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Opinion Buying into conservation intrinsic versus instrumental value James Justus1 2 Mark Colyvan2 Helen Regan3 and Lynn Maguire4 1 Philosophy Department Florida State University Tallahassee FL 32306 USA Philosophy Department University of Sydney Sydney NSW 2006 Australia 3 Biology Department University of California Riverside Riverside CA 92521 USA 4 Nicholas School of the Environment Duke University Durham NC 27708 0328 USA 2 Many conservation biologists believe the best ethical basis for conserving natural entities is their claimed intrinsic value not their instrumental value for humans But there is significant confusion about what intrinsic value is and how it could govern conservation decision making After examining what intrinsic value is supposed to be we argue that it cannot guide the decision making conservation requires An adequate ethical basis for conservation must do this and instrumental value does it best An ethical rationale for conservation decisions Conservation biologists often argue natural entities e g non human species ecosystems should be attributed intrinsic value to secure a compelling ethical rationale for their protection Soule 1 states that biotic diversity has intrinsic value irrespective of its instrumental or utilitarian value and claims this is a necessary normative principle of conservation biology Noss and Cooperrider 2 similarly assert that intrinsic values offer the least biased and ultimately most secure arguments for conservation and McCauley 3 recently invoked the concept of intrinsic value to criticize conservation actions based on monetization of ecosystem services Given its currency among conservation biologists clarity about intrinsic value and its efficacy as an ethical basis for conservation is imperative What is intrinsic value and what has intrinsic value Ascribing intrinsic value to non human natural entities is intended to underscore reverence for nature by according them a value independent of humans thereby liberating humans from narrow anthropocentrism about value Accordingly conservation biologists have attributed intrinsic value to a broad range of things One way of clarifying a concept is to search for patterns in the things to which it is applied No pattern is apparent in the use of the term intrinsic value in conservation biology It has been attributed to ecosystems 4 5 all biological entities and their environments 6 wilderness 7 8 wasteland habitats and wild organisms 9 genetic variation that increases probability of population persistence 10 and even all entities produced by natural processes 4 The apparent lack of any unifying principle underlying these Corresponding author Justus J jjustus fsu edu attributions shows that the use of intrinsic value in conservation biology requires scrutiny One way to determine which entities of conservation interest have intrinsic value is to appeal to traditional ethical theories originally developed to govern human action These theories argue that the properties of pleasure rationality or virtuous character and entities possessing them are intrinsically valuable 11 For example humans and other sentient organisms that experience pleasure have intrinsic value according to one theory whereas only humans can exhibit rationality or virtuous character and thus have intrinsic value according to other theories By analogy entities of conservation interest could be considered intrinsically valuable if they possessed at least one of these intrinsically valuable properties Except sentient animals however non human natural entities that are legitimate targets of conservation e g plants ecosystems do not possess any properties considered intrinsically valuable by traditional ethical theories Some nontraditional theories accord these entities intrinsic value but such theories are not widely accepted and remain highly controversial 12 Proponents of intrinsic value in conservation biology therefore need a defensible account of the concept that allows these entities to possess it and an argument showing they do Besides unhelpful allusions that an intrinsically valuable entity is valuable in itself or as an end in itself 13 14 valuable in the absence of humans and other intelligent organisms 6 or of priceless and or infinite value 3 explicit descriptions of what intrinsic value is and a convincing account of why non human natural entities have it have not been given The above characterizations are not compatible or defensible and they do not provide workable criteria for determining which entities are intrinsically valuable Unsurprisingly articles discussing intrinsic value published in scientific journals often fail to define the concept explicitly e g 4 6 What is instrumental value Instead of saying what intrinsic value is attempts to clarify the concept often focus on what it is not namely instrumental value Entities with instrumentally valuable properties are valuable to the extent they are or will be considered valuable by valuers such as humans and perhaps other cognitively complex organisms For example great art is instrumentally valuable because experiencing 0169 5347 see front matter 2008 Elsevier Ltd All rights reserved doi 10 1016 j tree 2008 11 011 Available online 27 February 2009 187 Opinion Trends in Ecology and Evolution Vol 24 No 4 Table 1 Sources of instrumental value of biodiversity Instrumental value source Aesthetic Ecological and or ecosystem services Medical recreational tourist Educational Existence Scientific Spiritual Refs Chapin et al 26 Hunter and Gibbs 14 Chapin et al 26 Noss and Cooperrider 2 McCauley 3 Hunter and Gibbs 14 Alexander 23 Metrick and Weitzman 27 Jepson and Canney 28 Hunter and Gibbs 14 Chapin et al 26 it is aesthetically and emotionally pleasurable Art is instrumentally not intrinsically valuable because its value is dependent on and derives from the responses it produces in humans e g pleasure If experiencing a work of art ceased to produce these responses if it no longer produced pleasure for example the art would lose its instrumental value Different properties of an entity can be valuable for different reasons so instrumental value has a wide variety of different sources Table 1 Given its diverse sources market based assessments of an entity s instrumental value can be inappropriate favoring those that can be evaluated with well developed economic methods e g natural resources ecosystem services visitor admission revenues over those whose market value is

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