Philosophy 146 - 8.2.2 Fundamentality

One could argue, however, that health is yet an extrinsic value because people only value health because it contributes to happiness. When people distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic values, they think about not only what is valuable but also how values are related to each other. The example of health and happiness raises the question of fundamentality—whether there is only one intrinsic value or many.

Monism argues that there is only one fundamental intrinsic value that forms the foundation for all other values. For example, hedonists think that pleasure is a fundamental intrinsic value and that something must be pleasurable to be good. A monist believes that if people evaluate their values carefully—and the relationship between their values—then one value will be more important than the others and the others will serve that intrinsic value. For a monist, it is important to identify which value is more fundamental so that it can guide your beliefs, judgments, and actions.

Pluralism argues that there are multiple fundamental intrinsic values rather than one. A pluralist can still evaluate which values are intrinsic and which are extrinsic, but that process does not lead them to identify one ultimate intrinsic value that forms the foundation for all other values. Pluralism holds that people have two or more fundamental values because these values are not reducible to each other. For example, knowledge and love are both intrinsic goods if what is good about knowledge cannot be summed up in terms of love and if what is good about love cannot be summed up in terms of knowledge.

Philosophers who argue for monism often see pluralism as a type of relativism that can prevent people from resolving moral issues when values come into conflict. Consider physician-assisted suicide. A monist would want to address the issue of ending one’s life for medical reasons by evaluating it according to one ethical principle. For example, if monists hold that pleasure is the intrinsic good, they might argue that physician-assisted suicide is good when it allows the cessation of pain, particularly in cases where the patient’s suffering prohibits any pleasure of mind or body. Pluralists, however, would have to evaluate this physician-assisted suicide based on multiple intrinsic values, such as pleasure and life. In this case, the cessation of pain and the continuation of life are both good, and neither is better than the other. As a result, pluralists may not find a way to resolve the conflicting values or may not be able to identify whether this action is right or wrong. By contrast, monism allows someone to hold a unified and coherent metaethical framework (see the following section on Metaethics) because it asserts one fundamental value rather than many.

Pluralists, however, consider life to have many intrinsic goods including satisfying one’s desires, achieving one’s aims, developing one’s abilities, and developing deep personal relationships. In Women and Human Development, American feminist and moral philosopher Martha Nussbaum (1947 - present) describes many intrinsic goods—including life, health, emotional attachment, affiliation, play, reason, and more (2000). A flourishing life will have many goods, not just one. Pluralists, moreover, are concerned with the consequences of monism. Asserting that there is only one intrinsic good, despite differences in opinion, could potentially restrict individual’s freedom, especially when their values differ from the mainstream.

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