What is fundamental value?

Giles Fraser rebukes the godless.

Humanists (and by that I mean secular humanists for now) would do much more to persuade me of their world-view if they took more seriously the idea that the human is of fundamental value.

Of fundamental value – what does that mean? I suppose the fact that I have to ask means that I won’t be persuading Giles Fraser of anything – but then, he probably won’t be persuading me of anything either.

I don’t think ‘the human’ is of fundamental value – if by that Fraser means of value independent of, say, other humans, or the (human) past, or future. I think the human is of contingent value – and that that’s enough. I don’t think ‘the human’ is of value to the universe, or to Jupiter, or to other animals. I think the human is of value to humans, and (frankly) to no one else. But I also don’t think it needs to be of value to anyone else to be of real value to us. (I also think the ways we could be of value to non-humans could be quite sinister, and that people like Giles Fraser ignore that possibility in a really silly way. Consider the way ‘the dog’ and ‘the horse’ and ‘the chicken’ is of value to us, then ponder whether we really need to be ‘of value’ to anyone other than ourselves.)

[F]rom the British Humanist Association’s website: ‘Humanists, too, see a special value in human life, but think that if an individual has decided on rational grounds that his life has lost its meaning and value, that evalu ation should be respected.’…[I]t is clear that here is an admission that the value of human life is down graded by those who call themselves humanists. Human life is something that is deemed to have no value for the individual if that individual decides that it has not.

Exactly so. We (I’ll just say ‘we’ because Fraser seems to be talking about atheists too) think that if an individual does not value her own life, then that life (while she views the matter that way, at any rate) does in fact ‘have no value for the individual.’ Indeed that’s simply tautological – if the individual decides that her life has no value, then for her it is deemed to have no value. It seems peculiar for Fraser even to bother pointing this out, let alone disapproving of it.

I am thinking, of course, about the support that so many secular human ists have given for the assisted suicide of Daniel James, the disabled former rugby player who felt, at the age of 23, that his life was not worth living. My friend Jerry, at a similar age, broke his back in a motorbike accident, and could move only his head and tongue. With these he managed to woo his caregiver, marry her, have three children by IVF, and run a pizza franchise. Humanists see the difference between these cases as hanging from the fragile thread of individual choice. That is not good enough.

What is good enough? Assuming that what one person did is what all people can do? Assuming that what one person did is what all people want to do? Assuming that what people want to do with their own lives is irrelevant? Refusing to take specifics into account?

Not only have contemporary atheists snatched the term humanist and claimed it as their own, but — in the name of choice — they have sold out on the very value that inspired humanism in the first place: the dignity of man (and woman, too). Shame on them.

But for some people, survival as a head has nothing to do with dignity. People differ. Different people want different things, different people can tolerate different things. Taking that into account might be part of the ‘value’ of human ‘dignity.’

20 Responses to “What is fundamental value?”