Suppose that what is good for us is for our lives to go the way we (upon reflection) want them to. Then the fulfilment of such desires constitutes 'welfare value'. Clearly we can also value many other things, such as the advancement of human knowledge, or the completion of grand and noble projects. Some might even value diversity for its own sake, and want to sustain a wide variety of independent cultures and ways of life, even if some of those cultures are harmful to the people within them. (Someone who prizes this value might not want to see practices like female genital mutilation universally abolished, for example.) I will call these sorts of things 'personal values', in contrast to the 'welfare value' described above.
The question then arises: how important are personal values - either our own or other people's? Suppose I care greatly about building the next 'wonder of the world', much more than I care about "mere" human welfare. Would it be okay (morally? rationally?) for me to enslave the local populace and force them to build the great structure? (It sounds like an awful thing to do. On the other hand, I'm glad the Egyptians built the pyramids.) Must welfare values always outweigh our personal values? If we reject both these extremes, how should we balance the two?
And what should we think of other people's personal values -- do we have any reason to support them? Consider the case of Dying Deb:
Deb is on her deathbed, and her beloved childhood home is about to be demolished. The sadistic developers make you an offer to preserve the home if (and only if) you take Deb off her painkillers, so she will die a painful death. Deb would actually prefer this, because she cares more about the home than about her own welfare. You have the following options:
(1) Tell Deb about the offer (she will accept, suffer some pain, and have the home saved); or
(2) Ensure that Deb has a pleasant death (perhaps lying to her about the home; it will in fact be destroyed).
What should you do?
I'm inclined to think that (2) is better. Deb is more important than her old home, her own opinion to the contrary notwithstanding. Though this is a fairly extreme example. What if Deb only had to suffer a mild pinch? Or what if there was no cost at all? In the "no cost" case it seems like we have some reason to fulfil Deb's wishes, even if it won't make her any better off. So perhaps others' personal values do matter, it's just that they might be easily outweighed by welfare concerns.
The Pyramids case does bother me though. Taking a "big picture" view of things, sometimes welfare doesn't really seem all that significant compared to grand "super-human" ideals. (Perhaps this is just because my mind "zooms out" so far that I lose sight of it?)
What do you think? In particular, what do you think matters aside from welfare, and how important is it in comparison? (And do you think it has intrinsic value in the sense that it would be valuable even if no person valued it? Or is it a merely personal value? Does this difference matter?)