The value of a human life has always been one of the most interesting and taboo philosophical topics. Needless to say, the attitude towards it changed radically throughout the history. During the ancient Greek and Roman era, a life of an aristocrat was considered infinitely more valuable than a life of a slave. Today, social norms are gearing towards valuing each human life as equally valuable or not valuing human life at all. However, it seems to me that, although it may sound “inhuman”, “ruthless” and “horrible”, the value of a human life can easily be estimated in extreme situations.
Before we dive any deeper, it’s important to differentiate a couple of points of view. There is a personal point of view – how much is my life valuable to me? There is an individual point of view – how much is that person valuable to me? Finally, there is a collective point of view – how much is a person valuable to his or her family, town, nation, the whole human race, or the whole life on the planet Earth.
Now, let’s start with an example. Imagine this: you are driving a car pretty fast, and all of the sudden you see an old, very sick, barely moving lady on the left side of the road, while on the right side of the road a very young, healthy, smiling girl appears. You see clearly that you cannot pass between them and you know that don’t have enough time to break or to turn enough to avoid them both. The best that you can do is to turn a bit to your left, which will result in hitting and killing the old lady, or to turn a bit to your right, which will result in hitting and killing the young girl. Of course, you could also think “Hey, I’m not God, I don’t want to choose between them” and continue straight killing them both, but for me, this would be a senseless choice. I think that saving the very young, healthy, smiling girl is obviously the right choice. But why is it so? It’s because it’s more altruistic to save someone who has much more potential to enjoy his or her life. In other words, from the personal point of view, our value to ourselves is equal to the potential for enjoyment that we have. By the way, I consider enjoying life and leaving a positive impact to be the two main purposes of a human life.
Now, here’s an example of how a human value can completely change depending on a situation when estimated from the individual point of view. Imagine that you’re alone in a small mountain hut with one door and no windows, and you can choose to bring back to life a famous altruistic scientist with his inventions and blueprints or an infamous war criminal with his AK-47 and a bloody knife. The choice seems obvious, but is it? What if your mountain hut is about to be attacked by an armed madman who plans to kill everyone inside? What’s the point of bringing back to life the famous altruistic scientist if you’ll both get killed in a matter of seconds? Wouldn’t it be better to bring back the infamous war criminal who will probably fight off the armed madman and hopefully spare you (let’s say it’s a war criminal of your own nationality, who likes members of his own nationality)? What can we conclude from this? All human traits are good for some purposes and a value of an individual to us depends highly on what we can get from that individual, which doesn’t have to be much in according to how good is that individual for the rest of the humanity.
For explaining the collective point of view, we should get back to “leaving a positive impact”. I consider that an individual is as valuable to a certain formal or informal group (such as family, town, country, nation, the whole human race, or the whole life on the planet Earth) as much as he can positively impact it. For example, if you are a productive, positive person with a great sense of humor that tends to help others, you are very valuable to most of your groups as you will make life better for their members. On the other hand, if you are a violent, ill-mannered criminal, the world would generally be a better place without you and the only group that may have benefits from you is your criminal gang. Collective point of view is what most people think about when they estimate someone’s value, but we should not forget that it’s not the only important point of view.
To boldly sum it up, I believe that the “overall” value of our lives mostly depends on two aspects:
- How much more enjoyment than suffering we have a potential to experience during the rest of our life
- How much more enjoyment than suffering we have a potential to create for other human beings and life in general during the rest of our life
What do you think? I’m I nuts? :D
Have a wonderful day, week, and life!