Nov 242008

How do you value a human life? How many people cried at their funeral? How much money they made? How many people they helped? What about looking ahead at a life yet unlived.

We’ve inherited an interesting notion from the Big Three religions, which is that a human life has infinite value. The religious justification is more along the lines that each body has an immortal soul and that it is god’s will to protect that body and soul. A soul has infinite value. That is a natural law argument. What if you don’t believe in a soul? Most people, I would suggest, simply substitute in potential and say something like, “What if this child becomes an Einstein in the future?”

In any case, we assign an infinite value to a human life, so questions like, “How many people would you let die to save your sister, brother or child?” mess with us. They especially mess with us because we are supposed to think of the highest good for all, and just because it is your relative, doesn’t mean others have to die to save them. We’re supposed to be more noble and self-sacrificing than that.

All of this suggests something to think about: how do you value value? There are no units to measure importance inside a human consciousness. Besides, how can you verify it? For example, say that we decide to measure whether someone can live based on how many people would cry if they no longer existed, how can you necessarily tell that someone is crying because they’re devested? One person’s response to mere sadness might be crying while another person never cries.

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