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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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I feel that before moving on to see if humans have intrinsic value, we must first discuss some of the issues and terms surrounding this series. This requires us to move into the field of metaphysics and ontology, which can be confusing because we’re dealing with concepts that often cannot be known, but it is one field we must traverse if we have any hope of dealing with the intrinsic value of human-persons.

Essence – a term that describes the nature of a thing; a thing is what it is because of its nature.

An example of this is that we can know the difference between a rock and petrified dung; though the two can sometimes look similar, we can know that the two are different. Why is this? It is because each one has a difference essence.

This is because the essence is what makes a thing what it is. We cannot know an essence in a comprehensive manner; rather, we can experience the essence and describe the attributes of the essence, but we can never comprehensively grasp the essence of any one thing.

So when we speak of an essence, we are discussing the nature of a thing. The term “species” can, at times, be synonymous with “essence.” We know that humans are different from cats, cats different from cows, and cows different from giraffes. Each individual being in each specie group will be difference (we’ll get to that), but all draw from the same essence in their categorization.

Now, some would argue that “essences” simply do not exist, that we made them up as a way of classifying species. However, common sense would negate this argument. If there were no essences, then we would look at everything as an individual or as a whole. Thus, we would either approach each object in the world as being totally separate and unrelated to all other objects – no matter how similar – or we would view everything as being the same. Conceivably, a rock would be viewed as being the same as a human, or a tree being the same as a water buffalo.

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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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