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Intrinsic And Merely Instrumental Good

Another important difference, first clearly enunciated by Aristotle (384–322 B.C.E.), is that between what is "intrinsically good" (good in itself) and what is "instrumentally good" (good as a means to some other end). So, for instance, from the perspective of philosophical utilitarianism (the views, most prominently, of the nineteenth-century British thinkers Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill), pleasure is the sole (intrinsic) good; other things, including money, health, and even such "virtues" as philosophers have traditionally recognized (honesty, generosity, integrity) are good merely as means to that end. By contrast, for Aristotle himself, the virtues would be both means to what he regards as the supreme end (eudaimonia—i.e., "happiness" or "well-being") but also part of that supreme good and thus, to that extent, ends in themselves.

Some have questioned, however (see Korsgaard), whether there might not be two differences here: good as a means versus good as an end; "intrinsic" versus "extrinsic" good. The difference between each pair is perhaps clearest in such cases as this. Someone might hold that the good of a beautiful sunset is "extrinsic," that it is grounded in something outside itself—say, human modes of perception and aesthetic response—but still resist holding that this sunset is good merely as a means to something else—for example, the enjoyment of those happening to see it.


There are actually two major, competing, nondeontological traditions of the good. One, running from Aristotle to the pragmatic naturalism of American philosophers such as John Dewey (1859–1952) and Ralph Barton Perry (1876–1957) in the first half of the twentieth century, is "teleological"—that is, it construes the good in terms of the fulfillment of such ends as are natural or proper to a creature. Thus the good is conceived as internal or immanent. By contrast, the consequentialist holds that the good is some quantity to be maximized (produced in or by our acts). Against the teleological conception, the consequentialist may object that teleology stands in need of some standard of value (like that provided by utilitarianism) to distinguish between good and bad tendencies in us. Against consequentialism, the teleologist may object that a merely external standard (such as utilitarianism offers) need not provide a compelling reason or motive of action.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Glucagon to HabitatGood - Moral Versus Nonmoral Good, Intrinsic And Merely Instrumental Good, Teleological Versus Consequentialist Views Of The Good