intrinsic value: two perspectives

Utilitarians think that happiness is the only thing that is intrinsically good and others disagree, but one interesting thing is that the perspective we take on our own lives greatly influences what we think is valuable.

In this post, I talked about the philosophical difficulties caused by our ability to view the world from the first person perspective as well as the third person perspective. In the case of value, these two perspectives are relevant. From the first person perspective, it seems plausible that the only thing that is valuable would be our own experience; how we feel when we’re looking out from our own cranium.

But viewed from the third person perspective, it seems like other things might matter like knowledge, achievement, and even things like beauty. Imagine someone who lost the ability to feel pain and pleasure as sensations. This person would be defacto in the third person perspective and might come to regard their life more as a sculpture regards a block of stone; as a canvas for excellence.

This difference also comes up in subtle ways that certain thought experiments are carried out. Sometimes, in trying to determine whether something is intrinsically valuable, someone will create two worlds and ask “which world would you create.” This question is asked from the third perspective, and so makes it easier to see certain things as valuable. For example, if I could create a world of happy sloths, eating fruit that was readily available for their consumption and drinking from pure streams without anything to be afraid or to test them OR a world of hardworking and resolute folk who had to get what they needed through work and overcoming. I would see the second world as far more excellent. However, if I were asked which world I would want to live in, I would of course choose the first, but this is just the difference between addressing questions to the different viewpoints we can inhabit.


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