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An excellent article put up by Francis Beckwith titled, “Dignity Never Been Photographed” (link goes to a PDF file). In the article he argues that philosophical materialism (empiricism) not only doesn’t allow for the belief of human dignity, but is counter-intuitive to human dignity. He also doesn’t simply make these claims and attempt to make logical jumps in order to validate these claims, but instead quotes from Harvard University’s Steven Pinker’s article, “The Stupidity of Dignity.”

I hope to offer up a review of Beckwith’s article soon, but think for a moment on what the world would look like if we didn’t believe that humans were intrinsically dignified. This would mean that we would be only as valuable as what we do, our value would be limited to our contribution to society. Is such a world survivable or plausible?

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Dealing with Intrinsic Human Value

Prelude | Essence and Potentiality | Definitions | What is human? | Intrinsic Value of humanityOf fetuses, infants, disabled, and others (Part a)Of fetuses, infants, disabled, and others (Part b) | Functionalism and Utilitarian ethics revisited | Conclusion

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We now revisit utilitarian and functional ethics concerning human beings. This was somewhat tackled earlier on in the series, but I wanted to give a fuller treatment to these two ethical standards. Lately, the utilitarian and functional view has been in abundance. However, before such views are attacked, we must first understand what those views are and why they are wrong (especially in the context of issues surrounding life).

Functionalism

Functionalism is a term that I am using to describe the idea that a person’s value is determined by a person’s specific function within society (I am not using this term in the same way the term is used in philosophy of the mind arguments).

When I use the term “functionalism” I am meaning to describe the way of thinking that determines value by function. Sadly enough, this view is very common in our society whether we realize it or not. For instance, one of the first questions asked when meeting someone is “What do you do for a living?” Intentional or not, we are asking what the person does in order to sum up how we view the person. If the person says, “I am a janitor” we will generally view him less than the person who says, “I am a brain surgeon.” The brain surgeon, in our view, holds a greater function within society and thus has more value.

In short, we must have a function within society that is positive in order to be deemed a person of value. The classic hypothetical provided to indicate how we approach functionalism is if you have the ability to save one person off a sinking boat, out of a child, a doctor with the cure for cancer, an athlete, a mentally disabled person, or an economists who has found a way to eradicate poverty worldwide, who do you save? The hypothetical is to force you to think about each person’s function within society to determine who is worthy of saving; we look to the person’s function within society to determine the value. Inevitably, in the above scenario, it comes down to the doctor and the economist.

The antecedent of the above is that a person who lacks function isn’t as valuable as others. You might be a mail man, which provides some level of function, but this makes you far more valuable than the person with severe autism. Thus, if caught in a fire and a fireman can only save you or the autistic person, you are the logical choice because you hold more value than the autistic child. Though the autistic person isn’t really human because he lacks a function within society, even if he were, he would be lesser in degree of value due to his lack of function.

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By J. Matthan Brown

Also Posted on Truth is a Man

In my recent post Abortion and the Philosophy of Mind I made this comment:

“In all of the debates raging over the status of the fetus I have yet to come across material which articulates the connection this issue has with the philosophy of mind.”

I am happy to report that I’ve found an excellent book which deals with this very issue from a dualist perspective.  The title of the book is Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics by J. P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae.  I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in an articulate account of the nature of human beings, the philosophy of mind, and bioethics from a Christian perspective.

I shall write more on this subject myself in the very near future; until then, please enjoy this great book!

By Joel:

I am currently working on my series for intrinsic human value. Aside from revamping an earlier post, I am trying my best to make this series well-reasoned and not just thrown together. As such, I have been reading back issues of the journal “Christian Bioethics,” various books I’ve marked up (to collect notes), and researching some of the scientific approaches I want to take.

I will be posting that series this week, but it may be later in the week. However, once I begin posting it again, I should be able to post every day or every other day.

Dealing with Intrinsic Human Value

Prelude | Essence and Potentiality | Definitions | What is human? | Intrinsic Value of humanity | Of fetuses, infants, disabled, and others (Part a) Of fetuses, infants, disabled, and others (Part b) | Functionalism and Utilitarian ethics revisited | Conclusion

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I’m putting this forth from a discussion I’ve been having on my previous post. I’m putting it in this format mostly because I think it’s easier to display my arguments, rather than crunching them into a little reply.

I stated in my previous post:

Anything that has within its nature to be something, even if not actualized, is still that something

That is where the opposition began, specifically this comment:

But surely you don’t think that $5 is actually the same as $10 simply because if you invest $5 it can become $10. If a potential human being is an actual human being, then shouldn’t potential money be as good as actual money?

So, before going on to refute the idea that we don’t have an essence, or that we make our own essence, let me first define what I mean by my statement.

I will use “essence” and “nature” interchangeably, but a very simple definition of what both essence and nature mean is this; “the thing that makes a thing what it is.” In other words, we know the difference between a bear and an apple because both have different essences. The essence is the ding an sich (thing in itself). It is what makes that one thing unique from other groups (there is also a species essence and personal essence, one dealing with the necessary aspects of a species while the other deals with the accidents of the individual, but that is for another time).

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Dealing with Intrinsic Human Value

Prelude | Essence and Potentiality | Definitions | What is human? | Intrinsic Value of humanity | Of fetuses, infants, disabled, and others (Part a) Of fetuses, infants, disabled, and others (Part b) | Functionalism and Utilitarian ethics revisited | Conclusion

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Chris over at BioSled TrueFire offered up an article on intrinsic human value. He wanted my opinion on it and here it is:

1) From a secular view, it’s a good argument. It points out that the only consistent part of human nature is our flesh and blood. However, he leaves it there. The problem is that many biological creatures also have flesh and blood, but we don’t consider them human. However, this can be easily tweaked to point out that all humans share the same DNA. Both the astronaut and the homeless man have the same DNA (not replicated, but the few differences simply distinguishing how they will look within their species; by saying “same” I mean of the same type, not replicated). What is more, from the moment of conception to the moment of death, the DNA does not naturally change.

The importance in this is that if we reject intrinsic human value, as Chris argues, we end up promoting discrimination. Some humans perform at better levels and do more for society than other humans. Someone who wins the Nobel Peace Prize has more utilitarian value than someone who works a minimum wage job and plays video games all day. Thus, if we reject intrinsic value in humans, we must rely on utility. This has interesting implications not only in the abortion debate, infanticide, and end of life issues, but carries over into legal matters; when a person is killed, rather than simply looking for who did it and punishing the person, we would have to evaluate the persons involved, the utility of the victim, and the utility of the perpetrator. If the perpetrator has a higher utility and terminated the person of lower utility because of that person’s lower utility (especially if the person lowered the utility of society as a whole), then the killing could easily be seen as justifiable.

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Cross posted at The Christian Watershed.

There are several arguments used by pro-abortion advocates that argue the ramifications of not allowing abortion outweigh the ramifications of allowing abortion.

With the previous topic in mind – that human life is most logically defined as that which begins at conception or implantation – let us look at some of the common scenarios presented:

If abortion is no longer allowed, women will go back to coat hanger abortions.

It might be true that if abortion is no longer allowed (outside of medical conditions) some women might go to “back alley abortionists,” which inevitably puts the mother at significant risk. Obviously law enforcement would have to step up investigating doctors and other people who offer such illegal services. This would, in turn, drive up the cost of enforcement, which would force taxpayers to pay a heavy toll. Is banning abortion worth this?

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