Intrinsic Value, Environmental Ethics, and Adam Smith

            For better or worse, intrinsic value is a central concept in contemporary environmental ethics.  J. Baird Callicott claims that “How to discover intrinsic value in nature is the defining problem for environmental ethics” (Callicott 1999: 241).   In Environmental Ethics, Holmes Rolston III claims that “Environmental ethics asks: What is an appropriate attitude toward [Nature]? Has it any value?” (Rolston 1988: 197).  Within environmental ethics, there are two central debates about intrinsic value.  First, environmental pragmatists such as Lori Gruen, Bryan Norton, and Andrew Light call into question the importance of concepts like intrinsic value, suggesting a pragmatic turn towards an environmental ethics that avoids tricky meta-ethical issues – the “albatross” or “morass” of intrinsic value (Morito 2003; Turner 1996: 88) – in favor of more important normative discussions about actions and attitudes. Against this trend, philosophers such as Callicott and Rolston defend the importance of intrinsic value.  Second, among those who agree that intrinsic value is important, there is disagreement about whether intrinsic value should be understood to be an objective property of the world independent of human valuings (Rolston’s view) or a property that entities in the world have by virtue of some relationship to human attitudes (the view of Robert Elliot, and, arguably, of Callicott).  This paper offers a theory of intrinsic value that will be new within environmental ethics, one that straddles the divides between pragmatists, objectivists, and subjectivists.

            The account of intrinsic value that I defend in this paper is a proper attitude of intrinsic value.  Like pragmatists, I argue that determining proper attitudes towards nature is a more important and more fundamental project for environmental ethics than determining what entities have intrinsic value.  Unlike pragmatists, however (and thus like Callicott and Rolston), I still ascribe importance to the concept of intrinsic value.  Because ascriptions of intrinsic value are justified by appeal to proper attitudes, however, my account provides a way to bridge the divide between pragmatists and intrinsic value theorists.  Moreover, the account of intrinsic value I defend in this paper is neither objectivist in the sense defended by Rolston, nor subjectivist in the sense defended by Elliot.  By tying ascriptions of intrinsic value to human attitudes, my account has all of the advantages of the subjectivist account.  But because intrinsic value is justified only by proper attitudes, the account avoids most of the problems with subjectivist accounts.  The result is a theory of intrinsic value that avoids the meta-ethical entanglements of objectivist theories and the relativism of subjectivist theories, all the while bridging the divide between pragmatists and intrinsic value theorists.

            After a short section introducing the role of intrinsic value in recent environmental ethics, this paper turns (in sections two and three) to developing a general structure for proper attitude accounts of intrinsic value.  There are really a cluster of such accounts, all sharing in common features that distinguish them from objectivism and subjectivism about values, but differing in both the range of normatively evaluable attitudes and the bases for determining whether an attitude is proper.  In section four, I shift from my general proper attitude structure to a specific theory of intrinsic value.  Drawing on Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, I show how one can develop a Smithian account of intrinsic value, highlighting some of the features of this account that make it particularly important for environmental ethics.


1.  Intrinsic Value in Ethics and Environmental Ethics.

            The term “intrinsic value” in philosophical ethics goes back to the turn of the 20th century, when two different but related theories of intrinsic value were developed in Britain and Germany.  In Germany, Franz Brentano developed a theory of intrinsic value as dependent upon the propriety of love simpliciter, such that “we call a thing good when the love relating to it is correct” (Brentano 1889/1969: 18, cf. Brentano 1952/1973, Bernstein 2001, Broad 1930, and Chisholm 1981 and 1986).  In Britain, G. E. Moore articulated a theory of intrinsic value as part of his intuitionist program in ethics.  Moore described intrinsic value as an “indefinable” or “simple” property, a “unique simple object of thought” (Moore 1902: xiii), but one that gives rise to duties to maximize intrinsic value (Moore 1902 and 1912).  These approaches shared a common commitment to the centrality of the notion of “intrinsic value” in ethics.  But Brentano’s approach allows the normativity of attitudes (love, hate, and preference) to be conceptually prior to ascriptions of intrinsic value, while Moore put claims about intrinsic value made on the basis of intuition conceptually prior to normative evaluation of actions and attitudes relating to those values.[1]  Throughout the 20th century, beginning with W. D. Ross (Ross 1930) and continuing through more recent accounts such as those of Noah Lemos (Lemos 1994), Michael Zimmerman (Zimmerman 2001), and Robert Audi (Audi 2004), Moore’s approach to intrinsic value has dominated discussions of intrinsic value in Anglo-American meta-ethics.[2]

            For G. E. Moore and his early 20th century followers such as Ross, the notion of intrinsic value was part of a more general meta-ethical program that had several important components.  Most importantly for the purposes of this paper, Moore advocated a form of moral realism or moral objectivism that prioritized the good over the right.  For Moore, the claim that something has intrinsic value or intrinsic goodness is a basic claim, one established on the basis of intuition.  Moore has a “realist, objectivist and nonnaturalist” conception of this intrinsic value, such that “to say to something that is has intrinsic value is to attribute to it a simple, unanalyzable, nonnatural property” (Elliot 1992: 138).  Moore’s realism and objectivism have found an important place within environmental ethics, most notably in the work of Holmes Rolston III.  At least as important for the purposes of this paper, however, is the priority that Moore gives judgments about intrinsic value or goodness.  Such value judgments, for Moore, are the proper bases of judgments about right actions and attitudes, not the other way around.  As Moore explains, “‘right’ does and can mean nothing but ‘cause of a good result’ . . . whence it follows that the end always justifies the means” (Moore 1902/1988: 147).  Similarly, W.D. Ross explains that “what makes actions right is that they are productive of more good than could have been produced by any other action open to the agent” (Ross 1930: 16, but cf. 9-11).  For Moore and Ross, the priority of the good is inseparable from realism: because the notion of intrinsic value or goodness is unanalyzable in terms of rightness (but rather vice versa), it is a simple, objective (but non-natural) property.


Within environmental ethics, the notion of intrinsic value is primarily used to articulate a distinction between “anthropocentric” and “non-anthropocentric” ethical theories.  Environmentalists such as Holmes Rolston III or J. Baird Callicott argue that environmental ethics must be non-anthropocentric in the sense that non-human entities (and even non-sentient entities) must be taken to have intrinsic value.

For if no intrinsic value can be attributed to nature, then environmental ethics is nothing distinct. If nature, that is, lacks intrinsic value, then environmental ethics is but a particular application of human-to-human ethics.  (Callicott 1999: 241, my emphasis)

Prominent defenders of this use of intrinsic value in environmental ethics include J. Baird Callicott, Holmes Rolston III, Arne Naess (in some work), and Nicolas Agar.[3]  For the purpose of articulating this distinctively environmental (non-anthropocentric) conception of intrinsic value, environmental ethicists typically look back further than G. E. Moore, to philosophers who do not use the term “intrinsic value,” but who used various concepts (of the good, or of dignity) that environmental philosophers describe using Moore’s terminology.  The two philosophers most important in this respect are Aristotle and Kant.[4] 

In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle distinguishes between instrumental ends which are “pursued as a means to something else,” and the “supreme good” or “final end,” which is properly “an end in itself” (1097a).  Environmental ethicists often make use of the notion of “intrinsic value” to refer to non-instrumental ends in this sense.  In the context of discussing the role of intrinsic value in debates surrounding the Endangered Species Act, for example, J. Baird Callicott articulates this Aristotelian conception of intrinsic value: “The value of something as a means to an end other than itself is instrumental.  The value of something for itself, for its own sake, as an end in itself, is intrinsic” (Callicott 2005: 280).[5]

            Environmental ethicists also often appeal to Kant as an important early proponent of the concept of “intrinsic value,” though this is a term that Kant never uses.[6]  Instead, Kant speaks of “dignity,” or that which “is raised above all price and therefore admits of no equivalent” (4:434).  Kant discusses the distinction between dignity and price as part of arguing for the unique dignity of rational agency (and thus humanity), a unique dignity that gives rise to unconditional obligations to respect other human beings.  While rejecting the limitation of dignity to human beings, many environmental philosophers seek to show that nature itself (or aspects of nature) have a similar sort of dignity – intrinsic value – that warrants some level of moral regard for nature akin to Kant’s unconditional respect.  J. Baird Callicott goes so far as to call Kant’s philosophy the “locus classicus of the concept of intrinsic value” (Callicott 2005: 284) and he rightly says, “although the early twentieth-century philosopher G.E. Moore (1903) wrote much about intrinsic value, Immanuel Kant’s modern classical concept of intrinsic value and the way it functioned in his ethics most influenced the thinking of environmental philosophers” (Callicott 2002: 5).

For environmental ethicists, the Kantian sense of intrinsic value helps highlight connections between intrinsic value for nature and the conception of “fundamental human rights” that grew out of Kant’s emphasis on human dignity.  J. Baird Callicott (following W. Fox) argues,

The concept of intrinsic value in nature functions politically much like the concept of human rights.  Human rights . . . may be overridden by considerations of public or aggregate utility.[7]  But in all such cases, the burden of proof for doing so rests not with the rights holder, but with those who would override human rights.  (Callicott 2002: 14, see too Callicott 1999: 245-6)

Unlike Aristotelian ends in themselves, Kantian intrinsic value implies a certain trumping value over other ends.  The burden of justification lies on anyone who wishes to destroy or violate value. With the assumption that forests lack intrinsic value, the onus is on conservationists to take loggers to court and establish that this particular area has instrumental value. If intrinsic value for forests were established, then the onus would be on the logging company to justify their destruction of a particular forest.  The Endangered Species Act in the United States has had something like this effect (see Callicott 2005).  The difference is “comparable to the difference for humans between a legal system that operates on a presumption of guilt until innocence is proved beyond reasonable doubt and one that operates on a presumption of innocence” (Callicott 1999: 246).

            Although they did not explicitly write in terms of “intrinsic value,” Kant and Aristotle are the primary sources for environmental ethicists’ reflections on the intrinsic value of nature.  Still, some environmental philosophers also emphasize Moorean conceptions of intrinsic value, in particular to draw attention to the importance of natural values being non-extrinsic or non-relational (cf. Elliot 1992, Rolston 1988).  John O’Neill, for example, in a survey of the notion of intrinsic value in contemporary environmental ethics, highlights as one of three main uses of intrinsic value the idea of “the value an object has solely in virtue of its intrinsic properties” (O’Neill 2001: 165).  Although most environmental ethicists (and activists) rightly focus on the non-instrumental and trumping value of nature, it is also important to recognize that nature has value that is not only not instrumental, but not dependent in any way upon its relationship to human beings.  Holmes Rolston III has emphasized this particularly forcefully: “Ecological values . . . seem to be there apart from humans being there” (Rolston 1988: 3).  Showing that nature has non-instrumental, trumping value is arguably more important from the standpoint of action than showing that is has non-relational value, but something deep is missing in humans’ understanding of their relationship to nature if we think that the value of nature is derived from its relationships to human beings.  Ascribing value to the Grand Canyon, the Brazilian rainforest, and the mouse lemur (cf. Rolston 1988: 129) purely because of their relationship to humans might be able to free itself from that crude anthropocentrism that treats nature as a mere resource, and it would be sufficient for most of the policy prescriptions sought by environmentalists.  But such an ascription of value maintains a level of anthropocentric hubris that sees the value of everything as due, in some way, to its connection to human life.  And this hubris, for at least some environmentalists (e.g. Rolston), must be avoided in a truly environmental ethic.  The concept of value that precludes such anthropocentric hubris might be called non-relational value.  Because non-relationality is an important feature of Moore’s conception of intrinsic value, this Moorean conception also plays a role in some uses of intrinsic value in environmental ethics.[8] 


            There are, in other words, three important senses of intrinsic value within environmental ethics.[9]  In all cases, intrinsic value is taken to imply moral considerability, and moral considerability for nature is really the fundamental reason for making intrinsic value a part of environmental ethics at all.  First (drawing from Aristotle and Kant), intrinsic value can mean non-instrumental moral considerability.  That is, if nature has intrinsic value, then nature must be taken into account within moral deliberation, and taken into account not merely as a means to further ends, but in its own right.[10]  I call this sort of intrinsic value “non-instrumental value.”  Second, intrinsic value can involve non-instrumental moral considerability of a stronger sort, what Kant calls moral dignity.  This requires not merely being taken into account in one’s own right, but some degree of moral trumpingness.  That is, if nature has intrinsic value, then respect for nature ought to trump other concerns, if not unconditionally (as in Kant), then at least prima facie.  This would, as Callicott suggests (Callicott 2002 and 2005), shift the burden of proof from environmental preservers to environmental destroyers, and would accord to nature something akin to human rights.  I call this sort of intrinsic value “trumping value.”  Finally, intrinsic value can mean non-relational moral considerability, or even non-relational value more broadly speaking.  This Moorean conception of intrinsic value applied to nature would imply not only that nature has value independent of its use as a means to further ends, but that it has value independent of any relationship to anything else.  In particular, this Moorean conception of intrinsic value implies that nature is not valuable merely because human beings value it, even if we value it “in itself.”[11]  This sort of intrinsic value will be called “non-relational value.”

            For the purposes of this paper, it is important to note the disconnect between the purposes for which environmental ethicists appeal to the concept of “intrinsic value” and the reasons that Moore first proposed the concept.  In particular, the meta-ethical program that Moore advocated has no necessary connection with the purposes for which environmental ethicists use the concept of intrinsic value.  One need neither be a moral realist/objectivist nor advocate the primacy of the good over the right in order to insist that nature or its parts have intrinsic value in the three senses specified above.  Neither Kant nor Aristotle was a moral realist in the way that Moore was, and both arguably prioritized the role of the right – proper attitudes – over the value of the objects of those attitudes.[12]  Even non-relational intrinsic value, which has the greatest debt to Moore, can be disentangled from his meta-ethical claims.  Specifically, there is no reason that the claim that something has non-relational value cannot depend upon conceptually prior claims about what is right to promote.  In section three, I will make this claim clearer in the context of my proper attitude account of value; my purpose here is simply to highlight the gap that exists, at least in principle, between the normative roles that intrinsic value plays in environmental ethics and the meta-ethical purpose to which Moore put it.

            The disconnect between Moore’s use of intrinsic value and that of contemporary environmental philosophy is important because this paper proposes a conception of intrinsic value that is closer to Brentano’s[13] than to Moore’s or even those of Kant and Aristotle.  This conception does not depend upon (and in its most natural form, rejects) moral realism, and it prioritizes notions of propriety – akin to the Moorean concept of the right – over ascriptions of intrinsic value.  The specific source for my conception of intrinsic value is Adam Smith, whose moral theory supports a theory of intrinsic value that avoids many of the meta-ethical commitments of Moore, Rolston, and others, while still capturing what is most important about “intrinsic value” for environmental ethicists, in all three of the above senses.  At the same time, because it prioritizes the propriety of attitudes over claims about intrinsic value, the Smithian approach to intrinsic value proposed here should appeal to those such as Gary Norton, Andrew Light,[14] and (especially) Lori Gruen (Gruen 2002), who seek to get away from intrinsic value as a fundamental moral notion in environmental ethics. The result, I hope, is a conception of intrinsic value that can heal some of the divides between certain pragmatists and intrinsic value proponents,[15] while at the same time putting both attitude-based approaches to environmental ethics and intrinsic-value-based approaches on a more secure footing, by grounding both in Adam Smith’s moral theory.[16]


            The structure of the rest of the paper is as follows.  In the next section (section two), I lay out a proper attitude account of value in general, according to which a thing has value just in case it is the object of a proper valuing attitude.  In section three, I focus this account more narrowly into an account of intrinsic value, a transformation that is fairly straightforward: a thing has intrinsic value just in case it is the object of a proper intrinsically valuing attitude.  The primary burden of this section is to show that the account of value articulated in section two can makes sense of non-instrumental value, trumping value, and non-relational value, the three sorts of intrinsic value that dominate environmental ethics. In section four, I show how Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments provides a way to determine the propriety of attitudes and thus grounds a proper attitude account of value.  Finally, in my conclusion, I sketch some implications of this account of intrinsic value for environmental ethics.  (In a brief appendix, I respond to criticisms that Holmes Rolston III has raised against accounts of value similar to this one.)


2.  Beyond Subjectivism and Objectivism: A Proper Attitude Account of Value

            Within recent environmental philosophy, debates about the nature of value have often focused on a distinction between subjectivist accounts of value and objectivist accounts.  Objectivists such as Holmes Rolston III argue that intrinsic value is an objective property of entities in the world; he asks (rhetorically), “Do not humans value the earth because it is valuable, and not the other way round?” (Rolston 1988: 4).  Subjectivists like Robert Elliot argue instead that “a thing has intrinsic value if it is approved of by a valuer in virtue of its properties” (Elliot 1992: 140).[17]  In this section, my goal is to lay out, briefly and in general terms, an account of value that is neither strictly subjectivist, in the sense attacked by intrinsic value theorists such as Moore, Ross, and Rolston and defended by environmental ethicists such as Robert Elliot and (at times) J. Baird Callicott, nor objectivist, in the sense attacked by Elliot and Callicott and defended by Rolston, Moore, and others.  Brentano articulated such an account, as have several recent moral philosophers (e.g. Korsgaard 1996; Darwall 2003; Lemos 1994).  And Adam Smith, although he never explicitly laid out his ethics as an account of intrinsic value, nonetheless provided one of the most well worked out moral foundations for such an account.  Ultimately, this paper articulates and defends a Smithian version of what I will call a “proper attitude” account of intrinsic value.  But the general framework of proper attitude accounts, as well as my arguments for the superiority of these accounts to subjectivist and objectivist theories of value, applies more broadly.  Because Smith did not explicitly use the terminology of intrinsic value, moreover, it will be helpful to begin with a more recent, and quite different, proper attitude account of intrinsic value, that of Christine Korsgaard.


            Christine Korsgaard’s defense of what she calls a “rationalist” account of value (Korsgaard 1996: 225f.) is particularly helpful in the present context because Korsgaard explicitly contrasts this rationalist account of value with, on the one hand, a subjectivist account that “identifies good ends with or by reference to some psychological state” and, on the other hand, an objectivist account according to which “to say that something is good is to attribute . . . to it . . . an objective, nonrelational property . . ., a value a thing has independently of anyone’s desires, interests, or pleasures” (Korsgaard 1996: 225).[18]  Korsgaard rightly points out that subjectivism has the advantage that it “acknowledge[s] the connection of the good to human interests and desires” (255), while objectivism has the advantage that it can explain how “people sometimes fail to care about what is good and sometimes have desires or interests for things that are not good” (226).  Korsgaard suggests,

The rationalist theory may be seen as an attempt to combine these advantages.  According to this view, an object or state of affairs is good if there is sufficient practical reason to realizing it or bringing it about.  (226)

This captures the connection to human interests and desires, in that something is good if it can or should be an object of human interest and desire.  But it also covers cases in which people fail to actually care about it, since one can fail to desire what one should desire.

            The key point here is that unlike subjectivist accounts, Korsgaard’s rationalism does not link value to any contingent interests of actual human agents.  By defining value in terms of what human beings ought to bring about, Korsgaard remains free of the normative arbitrariness of subjectivism.  But because rationalism links value to what human beings ought to bring about, it does not suffer the same risk of being motivationally inert as objectivist accounts of intrinsic value.  Stephen Darwall has made this latter point in an even stronger way, arguing that Moore’s realist conception of intrinsic value is incoherent, or at least that it depends upon a prior and more fundamental proper attitude account: “intrinsic value’s normativity must be constituted by its relation to the norms of valuing attitudes and action” (Darwall 2003: 482).[19]

            Korsgaard’s careful navigation between subjectivism and objectivism highlights two key features that any such intermediate account must have.  First, to preserve what is good about subjectivism, such an account must maintain a necessary normative connection to human beings.  Korsgaard puts this in terms of a connection to “realizing or bringing about” something, but all that is necessary is a relation to whatever actions or attitudes in human beings can be governed by ethical norms.  Alan Gibbard (Gibbard 1990), Robert Solomon (Solomon 1976), Martha Nussbaum (1990, 2001), and others have argued that the range of normativity can be broader than action or bringing about good states of affairs.  Stephen Darwall summarizes this point:

There is much that we judge normatively and regulate by norms other than action, for example, reasoning, beliefs, choices, emotions, responses, feelings, intentions, and attitudes[20]….[And] there are many ways of valuing something intrinsically, that is just on account of its intrinsic properties, that don’t amount to valuing any state….  Respect, veneration, love, cherishing, and sympathy or benevolent concern are all ways of valuing something intrinsically which to not reduce to valuing the state of that thing’s existence. (Darwall 2003: 478, 482)[21]

Within environmental ethics, this normative relation to human beings is, in fact, one of the key advantages that proponents on both sides of the debate about intrinsic value in nature highlight.  Rolston, an objectivist, argues that “If I did not believe . . . that tigers have intrinsic value . . ., I would not be making such efforts to protect them” (Rolston 1998: 350), while Lori Gruen has raised a “problem of motivation” for intrinsic value based accounts: “if intrinsic value is a . . . property of the thing valued, how does this property hook up with the wills of those who perceive it so as to motivate action?  There appears to be a motivational gap” (Gruen 2002: 159).  What is needed is some conception of intrinsic value that connects the concept of intrinsic value with human motivation in a normative way, and this is just what an account like Korsgaard’s is well situated to do.

            Second, however, in order to preserve what is good about objectivism, one must appeal to ethical norms that are superior to contingent actions and attitudes of actual particular persons.  This appeal to something supra-individual is important to preserve the coherence of an account of value as a truly normative account, as objectivists such as Rolston (and rationalists such as Korsgaard) have emphasized.  As Rolston insists with respect to protecting tigers, there must be something like intrinsic value that transcends contingent preferences and desires, to motivate what might be disagreeable action, and what is in any case normatively required rather than simply preferred.  In other words, any intermediate account of value must connect to human attitudes to provide the advantages of the subjectivist and connect to a non-subjectivist account of the propriety of those attitudes, to provide the advantages of the objectivist.  In general, then, a thing has value just in case it is the object of a proper valuing attitude.


            At this level of generality, of course, proper attitude accounts of intrinsic value are incomplete.  Simply saying that a thing has value just in case it is the object of a proper valuing attitude calls for an explanation of what sorts of attitudes count as “valuing attitudes” and, more importantly, for what makes at least some of these attitudes proper.  One could even transform this account into subjectivism – by claiming that all actual attitudes are proper – or objectivism – by claiming that a valuing attitude is proper only if it is responsive to objective values in the world.  What is distinctive about proper attitude accounts of value, however, is the shift from facts about the subjective states of agents or objective facts about the world to normative theories about proper attitudes. Korsgaard’s rationalist conception of value is a possible proper attitude account, one that narrows the range of valuing attitudes to those that involve “realizing or bringing about” an object or state of affairs and that specifies rationality as the basis for propriety.  As I will show in the section four, Smith develops an alternative account of proper attitudes in which sympathy, rather than rationality, provides the basis for determining the propriety of attitudes, and in which the range of normatively governed valuing attitudes is much wider than in Korsgaard.

            The intrinsic incompleteness of a proper attitude account of value gives such an account a special place within recent debates about intrinsic value in environmental ethics.  In particular, a proper attitude account of value will straddle the divide between pragmatists and intrinsic value proponents.  Like the views of environmental philosophers such as Callicott and Rolston who emphasize intrinsic value, a proper attitudes account is an account of intrinsic value, and it thus provides a way for environmentalists to defend philosophically the notion that nature has intrinsic value.  It recognizes the legitimacy and importance of the concept within environmental philosophy and debate.  But like pragmatists such as Norton (Norton 1991), Light (Light 1996, cf. too essays in Light, ed. 1996), and Gruen (Gruen 2002), proponents of a proper attitude account of intrinsic value see the issue of what has intrinsic value as both secondary and (from a purely philosophical standpoint) dispensable.  What is essential to environmental ethics is establishing the propriety of various (intrinsically) valuing attitudes towards nature.  One may then, if one chooses, extend one’s normative vocabulary to describe the objects of those attitudes as having “intrinsic value.” But the ascription of intrinsic value will derive from prior normative claims about attitudes, and the move to intrinsic value will not provide further philosophical support for the moral importance of those attitudes, though it may help rhetorically, motivationally, and even philosophically (for clarifying what exactly the attitudes involve).


3.  From Value to Intrinsic Value. 

            So far, we have seen how a proper attitude account of value provides an alternative to both subjectivist and objectivist accounts.  This does not yet show how a proper attitude account can make sense of the notion of intrinsic value, in any of the senses described in section one.  In this section, I argue that a proper attitude account can make sense of all three sorts of intrinsic value: non-instrumental, trumping, and non-relational value.  I close this section with a comment about an even more diverse and nuanced approach to “intrinsic value” that proper attitude accounts like Smith’s make possible.


a. Non-instrumental Value

The potential for a proper attitude account of value to make sense of non-instrumental value has been clear at least since the birth of philosophical ethics in ancient Greece, it received renewed attention in the early 18th century when Smith was living, and it continues to be vigorously defended today. Bishop Butler’s discussion of self-love in his Sermons (Butler 1726) was particularly important for both Smith and contemporary accounts in that Butler articulates the distinction between “self-love” and the “particular passions” in the satisfaction of which consists human happiness.  Self-love is a reflective passions that takes one’s own happiness as its end, but self-love does not in itself make one happy.  On the contrary,

if self-love wholly engrosses us, and leaves no room for any other principle, there can be absolutely no such thing at all as happiness or enjoyment of any kind whatever; since happiness consists in the gratification of particular passions, which supposes the having of them (Butler 1726: Sermon XI, ¶9)

For Butler, the primary purpose of this discussion of the nature of self-love is to show that benevolence and self-love are not contradictory.  In an argument later picked up by Hume (Hume 1751: Appendix II), Butler argues that since self-love can only be satisfied through satisfying other particular passions, there is no reason that those other passions cannot be benevolent ones (and, in fact, many reasons why they should be).  Comparing benevolence to love of honor, Butler asks, “Is desire of and delight in the happiness of another any more a diminution of self-love than desire of and delight in the esteem of another?“ (XI. ¶10).  In both cases, one pursues something in another, and in both cases, the presence of that in the other brings pleasure to oneself.  Neither benevolence nor love of honor is the same as self-love, but either can be a means of satisfying self-love, insofar as one’s love of honor or of another is satisfied.[22]

Although originally intended as a defense of benevolence, this Butlerian distinction also helps make sense of intrinsic value.[23]  Butler’s central point is that one ought not confuse the pleasure that results from realizing a “particular desire” with the object of that desire.  Now some objects of “particular” desires – such as money or tenure – are merely instrumental goods, but others – such as the well-being of others, the suffering of those against whom one seeks revenge, or even honor – are “intrinsic” goods in the sense that one seeks those goods as ends in themselves and not mere means.[24]  Adam Smith recognized just this point with respect to the human desire for punishment (and for food and sex), pointing out that

With regard to all those ends [such as the preservation of society, of oneself, and of the species] which, upon account of their peculiar importance, may be regarded . . . as the favourite ends of nature, she has constantly . . . not only endowed mankind with an appetite for the end which she proposes, but likewise with an appetite for the means [such as punishment, food, or sex] by which alone this end can be brought about, for their own sakes, and independent of their tendency to produce it. (II.i.5.9n, p. 77)

The appetite for various goods “for their own sakes” includes those goods that are essential for the thriving of society and of individuals, but also any goods that are conducive to “the favorite ends of nature,” whatever those might be, and even other goods (since Smith is not being exhaustive here). 

            Moreover, there is no reason to limit intrinsically valuing attitudes to desire or appetite.  Martha Nussbaum provides an excellent example of non-instrumental valuing in her account of grief over the death of her mother (cf. Nussbaum 2001:19-88):

My mother has died.  It strikes me, it appears to me, that a person of enormous value, who was central in my life, is there no longer.  It seemed to me as if a nail from the world had entered my insides; it also felt as if life had suddenly a large rip or tear in it, a gaping hole.  (Nussbaum 2001: 39). 

As Nussbaum rightly insists, her mother strikes her as having enormous value, and a value that is inconsistent with seeing her mother “simply as [a] tool… of [her] own satisfaction,” a value that Nussbaum elsewhere calls “intrinsic worth or value” (Nussbaum 2001: 31).[25]  Even without Butler’s philosophical analysis, it is obvious that the value conferred upon an object of grief is not, in general, instrumental, but his analysis helps show that the presence of such intrinsically valuing attitudes is an indispensable part of any coherent human life.  And there is no reason to think that grief – or other non-instrumentally valuing emotions – must be limited to grief at human beings.  Aldo Leopold poignantly describes grief in his “Monument to the Pigeon,” where he explains how “We have erected a monument to commemorate the funeral of a species.  It symbolizes our sorrow” (116).[26]

Of course, there are lesser emotional responses, such as missing a thing or being upset at its loss, that one might feel towards objects that have merely instrumental value.  After my bicycle was stolen in graduate school, I missed it (and felt some resentment towards its thief), but I did not feel grief over it.  Were I to have felt anything resembling grief, this would have been a sign that the bike had some of what we generally call “sentimental value,” but which is really a sort of non-instrumental value.  Grief is an emotion that takes its object to have intrinsic (non-instrumental) value.

            Grief is not unique in this respect.  One generally feels grief for those that one loves, and love too is an emotion that values its objects non-instrumentally.  Awe, delight, and cherishing, too, are generally attitudes that value their objects non-instrumentally.  One might delight in or cherish something for its instrumental value, but this would be an exceptional case.  Awe, even when felt towards something that has instrumental value – say, the Hoover Dam – is an attitude that transcends and even abstracts from that instrumental value.  To focus on the instrumental value of something is, from the perspective of one in awe, to demean it.  Negative attitudes, too, can take a non-instrumental attitude towards their objects.  Hatred and resentment do not generally view their objects instrumentally.  One who seeks revenge or seeks to harm an object of hatred does not generally do so for the sake of some further end; resentment and hatred precisely consist in one’s seeking the harm of another for its own sake.  Of course, there are attitudes that one can take towards objects that do value them instrumentally.  One might desire wealth for the sake of pleasure.  One might feel sadness over the loss of something because that thing was particularly useful.  One might have hope or fear directed towards objects of merely instrumental value.  But there are a wide variety of attitudes, from grief, love, and awe to hatred and resentment, that generally ascribe non-instrumental value to their objects.

To have a proper attitude based account of intrinsic (non-instrumental) value, it is not enough, of course, to show only that certain attitudes ascribe non-instrumental value to their objects.  This would be sufficient for a subjectivist account, but it is all too clear that people sometimes ascribe non-instrumental value to things improperly.  Adam Smith describes, for example, those who “ruin themselves by laying out money on trinkets of frivolous utility . . . . [and] walk about loaded with a multitude of baubles, . . . some of which may sometimes be of some little use, but all of which might at all times be very well spared, and of which the whole utility is certainly not worth the fatigue of bearing the burden” (IV.i.6).[27]  One could multiply such examples.  A child who throws a tantrum when denied the toy she wanted, even when she is given an otherwise equal toy, improperly ascribes intrinsic value to a particular toy.  An adult who ascribes intrinsic value to money is even further from propriety, since, as Aristotle pointed out already in his Nicomachean Ethics (1195b), money’s value is essentially instrumental.  One who feels awe towards an ordinary pebble or grief at the pruning of a tree has improper valuing attitudes.  And one who fails to feel awe at the Grand Canyon or fails to feel grief at the loss of a beloved parent, has an improper deficiency of attitudes.  The mere fact that one has or fails to have particular attitudes towards something is insufficient for determining its intrinsic value.  What matters is the propriety of attitudes with respect to an object.

 Still, given that there are attitudes that value their objects non-instrumentally, one need only explain when those attitudes can be proper to have a complete account of this kind of intrinsic value.  Although I still need to lay out Smith’s account of propriety in the next section, I have just given some intuitive suggestions about attitudes that ascribe intrinsic value.  And there should at least be a strong presumption in favor of at least some non-instrumentally valuing attitudes being proper.  The love of parents for children and the grief of children over the death of parents, for example, are prime candidates for proper attitudes that properly ascribe non-instrumental value to their objects.


b. Trumping Value

            Non-instrumental value is a sort of value that something can have regardless of its use in promoting other valuable ends.  But even things with non-instrumental value need not have trumping value.  Trumping value implies that something has value that should override other values, either unconditionally or at least prima facie.  To have trumping value is to have something akin to fundamental rights.  Human beings have trumping value in that one must respect them, even if respecting them has effects that are bad overall.  For example, most moral philosophers will see torture as at least prima facie impermissible, and for many (e.g. Kant), torture is unconditionally impermissible.[28]  In either case, however, admitting trumping value requires sacrificing a brute act-utilitarianism.  Even if torturing someone would increase overall happiness (or some other relevant goods), it is simply impermissible.  But it is important to see that merely having non-instrumental value does not imply that something has trumping value.  I may value a particular painting non-instrumentally; I appreciate it independent of its use for anything.  But this does not imply that I give it any particular rights.  I may, for instance, be perfectly willing to sell the painting, if I need money for something else.  The fact that my appreciation (a valuing attitude) of the painting is not instrumental does not imply that it trumps other values (including even instrumental values such as the desire for money).

            The primary way that a proper attitude account of intrinsic value accounts for trumping value is straightforward.  Certain attitudes ascribe trumping value to their objects, and when such attitudes are proper, then their objects can be said to have trumping value.  The sort of appreciation that one has for a painting does not, generally, imply that it has trumping value, but the distinctive sort of appreciation – approaching reverence – that one has for historically, culturally, or artistically unique and important paintings does imply trumping value.  One can properly appreciate a fine painting and still sell it, but one’s appreciation of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna would be insufficient, and hence improper, if it did not imply some prima facie trumping value of that painting over other concerns.  More obviously, proper respect[29] for other people, as well as proper love for parents, children, and lovers, ought to be not only non-instrumental, but trumping.[30]  Thus anything that is a proper object of these kinds of reverence, respect, or love would have trumping value.


c. Non-relational Value

            Finally, however, even if something has non-instrumental value (and even trumping value), it might lack non-relational value.  Nussbaum’s example of grief over her mother is a clear example of non-instrumental but nonetheless relational value.  As she explains,

What inspires grief is the death of someone beloved, someone who has been an important part of one’s own life.  This does not mean that the emotions view these objects simply as tools or instruments of the agent’s own satisfaction; they may be invested with intrinsic worth or value, as indeed my mother surely was.  They may be loved for their own sake, and their good sought for its own sake.  But what makes the emotion center around this particular mother . . . is that she is my mother, a part of my life.  The emotions are in this sense localized: they take their stand in my own life.  (Nussbaum 2001: 31)

Nussbaum’s example could not be a clearer case of the distinction between instrumental and relative goodness.  Many valuing attitudes – filial love, gratitude, and grief at loss – are appropriate with respect to one’s parents to a degree that would not be appropriate with respect to others.  These attitudes do not ascribe instrumental value to one’s parents.  To love or feel gratitude towards one’s parents only for what they can do for one would be deeply improper.  At the same time these valuing attitudes are proper because of a specific relationship between their object and oneself.  They are deeply relational valuings, and the value of one’s parents is, in that sense, a relational value.

            Grief and love are very good examples of these sorts of attitudes, but gratitude is the paradigm case of non-instrumental, relational valuing.  Hobbes famously defended the importance of gratitude for instrumental reasons (cf. Hobbes 1651/1996: 105), but this account misses the true emotional force of gratitude.  Smith is much closer to the mark, seeing gratitude as a “sentiment, which . . . immediately and directly prompts us to reward, or to do good to another” who has done good to oneself (II.i.2.1).  Gratitude comes not from any calculation of long term self-interest, but is an immediate sentiment of response to benevolence.  Gratitude involves an immediate concern for the well-being of another and takes this other and her well-being as an end in itself.  One does not seek the well-being of the other for any further end; it is not instrumental.  But gratitude is nonetheless deeply relational.  One properly feels gratitude towards only those from whom one is “assisted, protected, relieved” or benefited in some other way (II.i.2.4).[31]  The relationship of the object of gratitude to the person who feels it causes and justifies gratitude.

            Many attitudes, then, including grief and love and especially gratitude, can ascribe non-instrumental value to their objects without ascribing non-relational value to them.  But, as noted in section one, non-relational value is important in environmental ethics to avoid anthropocentric hubris.  And unfortunately, both Korsgaard and Nussbaum use the distinction between non-instrumental and non-relational value to limit the force of their proper attitude accounts of value to non-instrumental value. This is clearest in Nussbaum, who uses her description of the relational nature of her grief for her mother as an entrée into an account according to which all emotions are “eudaimonistic” (Nussbaum 2001: 31) in the sense that although “they insist on the real importance of their object,” “they also . . . have to do with me and my own, my plans and goals, what is important in my own conception . . . of what it is for me to live well” (Nussbaum 2001: 33).  In support of this claim, Nussbaum again turns to her mother:

Let us now return to my central example.  My mother has died.  It strikes me, it appears to me, that a person of enormous value, who was central in my life, is there no longer.  . . . [This emotion] is evaluative and eudaimonistic; it does not just assert “Betty Craven is dead.”  Central to the [grief] is my mother’s enormous importance, both in herself and as an element in my life.  (Nussbaum 2001: 39). 

Nussbaum’s self-analysis here is (I suspect) both accurate and insightful.  The emotional force of “my mother is dead” is completely different than the emotional force of “Betty Craven is dead.”  The grief wrapped up with former ascribes importance to its object both in itself and in relation to oneself.  It is, as Nussbaum aptly puts it, eudaimonistic, in that it is a grief that ties the value of its object to one’s own life in a non-instrumental way.

            But Nussbaum goes too far in using this analysis as an analysis of emotion in general, or even of grief in general, as the case of death makes particularly vivid.  Images of victims of war or disease, especially when these victims are children, inspire grief.  News reports of such tragedy, and even cold statistics, can inspire grief in one sufficiently attentive, one who has not grown callous and who is willing to take the time to really consider the news.  To some extent, these feelings of grief may be due to a sense of distant community, that we are all in this world together.  To some extent, these feelings may be due to associations with those closer to one’s own life, stirring up fear or sadness at the future dangers or past misfortune.  To some extent, one might connect these concern with oneself through a sort of self-oriented sympathy with others, where one grieves over the pain that one feels in contemplating those situations.  But it is also proper to feel grief at the tragedies of others, even when those others have no special importance in one’s own life.  The innocent lives lost provoke grief, and in one’s grief one ascribes to those lives an “enormous importance,” even if this importance is simply importance “in itself” and not at all important “as an element in my life.”

            Of course, the attitudes that ascribe value non-relationally will be different – at least in degree and often in kind – from those that ascribe value relationally.  Grief at the death of a parent is quite different, and properly so,[32] from grief at the death of a stranger.  Similarly, the love that one has for one’s children will differ from the love that one has for parents, lovers, and strangers in need.  But love is proper in all of these cases, and love for strangers in need will at most be very weakly relational, and it will not – or at least need not – involve any appeal to the role of those strangers in one’s own life.  In that sense at least, attitudes can properly ascribe value non-relationally, and thus a proper attitude account of value can make sense of the non-relational value of objects.  From a more environmental standpoint, one might distinguish between, say, the relational love – what he calls his “a priori bias” – that Aldo Leopold has for pines and his non-relational “love for all trees” (Leopold 1949: 73-4).  One might similarly distinguish between one’s (relational) affection for the parks in which one played as a youth –the fire trails behind my childhood home in California or the urban green zone in which my own children will play in Seattle – and the awe that is a proper response to the Grand Canyon or to any rich, diverse, and stable ecosystem.

In the most general sense, something has objective or non-relational value if the value of the object does not depend upon its relationship to any other (existing) objects.  The dependence of value on other objects could be instrumental, as when the value of gold depends upon its capacity to purchase food and other goods, or when the value of a sunset is seen as depending upon its capacity to produce a certain kind of pleasure in viewers.  But the value might depend upon relationships in a non-instrumental way, as when the special value of children for their parents depends upon the relationship of those children to their parents, or when one values a benefactor for past benefits.  In these cases, the value is not instrumental, but it is still relational.  And in these cases, a thing’s relationship to something else that has value might be the cause of the value of that thing, as in the case, described by Smith, where one feels gratitude towards “the plank upon which he had just escaped from a shipwreck” (II.iii.1.2, p. 94).  Here the relational value of the plank is due, in large part, to the value that one ascribes to oneself.  But the relational value of something might also not depend upon the value of that to which it is related, as in the case of a parent’s love for her children.  Although parents see their relationship with their children as central to the value of these children for them, they do not (or at least should not) see their own value as the source of the children’s relational value.[33]


In applying this general definition of non-relational value, it is important to distinguish between value is that is normatively non-relational in the way that I have defined here, and value that is non-relational in a meta-ethical sense. By normatively non-relational value, I mean that value that an object has by virtue of being the proper object of a valuing attitude, where the attitude that one ought to take towards the object ought to be taken without regard to any relations between that object and anything else.  Describing value as non-relational in a meta-ethical sense, unlike this normative sense, does not pick out a particular sort of value.  Rather, it offers a distinctive philosophical account of value, one that posits that things have value independent of any relations, including normative ones, to human beings.  While Smith could support some forms of meta-ethical non-relationalism about value (in particular, the idea that the value of a thing need not depend upon its actual relation to any other actual beings), proper attitude accounts of value are designed precisely to offer an alternative to meta-ethically non-relational – i.e. objectivist or realist – treatments of value.  The point of this section is to show that this meta-ethical stance does not preclude holding a very strong ethical stance towards the non-relational value of nature.


d. Thick Intrinsic Value

            My strategy in this section, which defends different sorts of intrinsic value, suggests an even more radical strategy for rethinking the nature of value on a proper attitude account.  Within normative ethics more broadly, especially among those seeking to revise a virtue-based approach in ethics, the notion of “thick” ethical concepts (introduced by Bernard Williams in Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy) has increasingly gained traction.  Without committing myself to all of the implications of “thick” ethical concepts in Williams’s use of them, the general idea is that concepts such as cruelty, disloyalty, humility, patriotism, generosity, and trustworthiness are ethical concepts that are less abstract, and hence more descriptive, than more “reflective” ethical concepts such as “the good” or “the right.”  Thick ethical concepts are more likely candidates for ethical “convergence” (Williams 1985: 140f.); because they have more contentful connection to the world, there is greater possibility for linguistic communities to form standards of use that allow for agreement about such concepts. Thus, for example, one can get wide agreement that the torture of a small animal is “cruel,” without prior agreement (and perhaps even without eventual agreement) about whether such action is “wrong.”  The word “cruel” both describes the action and ascribes a normative weight to it, a reason not to do it, but it assigns this normative weight in a particular, “thick,” way. [34]

Without giving a detailed analysis of the nature of thick and thin ethical concepts, I here simply sketch the way that proper attitude accounts of intrinsic value can extend the notion of “thick” concepts into discussions of value, while avoiding Williams’s relativism about thick conceptual schemes.[35]  In that context, it is worth noting that the terms “value” and even “intrinsic value” – both in G.E. Moore and in contemporary environmental ethics – are paradigm thin concepts both in that they are abstract and in that they lack “natural” descriptive sense.  (Even if one thinks that ascribing value to something is a matter of “description,” it is not a description of natural facts about the world.)  But a proper attitude account of intrinsic value suggests a way to thicken our value concepts.  In particular, if ascriptions of value are tied to the propriety of various attitudes, value concepts that reflect specific attitudes will be both thick and normative.  Terms like “awesome,” “pitiable,” “loveable,” “fearsome” and “worthy of gratitude” are all (relatively) “thick” value concepts.  Calling the Grand Canyon “awesome” is at the same time more descriptive, less controversial, and more clearly connected to normative claims on human attitudes, than saying that it has “intrinsic value.”  Moreover, although knowing that the Grand Canyon is awesome does not give rise to any immediate action-plan – it does not tell us what to do with the Grand Canyon – it provides substantially more guidance than simply saying that it has intrinsic value.[36]

            Proper attitude accounts of these thick value terms also provide a way of connecting thick and thin value concepts.  On a proper attitude account, value concepts are thick and might even (depending upon the account) be irreducibly thick, and these thick concepts are connected to thin concepts.  Value concepts are thick in the sense that any ascription of value is based on a particular valuing attitude.  They can be irreducibly thick if, as in the case of Smith, there is no fixed rule for deciding which descriptive accounts will warrant particular emotive responses.  For Smith, one can form various “general rules” capturing normal responses to standard situations, but every context is unique, and ultimately one can only decide which emotive response is called for by imagining oneself vividly in the particular context and responding to it. 

At the same time, the thick value judgments made within the context of a proper attitude account of value connect to thin concepts in at least three important ways.  First, any proper attitude account of value must emphasize some concept of propriety, a thin ethical concept that describes ethical approval for a given attitudinal response.  Second, as I have shown in this section, notions of “intrinsic value” can be abstracted from more specific judgments of proper attitudes.  Thus thin ethical concepts can play a role in capturing in the abstract the moral force of concrete ethical judgments.  Finally, and equally importantly, many proper attitude accounts of value, including Smith’s, posit (contra Williams) a universal way of arbitrating disputes about thick value concepts on the basis of something like thin ones.  In the case of Smith, one can arbitrate between disputes about thick values because human beings, when free from partiality and when sufficiently well-informed and attentive, have the same emotional reactions to the same imagined situations.  There is a sort of “thin” concept of an impartial spectator that lies at the core of refined Smithian value judgments (as we will see in the next section), and this provides a way for Smith to avoid some of the relativistic implications with which Williams’s account has been saddled.[37]


            Because of its connection with thick, attitude-based value judgments, a proper attitude approach to intrinsic value has the important advantages of allowing for a range of different sorts of intrinsic value, an advantage that is particularly important in the context of environmental ethics.[38]  Even if (human) children, dogs, sand dollars, trees, forests, marshes, the Snake River, the Mona Lisa, the Brazilian rainforest, the species Zoonosaurus hazofotsi (cf. Rolston 1988: 129), and the experience of the sun setting over the Pacific all have intrinsic value, it is hard to see in what sense they can have the same sort of intrinsic value.  The intrinsic value of a child seems to warrant providing food, education, and affection to the child.  It is hard to see how any of these are appropriate for the Mona Lisa or the Snake River.  Children deserve our love, respect, fear (for their safety), and, when they suffer, sympathy and grief.  The Mona Lisa may deserve fear for its safety (though this will mean something quite different than safety for a child), and the Snake River may warrant grief, but it is hard to see either deserving sympathy[39] or respect, at least in the sense in which these are appropriate for another human being.

In other words, it makes sense to think of pluralism even with respect to intrinsic value.  The different sorts of intrinsic value described here – trumping, non-instrumental, non-relational – begin to highlight that pluralism.  But the full range of thick intrinsic values – awesomeness, fearsomeness, and worthiness of respect, love, grief, or gratitude – begin to paint a more accurate picture of the sorts of intrinsic value in the world in which we live.  Some of these thick concepts, such as the worthiness of respect or grief apply to human beings; others, such as fearsomeness, worthiness of reverence, and even cherishing (insofar as this implies superiority of the one cherishing), generally do not apply to other humans.  Likewise some – awesomeness, worthiness of reverence – apply to the Grand Canyon, others – worthiness of cherishing – to animals or even ecosystems.  And there will be thick value concepts, such as awesomeness or worthiness to be grieved, about which there will be debate whether they apply to human beings, non-human animals, natural wholes such as species, or all or none of these.

            Disagreement about what is “awesome” or “worthy of cherishing” is, I think, likely to be rarer that disagreement about “intrinsic value.”  But the point of shifting to thick value concepts is not to end all debate about what has intrinsic value and what does not, but rather to make those debates more productive.  Because thick concepts have more content, debates about whether something falls under a thick concept have more to work with, and are thus more likely to reach resolution.  And because these concepts have more content, they are, at least in principle, action-guiding in a more specific way than the “thin” notion of intrinsic value.  Moreover, the appeal to thick concepts allows for compromise when compromise is due.


4.  A distinctively Smithian Account of Value

In the last two sections, I laid out a general “proper attitude” account of value and showed that this account can make sense of all the sorts of intrinsic value of which environmental philosophers make use.  From this general proper attitude framework, however, one can specify several different, more specific, theories of value by identifying which attitudes are normatively evaluable and what one takes as a standard of propriety for those attitudes.  Korsgaard’s proper attitude theory, for example, takes rationality to be the basis of propriety and choice as the only (or primary) value-conferring attitude (Korsgaard 1996).  In the rest of this paper, I focus on Adam Smith, whose Theory of Moral Sentiments provides an ethical theory focused on the propriety of attitudes that was and remains one of the most compelling in the history of ethics.[40]  Given the overall structure of proper attitude accounts from the previous section, all that is needed to develop a Smithian account is to describe the range of value-conferring attitudes that Smith considers normatively evaluable, and then to present his account of how to evaluate those.  Although Smith did not explicitly derive a theory of “value” from this theory of proper attitudes, his Theory of Moral Sentiments provides all the resources necessary for such a derivation.[41]


a. The range of morally evaluable attitudes

            For Smith, any possible human attitude is a morally evaluable attitude.  Smith includes attitudes such as love, hate, gratitude, anger, hunger, esteem, and even “small vexations” (I.ii.5.3).  Smith discusses passions “which take their origin from the body” (I.ii.1), such as hunger, and those which “take their origin from a particular turn or habit of the imagination” (II.ii.2) such as infatuation or one’s interest in “our own studies” (II.ii.2.6, p. 33).  He distinguishes between “unsocial passions” such as anger, hatred, or resentment (I.ii.3), “social passions” such as love, benevolence, and esteem (I.ii.4), and “selfish passions” such as grief, joy, uneasiness, and satisfaction, “when conceived upon account of our own private good or bad fortune” (I.ii.5.1, p. 40).  Smith’s range of morally evaluable attitudes is very wide; there is no human attitude that cannot evaluate morally.

Two features of Smith’s account help highlight the broad range of attitudes in a way that is particularly important for environmental ethics.  First, unlike his contemporary and former professor Francis Hutcheson, Smith insists that there is a proper pitch of all passions.  Hutcheson had contrasted benevolence and self-love, insisting that “virtue consist[s] in benevolence” (VII.ii.3.title, p. 300) and that “self-love was a principle which could never be virtuous in any degree or in any direction” (VII.ii.3.12, p. 303, cf. Hutcheson 1726/2004 II.ii.9 (p. 112), II.iii.1f. (p. 116f.) and Hutcheson 1728/2002: 136f.).  By contrast, Smith explicitly discusses the importance of evaluating “selfish passions,” such as grief and joy, for propriety.  For environmental ethics, this aspect of Smith’s account is particularly important.  Although benevolence and other “social passions” can easily be extended to animals (as Smith does at VI.ii.3.1, p. 235), it is more difficult to extend such passions to non-sentient creatures.  An ethic limited to virtues of benevolence cannot account for the range of virtues and vices that are important in environmental ethics.  By allowing for the moral evaluation of selfish passions, one can develop a Smithian account of when attitudes such as cherishing, awe, grief, and delight are called for with respect to non-sentient nature.  In this way, one can ascribe morally relevant intrinsic value to objects even when those objects are not the proper objects of benevolence.[42]

            Second, Smith’s theory not only includes, but even focuses on, attitudes that are primarily responsive.  For Smith, the person who is evaluated morally is not necessary an agent, as in Kantian accounts such as Korsgaard’s.  Rather, Smith’s moral scrutiny falls on the “person [or persons] principally concerned” (I.i.3.1, p. 13) in a situation.  This person can be an agent, but the “person principally concerned” is often one to whom something happens, and the attitudes that are judged proper or improper are often the responses – sometimes even purely passive responses – of that person.  Smith explains that grief and sorrow (primarily passive) as well as animosity and generosity (primarily active) are capable of moral evaluation (see I.i.3.3), and even mentions the admiration of a poem or finding amusement in a joke as examples of attitudes that can be proper or improper (I.i.3.3).  Smith does, of course, think that attitudes often give rise to action, and actions are an important measure of one’s attitudes in many circumstances.[43]  But because attitudes are the primary locus of moral evaluation, Smith can include purely passive responses to situations within the purview of ethics.

           Both of these expansions in the scope of moral evaluation have important implications for environmental ethics.  With respect to the first, by including selfish passions within the scope of moral evaluation, Smith has the basis for ascribing intrinsic value to something even when that thing does not merit properly “social” passions.  For Smith, as for many classical and contemporary authors, social passions such as benevolence or love depend upon some capacity, if not for sympathy with their objects, then at least for considering the “interests” of their objects.  By allowing for morally proper (and even required) “selfish” attitudes, Smith opens room for ascriptions of intrinsic value on the basis of proper attitudes such as grief, joy, awe, or cherishing, where these attitudes need not ascribe interests to their objects.  And this can allow environmental ethicists to point out the intrinsic value of natural wholes such as ecosystems, species, or nature as a whole, without entering into complicated meta-ethical arguments about whether such wholes have “interests.”[44]

            Smith’s second point, that passive attitudes fall within the realm of morality, allows for a similarly important move.  Intrinsic value can be conferred upon objects by human responses to those objects, rather than merely by proposed actions directed towards those objects.  This not only broadens the scope of intrinsic value to include natural objects that merit passive attitudes such as awe, but it also allows for a healthy way of thinking about the implications of intrinsic value for environmental ethics.  Action-oriented ethical systems often miss some of the most important obligations to the natural world, such as the obligation simply to appreciate nature, or to be in awe of the complexity of an ecosystem, or to cherish an animal, a species, or the natural world as a whole.  These attitudes might have implications for action.  Awe is generally action-inhibiting, and it is incompatible with seeing something as a mere resource, so that one who feels proper awe towards a natural place will not hastily destroy it for profit.  And cherishing something generally involves being willing to work for its preservation and/or cultivation.  But these attitudes do not reduce to the actions to which they give rise, and focusing purely on actions misses the importance of the sort of passional relationship that is proper for human beings vis a vis their natural environment.


           In general, then, Smith includes a wide variety of passions and attitudes within the purview of ethical evaluation, and this variety is helpful for environmental ethics.  Attitudes such as cherishing or awe, which  do not depend upon the interests of their objects, and attitudes such as appreciation and grief, which do not necessarily give rise to action, are all important for developing a right relationship with nature.  What is more, all of these attitudes ascribe – at least often – intrinsic value of one kind or another to their objects.  Thus Smith allows for articulating a wide range of different sorts of intrinsic value, many of which involve the non-instrumental, non-relational value of nature.  To complete this account, he need only provide an account of when these valuing attitudes can be proper.


b. Evaluating Sentiments for Propriety

            “Propriety” is Smith’s fundamental ethical concept, and an attitude is proper when an impartial spectator can sympathize with that attitude.  Smith’s account of propriety begins with the observation that human beings are capable of sympathizing with one another, where sympathizing involves attentively imagining oneself in the situation of another and responding emotionally to that imaginative change of place.[45]  Judgments of propriety are based on the mutual sympathy of spectator and person principally concerned:

When the original passions of the person principally concerned are in perfect concord with the sympathetic emotions of the spectator, they necessarily appear to this last just and proper . . .. To approve of the passions of another . . . is the same thing as to observe that we entirely sympathize with them. (I.i.3.1, p. 16)

One soon learns, however, that different people sympathize to different degrees, based purely upon inattentiveness, partiality, or prejudice.  One thus learns to judge the propriety of sentiments – one’s own and those of others – not by appeal to the sympathy of any particular spectators, but by appeal to the sympathetic response that would be present in an attentive, well-informed, and impartial spectator (III.2.36, p. 129).[46]  Ultimately, an attitude is proper if it is an attitude that would be felt by an impartial spectator who attentively imagined herself in the place of the person principally concerned.

It is important at this point to clarify two points about Smith’s impartial spectator.  First, “impartial” does not mean purely rational or distant from the concrete particulars of life.[47]  In this sense, Smith’s impartial spectator is quite different from an “ideal observer” who is “dispassionate,” even “in the sense that he is incapable of experiencing emotions of the kind – such emotions as jealousy, self-love, . . . and others which are directed towards particular individuals as such” (Firth 1952: 55). The impartial spectator must be a sympathetic spectator, one who enters into the particulars of the situation and responds emotionally to them.  As Martha Nussbaum explains, the perspective of impartial spectator

is a viewpoint rich in feeling.  Not only compassion and sympathy, but also fear, grief, anger, hope, and certain types of love are felt by this spectator, as a result of his active, concrete imagining of the circumstances and aims and feelings of others.  (Nussbaum 1990: 338)

Rather than a lack of emotion, the impartiality of the spectator reflects the fact that one’s emotional response must be entirely sympathetic, rather than tainted by one’s own particular and purely personal interests.[48]  Such impartiality is necessary in order to achieve the “concord” of sentiments with others that human beings naturally seek.

            Second, Smith’s impartial spectator does not have some kind of transcendental access to a realm of moral values on the basis of which to make ethical evaluations.  The mechanism for evaluating the propriety of attitudes is the impartial spectator, and, crucially for Smith, the impartial spectator does not appeal to anything other than her own sentiments in testing propriety.  When one seeks to determine the propriety of an attitude, one imagines oneself as vividly as possible in the place of the person principally concerned, and then one simply reacts to that situation.  On this point Smith agrees with Hume, who put the point particularly well: while “reason and sentiment concur in almost all moral determinations and conclusions[, [t]he final sentence . . . which pronounces characters and actions . . . praise-worthy or blameable . . . depends on some internal . . . feeling, which nature has made universal in the whole species” (Hume 1751, §1). One must be attentive to relevant features of the situation, lest one’s sympathy or lack thereof be due to ignorance rather than impropriety.  And the impartial spectator plays a crucial role in that one must abstract from or seek to eliminate the influence of purely partial considerations that affect one’s emotional response to the imaginative change of place.  But the features of the situation do not carry their normativity with them; normativity comes with the affective response of a spectator free from personal (partial) interests.[49]


            Smith builds in several nuances to this account.  He points out the important role of moral evaluation of “selfish” sentiments, in contrast to his contemporary Hutcheson. He discusses the role that custom can play in corrupting one’s sentiments, and he outlines the importance of general rules to alleviate the effects of unseen prejudice in one’s judgments of propriety.  He shows how one can derive judgments of “merit and demerit” – and thus a theory of justice – from his account of propriety, and he discusses the origin of “duty.”  But the essence of his account is the sympathetic response of an impartial and attentive spectator, and this is sufficient to show how Smith would develop a theory of morally relevant value.

            Given his account of propriety, a Smithian theory of value is straightforward.  Something has value when it is the object of a valuing attitude with which an impartial spectator would sympathize.  An impartial spectator can, to some degree at least, enter into Martha Nussbaum’s grief at the death of her mother, into the love of parents for children, into the grief of anyone at the death of innocents in war, into delight, appreciation, and even awe at artistic achievement.  These things – Martha’s mother, children, innocents, and artistic achievement, thus all have value, and since grief, love, delight, and appreciation are all intrinsically valuing attitudes in these contexts, their objects all have intrinsic value.

This Smithian account of value avoids the pitfalls of both objectivist and subjectivist accounts of value.  Because Smith does not ground the propriety of valuing attitudes on pre-existing value in the objects of those attitudes, his account is free of the metaphysical and meta-ethical worries (e.g., about queerness, cf. Mackie 1977) that come with adherence to objectivist moral realism.  But the presence of the impartial spectator also frees this account from subjectivism, since the mere fact that someone values something is insufficient for saying of the object that it has value.  The impartial spectator builds a normative constraint into Smith’s theory of value, and this constraint allows Smith to say that certain valuing attitudes are called for, even if no actual person feels them, and other valuings are wrong, even if widely felt.  Smith’s critiques of slavery in his time (see V.2.9, p. 206-7; WN I.viii.41, III.ii.9, IV.ix.47) and his extended discussion of the approval of infanticide by “almost all the states of Greece, even among the polite and civilized Athenians” (V.2.13-6, pp. 209-11; WN intro.4, I.viii.24) provide excellent examples of his divergence from subjectivism.[50]  Smith critiques the approval of both slavery and infanticide, arguing that even from the standpoint of those who approve of those activities, approval is based on partiality (on raw self-interest in the case of slavery and on the influence of custom in the case of infanticide).

This anti-subjectivism provides Smith with excellent resources for dealing with the so-called “Last Man” scenario that supposedly plagues any non-objectivist account of intrinsic value.[51]  John O’Neill helpfully summarizes the importance of this scenario as a response to what he calls an “expressivist meta-ethic.”[52]  Modifying his summary slightly,[53] the argument (a reductio) runs as follows:

            1. Non-objectivist accounts of value can ascribe only instrumental value to a forest.

2. If a forest has only instrumental value, then the last man whose last act was to destroy a forest would have done no wrong

3. The last man does do wrong

4. Hence, non-objectivist accounts of value are wrong.

O’Neill elegantly presents the response to this view, however: “That humans are the source of value is compatible with their expressing normative attitudes about worlds which they do not inhabit” (O’Neill 2001: 167).[54]  In other words, the first premise is false.  For Smith, the issue of whether or not the forest has value is determined by impartially and attentively imagining oneself in the place of the last person.  The Last Man does wrong because an impartial spectator cannot sympathize with his malicious destruction.  More importantly, the Last Man’s attitude of indifference toward the forest that he destroys shows a lack of proper sorrow (over being the last man), proper reverence (for remaining life), and proper cherishing and appreciation of nature.  Because reverence, cherishing, and appreciation all ascribe intrinsic value (in all three senses) to the forest, the forest has intrinsic value.  Thus the first premise of the Last Man argument – that for the non-objectivist account of value, the forest lacks intrinsic value – is false.

            One might, of course, imagine more complex Last Man cases in which the destruction of the forest would be justified.  If the forest were the cause of the destruction of the human race, for example, the resentment of the Last Man might properly override other attitudes towards the forest, and its destruction might be appropriate.  Or if the destruction of the forest were somehow tied to reseeding the Earth with the possibility for abundant life that could eventually give rise to rational beings, it might be justified on the basis of hope and even benevolence.  But the last man argument will never get off the ground for Smith because the third premise – that the Last Man does do wrong – must have the same support (the lack of sympathy of an impartial spectator) that the first premise does.  In other words, whenever it is really wrong for the Last Man to destroy the forest, the forest thereby has (intrinsic) value.[55]


As this discussion of Last Man scenarios shows, Smith’s moral theory provides resources that are more than adequate not only for a proper attitude theory of value, but for a theory of intrinsic value in the senses described above.  Insofar as something is the object of an intrinsically valuing attitude – such as grief, love, or awe – with which an impartial spectator would sympathize, that thing has intrinsic value.  Smith does not consider all valuing attitudes to be instrumental or relational, and thus his account has no problem dealing with non-instrumental and non-relational value. 


c. Particularism and Non-relational Value in Smith

One feature of Smith’s account, however, raises potential problems for both trumping value and non-relational value: Smith’s moral theory is particularist, in that the propriety of any attitude depends upon the particular situation that prompts the attitude.  Even general rules in ethics “are ultimately founded upon experience of what, in particular instances, our moral faculties . . . approve of” (III.4.8, p. 159).[56]  Because every situation is somewhat different, and because the judgment of the impartial spectator about the particular situation is the ultimate arbiter of propriety, Smith seems unable to say that anything has intrinsic value in every situation.  And this seems to call into question the possibility of intrinsic value in two senses that are important to environmentalists.  First, particularism seems to preclude the trumping value of nature, since one can never be sure whether or not some particular natural object may rightly be destroyed in some particular context.  Second, Smith’s particularism seems to call into question the possibility of truly non-relational value, since the value of any natural object will depend, at least in part, upon the context of a person’s encounter with that object.

Smith has adequate resources to address these concerns.  With respect to trumping value, while Smith may not be able to provide for strictly absolute trumping value for any object, he does have room for the sort of trumping value that Callicott describes in terms of shifting “the burden of proof.”  Callicott suggests that intrinsic value “may be overridden by considerations of public or aggregate utility” (Callicott 2002: 14), but the intrinsic value of nature establishes a sort of default in favor of preservation.  Smith’s account of the propriety of attitudes in general supports this sort of trumping value, since it may generally be proper to take an intrinsically valuing attitude towards nature even though in particular cases this attitude becomes improper.[57]

But Smith has more specific resources to highlight the importance of trumping value.  Specifically, Smith makes room for this sort of value with his account of general rules.  Smith explains the need for general rules using an example:

The man of furious resentment, if he was to listen to the dictates of that passion, would perhaps regard the death of his enemy, as but a small compensation for the wrong, he imagines, he has received; which, however, may be no more than a very slight provocation . . . .  [T]he fury of his own temper may be such, that had this been the first time in which he considered such an action, he would undoubtedly have determined it to be quite just and proper, and what every impartial spectator would approve of.  (III.iv.12, p. 160)

Smith mentions this “man of furious resentment” in the context of a discussion of “self-deceit” (III.4, pp. 156-61).  Smith explains, “the violence and injustice of our own selfish passions are sometimes sufficient to induce the man within the breast [our attempted impartial view of ourselves] to make a report very different from what the real circumstances of the case are capable of authorizing” (III.iv.1, p. 157).  Even “when the action is over . . . and the passions which prompted it have subsided,” although “we can enter more coolly into the sentiments of the impartial spectator,” we still “often purposely turn away our view from those circumstances which might render the judgment [of ourselves] unfavorable” because “it is so disagreeable to think ill of ourselves” (III.iv.4, pp. 157-8).  The ideal and impartial standpoint from which one ought to evaluate the value of objects is difficult, especially when one’s own interests are particularly acute.  People have a tendency to understate the value of things that get in the way of their own improper interests.  Smith’s response is to suggest that human beings develop “general rules” on the basis of moral judgments made free from partiality.  In the case of the man of furious resentment, Smith remarks,

[U]nless his education has been very singular, he has laid it down to himself as an inviolable rule, to abstain from [“sanguinary revenges”] upon all occasions.  This rule preserves its authority with him, and renders him incapable of being guilty of such a violence . . . . [T]hat reverence for the rule . . . checks the impetuosity of his passion, and helps him to correct the too partial views which self-love might otherwise suggest.  (III.iv.12, pp. 160-1)

Trumping value in environmental ethics is important for the same reason, and in the same way, that general rules are important for the man of furious resentment.  Human beings are often tempted to destroy natural environments by partial interests.  In such cases, our capacity to enter into the perspective of a truly impartial spectator and to reflect upon the propriety of our attitudes is compromised.  Especially in the case of the natural world, which lacks a voice to directly challenge human moral judgments, it is important to form general rules that shift the burden of proof in particular ethical contexts.  These general rules, based upon particular but impartial judgments about the value of nature, can then trump judgments made in contexts where partiality is likely to lead to self-deception. 

With respect to non-relational value, Smith’s particularism may seem to pose greater problems.  The non-relational character of intrinsic value laid out by Moore required its universality: “it is impossible for what is strictly one and the same thing to possess that kind of value at one time, or in one set of circumstances, and not to possess it in another” (Moore 1922: 260).[58]  Smith’s particularism prevents him from being able to make a claim with the sort of unconditional universality that Moore seeks.  Again, however, Smith can appeal to general rules to point out that the value of various objects will be very general, even if not strictly universal.  What is more important from the standpoint of non-relational intrinsic value, Smith’s particularism does not commit him to the claim that the value one ascribes to an object is situation-dependent.  The propriety of ascribing that value may be situation-dependent, but the value thus properly ascribed need not be.  Here it is important to distinguish between a situational dependence of an attitude, and an attitude of situationally dependent value. 

To illustrate: Grief at the death of innocents (especially young innocents) is, as already noted, an attitude that ascribes value to others independent of their relation to oneself, or even to anything else.  The grief-value of innocents is thus non-relational.  Nonetheless, ascribing value to innocents over whom one grieves is deeply situation dependent.  Grief is proper when one becomes aware of such death, especially when one is aware of death in a particularly vivid way and when the death is especially needless, but such grief is usually not proper at the birthday party of a neighbor’s child.  This impropriety is not due to the fact that innocents are not dying – unfortunately, they are in large number – nor even due to one’s ignorance of that fact – one may be far from ignorant.  But the situation simply calls for something else, for putting one’s grief to the side, for enjoying the festivities of the moment.  This situational dependence of the value ascribed to innocents in grief is the situational dependence of the attitude itself, not a situational dependence constitutive of the attitude.  The fact that feeling grief is inappropriate in certain contexts does not mean that grief, when properly felt, ascribes contextual value to its objects.  Grief is a situation dependence attitude.  Nonetheless, when one properly grieves for the loss of innocents, one’s attitude ought not include qualifiers that build into the content of the attitude its situation dependence.  (Imagine someone grieving for the death of innocents who articulates that grief by saying, “the loss of these children leaves a vacant hole in our world . . . unless, of course, I get to go to a birthday party.)[59]

Like grief, attitudes such as resentment or gratitude are situation dependent in that one ought not feel intense resentment at global injustice while at the birthday party of a neighbor’s child, nor gratitude for a promotion when comforting a grieving friend.  Like grief, then, resentment and gratitude are situationally dependent attitudes.  Unlike grief, however, these attitudes also, when proper, ascribe situationally dependent value to their objects.  Resentment, for example, “would prompt us to desire . . . that [the object of our resentment] should be punished by our means, and upon account of that particular injury which he had done to us” (II.i.1.6).  And gratitude seeks good for another because the other has done good to oneself (II.i.1.5).  The value (either positive or negative) of the objects of gratitude and resentment is situational value.

Like grief, gratitude, and resentment, respect for persons and awe at the Grand Canyon are proper attitudes that are situation dependent.  But like grief and unlike gratitude and resentment, they are not attitudes of situationally dependent value.[60]  Respect for persons might be an almost universally applicable attitude, though the degree of appropriateness will depend upon the proximity of persons and the other attitudes that are proper at the time.  One who wanders alone through a vast and beautiful wilderness need not consciously have much if any respect for persons.  It simply is not called for in that context.  Likewise, one not in the presence of or contemplating the Grand Canyon need not feel awe at it.  The propriety of both of these attitudes are thus situationally dependent.  But when one is in the right context, these attitudes do not ascribe a situational value to their objects.  One who truly respects another person ascribes to her a value that does not depend upon situation.[61]  Likewise, one in awe at the Grand Canyon sees the Grand Canyon as being awesome simpliciter.  The Grand Canyon is not awesome simply because of situational properties (its place in space or time, its designation as a National Park, its being viewed by me, etc), but in itself.  There may be situational prompts – what Jonathan Dancy has called “enabling conditions”[62] – needed to activate the awe that the Grand Canyon’s awesomeness requires, but the awesomeness that one ascribes to the Grand Canyon when those situational prompts are present is not an awesomeness that itself depends upon those prompts.  No one who feels proper awe while standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon thinks to themselves, “With me standing here on its edge, this Canyon is pretty awesome.”

            Smith himself makes clear that although the propriety of every passion is situational, the value that those passions ascribe to objects is not based on their relations to oneself.  He highlights “passion[s] excited by objects peculiarly related to ourselves” (I.ii.intro.1) as merely one sort of passion among others, and he specifically highlights the pleasure that impartial spectators take in “affections . . . towards those who are not peculiarly connected with ourselves” (I.ii.4.1, pp. 38-9).  Although his overall theory is particularist in the sense that the propriety of attitudes depends upon the details of situations, Smith’s account of general rules, and of the nature of the attitudes that are proper, allows for both trumping value and a robustly non-relational value to be ascribed to the objects of proper attitudes.


5.  Smithian Intrinsic Value and Environmental Ethics.

             This paper articulated a Smithian theory of value and defended it as a middle-ground position between pure subjectivism and pure objectivism about value in general and intrinsic value in particular.  The chief advantage of Smith’s theory of value is to return the issue of value to the properly normative domain.  Rather than the quasi-metaphysical accounts proposed by objectivists and the purely psychological accounts proposed by subjectivists, Smith reminds us that values are important because they have normative weight, and the normative weight of values is their essence.  This frees ethicists, environmental or otherwise, to pursue properly ethical arguments about what kinds of attitudes are proper, rather than getting bogged down in meta-ethical debates about intrinsic value or debates about how to make sense of the “interests” of non-sentient beings.

            As already noted, this proper attitude account also has the advantage of providing a framework for cooperation between so-called pragmatists and those who favor an intrinsic value based approach to ethics.  This cooperation is especially promising given the “thick” account of intrinsic value offered in section three.  Insofar as there are a variety of different sorts of value, and even different sorts of intrinsic value, in nature, philosophers interested in issues about the intrinsic value of nature will need to articulate and defend the different attitudes that are appropriate in different contexts.  Pragmatists can use these arguments for their own purposes, whether or not they accept the terminology of intrinsic value.  In their turn, intrinsic value theorists can use pragmatic arguments about the propriety of attitudes as legitimate bases for ascriptions of intrinsic value.

            This thick conception of intrinsic value also allows environmental philosophers to deal with some of the problems that arise in the context of explaining the ethical implications of “intrinsic value” in non-sentient natural objects.  Issues about what constitutes ecosystem health, the “good” of a species, or the welfare of nature as a whole, will be settled by appeal to the attitudes that ground ascriptions of value to those entities.  Insofar as intrinsic-value-ascribing attitudes are proper, entities will have intrinsic value.  And insofar as thicker attitudes that depend upon health, goods, or interests – attitudes such as benevolence or justice, for example – are proper towards an entity, one can clearly define what health or the good is for that entity. [63]

            Moreover, because the basis for ascriptions of value is tied to the attitudes felt by impartial spectators imaginatively entering into concrete situations, Smith provides a framework within which environmental literature and popular environmentalism play a significant and philosophically respectable role in ethical debate.[64]  Insofar as environmental writers can make readers more attentive to the nature world, those readers more easily sympathize with the attitudes that ascribe value to nature.  And insofar as environmental activists can highlight environmental destruction and preservation in ways that make the public genuinely care about the environments being destroyed or preserved, they too appeal to the emotive responses of increasingly attentive and (one hopes) increasingly impartial spectators.

            In the end, Smith provides the resources for a proper attitude account of intrinsic value that is well suited for environmental ethics.  As a proper attitude account of intrinsic value, his accounts has the strengths of both objectivist and subjectivist theories of value, while connecting problems of intrinsic value to the sorts of concerns that pragmatists seek to emphasize.  As a proper attitude account with a very broad set of normatively evaluable attitudes, Smith’s account has room for the sorts of attitudes that are important within environmental ethics.  And as a proper attitude account that bases propriety on the responses of an impartial spectator to concrete particulars, Smith can incorporate environmental literature and activism into legitimate philosophical debate, but in a way that emphasizes agreement and consensus rather than conflict in environmental ethics.[65]



Appendix: Rolston’s objections to similar accounts

Because the account of intrinsic value here is similar to two accounts that have been vehemently criticized within contemporary ethics, it is worth offering some brief words about how this account responds to those objections.  In particular, Holmes Rolston III, in defending his broadly Moorean objectivist account of intrinsic value, argues against both “projectivist” and human excellence accounts of intrinsic value.

Rolston has two central arguments against both accounts.  First, he argues that these accounts ultimately devolve into purely anthropocentric and even subjectivist accounts of value:

For all the kindly language about intrinsic value in nature, the cash value [of these accounts] is that, “Let the flowers live!” really means “Leave the flowers for other human beings to enjoy” after all, because the flowers are valuable – able to be valued – only by humans . . . .  (116)

The second objection is simply that both projectivist and human excellence based accounts of intrinsic value ultimately prompt the question,

But why are such insensitive actions [i.e., insensitive to nature] “uncalled for” unless there is something in the natural object that “calls for” a more appropriate attitude?  (117)

The thrust of these two objections is simply to deny the middle ground that Korsgaard sought to carve out in her “rationalist” account of value, and that I seek to develop in a proper attitude account.  The implicit claim is that the only possible answers to the question above are either a hopeless subjectivism that lands one in the position of saying that actions are uncalled for simply because human beings disapprove of them, or a fully objectivist value realism that defines value independent of its normative relationship to human attitudes.

            Rolston’s question here, about how an action or attitude can be uncalled for (or called for, for that matter) without some prior intrinsic value in the objects of states of affairs to which that action or attitude is directed, is a reasonable one, and one that any proper attitude account of intrinsic value must answer.  But to say that the question requires an answer is not to cut off the possibility of answering it.  And proper attitude accounts of intrinsic value precisely do answer just the question that Rolston poses.  Korsgaard (and other Kantians) have laid out in detail criteria for the propriety of various actions, maxims, and intentions, including specific arguments for why the intrinsic valuing of such things as life are morally required.[66]  Others have argued for standards of evaluating actions, attitudes, or states of character on the basis of Aristotelian or Humean considerations.  And in section four, I showed how Smith can evaluate attitudes, including those that ascribe intrinsic value to objects, by reference to human capacity to sympathize with those attitudes.  In none of these cases is essential reference made to the values of nature (or other objects of valuing attitudes) prior to or independent of the propriety of one’s valuing attitudes.  One may take issue with these accounts, or one may try to show some hidden dependence upon objective intrinsic values that lies prior to the normativity of attitudes, but they all provide at least prima facie plausible answers to Rolston’s challenge.

            Moreover, Rolston’s alternative, an objective account of intrinsic value as a basis for evaluating attitudes, is hardly less problematic than attempts to evaluate attitudes directly.  Rolston’s alternative, that “virtue in the beholder reflects value in the beheld” (118), prompts at least two questions: (1) “How does one establish that the beheld has value, independent of the fact that beholders ought to value it?” and (2) “Why should human beings care about objective values in the world?”  One might give Moorean answers to these questions, appealing (unhelpfully) to supposedly obvious intuitions about intrinsic value.  But Rolston seems to want more than that, and he argues at length for the fact that an organism has a “telos;” it can be “healthy, thrive, and flourish” (105).  Aside from the difficulty of making clear sense of this Arisotelian biology in the context of contemporary biology, the more fundamental problem with this account is that it begs the question of why one should consider this “telos” to have morally relevant value.  Rolston even admits this, pointing out that the “axiological system” of nature is not in itself a “moral system” (99).  But when he sets out to defend the connection between natural teloi and morally relevant values, all that Rolston has to say is that “There seems no reason why such own-standing normative organisms are not morally significant” (100).  Not only does this return the issue of value to a more subjective perspective (seem to whom?), but it is a burden-shifting argument of the least satisfying kind.  If there are objective values, Rolston needs to give positive arguments for these values and their connection to human attitudes.  This brief appendix is not meant as a final answer to objectivist worries about proper attitude account of intrinsic value.  But I hope my response to Rolston at least shows some challenges facing objectivist accounts – for more, cf. Korsgaard 1996b and Darwall 2003 – and the value of returning to the central question for environmental ethics: “What is an appropriate attitude toward [Nature]?” (Rolston 1998: 197)

[1] Even Moore, however, can give no defining characteristic of intrinsic value except “the fundamental one that it would always be the duty of every agent to prefer the better to the worse, if he had to choose between a pair of actions, of which they would be the sole effects” (Moore 1912: 152).  Moore explicitly discusses the relationship between his work and that of Brentano in Moore 1902: x-xi and Moore 1903.  In the latter work, Moore specifically rejects Brentano’s proper attitude approach to intrinsic value: “Brentano is wrong in supposing that the conception rightly loved or worthy of love is the fundamental ethical concept which we mean by good in itself. Sidgwick was right in holding that that concept is unanalyzable” (Moore 1903: 116).

[2] Cf. too Lemos 1994 and Smith 1998 for helpful overviews of the notion of intrinsic value.  One symptom of Moore’s dominance in Anglo-American discussions of intrinsic value is the virtual obsession with making sense of organic unities.  While the notion of organic unities, and the related concept of adding intrinsic values, is an important part of Moore’s use of intrinsic value, it is not important for Brentano, Kant, Aristotle, or Smith.

[3] At the same time, this use of intrinsic value has been sharply criticized by figures such as Eugene Hargrove, Gary Norton, Tom Regan, Lori Gruen, and Andrew Light.  Increasingly, there is a sense that the notion of intrinsic value has become an “albatross” (Morito 2003) or, worse, a “morass” in which environmental ethics has gotten “bogged down” (Turner 1996:88).  On the one hand, this paper just adds yet another theory to bog environmental ethics further in meta-ethical debate.  On the other hand, though, my approach to intrinsic value is designed to shift intellectual energy away from meta-ethical concerns towards the properly normative task of discerning proper human attitudes towards nature. 

[4]  Moore also looked back, at least to Aristotle, for his conception of intrinsic value (see Moore 1922: ch. 10).  And Kant interpreters have also seen Kant’s account of dignity as an account of intrinsic value (cf. Korsgaard 1996 and Pasternack 2002).

[5] Christine Korsgaard, in her now famous “Two Distinctions in Moral Goodness” (in Korsgaard 1996) argues that non-instrumental value is not a kind of intrinsic value, but a different sort of value altogether.  She argues that there are really two distinctions:

One is the distinction between things valued for their own sakes and things valued for the sake of something else – between ends and means, or final and instrumental goods.  The other is the distinction between things which have their value in themselves and things which derive their value from some other source: intrinsically good things versus extrinsically good things.  (Korsgaard 1996: 250)

Korsgaard is certainly correct to highlight the difference between these two distinctions, and she cannot be faulted for seeking to preserve the term “intrinsic value” or “intrinsic goodness” for that goodness that is non-relational.  Given that non-instrumental value has played an important role in recent environmental ethics, and given that this value has consistently been called “intrinsic value,” one would do well to accept Korsgaard’s argument for “two distinctions,” but allow that both non-instrumental and non-extrinsic (or better, non-relational) value can be called “intrinsic value.”

[6] Of course, one would not expect Kant to use the English term “intrinsic value,” but he also, to the best of my knowledge, never uses the phrase “tatsächlicher Werth” or any comparable phrase.

[7] Following Fox, Callicott here assumes that human rights, and natural intrinsic value, can be overridden in particular cases.  Whether that assumption is warranted (in either case) is beyond the scope of this essay.  It certainly would not have been accepted by Kant, but once one extends the notion of intrinsic value beyond respect for persons, it may be necessary to consider trade-offs of intrinsic values in ways that Kant tried to avoid.

[8] Another reason, unrelated (as I argue in section three) to this ethical one, is to establish a meta-ethical claim about moral realism.  Holmes Rolston III seems to advocate a Moorean conception of intrinsic value in nature for both ethical and metaethical reasons.  With respect to the latter, for example, he insists that “it will be out of [intrinsic] value that we will derive duty” (Rolston 1998: 2) and emphasizes that “Nature is an objective value carrier” (Rolston 1998: 4, cf. 214-6).  The objectivity of the good and its over the right is a large part of the agenda of both Moore and Rolston, but it is not essential for the ethical claims – that nature’s value is non-relational – that Rolston wants to make about the value of nature.

[9] Of course, not all philosophers who do environmental ethics want to argue that nature has intrinsic value in all of these senses.  Some (e.g. Norton) claim that all this talk of intrinsic value is at best wasted effort, and at worst destructive to environmental ethics.  Others argue that intrinsic value cannot be extended to nature as a whole (Regan), while others (Callicott) allow for some sorts of intrinsic value to be extended to nature (senses I and II) but not others (sense III).

[10] This taking into account in its own right might involve taking nature into account as an end, but I intend this formulation to be broader, to include the sort of “taking into account” that would involve nature imposing non-instrumental restrictions on our end-seeking activity that do not, strictly speaking, involve positing nature itself as an end.  The way in which some Kantians (e.g. Wood 2000) explain Kant’s notion of human beings as “ends in themselves” is similar to the sort of restrictive role that I have in mind here.  The intrinsic value of a species might, for example, require human beings to limit actions that would cause the extinction of that species, but might not require that human beings actively promote the welfare or even continued existence of the species.

[11] These distinctions between three sorts of intrinsic value in environmental ethics are somewhat different from the recent taxonomy of senses of intrinsic value in O’Neill’s very helpful discussions of intrinsic value (cf. O’Neill 1993: 8-10; O’Neill 2001). 

[12] The priority of the right over the good is more plausible in the case of Kant than of Aristotle, of course, and Kant has even been taken as a paradigm case of one who prioritizes the right over the good.

[13] To the best of my knowledge, Brentano’s account of intrinsic value has played no major role in recent discussions of intrinsic value within environmental philosophy.  As I hope to show, this is unfortunate.

[14] I was pleased to find, in conversation, that Andrew Light sees this approach to intrinsic value as a promising one.

[15] Seeking reconciliation between pragmatists and intrinsic value theorists is not new.  For one of the best recent attempts to do this, cf. Minteer 2001.  Minteer effectively draws attention to the importance of intrinsic value claims in ordinary moral deliberation about nature (pp. 57-61), and he gives a thorough (even if brief) account of Norton’s pragmatic objections to the use of intrinsic value (pp. 62-7).  Minteer’s own approach to intrinsic value draws heavily from Dewey (cf. too Santas 2003).  This approach is in some respect similar to the Smithian account I develop here, in particular with its emphasis on “contextualism” (67).  However, Minteer still seems unable (or unwilling) to allow for what I call “trumping” and “non-relational” value, and his pragmatic account of non-instrumental value is underdeveloped (in part because, following Dewey, he seems to want to resist any systematic account of non-instrumental value).  My hope is that the account of intrinsic value I offer here will be at least as appealing to environmental pragmatists as Minteer’s Deweyan approach, but will have the advantage of also preserving the senses of intrinsic value that are most important to intrinsic value theorists like Rolston and Callicott (and, I think, Minteer’s mother; cf. Minteer 2001: 58).  Because of its connection to human attitudes, my approach will also provide a more substantive way to incorporate intrinsic value into care approaches to environmental ethics than that recently offered by Christopher Preston (cf. Preston 2001).

[16] As will become clear in sections two and three, there are proper attitude accounts of intrinsic value that are not specifically Smithian.  In sections four and five, I suggest some strengths of Smith’s account in particular, but the primary reason for turning to Smith is to offer a specific and plausible example of a proper attitude account of intrinsic value.  (*** portion of footnote deleted for anonymity ***)  I do not intend, in this paper, to argue that Smith’s is the best proper attitude account of intrinsic value, only that it is a good example of a type of account that is superior to the sorts of accounts (objectivist, subjectivist, and pragmatist) that dominate environmental ethics today.

[17] Callicott also often speaks as though he too is a subjectivist.  He says, for example, that “Nature has intrinsic value when it is valued . . . for its own sake” (Callicott 1999: 148), with no apparent normative constraint on this valuing.  And he explicitly aligns himself with “subjectivist accounts of intrinsic value in nature” that posit an “anthropogenic . . . intrinsic value” (Callicott 1999: 223-4, cf. Callicott 1989).

[18] Korsgaard explicitly connects the notion of “intrinsic value” to the objectivist position.  It is, of course, perfectly fair to relinquish the use of the term to objectivists, but I hope to show in this section that there is a legitimate basis for distinguishing between intrinsic and non-intrinsic value even on a proper attitude account of value.  In this essay, Korsgaard also fails to distinguish between meta-ethical and ethical non-relationality, a distinction that will be crucial for preserving the ethical commitment to the non-relational value of nature (see section three).

[19] Darwall gives a detailed argument for this conclusion, and it would take me too far astray here to recapitulate the whole argument.  Briefly, his point is that what normativity ultimately governs are actions and attitudes, and thus insofar as intrinsic value is intrinsically normative, it must be constituted, at least in part, by its connection to proper attitudes and actions.  For a full defense of this claim, cf. Darwall 2003: 477-82.

[20] With the possible exception of action construed to be primarily external/physical, and belief (the normativity of which is not moral) I intend to include all of these under the general term “attitude,” and Smith under his conception of “sentiment.”

[21] Martha Nussbaum has gone even further from Korsgaard’s Kantian commitment to action, in that she both defends “emotions as judgments of value” and insists that “most of the time emotions link us to items that we . . . do not fully control” (Nussbaum 2001: 43). 

[22] Butler (1970: Sermon XI) and Hume (Hume 1751) both go on to argue that benevolence is actually better than the love of honor because more easily attained and more compatible with the goods of others.

[23] Simon Blackburn explains Butlerian point in his Ruling Passions (Blackburn 1998) in a way that helps show how it can facilitate a conception of intrinsic value.  As Blackburn points out,

What Butler is doing is forcing the distinction between:

(1) The object of my ‘particular’ desire, which might equally be for water, food, or the happiness of my neighbor (or for anything else: the continuation of the whales, or the destruction of my enemy, or the triumph of the Party, or the death of the infidel)

on the one hand and:

      (2) The pleasure that will accrue to me upon the satisfaction of that desire

on the other hand.  Inevitably the pleasure mentioned in (2) is my pleasure, because it is my desire we are talking about.  But, Butler argues, we should not conclude from that fact alone that the principle of my action is always self-love. (Blackburn 1998: 138-9).

Bernard Williams has made this point in a particularly forceful way in the context of environmental ethics in particular (Williams 1994: 48-9).

[24] In fact, as Aristotle famously argues in his Nicomachean Ethics, instrumental goods must be instrumental for something, and thus human beings must have at least some non-instrumental ends.

[25] Nussbaum claims that, in general, “emotions are forms of evaluative judgment that ascribe to certain things and persons . . . great importance” (Nussbaum 2001: 22).  Even without this general claim, however, it should be clear that grief, at least, is an emotion that treats its object as having value.  (Nussbaum adds that these things are “outside of one’s control” and that they are of importance “for the person’s own flourishing” (Nussbaum 2001: 22).  The former qualification, though perhaps true of many emotions, is not true of all.  The latter qualification I take up directly in the second half of this section.) 

[26] One might read Leopold here as grieving for the pigeons for purely instrumental reasons, since Leopold says,

We grieve because no living man will see again the on-rushing phalanx of victorious birds, sweeping a path for spring across the March skies, chasing the defeated winter from all the woods and prairies of Wisconsin . . . .  Perhaps we now grieve because we are not sure, in our hearts, that we have gained by the exchange [of pigeons for comfort].  The gadgets of industry bring us more comforts than the pigeons did, but do they add as much to the glory of the spring? (116)

But Leopold’s point here is not the crude one that pigeons have a merely instrumental value for the sake of providing a pleasing scene to human beings.  The “glory of spring” and the pigeons that “add” to it are things that Leopold cares about whether he is able to enjoy them or not.  Bernard Williams has argued,

A preference not to see a blighted landscape is based on the thought that it is blighted, and one cannot assess the preference – in particular, one cannot decide what kind of weight to give it – unless one understands that thought, and hence that value. (Williams 1994: 49)

Similarly, the grief over the loss of the pigeons may include a grief over the loss of certain experiences of them, but these experiences have value only because one ascribes non-instrumental value to the pigeons themselves.  One takes pleasure in “the on-rushing phalanx of victorious birds, sweeping a path for spring across the March skies” because this on-rushing phalanx is valued for its own sake.

[27] Kant even diagnoses confusion about intrinsic value as a paradigm sort of emotional disorder, giving an example of one who overvalues their luxuries:

The rich person, whose servant clumsily smashes a beautiful and rare crystal goblet while waiting on table, [who] would consider this incident of no importance if he compared at that moment this loss of a single gratification with the multitude of all gratifications which his fortunate position as a rich person affords him.  But if he completely gives himself to this one feeling of grief (without making such a quick survey in his thoughts), then . . . he feels as if his whole state of bliss were lost.  (7:254)

This example is used by Kant to illustrate his notion of an “affect,” a sort of emotional disorder whereby one “lacks reflection in the comparison of the feeling with the sum of all feelings (of pleasure or displeasure) in one’s own condition” (7:254).

[28] For the purposes of this argument, it is not necessary to arbitrate between these different ways of understanding trumping value.

[29] Stephen Darwall (Darwall 1995) has helpfully distinguished between recognition respect and appraisal respect.  Here I refer to recognition respect for others.

[30] As we will see in the next section, Adam Smith can make sense of trumping value in these terms, but his account of general rules also provides Smith with a further way of accounting for trumping value.

[31] Of course, one can feel a sympathetic gratitude with those who help another, but this is properly a gratitude felt from the perspective of the other, i.e. by imagining oneself in the place of the other.

[32] For now I simply stipulate this.  If it is not properly different, then one has an even stronger argument for non-relational value on a proper attitude account.  But for Smith, at least, grief over parents will be properly different from grief over strangers.  If for no other reason, the gratitude that is appropriate in the case of parents will require a different (more intense) sort of grief, but Smith also takes personal relationships to be directly relevant in assessing proper attitudes, as we will see.

[33] This account of non-relational value is thus somewhat different from Elizabeth Anderson’s account of intrinsic value according to which “the judgment that x is intrinsically valuable entails that . . . x is properly intrinsically valued, independent of the propriety of valuing any other particular thing” (Anderson 1993: 3).  Insofar as children are properly valued by their parents, independent of the propriety of valuing any other particular thing but only because of their relation to their parents, they lack intrinsic (non-relational) value.

[34] The role of thick concepts has been taken by some to suggest a break-down of the fact/value dichotomy (cf. Williams 1985, Putnam 2004) and by others to imply that ordinary ethical concepts involve both factual and ethical components (cf. Blackburn 1998).  Some, such as Linda Zagzebski (2003) and Bernard Williams (1985), define thick ethical concepts to be such that the descriptive and evaluative components cannot be pulled apart, but it is not necessary to do this in order to recognize a principled distinction between ethical concepts that are closer to the texture of ordinary life with all its detail, and those that are more abstract.  Regardless of one’s judgment about metaethical issues such as cognitivism, it is clear that “thick” ethical concepts such as cruelty and courage play an important role in human life, and that these ethical concepts are more descriptively rich than “thin” ethical concepts such as “good,” “right,” and “ought.”

(For discussion of the notion of “thick” ethical concepts in general, cf. Williams 1985 (ELP), references in Putnam The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichtomy, p. 35, n 12)

[35] Smith’s account has much in common with that recently proposed by Linda Zagzebski, who argues that “”most virtue and vice concepts are probably in th[e] category” of “thick affective concepts” (Zagzebski 2003: 114).


[36] In fact, the Grand Canyon’s being awesome in part explains why value concepts, as applied to the Grand Canyon, do not immediately imply any action.  Awe is precisely a passive attitude, one that limits action, and – at least in its purest form – limits action unconditionally.

[37] For other accounts, this thin concept may be different.  For Korsgaard, it is Kantian rationality; for Brentano, it is proper love and hate.  In principle, one could even have a relativistic proper attitude account of value.

[38] In some ways, this insight is similar to Holmes Rolston III’s claim that “things never have value generically, but rather have specific sorts of value” (Rolston 1988: 3).  Rolston seems, however, to think of intrinsic value as one sort of value, rather than as a term describing a cluster of different values.

[39] This is not to deny completely that they may deserve sympathy or respect.  For an account of how Smith might extend sympathy beyond sentient creatures, see Frierson 2006b.

[40] For two accounts that are very similar to this Smithian account of value, cf. Anderson 1993 and Gaus 1990.  Although these theorists take “rationality” to be a standard of propriety, the conception of rationality at play is closer to Smithian social agreement than to any narrowly rationalist conception of propriety.  Anderson, moreover, is particularly helpful for highlighting the pluralism of value that I discussed in the last section.

[41] Smith does use the term intrinsic value (in his Wealth of Nations), but he uses this in its 18th century sense to refer to the real weight of hard currency (such as gold and silver), as opposed to the degraded value that currency has when a nation coins it improperly (see WN IV.ii.4).  This conception of intrinsic value is connected only linguistically to the concept as used in contemporary ethics.  Elsewhere in his Wealth of Nations, the closest that Smith comes to an account of intrinsic value there arises when he distinguishes between “value in use” and “value in exchange.”  As Smith explains,

The word value . . . has two different meanings, and sometimes expresses the utility of some particular object, and sometimes the power of purchasing other goods which the possession of that object conveys.  The one may be called “value in use;” the other, “value in exchange.” (I.iv.13)

While neither sense of value strictly fits the notion of intrinsic value, which depends upon neither exchange-value nor use-value, the notion of value of use, especially when Smith connects this with what is “a rational object of desire” (LJ (B) 227-8), is at least closer to intrinsic value than is value in exchange.  Intrinsic value, especially in the Kantian sense of dignity that is so important within environmental ethics, is precisely the opposite of value in exchange.  But Smith immediately sets aside value in use, along with any conception of intrinsic value, in the Wealth of Nations, choosing instead to focus on the more economically relevant “value in exchange.”  Were the Wealth of Nations all that Smith wrote on the subject, one might simply lump Smith together with the models of value that still largely dominate economics and even much philosophy, but that seem deeply inadequate for capturing coherent notions of intrinsic value (cf. Anderson 1993 for a critique of economic reductionism about value).  Fortunately, Smith did not write only the Wealth of Nations, and his Theory of Moral Sentiments is well suited to provide a proper attitude account of both “value in use” and intrinsic value.  The fact that Smith ties “value in use” in his lectures on jurisprudence to that which is a “rational object of desire” even suggests that he may precisely have had in mind the Theory of Moral Sentiments as offering an account of what it is rational, or proper, to desire for its own sake or for its “use,” and the Wealth of Nations as offering an account of value in exchange.

[42] For more on the way in which selfish passions ascribe morally relevant intrinsic value, see Frierson 2006a.  For more on the connection of social passions to benevolence, including a defense of the possibility of extending sympathy to nature, see Frierson 2006b.

[43] Cf. VII.iv.5, p. 328-9; II.i.5.11, p. 78; I.i.3.1, p. 16-7; III.1.3, p. 110; Heath 1995: 452-3; and Campbell 1971:97.

[44] Frierson 2006b argues that Smith can defend the possibility of sympathy with nature and non-sentient natural entities and thereby explain how they can have morally relevant interests.  Whatever the merits of that argument, however, it is valuable to show that intrinsic value does not depend upon making sense of the interests of nature.

[45] Smith’s account of propriety has been discussed at length, for example in Campbell 1971, Fleischacker 2004, Griswold 1999, and Otteson 2002.  The way I interpret Smith’s account of propriety in this section is closest to the account defended in Frierson 2006a.

[46] Smith assumes that the reactions of truly impartial and attentive spectators will be the same.  As Eugene Heath argues, “if everyone were an impartial, knowledgeable, and attentive spectator, then each person would react with the same passion to the same situation” (Heath 1995: 452). While Smith is attuned to the possibility of cultural relativism about values, he ascribes variations between cultures to the effect of custom, which is a kind of partiality.  True impartiality involves overcoming these cultural (and other) variations and leads to a convergence in moral judgments (cf. Frierson 2006a).

[47] Impartiality may be the most widely discussed issue in Smith’s ethics, so the relevant secondary literature is vast.  For two insightful accounts, see Griswold 1999 and Campbell 1971.  My contrast of Smith’s impartial spectator with Firth’s “ideal observer” largely follows Griswold’s account, though I take Smith’s impartial spectator to be closer to the ideal observer than Griswold does.  In particular, on my reading the impartial spectator is primarily an imaginative construct, though many actual spectators will respond impartially.

[48] This freedom from particularity, moreover, is freedom from one’s own partial and particular interests.  Through sympathy, one enters into and passionately responds to particular details in the situation of the person principally concerned.  In that sense, Smith’s ethics is particularist (see the following subsection).  But his ethics is impartial, in that the spectator’s particular situation or dispositions ought not affect sympathetic moral judgments.

[49] Some of Smith’s language might seem to imply that the impartial spectator is responsive to values in the world.  Smith says, for example, that a spectator should “approve of the passions of another . . . as suitable to their objects” (I.i.3.1, p. 16).  But even in this context, he makes clear that this approval is based on the sympathetic response of the spectator, and not vice versa:  When the original passions of the person principally concerned are in perfect concord with the sympathetic emotions of the spectator, they necessarily appear to this last just and proper, and suitable to their objects . . . .  To approve of the passions of another, therefore, as suitable to their objects, is the same thing as to observe that we entirely sympathize with them” (I.i.3.1, p. 16).  To say that passions are suitable to their objects amounts to no more than the claim that an impartial spectator can fully sympathize with them.

[50] See Griswold 1999: 196-202 for an extended discussion of these cases as evidence of Smithian “moral criticism.”

[51] For a similar defense of what he calls “projectivism” against the last person argument, cf. Carter 2004.

[52] Expressivism, as described by Stevenson (1944) and O’Neill (2001) has some similarity to the proper attitude account developed here, but it is closer to subjectivism.  A full discussion of the relationship between expressivism, subjectivism, and proper attitude accounts of intrinsic value is beyond the scope of this paper.  (For an example of an ethical theory that draws heavily from both expressivism and the Scottish sentimenalists (Smith and Hume), cf. Blackburn 1998.)

[53] O’Neill’s summary is helpful but insufficiently highlights the way in which the argument acts against non-objectivist accounts of intrinsic value, so I have modified it to make explicit what is implicit in O’Neill’s summary.  O’Neill says,

The argument runs thus: if non-humans only have instrumental value, then the last man whose last act was to destroy a forest would have done no wrong; the last man does do wrong; hence it is false that non-humans only have instrumental value.  (O’Neill 2001: 166, cf. Routley 1973, Routley and Routley 1980, and Dombsky 2004).

[54] Similarly, Robert Elliot responds to last man criticisms of subjectivism in detail (cf. Elliot 1992, 1996) by arguing that “A thing has . . . intrinsic value if, were I to contemplate it from the perspective of my present attitudinal framework, I would value it” (Elliot 1996: 226).  The hypothetical element here is the key to responding to last man scenarios, and it is an element that is already built into Smith’s account.  Unlike Elliot, however, Smith’s ethics is not subjectivist, so what matters is not simply what attitudes a particular individual might have, either actually or hypothetically, towards something.  What matters, for Smith, are the attitudes that an impartial spectator would have when seeking to sympathize with the people principally concerned.

This normative constraint helps Smith avoid some of the problems that continue to face Elliot’s treatment of Last Man scenarios.  Cf. Domsky 2004 for some of these.  The most important problem raised by Domsky, and one that would not apply to Smith, is that on Elliot’s account, “intrinsic value claims become . . . vacuous . . . because for any given thing it will certainly be possible to value it or disvalue it” (Domsky 2001: 691).  If anything that any hypothetical person could possibly value thereby has intrinsic value, then everything will have intrinsic value, since one can imagine worlds within which, say, the entire attitudinal framework of people is wholly different from what it is in the real world.

[55] This claim is not strictly true, since it might be wrong to destroy the forest for instrumental but non-anthropocentric reasons, such as the value of the animals that depend upon the forest.  This qualification does not affect the overall point of a Smithian response to Last Man cases, however, since these cases are constructed to drive a wedge between right action and intrinsic value, and, on a Smithian account of intrinsic value, they never can.

[56] For more on particularism, cf. Dancy 2004 and Hooker and Little 2001.  For Smith’s particularism, cf. Griswold 1999 and Fleischacker 2004 (e.g. p. 28).  For the role of particularism in a Smithian environmental ethic, cf. Frierson 2006a.

[57] Jonathan Dancy has defended a similar account in terms of what he calls a “default value.”  Cf. Dancy 2003, especially p. 638, and my discussion of Dancy below.

[58] Cf. too Moore 1902: 30.  “We are not then justified in asserting that one and the same thing is under some circumstances intrinsically good, and under others not so.”

[59] The value that one ascribes to innocents through grief at their death is also situation dependent in another sense.  One’s grief highlights a particular sort of value, the value of being worthy of being grieved over.  And this sort of value is, in itself, situation dependent.  If the innocents over whom one grieves have not in fact died, have not even suffered in any way, then not only is it improper for one to feel an attitude of grief, but the innocents lack the property that one ascribed to them in one’s grief.  They lack the value of being worthy of being grieved over.  Here one might imagine someone quite properly saying, “the loss of these children leaves a vacant hole in our world, unless, of course, they haven’t really suffered or died.”  (Of course, there is a derivative sense in which they may still have this value.  Insofar as they are such that one ought to grieve over them were they to suffer or die, we can say that they are grief-worthy, but only in a secondary sense.)  Here not only does the propriety of feeling grief depend upon one’s situation, as in the last paragraph, but the grief that one feels builds a situation dependence into its ascription of value to its objects.  In this sense, grief is an attitude of situationally dependent value.  (And for certain sorts of grief, such as that of Nussbaum for her mother – or in general grief in contexts of special relationships – grief is, to an even greater extent, an attitude of situationally dependent value.)

[60] In fact, they are even less situationally dependent than grief.  See the previous footnote.  The sorts of situational qualification relevant to grief do not apply to awe or respect for persons.

[61] Here again it is important to distinguish between appraisal respect, which does ascribes situational value, and recognition respect, which does not (see Darwall 1995).  In this paragraph, I am discussing recognition respect.

[62] Dancy 2003: 637.  Dancy’s discussion of enabling conditions is a helpful complement to the account I offer here.  I refer the interested reader to this article (Dancy 2003) and Dancy’s related book (Dancy 2004) for more on moral particularism.

[63] For the importance of ascriptions of interests for benevolence and justice, see Frierson 2006b.  For an excellent discussion of a proper attitude account of ecosystem health, see McShane 2004.

[64] For more on the role of literature in Smithian ethics, cf. Griswold 1999 and Nussbaum 1990.  For the role of environmental literature in a Smithian environmental ethic, cf. Frierson 2006a.

[65] Acknowledgements footnote (deleted for anonymity).

[66] See Korsgaard 1996 and 1996b.