Intrinsic and instrumental personal value

A person’s intelligence doesn’t determine their moral worth. For the most part, we don’t think that a more intelligent person is more deserving of care or of being treated with respect than a less intelligent person. We might think of this as intrinsic value.

And yet, if I wanted to hire someone to solve a difficult problem, I’d prefer to hire the more intelligent person. We might think of this as instrumental value. And similarly, if I wanted someone to model some clothes, I would likely prefer a more attractive person to a less attractive person. Again, this is instrumental value.

From Turkheimer, Harden, and Nisbett’s criticism of Charles Murray and Sam Harris:

The conviction that groups of people differ along important behavioral dimensions because of racial differences in their genetic endowment is an idea with a horrific recent history. Murray and Harris pepper their remarks with anodyne commitments to treating people as individuals, even people who happen to come from genetically benighted groups. But the burden of proof is surely on them to explain how the modern program of race science differs from the ones that have justified policies that inflicted great harm.

My interpretation of this is that Turkheimer et al are accusing Murray and Harris (or people influenced by them) of eliding a distinction between intrinsic and instrumental value, or they are eliding that distinction themselves.

This seems similar to subtle distinctions that I was writing about yesterday – and subject to the same sorts of confusions.