In “Two Distinctions in Goodness” (Philosophical Review 1983), Christine Korsgaard argued that the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic goodness should not be conflated with the distinction between final and instrumental goods. As it happens, I believe that she is entirely right that these two distinctions are distinct from each other. Still, her account of the distinction between final and instrumental goods does not seem quite correct to me.
As she puts it, a final good is something that “is valued as an end or for its own sake”, while an instrumental good “is valued as a means or for the sake of something else” (p. 170). There are at least three problems with this account.
1. The fact that something “is valued” is surely not enough to show that it is a “good” of any sort. To borrow an example from David Lewis (“Dispositional Theories of Value”), a sick or crazy person might value seasickness; but it surely does not follow that seasickness is a good!
This defect in Korsgaard’s formulation is easily rectified. Instead of saying that for x to be good is for it actually to be valued, we should say that for x to be good is for it to be fitting or appropriate for the relevant agent to value x. But there are still two other problems with this account.
2. Even if x ≠ y, is valuing x “for the sake of y” really the same as valuing x “as a means to y”?
To do something “for the sake of y” is to do it because of one’s interest in or concern or regard for y (see the Oxford English Dictionary on ‘sake’, 7a). That is, if you φ for the sake of y, then in some way, you φ because you have this concern or regard for y; your φ-ing is explained or motivated by your concern or regard for y.
However, it is not obvious that this explanatory or motivational connection must always involve a means-end relation. Couldn’t it sometimes be true that your φ-ing is at least explained or motivated by your concern or regard for y, even if your φ-ing is not one of the means that you use in order to achieve y? (Perhaps your concern or regard for y does not take of the form of an intentional attempt to “achieve” y at all?)
In short, the distinction between your valuing x “for the sake of y” (where x ≠ y) and your valuing x “for its own sake” concerns the explanation or motivation for your valuing x. It is not at all clear that this is what lies behind the means/ ends distinction. Strictly, the distinction between “instrumental” and “final” goods must have more to do with the distinction between means and ends than with the distinction between “for its own sake” and “for the sake of something else”.
3. What is it to “value” something “as a means”? The term ‘valuing’ covers a wide range of different kinds of attitudes and responses. But it does not obviously make any sense to take many of these attitudes towards something merely “as a means”. Is it really possible for me to admire your achievements merely as a means, or to be proud of my own achievements merely as a means? How could I revere the memory of my late father merely as a means? Could anyone cherish or adore something merely as a means? Is it even possible, really, to rejoice in something merely as a means? (You can rejoice in something because it seems auspicious, or to herald further good things to come; but this is not obviously the same as rejoicing in it merely as a means.)
If means are what we intentionally use in order to achieve an end, then it seems that the attitude that it is most clearly possible to take towards something merely “as a means” is intention: that is, we can certainly intend a course of action merely as a means. Since a choice is just the formation of an intention, one can also choose a course of action merely as a means.
When you intend a course of action merely as a means, that course of action is a subordinate part of a larger plan: your execution of this subordinate part of your plan will be guided or regulated by your monitoring of how well your behaviour is achieving the end or goal of the plan.
If this is right, the distinction between ends and means is a distinction between the different roles that intended events or courses of action can play within a larger plan. The distinction has to do with the structure of plans (i.e. with the way in which different parts of these plans guide or regulate behaviour), not with the explanation or motivation of attitudes.
It seems to me that we cannot in any natural sense “value” a thing “as an end” or “as a means”. We can only choose or intend something as an end or as a means. So we should amend Korsgaard’s account, in the following three ways.
- We should replace the idea of what “is valued” with the idea of what it is “fitting or appropriate (for the relevant agent) to value”.
- We should drop the distinction between “for their own sake” and “for the sake of something else” and focus exclusively on the distinction between “ends” and “means”.
- We should replace the highly generic idea of “valuing” with much the more specific idea of “choosing”.
So, according to this amended account, for x to be “instrumentally good” is for it to be fitting or appropriate for the relevant agent to choose x, not as an end, but only as a means to some further end y (where x ≠ y).
A more important point that emerges from this is that it would be a radical mistake to think that all value is either final value or instrumental value. Both final and instrumental value are instances of the rather special kind of value that is essentially connected to choice: there are also many other kinds of value, which are essentially connected to other kinds of “valuing” attitudes.