Is there any example of something which holds value, but has no actual or potential application? Is value really just a measure of usefulness, or is it a distinct quality?

On the one hand, most anything we can imagine has some sort of potential application. But the fact that we could use Michelangelo's Pieta to block a washed-out road doesn't have anything to do with why we think the Pieta is valuable.

Now if we're prepared to use "usefulness" loosely enough, then the "value=usefulness" idea might get a better run for its money. A work of art has the potential "use" of eliciting aesthetic experiences from us. However, the obvious reply is that those experiences are valuable for their own sake and not because they're useful for some other purpose.

The defended of the "value=usefulness" idea can still make a few moves. Aesthetic experiences, the story might go, are conducive to a good life. (We'll leave aside the large question of just what a good life amounts to.) But there are two obvious replies. One is that even if aesthetic experiences can be part of some larger value, they could still be valuable for their own sake. The even more obvious reply is that a good life seems to be the sort of thing that's valuable for its own sake.

In any case, if "usefulness" means what most people mean, it's hard to see why we'd agree that all value is a matter of usefulness. Most of us don't need to look far to find things that seem valuable for reasons that don't have anything to do with their usefulness. In fact, the contrary thesis has a better shot at being true: we care about usefulness because ultimately it gets us to things that are valuable for their own sake.

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