The intrinsic value of something is said to be the value that that thing has “in itself,” or “for its own sake,” or “as such,” or “in its own right.” – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Being chronically ill has really shaken my self-confidence. My counsellor introduced the idea that I have intrinsic value. She suggested that I think of something I loved like a pet that had done nothing yet I loved it anyway. She explained that my pet rabbit had intrinsic value and so do I. She suggested that everyone has intrinsic value and deserves to be loved.
I found this idea tricky from the start. Firstly, I wasn’t convinced that value is intrinsic to objects, animals or people. Secondly, and most significantly the idea that I have intrinsic value was so alien to me it was hard to get a handle on it.
My next issue came with the idea that people or animals deserve love because of their intrinsic value. If the value is intrinsic it shouldn’t be because they deserve it, they should have value just because they exist.
I then thought about how intrinsic value could be related to uniqueness. Each person, animal landscape only exists once. There is no one else in the world exactly like me. Maybe my uniqueness is my intrinsic value.
I still struggled to really get to grips with and absorb this. I am struggling to ‘get’ the concept itself. And I’m having trouble with the idea that this particular self (me) has worth beyond what I can do. I read a few articles one given to me by my counsellor, and a couple I found on the internet. It took a week or two of mulling over the ideas before I could begin to pull together a few thoughts.
I think I do have an issue with the intrinsic part of intrinsic worth. I think value is something that is ascribed to things by others. There are all kinds of ways of valuing things. It seems to me that things have intrinsic properties and those properties may have value, but whether or not those properties are valued will depend on whoever is doing the valuing. There is also a cultural element. The reasons puppies are considered to deserve love and care isn’t to do with their intrinsic puppyness but because the culture of this society values dogs as companions and pets. Or because of the value given to innocence and cuteness.
Then I thought about approaching the problem from another direction, by thinking about my own values. I value sentience, consciousness and recognise that love and care will allow a person to flourish, neglect or cruelty will cause suffering. Therefore, I believe it’s right that humans should be given that care and love. It also makes sense from a practical point of view. Children that are nurtured are more likely grow up resilient and kind, those that are neglected and mistreated are more likely to have physical and mental health problems.
I also see the potential in human beings to grow and change. Almost everyone has this capacity to some extent. A person has future potential even if their behaviour to date suggests they don’t deserve care and affection.
Even if I am sceptical of the philosophical concept of intrinsic worth I still think that sentience, consciousness, uniqueness and the potential to grow and change give human value. I am against unkindness and cruelty for ethical and pragmatic reasons. And as I am sentient, conscious, have the potential to grow, respond to kindness, and am unique I should value myself in the same way.
I also believe in valuing people for who they are not what they do. That is the character they show over time. And I believe in overlooking and forgiving people’s flaws (within reason). I should apply those values to myself too.
The articles I read:
The importance of self-worth – PsychAlive.org
What is the value of a human being? – Leon Pomeroy Psychology Today
Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Value– Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy