to spend our time has intrinsic value. CMS
    – user37981
    Jun 21, 2019 at 22:03

2 Answers 2


Yes, there are, though the general question as to what might be an intrinsic good has been controversial.

In Plato's Philebus Socrates summarizes two views he is about to discuss with his interlocutor Portarchus:

Philebus says that the good for all animate beings consists in enjoyment, pleasure, delight, and whatever can be classed as consonant therewith, whereas our contention is that the good is not that, but thought, intelligence, memory, and things akin to these, right opinion and true reasoning. [Plato, Philebus, 11b]

From the above we learn that according to Philebus, pleasure is the ultimate or intrinsic good whereas according to Socrates - knowledge is the ultimate or intrinsic good. Both views display monism about value.

The view held by Philebus falls under the heading of Hedonist theories; and that expressed by Socrates - under the heading of objective goodness theories.

Usually objective-goodness theories display pluralism about value, and thus they can in principle consider knowledge as well as pleasure and other things as intrinsic goods (as opposed to instrumental goods). Derek Parfit, for example, mentioned "the development of one's abilities, knowledge, and the awareness of true beauty" as intrinsic goods (See Parfit, Reasons and Persons, 1984). Such theories are occasionally referred to in contemporary literature by the name ‘objective-list theories’.


(1) Within the framework of value-theory, to which your question falls, the distinction between intrinsic and instrumental value can be clarified as follows: Things that are intrinsically good or bad are things which are good or bad in and of themselves; things that are instrumentally good or bad are those we would identify as good or bad only insofar as they contribute to something else.

(2) A similar conceptual distinction to that between ‘intrinsic value’ and ‘instrumental value’ can be found in David Hume’s Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals in which Hume writes:

Ask a man why he uses exercise; he will answer, because he desires to keep his health. If you then enquire, why he desires health, he will readily reply, because sickness is painful. If you push your enquiries farther, and desire a reason why he hates pain, it is impossible he can ever give any. This is an ultimate end, and is never referred to any other object. Perhaps to your second question, why he desires health, he may also reply, that it is necessary for the exercise of his calling. If you ask, why he is anxious on that head, he will answer, because he desires to get money. If you demand - Why? It is the instrument of pleasure, says he. And beyond this it is an absurdity to ask for a reason. It is impossible there can be a progress in infinitum; and that one thing can always be a reason why another is desired. Something must be desirable on its own account. [David Hume, Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals Appendix 1, §18].

(3) It is intuitive to think of pleasure as an intrinsic good, and on economic wealth for example as rather an instrumental good. As to knowledge - it is less direct to see how it differs from economic wealth, but one who contends that knowledge is an intrinsic good can follow Socrates' line of thought, namely consider knowledge to be a virtue.

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    really good answer, thanks!
    – user38026
    Jun 20, 2019 at 17:41

Answer: Yes, all of them. As you know, philosophy means "love" of wisdom or knowledge. An object of "love" is never a means, always an end.

The concept of 'value" simply does not arise, except in a relativistic sense. It cannot be "intrinsic" in any metaphysical sense of that term. That is just historically, textually behind us.

For me, the best critical, materialist theory of "value" is Marxist. And the best contemporary Marxist theory is summarized by Koji Karatani and perhaps Jean-Joseph Goux.

Value arises only in relation to... or relative to some, ideal, the "general equivalent," such as "money" or the "absolute monarch." This ideal grounds the "value system." And enables "evaluations."

The value system that evaluates "knowledge" is philosophy, which grounds itself in the "love" of knowledge.

The problem afflicting philosophy in the context of "modernity", and especially analytical philosophy, is that it fails to recognize itself as a form of love.

In the modern context "knowledge" cannot be defined except in relation to some object of knowledge. And thus the "value" of knowledge is relative to that object...or objective.

One must then rank all these "objectives," how? Presumably in such a way that "knowledge of them" is reproduced. Which leads us back to love...

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