The Theory of Value of Christian von Ehrenfels

In Reinhard Fabian (ed.), Christian von Ehrenfels: Leben und Werk. Amsterdam: Rodopi. pp. 150-171 (1986)
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Christian von Ehrenfels was a student of both Franz Brentano and Carl Menger and his thinking on value theory was inspired both by Brentano’s descriptive psychology and by the subjective theory of economic value advanced by Menger, the founder of the Austrian school of economics. Value, for Ehrenfels, is a function of desire, and we ascribe value to those things which we either do in fact desire, or would desire if we were not convinced of their existence. He asserts that the needed theoretical understanding of values is to be achieved by generalizing economic laws of valuation to apply to value in general. The law of marginal utility, for example, is a law to the effect that the n+1st sample of a good which I receive is ceteris paribus less valuable than the nth sample (imagine that the samples in question are, for example, a series of identical ham sandwiches). The essay describes how Ehrenfels provides on this basis an account of the different types of values, both intrinsic and non-intrinsic. It outlines also Ehrenfels views on the problem of interpersonal value-comparisons and on the struggle for survival between different values of different types.

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Barry Smith
University at Buffalo


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