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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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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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With the previous post, we established a premise for what it is to be human, or better, what criteria we cannot use when determining who is and is not human. We cannot rely upon how a person looks, how big a person is, or the quality of life. These are arbitrary standards and as such we cannot use them; any standard offered must be non-arbitrary.

The standard I have provided can be found in Part 4 of this series. Simply put, a human being is a rational animal; biologically, his DNA and biological make up link him to other homo sapiens. Likewise, he holds the capacity to be rational, that is, creative, inventive, etc. There’s no specification on the degree to which he can accomplish this, just that he has the capacity. After all, how do we determine who is more rational or who is more creative or who is more inventive? We can only go so far as to say that the capacity exists; we cannot use the actualization of the capacity as a standard, because such a standard would be arbitrary.

With the above in mind, we must determine whether certain types of people are actually people; everything from fetuses to the elderly have been thrown into the debate of “person or not”?

With apologies to those with short attention spans, this may be one of the longer posts in the series. I have divided it into sections and sub-sections for those who cannot read it all in one sitting.

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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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One of the more charged terms in the abortion debate is the word “murder.” Those who are pro-life use this term quite a bit, calling abortion murder, whereas those who are pro-choice think equating abortion to murder is egregious rhetoric. Of course, the issue is quite simple; if the fetus is a human being, then the intentional killing of the fetus in murder (with few exceptions). If the fetus is not a human being, then killing the fetus is no more an act of murder than killing a wild animal that threatens livestock, or killing off numerous skin cells by taking a shower.

That is what the abortion debate – and multiple other life debates, such as what to do with the disabled, the mentally retarded, the terminally ill, and the like – hinges upon; is “it” human?

As seen in Part 5 from the Intrinsic Value series, being a human being means that you have certain rights, the most foundational of those rights being the right to life. All other rights are based upon this one right. Without a right to life, ultimately we have a right to nothing. This right is not given to animals, nor is it given to inanimate objects; this right is placed solely on humans.

Human, All Too Human

To provide a brief overview of the last parts, we determined that a human is both material an immaterial (though it is not necessary to believe this in order to believe that humans have intrinsic value); the material aspect of humanity is shared among humans in our DNA. Humans are individual human beings and though at times reliant upon other humans for our existence, we are ontologically separate from other human beings. We are self-aware, we have the ability to forgo our instincts, and we are creative.

We are individuals at every stage of development; no matter how much our bodies change, who we are doesn’t change. Thus, once a human, always a human. When our essence changes, this means that we have ceased to be, that is, we have died.

So the question comes up – what about those who do not show the attributes of being a human? What of those that show no capacity for reason, are tinier than other humans, are inching closer to death, are in vegetative states, or so on and so forth? This seems to be the question of the day. Often times abortion rights advocates will declare, “It’s a woman’s uterus; what she is killing inside her uterus is not human” and seek to provide a justification. When we kill the severely deformed, the advocacy is, “they are not really humans.” Or, as the Nazi father from the movie The Boy in the Striped Pajamas says about the Jews, “Those people aren’t really people.”

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