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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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After reviewing this series, what can we conclude? If we give consent to the idea that all human beings, from the embryo to the elderly, from the able-bodied to the disabled, what of it? What are we supposed to do with this information? Though there are multiple applications, I can think of a few:

  1. On the personal level, we must start treating humans with dignity. This means we must cease giving into a materialistic culture. In a materialistic culture, attributes other than a person’s humanity determine the value or worth of a person. Things such as looks, wealth, athletic ability, and other accidents to our essence are elevated above the essence itself. When this occurs, we lose sight of the fact that all humans are intrinsically valuable. This can lead to some negative consequences, some as small as making someone feel left out to actually killing people because they are different. Thus, we must recognize in our own personal lives that all humans hold intrinsic value.
  2. We must support legislation and Constitutional amendments that support the sanctity of life at all stages of development. We must support legislation and legislators that actively seek to prevent stem cell research, abortion, and other destructive medical research. We must support legislation and legislators that protect the elderly and disabled. We must likewise support legislation that protects the sanctity of life even when it puts other issues – such as economics or political power – on the back burner.
  3. We must re-evaluate our approach to the world. Rather than flexing our military might at the first sign of trouble, we should seek every opportunity to end a crisis without bloodshed.
  4. We must get more literature into the hands of the public and make information on the intrinsic value of humanity more readily available. Much of the problem in the modern world is that most people simply don’t think about this issue. They innately know that human life is valuable, but fail to define what it means to be human. Rather than defining it, they let others define it for them, which in turn leads to arbitrary definitions of humanity. Arbitrary definitions lead to arbitrary laws, which is the current status we find ourselves in.

There is much more that can be done than the above four examples, but I hope they lay a good foundation.

This series is now complete (for the most part). Though I don’t see myself adding anything to this series, I will continually edit each relevant post as more information and critiques come available.

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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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We now know that to be human is to be a rational animal (thus defined as a human animal). To be a human animal is to have a soul. Is the idea that we have intrinsic value based upon having a soul? I do not believe so. I believe that ensoulment can provide one of the better arguments for intrinsic human value, especially under the Christian worldview. After all, under the Christian worldview, a human being is made in the image of God, thus by the very nature of being human, a person has value because that person is made in God’s image. This is the strongest case so long as a person believes in the Christian God and that He created humans in His image. If one has those two beliefs as a premise, then it logically follows that humans – no matter their stage of development or ability to actualize all capacities – have intrinsic value.

Unfortunately, not everyone accepts such premises and it is doubtful that most people will change their mind on such premises. We are then left to ask ourselves if there is any natural reason for believing in intrinsic human value. Do we have a reason to believe in it by appealing to reason alone? I would advocate that there is certainly a non-spiritual, non-religious, purely natural way of determining that humans have intrinsic value.

Intrinsic Value

What does it mean for a thing to have “intrinsic value”? As the name indicates, to have intrinsic value means that a thing has value by the mere act of existing. One cannot add to one’s value or take away from one’s value; all things that of a group that are intrinsically valuable are all equally valuable. If we could add to intrinsic value, then the value is ultimately extrinsic. It is the same if we could take the value away. Thus, if value is intrinsic, it is the same for everyone.

This stands in stark opposition to the view of extrinsic value. A car is extrinsically valuable. Its value goes only so far as people will let it go. If no value is placed upon the car, then so be it. The American dollar is extrinsically valuable; it only has the power it does because people have decided to put an emphasis on it as a way for paying for services rendered and goods. If we did not value the dollar, then it would be of no value.

So if humans are extrinsically valuable, then there are no human rights; humans would have to earn their value (if there is, in fact, any value to be earned at all). Humans, as a whole or as individuals, would only be as valuable as we make them to be. If we decide that certain humans aren’t valuable, then those humans simply have no value.

This is why the debate over extrinsic and intrinsic value is so important. It lays at the basis over deciding human rights. Those who accept intrinsic value (such as myself) would argue that all humans, regardless of physical or mental condition or stage of development are valuable human beings, deserving of basic human goods (human rights). That is the position that I am going to defend on this post. Though I have already dealt somewhat with utilitarianism and the idea of extrinsic value in the second post of this series, I will deal with it more later in a following post. For now, however, I wish to defend the natural law view of intrinsic human value.

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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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I write this intending to avoid a religious argument or religious justification for abortion. While I believe certain “sins” can only occur with a religious backing (i.e. blasphemy against God or why homosexuality is wrong [having the religious backing doesn’t mean these views of morality are subjective, merely that one must invoke God in explaining why they are wrong]), there are others that one can look at through a secular point of view and still see these actions as being wrong (i.e. murder and abortion). Thus, though I believe Christianity has the best definition for humanity and the best argument against abortion, I believe one can use an entirely secular argument to discredit abortion. This article attempts to do that.

The problem with abortion is that, in the very least, no one really knows when human life begins (I do believe we can know, but in the very minimalist sense we can plead ignorance). Science can help us determine the ontology of a human, but we set the boundaries for what is and is not human. Such boundaries in the abortion debate, have not been set.

One could argue that the ontological boundary has been established that something moves from being a “fetus” to a “human” at the point it leaves the womb alive. This, of course, allows for third term abortions. Some courts, however, have ruled that Roe v. Wade does not protect third term abortions and that life in the third trimester is human, thus it cannot be exterminated. This would mean that some courts view human life beginning when the “fetus” is viable outside of the womb.

The problem with the above definition – that human life begins when a fetus leaves the womb and is viable – is that some babies naturally born are not technically viable outside of the womb. Some need to be put on ventilators; others require other technological advances in order to live. A baby that is operated on in the womb – such as having a stunt put in the heart to help the baby develop properly – are never technically viable outside of the womb; they will always require some outside source in order to function properly. Under the idea that “viability” somehow makes someone human, such people are no longer human. Likewise, if someone is injured in an accident and requires any technological assistance in order to live, that person is really no longer a person. This definition of humanity, therefore, is severely lacking. Read the rest of this entry »

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