Intrinsic Values: Characteristics, Examples

The  intrinsic values  are those that a certain object has in itself, that is, its own characteristics that define it. It has taken a lot to define this concept, since its properties have been taken for granted.

Much of the research has focused on what has intrinsic values, without having previously defined what intrinsic values ​​are. On the other hand, throughout the history of philosophy, these values ​​have been one of the foundations of other philosophical themes. 

Intrinsic Values

For example, for consequentialism, an action is correct or incorrect from the moral point of view if its consequences are intrinsically better than that of another action carried out under the same conditions.

Other theories believe that what is considered as doing something right or wrong is related to the intrinsic values ​​of the results of the actions that someone can take. There are even those that affirm that these values ​​are pertinent to judgments within moral justice.

The concept of intrinsic values ​​has a long history in the history of philosophy, since it has been treated since the Greeks in their works on vice and virtue, but it is in the twentieth century where this issue was enunciated and studied in depth.


Before defining the characteristics of intrinsic values, it is important to note that this topic has been the subject of numerous studies in the area of ​​philosophy.

First of all to specify if the value has to do with goodness, as is the case with realism. Within it, naturalists argue that goodness is related to natural properties.

Another point of view regarding value is given by emotivists. Axel Anders Theodor Hägerström argues that all attribution of value is essentially an expression of emotion. For him, saying “someone is good” is not just making an affirmation of his goodness, but he is saying “hooray for that Someone”.

This Swedish philosopher called this criterion “value-nihilism”, a theme that was later taken up by the positivist Alfred Jules Ayer and Charles L. Stevenson.

In particular Stevenson specified that the evaluations express attitudes and feelings of the speaker. Thus, whoever says that “goodness is valuable” implies that approval of the goodness of said speaker is being expressed.

And finally there is the position of Monroe Curtis Beardsley. This pragmatic philosopher rejects the fact that something that has extrinsic value presupposes the existence of something else with intrinsic value. Therefore, for him only extrinsic values ​​exist.

Intrinsic value for Georg Edward Moore

Within the non-naturalistic philosophy, there is the British Georg Edward Moore. This philosopher argued that any attempt to identify the “good” as a natural property is falling into a “naturalistic fallacy”.

In this way it follows from the identification of good with pleasure or desire. It also makes explicit that goodness is a simple “unnatural” property. This means that it is a property that cannot be detected or quantified in science or measured with scientific instruments.

His works are based on the notion of whether it is possible to analyze the concept of intrinsic values. In this sense, it proposes the division of a concept into concepts formed by simpler elements.

Moore’s proposal is a thought experiment to understand the concept and decide what is intrinsically good. This means considering what things or objects that exist in absolute isolation can be judged as having a good existence.

In other words, it is asking whether the object in question has value apart from relationships with others. Thus, something will have intrinsic value or will be intrinsically valuable if it is good by its internal nature. This is that it does not derive from any other thing or object. On the contrary, if its value derives from something else, it has an extrinsic value.

Intrinsic Value Specials for John O’Neill

Philosophy professor John O’Neill has carried out work on the varieties of intrinsic values ​​that cannot be omitted due to their specificity.

For O’Neill a value is intrinsic if:

-It is an end in itself and has no instrumental or end value.

-It has no relational value. This is if it has properties that are characteristic of an object and has no reference in others.

Within this item it is asked if the aesthetic value is a relational value. And he comes to the conclusion that it is relational, but that is not an impediment for it to be intrinsic in the non-instrumental sense.

-It has an objective value, which is not subject to a subjective, conscious assessment.

Examples of Intrinsic Values 

Some examples that can be mentioned of intrinsic value are:

-Valuing a person for who they are, not for their profession, their social situation, or because they are friends with them, since all these values ​​are relational or instrumental.

-Value a landscape for what it is. If it is a beach because of the splendor of its sand and its sea; if it is a mountain for the beauty of its slopes, its summit, etc.

In the event that it is valued as a tourist destination, it would already fall into a valuation that has an end. If it is valued to start an economic venture, it would be an instrumental value: getting money.

-Value a downpour after a drought, since objectively for the environment it is valuable for its survival. While this may seem like a relational value and it is, survival is itself an intrinsic value, since without it there is no life.

-Valuing the life of an animal, since it is about respect for life as a whole. If only the life of an endangered animal were valued, it would be a final assessment. This is trying to keep that species on the planet.

-Valuing a piece of art for its beauty in itself, regardless of whether it represents a certain famous artist or a certain artistic movement, because in one case or another one would be facing relational evaluations.


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