Thursday, March 22, 2012

LTI Podcast #29 - Defending the Intrinsic Value of Human Beings [Serge]

Jay, Scott, and Rich return to answer those who would question the intrinsic value of human beings? Do we possess a nature that makes us exceptional, or are we merely a cosmic accident with no more intrinsic value than a cockroach?

Available on ITunes or direct download here.


  1. There's an anecdote in this podcast about responding to a denial of intrinsic value with the example of a man killing his daughter. I don't think there's anything inconsistent with an intrinsic value denier objecting to such a killing. If morality is based on what people want, then the denier can want people to be safe from honor killings.

    Generally speaking, I find it curious when people argue for moral realism by giving emotionally provocative examples. Those are the cases most likely to excite moral judgments if moral realism is *false*. It would be more fitting to look for scenarios which are emotionally dull but still provoke intellectual certainty of moral rightness or wrongness.

  2. I made an extensive comment on podcast #29. It had no obscenity, it was on-topic, and it was appropriate. Do you censor (not publish) comments merely because they do not agree with your position? If that is not your policy, then please publish my comment.

    Gary W

  3. Gary,

    For some reason the comment section on blogger has "misplaced" your comment. However, since I do have comments sent to my EMail - I have a copy and will repost it here. A quick read of this blog will show you that we do not reject comments merely because we don't agree with them :)

  4. I listened to this podcast and disagreed with most of the conclusions of your three panelists. Because of space limitations, I will just address a few points.

    The outcome of the suit of the Levys of Portland was excellent. Their doctor was guilty of malpractice; he failed to perform needed tests and he provided inaccurate information on which the Levys relied to make a decision. The case did not establish a right to abortion, a right which was already established by Roe v. Wade, but it reinforced a right to receive competent medical advice. If the doctor had provided inaccurate information that the fetus did have Downs Syndrome, the Levys aborted the fetus, and then they sued the doctor and won, would you be decrying the outcome?

    Your argument that abortion should be prohibited because human organisms or persons have intrinsic value is invalid. Nothing has intrinsic value. Value is not the kind of thing that can be intrinsic to anything. Value is something which is assigned or attributed to things by persons. A baby has arms, legs, ears, and eyes intrinsically, but does not have value intrinsically. Most of us assign high value to babies, but we don’t assign the same high value to zygotes, embryos, and fetuses. If you want to make an argument that we should do so, go ahead, but it will need to be something better than the idea that all human organisms have intrinsic value.

    An intuitive view, even yours, is not necessarily a rational or irrational view; it can be either and must be evaluated.

    Klusendorf said: “I think we at times are fair to just look at someone and very graciously say ‘I really don’t need to give you an argument to make the case that humans have value. I think you’re just plain nuts if you deny it.’” No better example of close-mindedness, arrogance, dogmaticism, and animosity towards critics could be given than this stated position by Klusendorf. He actually recommends that if somebody disagrees with your cherished view, you should simply respond with an ad hominem attack and label them crazy. This approach is always out of line.

    Gary W

  5. Now, a couple questions about your comment -

    You described the test as "needed". how is a diagnostic test for trisomy 21 a medical necessity? We turned down the test for our children - have we denied them important medical care?

    As far as your comments on human value I believe you have it almost exactly backwards. We do not inherently have arms legs and ears. There was a patient who "intrinsically" had wisdom teeth an hour ago and now doesn't because of me. I've seen a number of patients with hemifacial microsomia which gives them a misshapen face and no ear canal. These characteristics are anything but inherent.

    However, what is inherent in each and every one of us, regardless of the presence of body parts or abilities, is a human nature that we have argued is inherently valuable. This is the reason why we should value one with physical and mental handicaps even if the culture around us does not. Just as we do not discriminate based on physical appearance or abilities, we also should not based on size, level of development, environment, or degree of dependency. This is not a position we merely posit but have given arguments for expensively. Feel free to stick around and read the blog to see so.

    Lastly, I appreciate the fact that you listened to the podcast. However, after reading your last comment I might recommend listening to it again. Scott was responding to a view like the one mentioned of a student which denied human value and Scott asked about honor killings. If that student stated that yes, a father should be able to kill his young daughter because she was raped there is little to respond to. I would not look for an argument, I would seek men in white coats for that individual. That was his point and I believe you will understand if you listen again.



  6. BTW - I meant extensively in that last comment. :)

  7. Rich,

    My comment may have not been recorded properly, so I'll try again.

    In the Levy case the tests which “needed” to be performed by the physician were those which would have enabled him to accurately answer the question of the Levys about the probability of birth defects in their fetus. The Levys won their case because the physician neglected to conform to the “standard of medical care” in this situation and, as a result, he gave them incorrect information. I do not know why you and the members of your panel could object to the outcome of the suit. Do you not expect competent performance by your physician?

    I think you are correct that people have a human nature, but you are incorrect that it is inherently valuable. Value is assigned to human nature; it is not inherently present in human nature. You actually show that you agree with me on this point when you say “...we should value...” If value were inherent in human nature, it would not be necessary for you to recommend (“should”) that we assign a high value to it or that we assign the same high value to fetuses with handicaps as to those without handicaps. You are confusing the process of legal discrimination with the process of valuing; they just aren’t the same thing. If you believe that we should value a human zygote at the same high level that we value a human adult, please give an argument for doing that. And if you believe that we should value a Downs Syndrome fetus at the same high level that we value a nonDS fetus, then please give an argument for that.

    If the student in Scott’s example denied that human organisms or persons have intrinsic value, then Scott owed the student an argument as to why he believes they do, just as you owe me an argument because I make the same denial. The scenario of honor killings is a red herring. If you and I assign the same high value to adult persons, then of course we might agree that honor killings are wrong. But this is far wide of the issues of whether anything (including human organisms) have inherent value or whether human organisms at different stages of development should be assigned the same value.

    Best regards,
    Gary W

  8. Rich,

    You have not responded to my comment of 1:14 PM on 3-27-2012. May I assume that you agree with the points I made?

    From the podcast I listened to, I conclude that you and the other participants oppose abortion and abortion rights. However, some opponents, like yourselves, stipulate exceptions (e.g. in case of rape). Rich, I know that you can't respond for the other two panelists, so please give an answer only for yourself. Please reply to this: "I oppose abortion and abortion rights except in cases of...."

    Gary W

  9. Gary,

    When it takes a few days to respond to comments it usually means that we are either very busy or simply do not find the arguments presented very compelling. I'll let you guess which one of the two is responsible for the delay in this case.

    I couple questions about the "points" that you made.

    1. It seems that you don't understand the concept of medical necessity. A test is medically necessary if it the results of the test bears directly on improving the health of the patient in question. Since the test for trisomy 21 does not help the mother's health, and certainly does nothing to help the health of the child she is carrying, I'll give you another chance to explain why this test is medically necessary.

    2. So far, your response to my comments is to declare my argument for the intrinsic value of human beings found extensively on this blog and the 29 podcasts "invalid". If you are actually looking for arguments to support this, please feel free to search through the 800 or so posts on this blog. Sorry, but I'm unable to do that work for you, but I'd be willing to respond to a specific critique. Calling the argument invalid and dismissing it is not worth my time :)

    Likewise, you describe the honor killing example that Scott used and I repeated a red herring. Please explain why this logical fallacy applies in this particular case. Let me restate it to make it easier for you. In the case of honor killings, the child that has been raped is not valued by their parent or the culture that allows such things. Yet we still recognize it is wrong to murder her. The question is why is it wrong to kill her? Its not because her family or culture values her - clearly the do not because of her "disgraceful" state. I argue that it is wrong because she has inherent value by virtue of her human nature regardless of how she is valued by those around her. This is also the foundation of our inalienable rights found in our founding documents.

    So if you think that her murder would be wrong (and I assume you do), please explain why. Labeling this a red herring and dismissing it will not be helpful.

    I smile in thinking that you believe you got me with that last question, as if its the first time we've dealt with that issue. Please feel free to search this blog for rape and incest as well as arguments from hard cases. That should give you the answers you seek.


    Rich Poupard

  10. Didn't LTI already do this guy in September?

  11. This is my response to Rich’s comment of March 29, 2012 12:54 PM

    I’ll try to be more patient and wait longer for you to respond before I do.

    Originally I said that the physician in the Levy case “failed to perform needed tests.” As I’ve tried to explain, he failed to perform tests “needed” to answer the question of the Levys. According to the report I read, in an attempt to answer their question he performed at least two tests and on the basis of those tests gave them an inaccurate answer. Unfortunately, he did not perform the “proper” tests which would surely have enabled an accurate answer. His performance was judged to be negligent with respect to the expected performance of physicians in the same circumstances. In the present context your concept of “medical necessity” is not the same as my concept of “needed” and I don’t see how it is relevant. The court ruled that the physician was in the wrong. I think that was a great outcome! If you do not agree, then please clearly explain why.

    You relied on the concept of intrinsic value in the podcast. I showed why it was invalid. Please provide a clear and concise defense of the concept.

    Scott’s and your honor killing example uses “inherent value” as a reason why the “raped child” should not be killed. It is a red herring because it avoids the discussion of whether “inherent value” is a valid concept or not. It is not a valid concept, and I’ve demonstrated why. The concept is based on a misunderstanding of the process of valuing.

    Your referral to your own emotional state (smiling) is also a red herring. Please address my points directly.

    Best regards,

  12. Rich,

    I entered a new response on Friday, 3-30-2012, and it was accepted for saving by the blogsite, awaiting moderator review. However, it has still not be posted for readers to see. I understand that you might wish to take more time to formulate a response to it, but I see no reason why it shouldn't be posted within four days! Please post it. If you cannot find it, let me know, and I'll send it again.


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