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Sunday, September 23, 2012


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Thanks for your response, Dr. Vallicella.

I can practice sawing, but if my saw has no teeth, I won’t get very far!

We agree that, plausibly, some objects that have meaning, value, and purpose in virtue of their relation to the endowing activity of agents. But you seem to think that this entails that the property in question is therefore instrumental (as your examples illustrate). Indeed, you go on to cite God as a counterexample to ET precisely because “he is intrinsically purposive, intrinsically good, intrinsically valuable, intrinsically meaningful.” But here I wonder why intrinsic value, meaning, etc. cannot be endowed.

What is it about endowment that rules out the possibility of an intrinsic property being endowed? Maybe the idea is that intrinsic properties are properties an object has absent of an object’s relation to something else. I find such a view of intrinsic properties problematic. Is this the idea? Would it be fair to say that wether God is a genuine counterexample to ET depends on this (or some other) view of intrinsic properties? If not, I do not want to practice my boxing skills on a shadowy partner!

Much obliged,


Ditto to what BV said in the last couple of paragraphs. If God is intrinsically meaningful he does not require any agent to bestow meaningfulness on him. He is the Ultimate Bestower!

Chad: Perhaps a simple modification to your principle might work.

(ET)* Any [contingent, finite, temporal, etc.] object x has meaning iff x has meaning by virtue of being endowed meaning by one or more agents.

Since God is neither contingent, finite, nor temporal, the ET* principle does not apply. It would be a categorical mistake to apply ET* to God. This slight modification ameliorates the counterexample (I think).

Given this, God's meaningfulness, like His existence, is a se (from himself-independently) and he has it necessarily de re.

typo: change "categorical mistake" to "category-mistake".


What do you mean by 'instrumental' above?

I suppose I am assuming that if x has a property P, but only in virtue of x's standing in a relation to some y, then P is not an intrinsic property of x. Thus being married is not an intrinsic property of Tom since he has this property only in virtue of Tom's standing in the marriage relation to a person distinct from Tom.

Is that how you understand 'intrinsic property'?

Perhaps you could give me an example of an endowed intrinsic property.

Sorry, my earlier comment had some typos. Here is the corrected version (if you could, just delete the pervious and this sentence):

Thanks for the responses. Jason, I think you could distill what my response would be to you from my response to Dr. Vallicella below.

BV: “I suppose I am assuming that if x has a property P, but only in virtue of x's standing in a relation to some y, then P is not an intrinsic property of x”

Right. This is what I would want explore. Because this way of characterizing intrinsic properties is negative (it does not say what intrinsic properties are), it’s harder set one’s sights on it. But maybe the following still applies to it.

This way of characterizing intrinsic value seems to run into difficulties of the following kind. Consider: x has V, where V is intrinsic value. Now, by the above account, x cannot have V by virtue of x's standing in a relation to some y. So, suppose we ask why x has V, or what it is about x that makes it intrinsically valuable. The answer cannot be in terms of the x’s internal properties (or parts), or anything external to x, as both would presuppose a relation. Indeed, it’s hard to see how the question “why does x have V?” or “what it is about x that makes it intrinsically valuable?” is meaningful on this view. Must we say that x’s having V is just a brute, primitive, and inexplicable fact about x?

Perhaps. I can see that being reasonable in some cases. But intrinsic value does not seem to be one of those cases. Why?

As a general methodological rule of thumb, I think we should prefer views which have—all else being equal—more explanatory power. Moreover, I agree with Alexander Pruss that “claiming something to be a brute fact should be a last resort. It would undercut the practice of science were things claimed to be brute facts where not implausible putative explanations, propositions that would be explanations were they true, can be formulated.” (The Principle of Sufficient Reason, p. 225).

And so I think there is an alternative view of intrinsic value that does not treat intrinsic value as brute, primitive, and inexplicable (and, so far as I can tell, scarifies nothing in the process). The alternative view sees something as intrinsically valuable when it is valued as an end or for its own sake. This a positively informative account of intrinsic value, consistent with ET, and accordingly treats the questions “why does x have V?” or “what it is about x that makes it intrinsically valuable?” as meaningful. Moreover, understood this way, ET delivers a meaningful response, or “a plausible putative explanation” not just of why objects have intrinsic value, but for why objects have value of any kind. So this view has more explanatory power and is simpler (it is easy to see, on this view, that there can be many endowed intrinsic properties: love, beauty, meaning, purpose, etc.).

In the absence of additional reasons for why ET is misguided, or why the alternative view of intrinsic value is likewise misguided, seeing intrinsic value as brute or inexplicable smacks of what Pruss has elsewhere called ‘the taxi-cab fallacy’: arbitrarily dismissing a request for explanation (like a cab) once one wants to go no further.

"The answer cannot be in terms of the x’s internal properties (or parts), or anything external to x, as both would presuppose a relation."

I don't follow that. You say that x has intrinsic value V. You ask why x has V. What relation is presupposed if you simply say that x has value property V? The relation of instantiation?

Again, wat I need from you is a clear example of a property that is bestowed upon a thing but it nevertheless intrinsic to it.

As for a positive explanation of 'intrinsic property' one could say that they are the properties that make up a thing's nature, including both its essential and accidental properties. Thus being human is an intrinsic property of Socrates and so is his being bald, while being married is not intrinsic.

Thanks again for the response. Let me try to clarify a few points.

If, in the absence of any relation, we ask what it is about a thing x that makes it intrinsically valuable. Obviously, the answer cannot be in terms of anything external to x. But neither can it be in terms of the x itself, it seems. For it cannot be in terms of the x’s internal (essential or accidental) properties (or parts, but hereafter I’ll omit this qualification). Suppose x is intrinsically valuable, but not because of any relation. If we ask what it is about x that makes it intrinsically valuable, the answer cannot be because of one or more of its properties. For if we say x is valuable because of more than one of its properties, then we are saying there is a relation between x and these properties that is responsible for x’s having intrinsic value. But neither can x have intrinsic value because of just one of its properties: if this were the case, what could be meant but there is a relation between x and some property of x such that x is responsible for x’s having intrinsic value? In the absence of any relation whatsoever, why x has intrinsic value is mysterious.

If it is true that if x has P by virtue of y, then P cannot be intrinsic to x, there can be no endowed intrinsic properties. But that is just another reason to reject this way of thinking about intrinsic properties (rejecting this negative characterization is consistent, so far as I can tell, with your positive characterization, the latter with which I am in agreement).

Maybe here’s where I need to be more clear: the term “intrinsic value” does not and should not automatically entail that intrinsic value is an intrinsic property (in sense of your positive characterization of an intrinsic property).

Nonetheless, here is what seems to me to be a case where an object has intrinsic value, that value is endowed, and that intrinsic value satisfies your positive characterization of an intrinsic property: Imagine substance which is essentially composed of three persons, each of whom endow the others value. In this case, if all of x’s parts have value, x has a whole has value.

Ah, but I need an ordinary, mundane example! After all, if the task is to understand how God has intrinsic endowed value, it doesn't help to use God as an example of endowed intrinsic value.

Fair enough. Maybe looking for an endowed intrinsic property is beside the point. The problem with such properties being intrinsic is not that they are endowed, but that they are relational. Maybe the real problem is that an endowed property is a relational property, and no relational property can be intrinsic. If so, I should be looking for an example of an intrinsic, relational property. How about having more eyes than noses, or being taller than I used to be, or the SEP suggests having longer legs than arms. What do you think?


I too consulted that SEP article. There is no avoiding the underlying question of what exactly 'intrinsic' means.

The property of having longer legs than arms is an intrinsic property of most of us, and there is a sense in which it is relational inasmuch as it involves the relation *longer than.* But it is not a relational property in the usual sense: it does not involve a relation that connects the thing that has the relational property to some other thing distinct from it.


1. I am such that I have longer legs than arms

2. My legs are such that they are longer than my arms.

You suggest that *Being taller than I used to be* is an intrinsic relational property. If I am composed of temporal parts, then that would not be an intrinsic property; and if I am not, then it would (arguably) not be a relational property.

Another wrinkle: should we distinguish intrinsic and extrinsic properties or intrinsic and extrinsic modes of having properties or both? Perhaps there are cases in which x has F-ness extrinsically but y has F-ness intrinsically.

Interesting thoughts.

I thought it might not be a good idea to suggest a property that seems to have an irreducibly temporal index. So let's forget about being taller than I used to be to avoid those complexities.

But you worry that the relational properties we're thinking about do "not involve a relation that connects the thing that has the relational property to some other thing distinct from it." What it doesn't do is connect the thing that has the relational property to some other thing wholly distinct distinct from it, or separate in esse." Nothing forbids, so far as I can see, a thing having relational properties by virtue of its relation to its proper parts, or its proper parts having relational properties by virtue of their relation to other proper parts.

So, for example, I might have the intrinsic relational properties of having the same number of toes as fingers, or thinking more about philosophy than politics, or having longer fingers than toes, or my right bicep's being bigger than my left bicep, or my heart's being between my lungs, or my stomach's being closer to my butt than my head.

I'm ok with not calling these properties relational properties in the usual sense, the usual sense being, I guess, where a thing x has a relational property P iff x’s having P entails that there is some y wholly distinct from x (ordinarily I would think of these as counterexamples to the usual sense--the usual sense not being precise enough). But they don't seem unusual, either. After all, they are common and mundane. Whatever we want to call them, surely they are cases of relational properties of some kind, and are plausibly intrinsic. They certainly are not extrinsic.

I am inclined to think there is a distinction between both intrinsic and extrinsic properties and intrinsic and extrinsic modes of having properties.

If I understand you, what you want to able to say is that God has endowed value, but intrinsic value. Is that right? And if God is triune, then that is conceivable?

That's what I want to be able to say, yes. The biggest challenge to the argument, I think, is ruling out endowing oneself P as a possibility.

You argue that one cannot be the source of one's own meaning, and I agree. But your argument for why is that if agent x endows himself P (meaning, say), x does not have P logically prior to endowing himself P, and so cannot have P in the requisite way (ultimately, objectively?).

But the priority problem seems to count just as well against the case of a network or community of endowment: agent x endows agent y P, and y in turn endows x P. Although a we still have the priority problem (neither x nor y have P logically prior to the other's endowing them with P), it not obviously bootstrapping. Neither is the source of their own meaning.

Nevertheless, it's hard for me to put my finger on why, if the priority problem applies to both cases, self-endowment seems worse than community-endowmwnt.

Unless "I am legion" your solution for God won't work for me, right?

Haha, I think that's right. But other interesting cases may arise, where a human might be thought of as a plurality of some kind, like in multiple personality disorder. Or what of holding oneself in mind as an object of thought? I don't have settled views on what's going on in these kinds of cases. Whatever we say of them, though, I think there'd be substantially different implications for humans than for God on account of the former being imperfect and limited in knowledge, and the latter being perfect and omniscient.

Hi Bill, will you give me permission to re-post your piece "Belief & Rationality - Practical and evidential aspects of rationality -- on the blog Telic Thoughts? I am in dialogue there and your thoughts are significant in the discussion.


I am rewriting that post right now, and it should appear at the top of the blog later in the day. You are free to reproduce or quote from or link to the revised version. Just give me credit and a link. Thanks for your interest.

Thanks, will keep you posted, and perhaps you can jump in on the dialogue :)

Your article is posted here http://telicthoughts.com/guest-post/#comment-333767, actually in a previous thread i directed people to your article and some commented already. On a different note, i don't know where to submit my comments on your articles. i don't see the comment area, it is only here that i got in. But thanks. I like your recent "Realms of Experience Beyond the Natural" You may want to check Philip Wiebe's 2 seminal works (Visions of Jesus and God and Other Spirits) Also significant chapters (10, 11, 12) in Dean Overman's book A Case for the Existence of God.

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