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Does human life have intrinsic value? I will similarly argue here that we have some reason to believe that human consciousness has value, and there can be different qualities of consciousness that can have differing values. I will also present the major objections that have been raised against the view that human life has intrinsic value including a famous objection given by Darek Parfit. I am talking about human beings who actually have experiences. I am talking about human beings in a way that distinguishes them from other animals in a way interesting to philosophers. They are capable of learning language, they can do mathematics, and so on. The fact that human life has value is uncontroversial, but identifying what sort of value human life seems to have is not so easy. The fact that one person can be useful to another is not interesting. The fact that people care about each other is not interesting. What is interesting is the thought that we could have a real intrinsic value worth caring about whether or not we are useful to others. People commonly seem to think that we have intrinsic value. Additionally, we are often joyous when someone we know has a child. If people have intrinsic value, then the more people that exist, the better. I can think of two plausible candidates: a consciousness, and b a holistic relation of our bodies and consciousness. A brain dead person could be technically alive, but the lack of consciousness makes the person dead for all intents and purposes. The permanent loss of consciousness is a loss of intrinsic value. Part of the problem is that it might not be physically possible to separate consciousness from a living body. They might be equally part of a single human being. It seems clear enough that many people find the value of human life to be intuitive. We feel like our lives are highly meaningful parts of the universe. I offer three intuitive illustrations. First, a universe without consciousness would be empty and meaningless. A world full of real people with minds of their own would seem to be important unlike a world full of robots that are programmed to behave exactly like real people. Second, consider that we value the lives of friends and strangers. We seem to realize that something important was lost when the person dies. Our life can seem horrific and we usually still value it enough to keep on living. Perhaps overwhelming pain could be worth avoiding through death in some situations. Finally, consider how counterintuitive it would be encourage people to commit suicide when their life is miserable—especially when the miserable person is glad to be alive. Is there any reason to think that human life has value beyond intuition? I want to suggest that we can actually experience that human life is valuable. We know that having a mind involves having experiences—some are positive and some are negative. These experiences are quite complicated. A happy person can experience pain but still highly value their life overall. A miserable person can experience pleasure, but still feel unfulfilled at the end of the day. It is our experience of our mind as having value that can cause us an experience of dread at the thought of our non-existence and permanent loss of consciousness because we know what will be lost. Many people even desire immortality in order to escape our inevitable fate. Although it is intuitive that human life has intrinsic value, there can be a good reason for that. It can be intuitive because we really do experience our life as having value. It can be difficult to put our experience of our own experience in words, which would explain why it is so difficult to argue that human life has value, even if it is obvious to us. However, life can also have various qualities, and these qualities could be important in determining the value of life. The idea that all life has equal value sounds politically correct, but it can be false. It might be that all people should have equal protection from the law, but that has little to do with their personal value. This quality can have global or local significance. The local level of consciousness is what we experience only temporarily with only having a superficial impact on our life. The global level of consciousness tends to be long lasting and its elements effect many aspects of our experience. The local and global elements of our quality of life are merely two sides of a single spectrum. The local level of our consciousness tends to have less significance on our mind while the global level tends to have a highly significant impact. Locally, we can evaluate the quality of specific short-term experiences we have—such as bodily pleasure. The value of pleasure and happiness is almost undeniable based on our own experiences of pleasure and happiness. A miserable mind or a mind that will experience a lot of pain might have less value. The classic utilitarian view would suggest that only happiness and suffering are relevant intrinsic values, but this would give the impression that a miserable life should be eliminated. If human life itself has value and a miserable life still has some value, then we can realize that our states of mind happiness and misery are only two aspects of our life and cannot override the value of our life. Globally, we can evaluate the quality of a mind as a whole. For example, a higher quality of mind could be found within higher mindedness and reasonableness. There could be enlightened or philosophical minds that have developed a higher quality of being. The intellectual pleasure of someone like Socrates are supposed to be the best kind. He might have become a higher life form than the fool. Even a miserable Socrates who rarely experiences pleasure could have more value than a fool. Some life forms either have a lowly sort of consciousness or none at all, such as snails and insects. Such animals can still have intrinsic value, but the life of a human being could be higher than the value of these animals. Two, we need to know how to justify our beliefs concerning higher and lower life forms or global qualities of life. Does the idea of being a higher life form justify immoral behavior? Such an idea is not racist because all races can include people of higher and lower qualities of life. The idea that some life forms are higher than others in no way advocates violence, oppression, or genocide—all animals have intrinsic value and should be protected. How can we justify our belief that there are higher and lower forms of life? Mill suggested that we know that some pleasures are better than others because we have experienced them and can compare them. A competent judge can decide when one specific sort of experience is better than another because she has experienced them both. I think this is a pretty good answer. We start the world as children which are lower life forms similar to nonhuman animals and become adults which are a higher life form. Philosophers have rarely if ever claimed that human life has intrinsic value. However, there is one objection I have heard to the idea that human life has intrinsic value— the Mere Addition Paradox presented by Derek Parfit. The original paradox is based on the assumption that the more people that are happy, the better. If a population of ten happy people is good, then increasing the population by ten somewhat less happy people is better. This third group would be said to be less happy than the first group, but larger. Many people find that to be counterintuitive. They think that the third group is clearly worse than the first. We could even give a more extreme example. Is a population of one million very happy people worth a total of one million happiness points of less value than a population of ten million slightly happy people worth a total of one million and one happiness points? Many people that to be absurd. They think the very happy population would be preferable. How does this relate to the value of human life? If all human life has value, then increasing the population is supposed to be good. Perhaps the concern is ultimately that encouraging the human population to increase would end up encouraging overpopulation. That can cause suffering and death that obviously matter in their own right. These utilitarians would say that a population of ten very happy people is better than a population of eleven people when one of those people is only slightly happy, and the rest are very happy. This is a strange position and it sounds to me like Parfit is playing with words. Either the lives we are discussing are worth living or they are gravely deficient. More resources would be available to those life forms if less children were born. Having children could actually harm other people and animals in an unacceptable way in such a situation. It is this unacceptable behavior that should give us disgust rather than the population of human beings who merely exist minding their own business. If the remaining survivors of the human race will live in such a condition, this would certainly seem better than extinction. The view that human life has value is uncontroversial, but to say that it has intrinsic value is a neglected controversial topic within the academic philosophical community. Nonetheless, the idea that we have intrinsic value is an intuitive view and much of our thoughts and behavior are based on the assumption that we do—such as the belief that killing people is almost always wrong. Moreover, it is quite possible that we can experience our own life as having value. Finally, I know of no major objections to the view that we have intrinsic value that I find persuasive. I realize that I have not proven in a satisfying way that we have intrinsic value, but evaluating our own experiences is not an easy task and the implications of our experiences are not easy to determine. We all accept that seeing an apple is a good reason to believe that an apple exists in front of your eyes. I have argued that we experience that pain is intrinsically bad based on our experiences of pain. If my argument failed, then I suspect that we experience that at least some pain is intrinsically bad. Now we can decide if we experience our own life as having value and if we have any reason to trust such an experience. You have value, […] Pingback by Why Jared Loughner Does Not Deserve The Death Penalty for the Arizona Shootings. The Death Penalty is Immoral. For example, you have a duty not to kill people because their life has intrinsic value. What would that mean? Atheism is a reflection of hard, cold calculated facts which is good but in itself is not good for the value of human life. We are here to live and die with no other explanation. Atheism is a religion in the sense that to be an athesit you must have a LOT of faith. I deleted several of your posts because they appeared to be mostly just nonsense with no intention to engage in a conversation. That is not appropriate here. My goodness, where you find such a level of mental arrogance and disconnection from the life process around you, I cannot imagine. The value of human life might not be something we can compare very well to the pleasure or happiness that classic utiltarians are interested in. However, the value of human life might exist precisely because of the pleasure or happiness we experience. Human life is quantifiable. We can say two lives is more than one, that living for two minutes is more than living for one minute. However, it is possible that it is certain things that make a human life have value that would make it difficult or impossible to say how much a human life is worth. The same goes for the value of pleasure and pain. Even so, we do have preferences and think those preferences are justified based on our experiences. I prefer to be free than to be captured and tortured. I think it is obvious that it is really better in terms of human experience to be free in that case. We can often safely say that two lives are better than one and so on. To sum it up, human life has intrinsic value not because of some potential amount of dollars that they might be worth, but because they have the capacity for good experience and that itself is valuable. Is that a fair summary? If so, I think you and my personal form of utilitarianism are on the same page. On the other hand, if someone is suffering and in their terminal days, they might as well be given the freedom to end their own suffering, as they have very little potential for more happiness compared to suffering. I was not saying that life has value just for having a heart pump blood, but I did imply that having a mind and experiences might have value in and of themselves. I leave open the possibility that neutral experiences neither good nor bad might also have intrinsic value. I know of a paper that recently argued that human life has no value even in terms of consciousness :  However, the point of that paper seems to imply that a mind with no experience would have no value. I never said a mind of no experience would have value. The question is if any human life has value, and if so, why. If she knows that the future will have a lot less pain obviously that should be relevant to her decision. I think most of us would rather live, even if more pain is involved than pleasure. It seems more irrational to say it would have been better to have never lived than to live that kind of a life. Or at least tried to define it yourself. Is this what you based the text on human life on? Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Utilitarians all discussed it. Part of the point of intrinsic value is to explain how an action can be worth doing or worth desiring in a more satisfying way. They are done just to get something else. If no action is done because of intrinsic value, then we can argue nothing is really worth doing. This is perhaps an oversimplification, but it is kind of the main idea I am getting at. I realize the concept of intrinsic value can be confusing in various ways and I wrote a FAQ to help clarify the way I understand it. You might find it interesting…. However, it is really hard to come up with a satisfying argument. How can it be right to hurt, harm, or degrade the dignity of someone if the pleasure resulting from it end or means causes a very unpleasant state of affairs to others? In fact, preventing highly unpleasant states of affairs for others seems a huge part of the reason moral rules and hence morality exists at all — some of them even codified into law. So It seems value needs to exist only to the extent that it counteracts disvalue. No bad exists means no actual need for goodness to exist either. The second one has to do with the death of a close one family or friend , an erasure of their future personal companionship so deeply felt that its permanent negation from any future time leaves us in great anguish. It also means no further suffering prevention or mitigations for others from that person. This response also applies to your third point suicide. If suicide causes more anguish than other causes of death this seems usually the case , then I would say life is still worth enduring for the sake of others, and as said just now, endure badness for the sake of preventing even worse badless from overtaking others. Good, stimulating read, regardless. What exactly did I say and what do you think the problem is. I can try to describe what my point probably was a bit. I think watching horror movies is more fun when they cause fear. So, watching the movies seems worth it because the pleasure seems more important than any negative emotions involved to me. The fear could be seen as a bad thing by itself and it would not make for a worthwhile experience if it was not needed to have the pleasure or enjoyment for the movie. We only think going to the dentist is worth it because of some expected benefits. Second, the arguments regarding human life having value does not require that human life has intrinsic value. There are other types of value. Human life seems like a good thing in certain ways. Whether or not it has intrinsic value is of course very related to the post, but the universe does not have to have intrinsic value either. The type of human life I am talking about is basically one with personhood status — rationality, thoughts, a mind, etc. And a lot of the ordinary experiences we should expect to have as humans. Show me the actual argument that I make and I can respond better. So is death only bad when it causes suffering or causes a loss of future pleasure? If we can press a button to destroy all life instantaneously, would that be okay as long as the amount of pain was going to continue to be higher than the amount of pleasure? I think my point was that one person can correctly know that their own life is worth living, even if they will experience more pain than pleasure which I think is usually the case actually. If you think the only value to life is pleasure to oneself and others, then you are a classical utilitarian. Glad you enjoyed the read! TrackBack URI You are commenting using your  account. Notify me of new posts via email. Create a free website or blog at . What is human life? What it means for human life to have value. Some important questions remain:. What is it about human life that makes it valuable? Do all animals have value? Evidence that human life has value. Some people will be unimpressed by our intuitions regarding human life. The quantity and quality of life. I have three responses to the paradox:. Share this: Print Email Twitter Facebook Like this: Like Loading... You have value, […]. Pingback by Why Jared Loughner Does Not Deserve The Death Penalty for the Arizona Shootings. On an atheistic worldview, do you believe that there are things which possess infinite, intrinsic value? Atheistic worldview is a naturalistic explanation of current world affairs which inhibit on the religious folk universally. What does that mean? What are you talking about? If I made a poor argument, then where is the error in my reasoning? How does that relate to the issue here? I did not resolve every issue, and that might be why you felt it was scattered. Yeah, that clarified things, I think. I know of a paper that recently argued that human life has no value even in terms of consciousness : . However, the point of that paper seems to imply that a mind with no experience would have no value. I agree that it extends beyond humans and the discussion here is highly incomplete as well. First, the question about sadism and masochism does not require any particular answer to be correct for pleasure and pain to have intrinsic value. Is that the only bad thing about it, though? Leave a Reply Cancel reply. Enter your comment here... 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