The Importance of Being Human
ABSTRACT: In this paper I will defend a kind of human-centered perspective regarding ethical questions wherein the interests of humans and nonhumans alike are involved. Compared to other species, however, the idea that there is something special about being human is commonly vague. For example, it is unclear whether the thought is (1) being a human being is important in itself, or (2) it is important to be like a human being — that is, to have the capacities which a normal adult human being enjoys. I build my defense of human dignity on the claim that we regard a biological human being as a being of intrinsic importance, which is what (1) is about. However, I ...view middle of the document...
Not only is it the case that human beings are more valuable than non-humans, all human beings are equally valuable. This second aspect of the importance of being human will be given no treatment here.
I am strongly inclined to believe that whatever attitude we have towards intuitions, that is, whether we want to take them seriously in our moral reasoning or not, most of us share the intuition which I henceforth will call the Standard Attitude (SA) and which tells us that human beings have a special moral standing just in virtue of being human. This is an intuition which in one way or another is important to most of us as a putative source of moral knowledge or as something we believe we have to fight against. One important axiological problem concerns whether something can be valuable only in relation to a valuing subject or if something can be valuable given that there exists something valuable independently of whether or not a subject has any attitude towards it, whether it be a cognitive or conative attitude. This is classical problem of subjectivism versus objectivism.
If you believe that being human is intrinsically important you can, if you are a subjectivist, by this mean that the property is intrinsically important for humans, i.e. human beings place a special value on being human in itself, a value which is not dependent upon what is associated with belonging to that species, and that is what makes being human morally important. Or, you may, if you are an objectivist, intend to say that being human has an intrinsic value which is independent of the fact that this is valued by us humans.
I will here concentrate on the subjectivistic defence of human dignity. One of the reasons, besides the fact that I personally find this position more attractive than objectivism, is that it is interesting to defend the idea of human dignity from a subjectivistic position when such an idea normally is rejected by the subjectivists. Now, one of the assumptions that I have made is that there is according to the Standard Attitude an intrinsic value in being human. This assumption must now be questioned. Michael Tooley gives in Abortion and Infanticide three counter-examples to show that membership of the human species has no intrinsic importance. His third argument is a thought experiment which is constructed as follows:
There might exist on some other planet, such as Mars, non-human animals that speak languages, have highly developed cultures, that have advanced further scientifically, technologically, and aesthetically than humans have, and that both enjoy sensations, thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and desires, and attribute such mental states both to us and to themselves. Would it not be wrong to kill such Martians? And wrong for precisely the same reason that it is wrong to kill normal adult human beings? (1983: 67)
First, Tooley wants us to decide not only whether or not it would be wrong to kill these Martians, but also whether or not it...