Philosophy 145 - 8.2.1 Intrinsic and Extrinsic Value

One way to think about what a value is has to do with whether it is valuable for its own sake or valuable for the sake of something else. Something has intrinsic value if it is valuable for its own sake. For example, Aristotle asserted that happiness has intrinsic value because it is an end in itself. He believed that all actions ultimately aim at happiness, but happiness is pursued for its own sake. If someone were to ask, “What is happiness good for?” Aristotle would reply that it simply good in and of itself.

Something has extrinsic value if it is valuable for the sake of something else. It is a means to an end. For example, you probably engage in a variety of activities that are good insofar as they help your health. Eating a well-balanced diet, going to the doctor regularly, and keeping an active routine all contribute to health and well-being. Health is thus the intrinsic good that makes each of those activities extrinsically good.

A plate of cut up beets, apples, and oranges. On the table behind the plate are several whole fruits.
Figure 8.3 Eating fruits and vegetables is an extrinsic good, in that it contributes to the intrinsic value of human health. If eating fruits and vegetables were found to not contribute to health, this would no longer be viewed as a desirable action. (credit: “Healthy and tasty fruits and vegetables” by Marco Verch Professional/Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

The content of this course has been taken from the free Philosophy textbook by Openstax