(A2256778) Shelly-Ann Claro A333-17J EMA
Question 2: Do human lives have a special value? Write no more than 3000 words.
I have understood the question to be asking: do human lives have a special value, a value that other lives do not?
The law of interdependence in nature means that without other species survival would be impossible because all species need each other. Without bees and worms, plants would not grow, and we could not feed ourselves. Without trees, there would be no oxygen and we could not breathe. An ecosystem includes all the living things (plants, animals, and organisms) in a given area, interacting with each other.
Humans have created a worldview where we the only species that has value, are humans and human rights take priority over the rights of all other species. We see ourselves as superior, divinely created beings. We are in fact generally; selfish, ecologically ignorant, self-centered and extremely destructive animals. We, as a species, destroy the life support systems that sustain us, we poison the water we drink and the food we eat.
Humans slaughter about 65 billion animals every year for meat and even more sea life. Some of the environmental impacts of meat production include the use of fossil energy, and land resources, global warming through greenhouse gas emissions, and in some cases, rainforest clearing, water pollution and species endangerment. We do this because we feel entitled to do so because of our belief in some ‘sacred birthright’ which says that our lives have a special value that animal lives do not.
So how can we measure the value of living things? There are different types of value. Instrumental value depends on the subject’s usefulness while the Intrinsic value is independent of the subject’s usefulness. Intrinsic value is derived from its internal or ‘intrinsic’ properties alone (Belshaw, 2014).
It is obvious that all living things have some instrumental value, as shown above, all species are necessary for an interdependent ecosystem.
The argument for ‘Sanctity of life’ however, relies on life having intrinsic value and not being an instrument to further some other end (Belshaw, 2014).
Sanctity of Life is a principle of implied protection regarding aspects of sentient life which are said to be holy, sacred, or otherwise of such value that they are not to be violated (Belshaw, 2014). In Western thought, the sanctity of life is usually applied solely to the human species (anthropocentrism).
With this essay, I will argue against the idea that human life has a special value above all other life. I will argue that ALL conscious life has this special value.
Why should we believe that life has this ‘inherent value’? Many attribute the inherent sacredness of life to God. God created the earth and also created the humans and the animals giving us the gift of life. But this presupposes the existence of a God. There are other explanations for the origin of the earth as put forward by Charles Darwin in his work on the Big Bang Theory and evolution. There is very little strong evidence for the existence of a supernatural God and much scientific evidence in favour of a more natural process. However, it remains unproven either way, but if there were such a thing as God-given life which has ‘inherent value’ then isn’t this ‘inherent value’ equal among all who have a life? Surely one life cannot have more inherent value than another. The gift of life was given not only to human beings but to all the living creatures.
If there is no God, then do we have special value? Does our higher consciousness make us more valuable than animals?
We can argue that what makes human life valuable is a kind of subjective personal value. People want to stay alive. People have conscious experiences, memories, and plans for the future. One denial of animal consciousness is developed by Rene Descartes (1596-1650), who argues that animals are automata that might act as if they are conscious, but really are not so. Descartes held that only humans are conscious, can learn and use language, have minds and souls, and therefore only humans are deserving of rights and compassion (Descartes, cited in Regan and Singer 1989). Recently, however, these ideas have been challenged. Experiments and observations have shown that some animals experience deep emotion, develop culture, and utilize tools for problem-solving; all things that were once considered the capabilities to define human intelligence.
In a reading by Regan (2004) On the Value of Life (Cited in Belshaw,2014) Regan deliberates on the ‘inherent’ value of life. With his cup analogy, he refers to the life of a being as a cup and the experiences that the being has he refers to as the contents of the cup. Regan argues that the life itself has inherent value regardless of whether its experiences are of value.
Regan’s further argument is a version of the argument from marginal cases (e.g., the senile, the cognitively impaired, the infant or the comatose patient). The argument from marginal cases takes the form of a proof by contradiction. Regan argues that it is contradictory to believe both that all humans have moral value, and that all non-humans lack moral value. If you say that an animal has no concept of the self and therefore it is morally acceptable to kill it, then what about a 3-month-old baby. The baby will have no sense of self, but it would not be morally acceptable to kill it. More formally, the argument is structured as follows:
Premise1: If we are justified in denying moral value to animals, then we are equally justified in denying moral value to the human marginal cases.
Premise2: We are not justified in denying moral value to the human marginal cases.
Conclusion: Therefore, we are not justified in denying moral value to animals.
Regan rejects views that claim that a being must be capable of deliberately acting to further its own interests, on the grounds that this idea of rights implies that the marginal cases of humanity have no rights. However, since people intuitively believe that these beings do have moral rights there must be some other property that grounds these rights. According to Regan, the only property that is common to both normal adult human beings and the marginal cases is the property of being a ‘subject of a life’. A being that is a ‘subject of a life’ will have beliefs; perception, memory, and a sense of their own future; desires; an emotional life and will experience pleasure and pain; They will also have the ability to initiate action in pursuit of their desires and goals. They will have a psychological identity over time (Regan, 1985).
This property ‘subject of a life’ is one that all of the human beings that we think to deserve rights have; however, it is also a property that many animals have. If these marginal cases of humanity deserve rights, then why don’t these animals (Regan,1985)? Both animals and human beings have brains, endorphins, nerves, neurons, etc.; both human beings and animals respond in the same way when confronted with pain stimuli and both human beings and animals are close to each other on the evolutionary scale. Since animals and humans are similar to each other in these ways, we have reason to believe that animals are conscious, just as human beings are. Central to Regan’s philosophical argument is the concept of similarities between ourselves and other animals (Regan, Cited in Belshaw, 2014)
Because each ‘subject of a life’ (each animal), is an individual, his or her own life has subjective value to him in the same way each individual human being’s life has a subjective value to them. This inherent value is equal among all ‘subjects of a life’ since one either is a ‘subject of a life’ or is not. Regan considers that both human and non-human animals are ‘subjects of a life’, therefore if we grant rights to humans (regardless of their ability to be rational agents) then to be consistent, we must similarly ascribe such rights to non-human animals, particularly the right to life (Regan, 1985).
An objection in regard to babies is that babies do have the potential to become rational beings. Animals will not develop rational capacity in the same way left to their normal development process.
The argument used for babies, however, is not adequate for some other marginal cases, for example with the mentally retarded or permanently comatose who hold no potential to develop rational capacity.
Regan argues that we need the inherent value to explain our moral beliefs about how to treat others, including animals. However, we are able to understand that mistreating animals for our own gain is likely wrong, without appealing to ‘inherent value’.
Jeremy Bentham argued that it is the ability to suffer rather than the ability to reason that should provide the benchmark of how we treat other animals. Bentham argued that if rationality was the deciding factor in who should have rights, then many humans be treated in the same way as animals, as objects. For example, babies and the mentally disabled (Bentham, 1781).
“The question is not can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But can they suffer?” (Bentham,1781. An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. Chapter 17.) With this quote, Bentham is arguing that it is, rather than any other criterion, the animal’s capacity for suffering which is the defining factor that entitles an animal to equal consideration of moral interests. It seems obvious from an understanding of biology, and from observation, that animals have an awareness. It is clear that animals suffer when they experience abuse and trauma (Bentham, 1781).
Another way to understand the value of life is to look at how the absence of it (Death) affects us. Many ideas about death have been shaped by the belief in an afterlife. Christians believe in Heaven for the innocent or Hell (eternal torture) for the guilty. Since not many can say that they have never done any wrong, it is understandable that many fear death. But if there is no afterlife, only an end to our existence, then is death bad for us?
The Epicurean view is that death is not bad for the one who dies. Epicurus was both a Hedonist and an Atomist. The Hedonist view is that pleasure is good for us and pain is bad for us, while the Atomist view is that our bodies are made up of matter alone and there is no immaterial soul. According to this view when we die then we do not exist anymore, and if we do not exist then we cannot feel pain. There is no psychological pain and no physical pain because the body is dead and in time will disintegrate and the mind cannot exist without a functioning brain. Therefore, death cannot be bad for the person or animal that experiences it (Belshaw, 2014).
Set out formally the argument looks like this:
Premise A. Only what can hurt you can be bad for you.
Premise B. Nothing can hurt you if you do not exist.
Conclusion. Therefore, death cannot be bad for you (Belshaw, 2014).
In criticism of the epicurean view, I will assert that death is not just a matter of existing or not existing. Death is something that happens over time, which more often than not is painful and frightening. For example, one may fear to leave behind one’s friends and family, being forgotten, or one may fear “not existing” itself.
Epicurus made the assumption that the ‘bad’ arises within the situation (death) and that in the absence of the situation, or the non-existence of the being during the situation, there is no bad. Other philosophers who think that death is bad to do so because they believe that life is valuable. Losing something valuable is never seen as good (Belshaw, 2014).
The idea that death is bad because it deprives us of the potential good in life is known as the Deprivation view. According to Kagan (cited in Belshaw, 2014), death is comparatively bad, rather than intrinsically or instrumentally bad. In comparison to continuing to live a good life death is bad. Death in itself is not bad, but the deprivation of a good life that one encounters (Belshaw, 2014).
As discussed before Descartes led many to believe that animals feel neither pleasure nor pain but are automata. Today, however, many reject this idea and believe that animals feel pain in the same way that humans do. So, dying can be bad for animals if the process involves pain. It can also be bad for them in the deprivation sense since animals can quite likely also feel pleasure and in death would be deprived of the pleasure they may have experienced in life (Belshaw, 2014).
Belshaw’s (2014) revised Deprivation view looks at ‘persons’ and ‘non-persons’. According to John Locke (cited in Belshaw, 2014) to be considered to be a person in this sense means to be a rational, self-conscious being. A being that is aware of itself having a future and a past. The focus is on future-directed desires and hopes. The things that we want to happen in the future that involve us and give us a reason to want to be alive. So, death is only bad if you are a ‘person’ and have categorical desires (Belshaw, 2014 p71). Categorical desires are desires that are not conditional upon one being alive; yet provide a reason for the agent to continue living to ensure that those desires are satisfied. As discussed above in Regan’s ‘subject of a life’ theory animals do have many of the properties associated with ‘personhood’, however, the notion of personhood narrows it down to a point where not all ‘subjects of a life’ can be considered ‘persons’ because some of them lack categorical desires. This means that many animals would not be considered ‘persons’ who are harmed by the deprivation that comes with death (Belshaw, 2014).
It seems that unless animals are capable of caring about their future experiences, it is unclear whether we should think that their future existence has value for them. I think that animals do have an interest in continuing to live, and that life has value for animals. Regan’s ‘subject of a life’ theory points out the similarities between humans and animals and also rejects views that claim that a being must be capable of deliberately acting to further its own interests or must have future-directed desires (Belshaw,2014). However, the will to live is evident when observing the slaughter of animals. Animals have similar levels of biological complexity, they are conscious and aware that they exist, they know what is happening to them and show distress and fear before slaughter, animals also show a preference for some things and dislike others, showing that they do make conscious choices. An animal’s quality of life matters to them as does the length of their life. Therefore, I am sceptical of the claim that animals are not harmed by death because of the lack of categorical desires.
Thomas Nagel argued that things were happening before you were born that you might have enjoyed, in the same way, that enjoyable things will happen after you die. If you don’t feel a deep sense of loss at what you missed before you were born, then why should you feel lost at what you will miss after you die. What you don’t know can’t hurt you. Nagel did, however, say that we might regret a life that has been cut short by an untimely death. Since we can live for an average of 80 years, dying at 20 years of age would be tragic because the person had missed out on 60 possible years of life (Nagel, 1970). The same could be argued for animals. A life cut short then denies the ‘subject of that life’ the possible remaining years of life. Wherever there is a possibility of life, death will be bad because it deprives of life.
The paper Mortal Harm by Steven Luper (2007) argues that death is harmful to those who die both before it occurs as well as timelessly Luper (2007).He defends a “comparativist” way to look at interests, that allows us to decide for example, that S’s death is bad for S if the longer life S would have lived had she not died at the time that she did would have been better, as a whole, than the actual, shorter, life which she did live. Luper argued that while we are alive it is in our interest for our lives to be good. Prudential value is good for a person. It is often identified with well-being. Luper claims that nothing is intrinsically bad for someone at point ‘T’ unless they are responsive at ‘T’. He also claims that even though we are not responsive (alive) at the point of death it can still be bad for us to be lacking life at the point of death. This according to Luper is because it goes against our present interests. Future events can, according to Luper bear on our present interests by either advancing or impeding on them (Luper, 2007).
In conclusion, I believe that it is in every living being’s interest to remain alive unless being alive is extremely painful due to illness etc or the being is not conscious and has no potential to become conscious. I think that all conscious life has value. I think that animals can feel both physical and psychological pain, the same way humans do and should be treated with as much compassion as a human being would be.
Anon. Sanctity of life. Online
Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanctity_of_life
Accessed 9 5 2018.
Belshaw, C., 2014. The Value of Life. 1 ed. Milton Keynes: The Open University.
Bentham, J., 1781.An Introduction to the Principles of Moral Legislation. Online. Available at: https://www.utilitarianism.com/jeremy-bentham/index.html. Accessed on 15 May 2018
Descartes, René. “Animals Are Machines.” Animal Rights and Human Obligations. Ed. Tom Regan and Peter Singer (2nd Ed.). New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1989.
Jakobovits, Y., Tendler, M. D. & Rosner, F., 1994. Sanctity of life. Tradition, 28(4), pp. 131-133.
Nagel, T., 1970. JSTOR archive. Online
Available at: http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/maydede/mind/Nagel_Death.pdf
Accessed on 19 May 2018.
Regan, T., 1985. The Case for Animal Rights. In: P. Singer, ed. In Defence of Animals. New York: Basil Blackwell, pp. 13-26.