There can be no intrinsic value to a human life (or to anything)

  1. If every human life has a fixed value, and a higher value is a good thing for humankind, then the greater the population of humans the better.
  2. If human life has a variable value, always positive but varying over time and varying by individual, then humankind is still best served by increasing population.
  3. If a human life has a variable value which can even be negative, then the value to humankind must be considered by a value summation over the entire life of an individual.

I question whether value (of anything) can ever be intrinsic. Nothing has value unless

  1. judged by a mind (or a consensus of minds),
  2. against a value scale to judge by.

I read an article recently which argued that life had intrinsic value and the intrinsic value of a human life was greater than that of a cockroach. To whom, I wondered? By what value scale? Qualifying the word value with the word intrinsic is meaningless.

Intrinsic value is often used to define the financial worth of an asset but I am not concerned with that particular use of the words. Philosophy distinguishes between intrinsic and extrinsic value and takes intrinsic value to be a necessary precursor for judgements of morality.

Intrinsic value has traditionally been thought to lie at the heart of ethics. Philosophers use a number of terms to refer to such value. The intrinsic value of something is said to be the value that that thing has “in itself,” or “for its own sake,” or “as such,” or “in its own right.” Extrinsic value is value that is not intrinsic. ….. Many philosophers take intrinsic value to be crucial to a variety of moral judgments. For example, according to a fundamental form of consequentialism, whether an action is morally right or wrong has exclusively to do with whether its consequences are intrinsically better than those of any other action one can perform under the circumstances. ……

The question “What is intrinsic value?” is more fundamental than the question “What has intrinsic value?,” but historically these have been treated in reverse order. For a long time, philosophers appear to have thought that the notion of intrinsic value is itself sufficiently clear to allow them to go straight to the question of what should be said to have intrinsic value. ….. 

Suppose that someone were to ask you whether it is good to help others in time of need. Unless you suspected some sort of trick, you would answer, “Yes, of course.” If this person were to go on to ask you why acting in this way is good, you might say that it is good to help others in time of need simply because it is good that their needs be satisfied. If you were then asked why it is good that people’s needs be satisfied, you might be puzzled. You might be inclined to say, “It just is.” Or you might accept the legitimacy of the question and say that it is good that people’s needs be satisfied because this brings them pleasure. But then, of course, your interlocutor could ask once again, “What’s good about that?”  …….  At some point, though, you would have to put an end to the questions, not because you would have grown tired of them (though that is a distinct possibility), but because you would be forced to recognize that, if one thing derives its goodness from some other thing, which derives its goodness from yet a third thing, and so on, there must come a point at which you reach something whose goodness is not derivative in this way, something that “just is” good in its own right, something whose goodness is the source of, and thus explains, the goodness to be found in all the other things that precede it on the list. It is at this point that you will have arrived at intrinsic goodness. ….  That which is intrinsically good is nonderivatively good; it is good for its own sake. 

But intrinsic is as subjective as value is or morality is. Rather than intrinsic value leading to morality, it is the subjective value scale of morality in a mind, which leads to an assessment of being intrinsic. And the most fundamental value in any mind is it’s own perception of what is good and what is bad. And that is subjective.

The words “intrinsic” and “value”, together and by themselves, are meaningless. In fact, the word “value” alone, only has meaning when assessed by someone as being “of value to someone or to something”, using some subjective value scale. The net intrinsic value of the known universe is zero. But even that assessment is subjective.


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