What Is Basic Intrinsic Value?


The concept of basic intrinsic value is important for axiology. Michael Zimmerman and Timothy Perrine each present necessary and sufficient conditions for something’s having basic intrinsic value. I argue that neither account is satisfactory. I present two objections to Zimmerman’s view. First, I argue that his view cannot accommodate some widely held and plausible views about the intrinsic value of knowledge and true belief. Second, I argue that it cannot accommodate some plausible views about the intrinsic value of states when one state occurs in virtue of the other. It cannot handle “clusters” of intrinsically valuable states. In the final section, I explain Perrine’s view and argue that his account also cannot accommodate some plausible views about the value of knowledge and true belief.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    He presents essentially the same account in Zimmerman 2015: 11.

  2. 2.

    W. D. Ross for example, writes, “It seems clear that knowledge, and in a less degree what we may for the present call ‘right opinion’, are states of mind good in themselves. Here too we may, if we please, help ourselves to realize the fact by supposing two state of the universe equal in respect of virtue and of pleasure and of the allocation of pleasure to the virtuous, but such that persons in the one had a far greater understanding of the nature and laws of the universe than those in the other. Can anyone doubt that the first would be a better state of the universe?”. (Ross 1988 138–39). Cf. Brentano 1973 168–170.

  3. 3.

    I believe that Zimmerman agrees with this point. Zimmerman holds that his analysis is completely general, that it is compatible with a variety of plausible axiologies. He thinks this is a desirable feature of his analysis. (Zimmerman 2001 162–3) I agree with Zimmerman that we want an account of basic intrinsic value that is compatible with a variety of substantive axiologies. I argue that his account is not, and so it should be rejected. Why do we want our account to be completely general? I suggest it is because the distinction between those things that have intrinsic value in a basic way and those that have it in a non-basic or derivative way is one that cuts across substantive axiological theories.

  4. 4.

    Ross writes, “From one point of view it seems doubtful whether knowledge and right opinion, no matter what it is of or about, should be considered good. Knowledge of mere matters of fact (say of the number of stories in a building), without knowledge of their relations to other facts, might seem worthless; it certainly seems to be worth much less than knowledge of general principles, or facts depending on general principles−what we might call insight or understanding as opposed to mere knowledge. But on reflection it seems clear that even about matters of fact right opinion is in itself a better state of mind to be in than wrong, and knowledge than right opinion.” (Ross 1988 139) Brentano makes a similar point, attributing more intrinsic value to some types of knowledge over others, and intrinsic goodness to true belief. (Brentano 1973 168–69).

  5. 5.

    See Brentano 1973 170–72; Cf. Chisholm 1986 59–60.

  6. 6.

    Brentano writes, “Nevertheless, aside from such consequences and incidental circumstances, having ideas is good and is recognizable as such. Certainly, anyone who had to choose between a condition of unconsciousness and the possession of at least some ideas would welcome even the most trivial of these and would not envy inanimate objects. Thus every idea appears to constitute a valuable enrichment of our lives.” (Brentano 1973 173) Cf. Chisholm 1986 63–64.

  7. 7.

    Perrine recognizes the distinction between intrinsic value and final value, but in his paper he notes that he will use the terms “intrinsic value” and “final value” interchangeably (Perrine 2018 979). He says, “Nothing in what follows will turn on this terminological issue or whether final value always supervenes on a thing’s intrinsic properties”(Perrine 2018 980). Perrine prefers to use the term, “final value”. I prefer to use the term, “intrinsic value”. Nothing in what follows turns on the difference.

  8. 8.

    Carla courageously defends an innocent person is a part of (5): At t, John has true belief that Carla courageously defends an innocent person since the latter implies the former and whoever conceives the latter conceives the former.

  9. 9.

    If what I’ve said about certain cases of true belief above, e.g. (5), is true, then some cases of true belief will also supply us with examples of organic unities. We may assume that (5) is intrinsically good or perhaps neutral, but it is not as good as its proper part, namely, Carla courageously defends an innocent person.


  1. Brentano F (1973) The Foundation and Construction of Ethics, edited and translated by Elizabeth Hughes Schneewind. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London

    Google Scholar 

  2. Chisholm R (1986) Brentano and intrinsic value. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  3. Feldman F (2000) Basic intrinsic value. Philos Stud 99:319–346

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Ross WD (1988) The right and the good. Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis

    Google Scholar 

  5. Perrine T (2018) Basic final value and Zimmerman’s The Nature of Intrinsic Value. Ethical Theory Moral Pract 21:979–996

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Zimmerman M (2001) The nature of intrinsic value. Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham

    Google Scholar 

  7. Zimmerman M (2015) On the nature, existence and significance of organic unities. The Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 8:1–25

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Noah Lemos.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Lemos, N. What Is Basic Intrinsic Value?. Ethic Theory Moral Prac (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10677-021-10167-7

Download citation


  • Value theory
  • Basic intrinsic value
  • Zimmerman
  • Perrine