T Nation

How Valuable is Life?


This is a followup to the running (and persistent) debate over abortion on the Planned Parenthood and Teen Pregnancy thread, and on a few others. I alluded to the question in passing, but I'd like to address it more fully here.

The presumption in the abortion debate is that a human fetus is just as alive and just as human--and therefore as valuable--as an infant, or a child, or an adult.

Let us agree that a fetus is alive. This is self-evident. If it were dead it would not grow. Let us also agree that it is human. It could not be otherwise. Human sperm and human eggs cannot combine to form anything other than a human embryo, which will inevitably become a human infant, unless the process is interrupted by biological, chemical or mechanical means.

So. No arguments so far, correct? A zygote, an embryo, a fetus and an infant are all equivalent in their being alive and human.

Let us for the moment sidestep issues of sentience or viability outside the womb. Let us assume that the living human embryo will, if not hindered from doing so, develop into a healthy baby.

Now, the question. Does this embryo have objective, inteinsic value, by virtue of its being alive and human?

We'll also sidestep the fact that even a dead embryo or fetus has some value to scientific and medical science. Let's confine the conversation to a living human organism. Is it a thing of value, and is its value determined by the fact that it is alive, or the fact that it is human?

How valuable is it, why is it valuable, and who decides?

The answers I've heard range from the tautological ("a human life is valuable because it's a human life") to the legalistic ("a human life is valuable because we all have the right to life") to the religious ("a human life is valuable because we are created by God in his image") to the non-argument ("it just is, and how can you even ask such a question?!")

(Parenthetically, I hear the same arguments about money. Why is a US dollar valuable? It just is. The government tells us it is, and we believe it. But that's another matter.)

I said on the other thread that everyone falls into a continuum of perception of the intrinsic value of life. On one end, we might find a person who believes that all life, from the lowest orders to the highest, is equivalent in value, and it is wrong to end the lives of any living thing, animal or vegetable. Far off on the other end, we have what we might term the sociopath or psychopath, who believes that only his own life is valuable.

In between we have those who think the lives of their family members are more valuable than the lives of others, that the lives of members of their own tribe or nation are more valuable than those of other tribes or nations, and those who believe that the lives of members of their own species are the only lives with any real value.

Understandably, we all fall on different points of the "perceived value of life" continuum, which is why I anticipate getting a range of different answers.

So tell me: is life intrinsically and objectively valuable, does some life have more value than other life, how valuable is life (in concrete terms: words like "priceless" or "precious" are meaningless), and why?


I personally think all life has value , I think human life trumps other life forms (AS A GENERAL STATEMENT:) I think we should treat our farm animals more humanly than Industrial Farming treats them at present.


But all life is in fact inheritly "priceless" to the beholder because there is no amount of value or wealth that someone can offer an invidivual in exchange for it.

To anyone outside of the individual that value is variable based on the one doing the valuation.


Morality, by definition, isn't in the middle part of this spectrum.
If you want to be moral, you don't want to be "averagely moral".
You want to be as moral as you can.

So you have to value all life.

Even if life had no "objective" intrinsic value, you would still have to evaluate it as higly as you can.


I would not totally agree that life is priceless , I would say as a general rule human life is . But there are many people and corporations that will kill you for a dollar


Why? How much?


Cattle have objective value. We eat their flesh, drink their milk, use their skins to make clothing, an use their strength to do work. Their feces has value as fertilizer. All of these things have objective value, and in an industrial society many animals are more valuable dead than alive. So what is the value of a living human, how is it measured, and who can measure it?


Yes. ALL life has intrinsic and ojective value (Read not just human life). All life provides value whether it be tangible (dinner) or intangible (love).

This is where I think the real debate happens. To me yes, to a degree, some life has more value. This questions; however, is extremely subjective. I will say that because I am human, ALL human life is more valuable to me, than any other life. I beleive it is human nature to think this way. I do not believe any one subset of human life; be it due to geography, religion, age, development, etc..., is more valuable than another subset in a general sense.

Now, if you put me in a field, naked, with a pack of wolves, would the wolves repect this "greater value?" No, I would be prey like other life in the situation.

Again, this is subjective and depends on the situation. In the field with wolves, my life is of extreme value to the wolves. It is after all nourishment for the pack.

Again, what I will say, is that in our society, every life should be treated as if they are of the same value. In other words my grandmother is of the same value as I am. I am of the same value as a 3 year old, and so on.


Jesus' life was valued at thirty Tyrian drachmas, which is about $250 at today's exchange rate.


My point was to the individual it is pricessless. To outsider it is variable. So yes.

Also suicide doesnt disprove the first part, as the act of taking their own life is done for a reason not a trasaction that could be quantified by the exchange.


Which does not disprove my first statement and only agrees with my second statement.

EDIT- and the Jew in me just said outloud "Such a bargain" in my best Barbara Streisand voice when i read it


It is different to all . Certainly unless there is a gain that is financial to be made . Than life would have NO financial price .Family and friends would have more NON FINANCIAL value than strangers


Intrinsically: yes. I think this is the case because we have emotion and rational thought, therefore there is value in being alive, because we learn, think and feel. (Some people swap the last two or ignore the middle all together.) The fact we have grown to exist in our environment beyond instinctual hunt for food, leads me to believe there is value in this whole mystery. Life is essential, living being a better word, because WTF else are we here for, farts and beer?

Objectively: I doubt it. Even the measures I gave above are subjective. I don't know that mankind, at this point, comprehends enough to put any sort of objective measure on life itself. (I may be misunderstanding you here.)

No, it is all equal. It is nature and "luck of the draw" to be at the top of the food chain. Life isn't fair. SO being born a cow really kind of stinks because at this point you are there to be eaten, but you are very valuable to the hungry animal that eats you...

As far as one person to the next, I think we are all valuable, and no person is fit to judge who is more valuable than another, if that judgment is to be made.

It is as valuable as you want it to be. I know that is the opposite of what you are looking for. But no one can live your life for you, you have to make of it what you can...

So if you make the best of what you have, it is very valuable.


Financial value is only one of many ways to look at value.


I am interested to know why you say this?


Because if you don't (evaluate life as highly as you can), you'll end up "averagely moral" at best, and frankly sociopathic at worst.

Your position on this spectrum is neither static nor neutral. If you don't try to reach its top, you may very well fall at its bottom.


It's like a good luck charm. If you believe in luck and it's your charm it is extremely valuable and you are very fortunate to have it.

To someone else it's just a dirty old penny. There are too many of them to even consider just one being very valuable.


I think the value of human life could either be one of the most rare and valuable things in the universe, or just one of many different highly intelligent beings in the universe. From what we know, the former is more likely than the latter. As far as we know, there is no other life form in the universe that comes close to where us humans are. Take the average human and place them anywhere else in the universe and instantly they have the intelligence of a god.


I mean more along the lines of: if life has no "objective" intrinsic value, and therefore morals have no "objective" reality or existence, then what does it matter is someone is considered highly, or not highly, moral?


I don't believe you can put a value on human life - it is invaluable. Just like I can't put a value on the life of one of my children, I can't put a value of the general life of a human being. I believe survival of our species is our most important obligation.

You could perhaps argue that some lives have proven to be more valuable than others - those that have invented, cured, created, saved ,etc... But you would only be able to perhaps calculate this value once the person has been given the chance to live their life.

An argument I hate within the larger contextual argument...

We should legalize it because when made illegal, people will do it anyway with very bad consequences.
- I hate this point - so by the same logic we should not make anything illegal because it will happen anyway. If murdering a 22 year old was legal, we would have much cleaner, easier ways to do it.


as long as you're not a sociopath, as long as you're not at the very bottom of the spectrum, morals still have a subjective reality for you.
You know that there is a spectrum, and you know where it ends.
You can deny it, you can ignore it, you can act against it, etc, but it still exists.