Intrinsic Value

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Intrinsic value is the value of an existent thing (physical, mental, informational or otherwise) manifested by virtue of its very existence. That is, it is independent of its value or utility to any other existent being (such as humans) or thing. It is necessarily a metaphysical, and indeed biblical, concept, and is conceived as being derived from and reflecting the glory of God.

Intrinsic value is an essential concept in human affairs from philosophy to economics, and has been of critical importance in biological conservation, in which the intrinsic value of life, living systems and processes is presented as a fundamental ground for conservation action. For many involved in conservation, it is the key motivation, although other more tangible motivations, such as utility (food, medicine etc.), are often cited because practitioners may feel uncomfortable about the metaphysical basis of their motivation (Gosler 2009). Recent developments in biology, such as the Selfish Gene hypothesis undermine the concept of intrinsic value, thereby undermining a key philosophical basis for conservation and environmental ethics.

Is there a link between intrinsic value and the information content of reality? Claude E. Shannon’s information theory suggests that both information and value are related to ‘surprise’ and the probability of an event (Aleksander 2002). Improbable events or existent things (like rarity and the value of objects) are more valuable intrinsically than certain events. Therefore, the improbability of existence grants it intrinsic value, the improbability of life grants it greater intrinsic value than non-life, and so on. He warns that from this perspective, it is essential not to confuse intrinsic value, which reflects God’s Grace (see reciprocity), with contingent value, which reflects the utility of something to humans.

Sources

  • Aleksander, I. (2002) Understanding information, bit by bit: Shannon’s equations. In Farmelo, G. (Ed.) It Must be Beautiful: Great Equations of Modern Science. Pp. 213–230. Granta Books, London.
  • Gosler, A.G. (2009) Surprise and the Value of Life. In Berry, R.J. (Ed.) Real Scientists, Real Faith. Monarch Books, Oxford.

See also

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Author: Andrew Gosler