Human Exceptionalism


What makes humans valuable?  There are only two options: something inherent within the nature of humans themselves (intrinsic) or something acquired by humans (extrinsic).  Things that are valuable in and of themselves for the sake of themselves have intrinsic value (love, friendship, health, happiness, virtue, etc.).  Things that are valued for their function – what they do for us or how they allow us to obtain an intrinsic good (money) – have extrinsic value.   

When it comes to bioethics, the great divide is between those who think human value is extrinsic (and many would add, subjective) and those who think human value is intrinsic and objective.  Put another way, bioethicists are divided between the liberals who think human value is based on doing (extrinsic value) and conservatives who think human value is based on being (intrinsic value).  Whereas liberals only value the functional expression of certain human capacities, conservatives value the being who possesses those innate capacities whether they are being expressed or not.

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I have a question for my non-theist readers: Why is it that I can chop up a tomato and eat it, but I cannot do the same to a human being?

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