Proponents of intrinsic value have sometimes attempted to argue for its existence via the following sort of regress argument:
Something is valuable; but if it is valuable, it must be valuable either as a means to something else that is valuable, or else valuable in itself. If all valuable things were good merely as a means, there must be an infinite chain of instrumental goods extending into the future, without ever leading to any intrinsic good. Such a chain is impossible. Therefore, something is intrinsically good.
Both friends and foes of intrinsic value have found this line of argument problematic. It is possible, they say, for there to be an infinite chain of merely instrumental goods extending into the future. This objection gains strength from the obvious parallels between the regress argument and first-cause arguments for the existence of God. Many philosophers have found it reasonable to reject first-cause arguments for God in light of the possibility of an infinite chain of cause and effect stretching into the past; why, then, should we not reject the regress argument for intrinsic value as well?
I think a little tinkering can make the regress argument fairly plausible. I wonder if anyone will agree, and if anyone will think the argument is interesting at all.