Natural Value (1889)

by Friedrich von Wieser (1851-1926)

Book I: The Elementary Theory of Value

Chapter II
The Value of Satisfaction of Want

NV-I-2.1 In its ordinary use among economic writers the word Want signifies every human desire, whether great or small, justifiable or unjustifiable, necessary or unnecessary, material or immaterial. Bodily well-being, idle delights, artistic pleasure, moral satisfaction may all be classed together as objects of human want.
NV-I-2.2 In this sense all the “use of goods” – all the utility which goods afford – amounts in the last resort to satisfaction of wants, and the opinion that the value of goods arises from their use may be more exactly stated by saying that it rests upon the satisfaction of wants which they furnish. It is the satisfaction of wants which, in the first instance, has value, or “worth” or “importance to” us. Satisfaction is that which is really desired, and is worthy of desire: and, as we do not desire goods for themselves, but for the satisfaction they give, so do we value them only for that satisfaction. The value of goods is derived from the value of wants.
NV-I-2.3 The theory of value, then, has first of all to do with the value of wants, this being the form in which value first appears.
NV-I-2.4 What it is that gives value to the satisfaction itself we shall not here attempt to explain. It will be enough if we give the symptom by which the degrees of value or importance are recognised. It is the intensity with which the satisfaction is desired. Were we to place the different satisfactions on a graduated scale, it would probably be remarked that those which stand highest are not those which provide the purest pleasure, or which will most serve to beautify our lives. Our most urgent concern is rather with the warding off of extreme want, and with the prevention of care and suffering; the necessaries of life must first be assured “before we can reach the good things of this world.” There is a difference between what men might like to have, and what they must first decide to secure; and it is according to the latter, not the former, that interests are actually ranged above and below one another. The actual ranking of the valuable – no matter how moral judgment or fancy would dictate – is simply that which men recognise by their actions when they are called on to choose between having one thing and another.
NV-I-2.5 In this sense the amount of the value of want depends on the class of want, but, within this class, it depends upon the degree of satisfaction already attained.
NV-I-2.6 This latter point in detail we must now discuss. Here, first, we shall have occasion to remark the influence of quantity upon value. And it is not the value of goods alone that is affected by quantity, but the value of wants.

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