Different Sources and Meanings of Value

Given the crucial role that ecosystems and their services play in supporting human, animal, plant, and microbial populations, there is now widespread agreement that ecosystems are “valuable” and that decision-makers ranging from individuals to governments should consider the “value” of these ecosystems and the services they provide to society (Daily, 1997). However, there are different views on what this means and on the sources of that value. The literature on environmental philosophy and ethics distinguishes between (1) instrumental and intrinsic values, (2) anthropocentric and biocentric (or ecocentric) values, and (3) utilitarian and deontological values (Callicott, 2004). In order to place economic valuation in the context of these distinctions, each is discussed briefly below.

The instrumental value of an ecosystem service is a value derived from its role as a means toward an end other than itself. In other words, its value is derived from its usefulness in achieving a goal. In contrast, intrinsic value is the value that exists independently of any such contribution; it reflects the value of something for its own sake. For example, if a fish population provides a source of food for either humans or other species, it has instrumental value. This value stems from its contribution to the goal of sustaining the consuming population. If it continued to have value even if it were no longer “useful” to these populations (e.g., if an alternative, preferred food source were discovered), that remaining value would be its intrinsic value. For example, if the Grand Canyon and the Florida Everglades have intrinsic value, that component of value would be independent of whether humans directly or indirectly use them—either as sites for recreation, study, or even contemplation. Intrinsic value can also stem from heritage or cultural sources, such as the value of culturally important burial grounds. Because intrinsic value is the value of something unrelated to its instrumental use of any kind, it is often termed “noninstrumental” value.

Anthropocentricism assumes that only human beings have intrinsic value and that the value of everything else is instrumental to human goals. To say that all values are anthropocentric, however, assumes that only humans assign value, and thus the value of other organisms stems from their usefulness to humans. Non-anthropocentric or biocentric values assume that certain things have value even if no human being thinks so. Thus, a biocentric approach assigns intrinsic value to all individual organisms, including but not limited to humans. Within this framework, intrinsic value or worth reflects more than humans caring about nonhumans and includes, in addition, the recognition that nonhumans have worth or value that is independent of any human caring or any satisfaction humans might receive from them. For example, a biocentric approach would assign a positive value to an obscure fish population (e.g., the snail darter; see more below) even if no human being feels that it is valuable and thus worth preserving. Clearly, both instrumental value and intrinsic value can be either an-

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement