Saturday, September 14, 2013

What is the value of human life?


Do you accept the idea of equality regarding individual humans? If so, why?

There is no trick or gimmick here. Just a question. Upon what basis do you accept the idea of human equality?

I will elaborate.

"Everyone is born equal."

Are they? In what way? Some are more gifted physically. Others may have talents for being social or engaging in activities requiring physical strength or grace. I could go on, but we know this is true.

Beyond just biology, the social position one occupies, the "luck" they have in particular situations, and so on, definitely give some people more of advantage to live a happy and successful life.

Of course, happy and successful can be relative, as some people can feel they are content and enjoy life even if they are living in relative poverty or suffer from severe limitations from participating in the events that their peers find rewarding.

Yet that simple suggests that contentment and happiness as well as notions of success or a "good life" are highly subjective. Just because you can learn to be satisfied or content with your options doesn't make you equal to others. And who says everyone can reach a stable point where they can acquire such acceptance and contentment?

We could try to make equality connected to consciousness, but this too is problematic as people with different mental capacities have differing levels and experiences of consciousness. This isn't to say that these differences are good or bad, but they don't support some baseline of equality.

The concept of human equality is an ideal, but outside of some religious context or axiomatic assertion, what is there that supports such an assertion?

That question leads to a related claim...

"Every human life has (the same) value."

They do? And what is the basis of this value? What objective basis is there for such value? And if there is only a subjective basis, what is the argument that supports it?

Again, no tricks or clever turnabouts or twists.

You can say that assuming that everyone has value can be beneficial, either rooted as an evolutionary imperative or the result of social logic. Perhaps some combination of both.

After all, by attributing value to everyone, you gain value yourself as do your relatives and friends. By assigning value to all, you are better able to capture the utilize the potential available in your community or society. These and similar arguments are very solid.

Except that these and similar arguments are concerned with why we should think or feel that all people have value, not with the underlying assumption itself.

This is where you might be tempted to fold back to the first claim, that everyone is equal, perhaps saying that everyone has the same potential for something you think justifies their value, but again, that equality is not absolute and the justification of value is almost certainly still subjective. Is there something all humans have the potential to do or be that you can argue gives them equal value? And value according to who?

Moreover, what if they have lost that potential for some reason, such as being too old? Do they still have that same value then?

Again, except for a prior proclamations such as those found in religion, what is the basis for such claims of value? Human history doesn't support it, given how we have and still treat one another. Slavery and genocide anyone?

Not a dig at the irreliguous and aspiritual

This isn't some attempt to say that people who  reject overt spirituality or religion have no real claim to statements about equality or the value of human life. It really isn't. But humans seem to find value in incorporating themselves into systems of meaning which give them a sense of continuity and transcendence beyond their limited, finite, individual existence.

These systems of meaning can be formal or informal, and can range from family/procreation to belief and participation in a religious worldview.

But what of those who don't make what is considered to be a sufficiently adequate or meaningful contribution to existence or who fail to be a part of some larger system of meaning? What, if anything, is the point or worth of their existence?

I get the impression many people take the ideas of human equality and value lightly, not in the sense that they aren't outraged by perceived callousness or injustice, but in not really appreciating or exploring the basis of their convictions.

So, are all humans equal? Do they all have (equal) value? And if you believe so, what evidence can you provide to support that belief?


  1. Yes I accept the equality of value, that all human life is valuable and all equally valuable. That doesn't exclude the idea that some have more important callings than others, but all humans are at a minimum basic level of human dignity as a default standard.

    Why is human life valuable? One can make several arguments. On one level I could say we deem it so becuase we are human. But as a Christian I find that I must believe we are all made in the image of God (human consciousness, the drive to know, the basic moral motions) and Christ died for us all. God loves us all. That makes us valuable.

    1. Hello Metacrock. Nice to see you over here.

      [A]ll humans are at a minimum basic level of human dignity as a default standard.

      What do you base this on? The culture in which you were raised? A personal preference?

      Why is human life valuable? One can make several arguments. On one level I could say we deem it so becuase we are human.

      Not all humans deem all other humans as having value. And even if they did, they could change their minds. This doesn't make it a fact. We could quibble over the distinction between belief and fact, but I am not aware of something like the fact of the inherent value or worth or importance of any particular individual human, let alone all humans. The belief or preference for such value or worth among some people, but that's not the same thing.

      I find that I must believe we are all made in the image of God.

      There may be factors that incline us to believe that all humans have some basic value in common, that none are worthless or worth so little as to not matter, but neither such an inclination nor the belief itself is the issue. I can give reasons why believing it is beneficial (as in the original post), but it is possible to have beliefs that are beneficial yet false nonetheless.

      God loves us all.

      In terms of your assertion about existence God and the nature of God, I've already suggested this could be a potential argument for basic human equality or value, but, of course, that would require convincing arguments for both assertions (existence and nature).

      Can you think of anything that would point to the fact, rather than simply the belief, in basic human value or equality that isn't tied to a belief in God/a Higher Power?

  2. It seems to me that human life is equal due to deep road craft, the journey, the inner beat, impulse, or drive to stay alive. By sharing our lives with one another we compliment others paths. The reason our egos suffer so much when we try to exaggerate or tone down the worth of our natures is because deep on some fundamental level all realize that we are the same and compromising or betraying this fact hurts profoundly. Due to faith in our loving watchmaker, our lives are propelled forward harmonically like puppets or wind up toys. He found that what we can control is disturbingly little. The spin comes from confusing what we can control (OUR OWN BEHAVIOR). We can't control others' responses, reactions, or notions. All of us are equally problematic, and part of the solution...

    Does anyone else have a different experience with this?


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