Friday, January 25, 2013

A simple prolife argument

Are people valuable because we value them? Or do we value people because they are valuable? Do people have intrinsic value or extrinsic value? Is one person’s value relative to the value another person (or society) confers of him?

That’s the basic difference between the prolife and proabortion positions. And you will have to radically different societies depending on which principle you consistently carry out.

Now some atheists and/or hardline abortionists are prepared to bite the bullet. They’ll admit that human beings have no inherent value. How valuable you are depends on how much or little others value you.

Of course, there’s a catch. While this may be how they treat others, that’s not how they want others to treat them.

Now, someone might object that, as a matter of fact, we do value some people more than others. We value friends and relatives more than strangers and enemies. So the distinction is artificial.

However, that’s not a real exception, for the two positions are asymmetrical. The question is whether there’s a baseline below which human value doesn’t go.

People can have intrinsic value, while, at the same time, we value some more than others. The floor is not the ceiling. So those are complementary positions.

By the same token, people can commit heinous acts that exclude them from the human community. But that’s different than saying there’s no least lower threshold on human value. Indeed, it’s because of what they did to others that they forfeit their membership in society.

For instance, a friend has greater claims on me than a stranger . So in some respects I’ll treat a friend better than a stranger. But that doesn’t mean the stranger as worthless. To treat someone less well is not to treat him badly. There are minimal standards for everyone.

This also means there’s an upper limit to how well we should treat people. For instance, just because someone is my friend doesn’t mean I should excuse everything he does. If he cheats a stranger, justice takes precedence over friendship. In that situation, I have a greater duty to the stranger.

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