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.