An Argument against Final Value

Here’s a way of thinking about the value of things. The relationship between what is valuable and our valuing can take two explanatory directions. Sometimes we value things because of the value that they have in themselves or in relation to other things that have value in themselves. Other times, things have value because we value them.

This simple point has implications for the notion of final value and the attempt to explain the special value of knowledge in terms of final value. The natural way to explain final value is in terms of the way in which we value things. Some value Princess Diana’s dress over an intrinsic duplicate. The basis of the valuing is extrinsic (it is Princess Diana’s!), but the way in which it is valued is for its own sake rather than for the sake of something else.

To turn this account of final value into something that could help explain the special value of knowledge, we need to convert it from a claim about the kind of valuing in question to some more objective notion of value, something the dress itself possesses, rather than something about the nature of our attitudes toward the dress. To do so, we’ll need something like an appeal to ordinary or normal people and what attitudes would be normal or appropriate for them to take. We might say, for example, that the dress has final value just when ordinary or normal people would value it for its own sake even though on the basis of its extrinsic features.

At this point, I’d usually launch into a discussion of the dangers of the conditional fallacy, but that’s not the point I want to make here. Instead, I want to point out which side of the divide noted in the first paragraph this proposal is on. It is, obviously, on the side of the divide where the value of a thing has the value it has because we value it in a certain way.

So here’s the punchline. To use such a notion to explain the special value of knowledge is to commit oneself to the view that knowledge is not value because of some special value that it has in itself or in relation to other things that have value in themselves. Instead, knowledge has its special value because we value it in the way we do. But that conclusion, I submit, gets things backwards. If knowledge has special value, beyond the value of proper subsets of its components, we should want an account of that value that explains our valuing of knowledge in terms of the special value that resides in knowledge. We should not want an explanation that projects value onto knowledge because of the way in which we value it.

Of course, if one is a projectionist about all value, this argument may seem not telling. But whatever the general prospects for projectionism, there is still the distinction in the first paragraph that even a projectionist needs some explanation of. And whatever explanation is given, the argument I just gave can be recast in the preferred vocabulary.


An Argument against Final Value — 17 Comments

  1. Jon, I don’t think I agree with this: “The natural way to explain final value is in terms of the way in which we value things.” That may be one natural way, but there are others, including in terms of how it was produced or some other historical properties.

  2. Hi John, well, explaining it and saying what it is are two different things. fundamentally, final value is supposed to cut across the intrinsic/extrinsic, for-its-own-sake/for-the-sake-of-something-else distinctions. So it is supposed to be something for-its-own-sake, extrinsic. The obvious way to say that is this: we value diana’s dress for its own sake, on the basis of extrinsic features of the dress.

  3. Okay, so how about this: knowledge is valuable for its own sake, on the basis of extrinsic features of how the constitutive belief was produced?

  4. I think that if that is how final value was introduced into the literature, or in conversation, nobody would have bought the idea. What would it mean to say that princess diana’s dress is valuable for its own sake because of where it came from? It makes perfect sense to say we value it for its own sake because of where it came from, but the former is just really mysterious sounding.

    By the way, I should credit Christian Pillar for getting me to see this point about final value. It’s natural home is in the territory of what and how we value things. To move from that home territory to some other domain of objective value takes some work.

  5. Okay, I see it better now.

    Compare two intrinsically identical paintings, one by Monet and the other by a monkey named ‘Monkey’. We value the Monet for it’s own sake more than we value the Monkey. And that seems like the right combination of attitudes. But why?

    The right answer, it seems, must point to some relevant difference between the two. They’re intrinsic duplicates, so any relevant difference must be extrinsic.

    It would be implausible to simply point to the fact that *we value the Monet more than the Monkey*. That’s the projectionist story — or near enough — that you think we should avoid. I agree.

    I say that the relevant extrinsic difference is this: the Monet is a product of artistic genius, but the Monkey isn’t. The Monkey is the product of a monkey randomly flicking paint on a canvas.

    So there’s an objective metaphysical basis for the added final value of the Monet. That basis explains why our valuing is correct. The explanation runs in the right direction.

    The explanation of knowledge’s added value would be structurally similar. True belief is produced by intellectual skills in a more intimate way than is true belief falling short of knowledge. And that purely extrinsic difference is the metaphysical basis that explains knowledge’s added value.

  6. Like John, I’m a little puzzled by the claim that “The natural way to explain final value is in terms of the way in which we value things.”

    I agree, in some sense, that this is a natural way to introduce the notion of final value, but I take it you wanted to make a stronger claim than that.

    In general, we may think, to say that X has value is roughly to say that we have reason to desire it. This basic analysis may be complicated along two dimensions: we may consider (i) whether the reasons are provided by intrinsic or extrinsic features of the object, and (ii) whether the normatively recommended desire is an instrumental or non-instrumental desire.

    For X to have extrinsic final value, on this natural account, is simply for X to have extrinsic features that provide us with reason to non-instrumentally desire it. There doesn’t seem anything (necessarily) subjectivist about it.

  7. Richard and John, I’m not sure here, but let me try once more. If final value is to explain the value of knowledge, it can’t be a kind of valuing alone. So if you say, “we value knowledge because of X,” that doesn’t explain the value of knowledge, but only our valuing it. So we want to move from (we value it for reason X) to (it is valuable for reason X (and maybe some other stuff)). If we get only the former, but not the latter, we don’t get an explanation of what we want: namely, the value of knowledge.

    So, if final value is, at first pass, valuing for its own sake on the basis of extrinsic features, we have, at first pass, only the first: we value it for reason X. So how do we get to what is needed? Here final value won’t help, if it’s fundamental character is as remarked. For the direction of explanation should go from its value to our valuing it, not vice-versa. On any theory of value, this direction of explanation point has to be preserved, since it is obvious that it is present. So, either the fundamental character of final value is different from the characterization given, or the direction of explanation goes the other way, if final value can explain the special value of knowledge. Neither point seems right, so final value won’t work.

    That’s the argument, and I can’t tell in your responses which point you want to deny.

  8. I meant to deny your first claim: that (an object’s) final value is to be analyzed in terms of (people’s) actual valuing. I see no reason to accept that claim, and I offered an alternative, buck-passing analysis in terms of objective reasons. More precisely: for an object to have (extrinsic) final value is just for it to have (extrinsic) features that provide us with reason to non-instrumentally desire it (i.e. in the way characteristic of ‘final valuing‘).

    Note that reasons for desire (valuing) are strictly independent of actual valuing — people may fail to respond to the reasons appropriately, after all. So if final value consists in the former (as I propose), then final value is likewise independent of actual valuing, which is precisely the result we needed.

  9. Sorry for not being clear enough, Jon.

    In my previous post, I took myself to be agreeing with your point (as you put it afterward) that “If final value is to explain the value of knowledge, it can’t be a kind of valuing alone.” I tried to point out the relevant extrinsic feature of knowledge’s constitutive belief that would explain why it is *correct* for us to value it for its own sake. That feature is the source of knowledge’s additional value.

    The explanation does not stop with our mere valuing, but with the belief’s extrinsic feature, which makes our (final) valuing correct.

  10. Richard, I’m really confused by what you say about final value. First, you talk of (extrinsic) final value, but I don’t understand the need for the qualifier: final value is by definition not intrinsic value. Second, you deny that you are clarifying final value in terms of valuings, and yet your last sentence of the first paragraph does precisely that (“in the way characteristic of final valuing”). That last remark is crucial to your proposal since without it, you just have ordinary extrinsic value. And with it, you have an account of the type I began with: final value is, first and foremost, a special kind of valuing–namely for its own sake and on the basis of extrinsic features. What your account adds is the reason-giving aspect, but that doesn’t change the character of the account.

    John, suppose you have the extrinsic features in question. Then knowledge has value in virtue of having those features. But stipulation, appeal to those features isn’t a sufficient account of the special value of knowledge–otherwise, there would be no need to appeal to final value. So now you say, “ah, but those extrinsic features not only create some (inadequate) value for knowledge, they also explain why it is correct to value knowledge for its own sake.” That won’t work though. Either it is the valuing itself that imparts extra credit to knowledge or it is the correctness of the valuing. If it is the valuing itself, then we have no additional value to appeal to in order to explain the value problem–we just happen to be attached to knowledge more than to its subparts. So it had better be the *correctness* of the valuing that addresses the value problem, and this correctness has to addressed the value problem in a way not solved by the extrinsic features themselves. That’s not promising, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, you’ve got the extrinsic features (EF) explaining the correctness (CR), and CR explaining the special value of knowledge (SVK), but EF not adequate to explain SVK. Second, you’d only get SVK explained when we value knowledge, since the correctness is lost when the valuing disappears.

    What I think you want instead is just that the correctness of the valuing is a kind of free wheel in the explanatory machine, and that the basis in intellectual skills does the work required to solve the value problem. Whether and how we value knowledge may come up, but whatever value is involved or derived from that isn’t the solution to the value problem. So, using the Monet/monkey example, the Monet is superior, whether anyone happens to value it for its own sake or not: all you need to see to draw this conclusion is your point about the genius behind the painting. That’s all the explanation needed. As you know, I don’t think the virtue-based accounts are adequate, but have simply assumed that for this post, since otherwise an appeal to final value would be otiose.

  11. I agree with you, Jon! I don’t think the conception of final value you presented (understood as a way of valuing) can really independently solve the value problem.

    It does seem natural to me, though, to think of whatever makes that way of valuing correct as *itself* the final value. So, to coin a phrase, there’s final valu*ing* and then there’s final value.

    Someone who approached it this way might deploy final valuing as a heuristic for focusing in on the final value — a kind of “free wheel,” as you put it.

  12. Jon – I’m confused by your confusion! It simply isn’t true that on my account, “final value is, first and foremost, a special kind of valuing”. That can’t be true because, on my account, it’s possible for an object to have final value independently of whether anyone actually values it. (Re-read the last paragraph of my previous comment.)

    It would be more accurate to say that I account for final value in terms of there being reasons for a special kind of valuing. But this absolutely does “change the character of the account”, in the vital respect just noted. Reasons for desire/valuing are prior to our actual valuing, as required. So can you clarify your objection to my account?

    P.S. You write, “final value is by definition not intrinsic value.” Maybe epistemologists use the term in a weird way. But (coming from ethics) I’m used to ‘final value’ meaning simply ‘non-instrumental value’ — a distinction Korsgaard pointed out is orthogonal to the intrinsic/extrinsic distinction. Final value, so understood, may be either intrinsic or extrinsic.

  13. Richard, your p.s. helps unravel things here. When final value is appealed to in order to solve the value problem, it is assumed to be a new and unique kind of thing. It isn’t any of the usual kinds of value (extrinsic, intrinsic, instrumental, non-instrumental) because those are assumed not to solve the value problem. It is, rather, a combination of the two distinctions you mention from Korsgaard: it is both extrinsic and non-instrumental. The question is how that can be, and how it would help with the value problem. And Christian’s explanation is clean and straightforward: it is valuing for its own sake, on grounds that are extrinsic to the thing in question. What Korsgaard meant or said isn’t all that helpful–clarity of exposition is not exactly foremost in her presentation of the matter. So it has to be cleaned up.

  14. One other thing about your original proposal, Richard, which was: For X to have extrinsic final value, on this natural account, is simply for X to have extrinsic features that provide us with reason to non-instrumentally desire it.

    If this account worked, we wouldn’t need to appeal to final value at all to solve the problem of explaining the value of knowledge over its parts. Appeal to the extrinsic features in question would have already solved the problem, since a good reason to desire knowledge over combinations of its subparts would clearly satisfy the skeptics about the special value of knowledge (notice that nobody in the discussion denies that knowledge is valuable; what is in question is knowledge’s special value, the value it has over its proper subparts). That was John Turri’s proposal above, using the resources of Sosa-style virtue epistemology. Those who appeal to final value to solve the problem (Brady, and discussed but rejected by Pritchard) grant the inadequacy of those explanations.

  15. Okay, that’s helpful. Just to clarify: I take it you are using ‘final value’ to simply mean ‘extrinsic, non-instrumental value’. As such, it seems puzzling to refer to “appeal to final value” as somehow different from “appeal to the extrinsic features in question”. If other epistemologists have tried to do the former without the latter, then I’d agree with you that this is surely confused.

  16. Hi Jon,
    I’m not sure I’ll do anything but throw dust in the air, but I’ll try.
    I think that the projectionist theory can distinguish the different directions of explanation to which you allude.
    The “I value it because of its value” direction = “My valuing it is explained by S’s valuing it”, where ‘S’ is an ideal valuer (however you spell that out.)
    The “Its valuable because I (or we or whoever) value it” direction = “S’s valuing of it is explained by the fact that I (or we or whoever) value it.
    Add “…for its own sake” and other modifiers to get final value and other kinds of value, mutatis mutandis.
    (This all supposes there is some way to state this view without committing the conditional fallacy.)
    One might want then to add something to this effect: We ought to value the things that really do have value, where “really valuable” is given the first pattern of analysis.
    The value of knowledge question is then a question about whether and how S values it, if at all. Suppose S values knowledge for its own sake because of its intrinsic features; then let’s say that knowledge has final value and I ought to value it that way.
    On the projectionist strategy, everything (all the hard work, that is) would go into specifying the nature of S.

  17. Hey Jon, it seems, especially from your first paragraph, like you are supposing that (what Rabinowicz and Ronnow-Rasmussen call) the constitutive grounds of something’s value and the supervenience base are the same. I can’t remember whether they draw that distinction in the paper where they talk about Diana’s dress, but Ronnow-Rasmussen does have a paper that focuses on that distinction in some detail. Here’s a link to it:

    Cheers, Adam

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