Ecology, Policy, and Politics: Human Well-Being and the Natural World

By John O'Neill | Go to book overview

2

NATURE, INTRINSIC VALUE AND HUMAN WELL-BEING

To hold an environmental ethic is to hold that non-human beings and states of affairs in the natural world have intrinsic value. This seemingly straightforward claim has been the focus of much recent philosophical discussion of environmental issues. Its clarity is, however, illusory. The term ‘intrinsic value’ has a variety of senses and many arguments on environmental ethics suffer from a conflation of these different senses: specimen hunters for the fallacy of equivocation will find rich pickings in the area. This chapter is partly the work of the underlabourer. I distinguish different senses of the concept of intrinsic value and, relatedly, of the claim that non-human beings in the natural world have intrinsic value; I exhibit the logical relations between these claims and examine the distinct motivations for holding them. It is not however merely an exercise in conceptual underlabouring. It defends the thesis that while it is the case that natural entities have intrinsic value in the strongest sense of the term, i.e. in the sense of value that exists independently of human valuations, such value does not as such entail any obligations on the part of human beings. The defender of nature’s intrinsic value still needs to show that such value contributes to the well-being of human agents. At the end of the chapter I sketch an account of how care for the goods of non-humans might be a constitutive of our well-being.


2.1 THE VARIETIES OF INTRINSIC VALUE

The term ‘intrinsic value’ is used in at least three different basic senses:

(1) Intrinsic value1. Intrinsic value is used as a synonym for non-instrumental value. An object has instrumental value in so far as it

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