Carter asserts in his essay “Intrinsic Value and the Intrinsic Valuer” that “Only persons have within themselves their own concepts of themselves, and, therefore, only persons have within themselves the standard of themselves” (511). However, it should be acknowledged that the intrinsic value of humans cannot be attributed by humans themselves since that would create a cyclical argument. “I am valuable because I say I am,” is not a defensible statement, because the speaker’s voice and authority to use its voice has not been established as valuable by an external support. One person would have as much right to declare another person worthless as the other would have to declare him- or herself valuable. To lend scientific support to this philosophical concept, in the same way that persons cannot create their own intrinsic value, no physical entity create itself, but must have an external cause. To continue with that line of logic, if no physical entity can be responsible for its own creation, then the first physical entity must have a nonphysical cause. Here enters the teleological argument.
Teleology can most simply be described as “the study of evidences of design in nature” (Webster 1211), but a more specific definition would be “the fact or character attributed to nature or natural processes of being directed toward an end or shaped by a purpose” (1211). This viewpoint allows for an ambiguous, nonphysical first cause appropriate for this first stage of determining the existence of intrinsic value in human life. W. Frankena states that “for a teleologist, the moral quality or value of actions, persons, or traits of character is dependent on the comparative nonmoral value of what they bring about or try to bring about” (Card 257). This may be considered congruent with teleological theory if the results brought about by the objects in question act to serve or cause the end that is designed by the external, nonphysical first cause; however, it is not harmonious with the previously stated definition of intrinsic value.
Morality must also be considered in order to discuss human worth, particularly when attempting to decide what appropriate treatment of humans entails, such as in the case of total warfare. If humans contain a universal and objective intrinsic value, then a moral system must follow it in order to protect the value within persons, although it will not be within the scope of this essay to determine what that moral system should contain and stipulate. Morality as a concept also aides in defending the teleological argument. The word “moral” is defined as “of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior” (Webster 756). From this, the following logic may be derived:
- If wrong exists, right must exist since wrong is a violation of right.
- If right exists, a moral law must exist with which to differentiate between right and wrong.
- If a moral law exists, a moral law giver which is outside the physical world and may be referred to as the nonphysical first cause, must exist.
- If a moral law giver exists who is the nonphysical first cause, it has based the moral law on the intrinsic value that it has bestowed upon the subjects of the moral law.
- Hence, it is reasonable to conclude that intrinsic value in human life cannot be presumed outside of a teleological perspective.
Based on the presupposition that an intrinsic moral value exists, every established country, and every culture in areas without an official or stable government, has a written or oral code of law or social morals and consequences for not upholding those laws and morals. While these standards of conduct may differ according to various factors such as location, there does exist an international code of law determined by the United Nations which offers support for a universality of human value. This presupposition is evident in Kantian moral theories which suggest that “we owe respect to humans (persons) because they have intrinsic value [which] does not derive from their being desirable to someone… [but] because they are free and autonomous beings who embody the moral law” (Musschenga 214). Here again a moral law is presumed to exist. Albert W. Musschenga does not, however, consider nonhuman “natural entities” to possess intrinsic value; rather, he describes them as only having extrinsic value “in as far as they contribute to the richness of human lives” (214). Elizabeth Anderson adds to this that “states of affairs are not important in themselves, but they only matter insofar as they reflect the value of persons” (Card 254). These belief place humans on a tier of value above nonhuman entities, although the validity of them must be examined in light of external evidences, such being outside the scope of this paper.
Does this presupposition have evidentiary support? According to Darwinian theory it does not. If humans are the product of a set of physical processes, being only the most likely to survive due to inherited traits, then their worth is purely extrinsic. This produced the theory and practice of Social Darwinism, which states that the strongest or fittest should survive and flourish in society, while the weak and unfit should be allowed to die. Social Darwinism produced the practice of eugenics, which is “a science that deals with the improvement (as by control of human mating) of hereditary qualities of a race or breed” (Webster 399). Forced sterilization of humans emerged from this science. Social Darwinism also promoted the advancement of the monetarily wealthy, concurrent with lack of assistance for the poor with the reasoning that the poor are not as fit as the wealthy to survive and flourish in an economic environment. This school of thought was a common thread between the Nazis and the Americans during the Second World War. The former used genocide and eugenics to exterminate those they perceived as being of a lesser race, namely the Jews. Americans commonly believed that the Japanese were subhuman and less advanced than the inhabitants of the Western world, even attempting to downplay the effects of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima by saying that the buildings were not well-constructed.
Dehumanization, in fact, is a common practice of soldiers on battlefields, done in order to relieve the soldier of guilt that may otherwise be felt after killing another human being. It is a psychological coping mechanism. So why does the mind need this defense even when the killing of an enemy in battle is easily extrinsically justified? It may be concluded that this is due to one person’s subconscious recognition of another person’s objective intrinsic worth. This is also evident in the widespread objection to the use of the atomic bomb even immediately after its use. Kirk Willis reports that “The ethical implications of such a prospect [the annihilation of the Japanese people], as well as the moral consequences of the destruction of Hiroshima, were immediately called into question” (428). He adds that “To many, a moral as well as military divide had been crossed, and in the crossing all mankind had been tainted indelibly” because it “violated the customary ethical norms under which warfare had been conducted” (429). The only fault in this statement in that the “customary ethical norms” were arbitrarily contrived unless based upon a universal moral law which included the concept of a universal intrinsic value in human life.
Dehumanization is also a contemporary practice in seemingly less sinister events. Unborn humans are referred to as “fetuses” to remove the stigma of murder from the act of abortion. Promoters of human euthanasia use speculations of an individual’s future quality of life as justification for discontinuing life support or assisting the suicide of the disabled individual. In slave trades and the Civil Rights Movement, certain races or economic classes are depicted as being of lesser value than the dominant race or class in a given culture. Even today in India’s caste system certain groups of people are considered of lesser value than others from birth and are unable to improve their social and economic status. Yet, in a postmodern society, none of these practices may be considered wrong because no objective right or wrong exists. Postmodernism, the current trend in Western cultural philosophy, is either true in its assertion of total subjectivity, or false. In either case, the question of human value must ultimately be analyzed through the scope of the existence of an objective moral law.
In essence, the question of the morality of total warfare, or of abortion, or slavery, or any other Western social more, cannot reasonably be discussed without the presupposition that a universal and intrinsic value exists within each human life. This claim may not be made without the presumption of the existence of a nonphysical first cause that has provided both the intrinsic value of individual persons and a moral law by which to govern the actions of persons in protection of that value. Therefore, the intrinsic value of humans may not be assumed from outside of a teleological standpoint. Working from this perspective, humans may further attempt to discern the nature and identity of the nonphysical first cause and from there move to discover the components of the moral law by which humanity is governed. Without this standpoint, however, humans may not logically be viewed as intrinsically valuable. Even extrinsic value becomes valueless in the absence of an objective intrinsic value because the effects of actions would serve no ultimate purpose, and ultimate purpose must first be assumed before value can exist. However, one may always choose not to accept the concept of a nonphysical first cause, and thereby consider all human life as ultimately worthless. There is no other rational option.