Means (philosophy)

Instrumental value (or extrinsic value, contributory value) is the value of objects, both physical objects and abstract objects, not as ends-in-themselves, but as means of achieving something else. It is often contrasted with items of intrinsic value. It is studied in the field of value theory.

An ethic good with instrumental value may be regarded as an ethic mean, not necessarily being an end in itself.


An ethic mean is mostly only used as a plurale tantum, and is therefore expressed as ethic means or just means.

Direct and indirect

An instrumental value may be directly valuable or more or less indirectly so. For instance, in the perspective of a hedonist with pleasure as end-in-itself, then music may be regarded as something directly instrumentally valuable by directly generating pleasure. A guitar, on the other hand, may be regarded as something indirectly instrumentally valuable, since it generates end-in-itself by generating music which, in turn, generates the end-in-itself – pleasure in this case.


Generally, regardless of what is regarded as having instrinsic value, the instrumental values may be regarded as having different grades of instrumental value, where the first grade instrumental value is the direct instrumental value, the second grade instrumental value is the degree something generates this, etc. etc. until the infinite grade instrumental value.

The universe may be regarded as chains of events of objects, possibly ultimately generating the end-in-itself. More than one thing may generate something of the next grade value – both a guitar and a piano may generate music. Besides, a thing may generate several other things in the chain-reaction – money, for instance, may result in generation of both guitars and pianos. Thus, the causality may be regarded as a fabric of events, with many chains of events intertwined, sometimes splitting and sometimes joining.

It may sometimes be regarded as more or less self-generating, when an object with instrumental value generates itself somewhere later in the chain of events.

High and low grades

What is exactly of a certain grade of instrumental value, however, is a question of definition, since music, for instance, may be regarded as something generating vibrations in the eardrum, which, in turn, generates the proper pattern of signals through the cochlear nerve from the ear. Therefore, grades of instrumental value may, for ease, be separated only into low grade instrumental value and high grade instrumental value. They are distinguished by the relative length of their chain of events. This is contrasted to short-term instrumental value and long-term instrumental value, although there is a correlation between them; it generally takes longer time for high grade instrumental values to finish their chain of events towards their instrinsic value(s) and vice versa for low grade instrumental values.

Inherent value

Inherent value is the first grade instrumental value when a personal experience is of intrinsic value. An object with inherent value may be termed an inherent good.

Some philosophers who think goods have to create desirable mental states also say that goods are experiences of self-aware beings. These philosophers often distinguish the desirable experience, which they call an intrinsic good, from the things in the world that seem to cause the experience, which they call inherent goods.

All-grades value

An object can be of more than one grade of generating its end-in-itself, i.e. being involved in several locations among each chain of events leading to its end-in-itself. The sum of all those contributions may be regarded as the all-grades instrumental value of that object.

All-parallels value

In the fabric of events, one single object may appear at the same grade in several chains of events. In the simplest example, with two chains of events resulting in the end-in-itself, a single object may appear as having first grade instrumental value in both of these chains. They may be called being parallel to each other. The sum of these parallel values may be termed the all-parallels instrumental value of that object.

Intrinsic multism

Intrinsic multism is accepting several objects as ends-in-themselves. Therefore, every object may have instrumental value for each of these objects. For example, in its simplest form, intrinsic bi-ism, holding two objects as ends, every object may have two separate instrumental values, termed end instrumental values. In this case, every object may have one end instrumental value for the first end and one end instrumental value for the other end.

For more complex intrinsic multistic lifestances, having more than two ends, then every object may have more than two end instrumental values.

All-ends value

The sum of all end instrumental values for an object is its all-ends instrumental value.

Positive and negative instrumental value

There may be both positive and negative value regarding instrumental value. An object with positive instrumental value may be termed a positive mean or a posmean. On the other hand, an object with negative instrumental value may be termed a negative mean or a negmean

A posmean may be defined as something that directly or indirectly generates a posend. A negmean, on the other hand, may be defined as something that directly or indirectly generates a negend.

Difference instrumental value

Generally, however, any object has more or less of both positive and negative instrumental value. In such cases the difference instrumental value of the object is the difference between the positive and negative value, with the positive value as minuend and the negative value as subtrahend and the resulting difference value the mathematic difference between them. It may also be termed the all-ponetivities instrumental value, in order to be homologous to other types of instrumental values.

Such multiple positive or negative values may arise because of multiple grades, ends, or parallels of instrumental value.

All instrumental value

The all instrumental value of an object is the instrumental value for all ends, all grades for each of these ends and all parallels for each of these grades, and regarding both positive and negative value. In other words it is the all-grades, all-ends, all-ponetivities, difference instrumental value of an object.

The all instrumental value and the intrinsic value of an object together make the whole value of the object.

Total instrumental value

The total instrumental of an object is the product of its average all instrumental value, average value intensity and value duration. It may be either absolute or relative.

The total instrumental value and total intrinsic value together make the total whole value of an object.

Long and short term

Short and long term instrumental value may be distinguished regarding time distance to generation of their ends-in-themselves (the chain of events duration). It is distinguished from value duration, which is the duration of the existence or intensity of the object itself. It is also distinguished from high and low grades of instrumental value, which is the amount of causes and effects in the chain of events.

A short term instrumental value is a value which is generating its end-in-itself in the very near future. For instance, for a hedonist, with pleasure as the end-in-itself, a glass of wine is something that may result in pleasure to happen soon.

A long term instrumental value, on the other hand, is a value that requires long time before generating its end-in-itself. For a hedonist, a job, for instance, has high grade instrumental value and need to go through a long chain of events before generating pleasure, and is therefore likely to take long time before generating it.

Short term preference

Short term preference of means is the preference of means with short term instrumental value rather than means with long term instrumental value, even if all other parameters are the same.

For instance, some utilitarists prefer means that generate happiness in the near future; time distance is a parameter in the felicific calculus.


Conditionality of objects with instrumental value is their dependence on being present at the right time and in the right context. Such objects need some emergent property of a whole state-of-affairs in order to be good. For example, salt is food on its own, and good as such, but is far better as part of a prepared meal. Providing a good outside this context is not delivery of what is expected. In other words, such goods are only good when certain conditions are met. This is in contrast to other goods, which may be considered "good" in a wider variety of situations. However, practically all objects have instrumental conditionality, more or less.

See also


External links

  • Some discussion on values
  • A paper on values