I believe that 'intrinsic' quality has, in some sense, itself as its origin.


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.”... Suppose that someone were to ask you whether it is good to help others in time of need. Unless you suspected some sort of trick, you would answer, “Yes, of course.” If this person were to go on to ask you why acting in this way is good, you might say that it is good to help others in time of need simply because it is good that their needs be satisfied. If you were then asked why it is good that people's needs be satisfied, you might be puzzled. You might be inclined to say, “It just is.” Or you might accept the legitimacy of the question and say that it is good that people's needs be satisfied because this brings them pleasure. But then, of course, your interlocutor could ask once again, “What's good about that?” Perhaps at this point you would answer, “It just is good that people be pleased,” and thus put an end to this line of questioning. Or perhaps you would again seek to explain the fact that it is good that people be pleased in terms of something else that you take to be good. At some point, though, you would have to put an end to the questions, 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.

So if I am intrinsically handsome then that is its own origin, is derived from itself. Does that sense of "intrinsic" mean independent of anything else?

  • Is your question about its application in ethics or its application in aesthetics (or do you view these two aspects of value as the same)?
    – virmaior
    Mar 30, 2018 at 5:25
  • In general, it means that the quality it is part of you due to your nature, that removing it would render you so essentially different that one would no longer be discussing the same thing, and all existing arguments would no longer apply. One could not find something that is intrinsically good not to be good unless one altered the definition of the thing, or the definition of good. Of course such notions intrinsically :) appeal to essentialism, which not many people take literally. So its use is often somewhat figurative.
    – user9166
    Mar 30, 2018 at 17:16
  • (I don't want to give that as an answer, because I think the question does not belong here.)
    – user9166
    Mar 30, 2018 at 17:54

1 Answer 1



You refer to intrinsic value but if this is a property (X has intrinsic value) then 'intrinsic' needs separate consideration. And since you don't ask about the sense or meaning of 'value', I take it that your inquiry really just centres on intrinsicality whether of value or any other property. I mention this only because your Question, which is in perfectly good order, gets narrowed from the merely intrinsic to the intrinsically valuable in your explanatory text.


An intrinsic property of an object is one the object has purely by virtue of being the way it is, where the way it is is not dependent on the existence or properties of any other thing. So, for instance, a circle is the set of points that lie at an equal distance, the radius r, from a central point, P. If nothing else existed or whatever else existed with whatever properties it had, this would make no difference to these properties of a circle. One might call this the metaphysical sense of 'intrinsic'.


There is a different though related sense, the non-relational. An intrinsic property of an object is one which is describable non-relationally. It is describable by a monadic predicate. If a property needs a polyadic predicate to describe it, then it is not intrinsic to the object. 'Life is good' : 'good' here is monadic. Life is not 'good' in relation to something; it just is 'good'. 'Life is better than it was' is polyadic; life is 'better' only in relation to how it was. This non-relational, monadic sense might be called the logical sense of 'intrinsic'.


Can you be intrinsically handsome ? I don't doubt of course that you are handsome, the question is only whether you are intrinsically so. I'm afraid I have to say, probably not. What is involved here is not just the all too familiar issue of whether aesthetic judgements are subjective and the appropriateness of aesthetic predicates relative to the preferences and reactions of makers of such judgements. Rather, I have in mind the question whether your handsomeness is dependent on the existence or properties of any other thing. It is a supervenient property; it supervenes on the physical properties of your face. It is not independent of these; if they change, it changes. This inclines me to say that it is not an intrinsic property.


Naturally I am aware of the subtle and sophisticated definitions of 'intrinsic property' offered by David Lewis and Jaegwon Kim. However, Kim's definition has been shown to be defective by Lewis; and Lewis's definition relies on his notion of possible worlds which I find as obscure as the notion of an intrinsic property. To use the obscure to explain the obscure (obscurum per obscurius) is not my preferred method in philosophy. But Lewis' baton is there for anyone to pick up and run with. Kim : J. Kim, (1982) 'Psychological Supervenience', Philosophical Studies 41, 51-70; Lewis on Kim : D. Lewis, (1983) 'Extrinsic Properties, Philosophical Studies 44, 197-200. Lewis' own view : D. Lewis, (1986) 'On the Plurality of Worlds', Blackwell, New York.

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