When someone asks a question like, “Are Humans More Valuable Than Animals?” (video of same) it is obvious the one asking the question has no idea what values are. In this case, the question is asked by Dennis Prager who happens to be Jewish, and though not orthodox, nevertheless believes in God and the teachings of the Tanakh (Christian Old Testament). This ignorance of the meaning of values, however, is not exclusive to Jews, no religious teaching, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, Shinto, Buddhist, or Bahai, ever correctly identifies what values are.
Religious View of Values
The essential mistake of all religious views of values is the belief that values are intrinsic in that which is valuable. While Hindus, Buddhists, and Shinto have their own mistaken views of values, the following from Prager is the typical wrong view of values embraced by most Western religions.
“According to the Judeo-Christian value system, human beings are infinitely valuable. On the other hand, secular humanism [as if that were the only “secular” view] devalues the worth of humans. … The reason is simple: if there is no God, human beings are only material beings – and therefore not worth anything beyond the matter of which they are composed.”
You don’t need to read the whole of Prager’s article. The essential point is, according to Prager, the value of things, particularly the value of human beings, is determined by God; that is, human beings are valuable because God says so. He concludes that those who do not believe in God and His pronouncements therefore have no basis for believing human beings are valuable, and therefore, do not value them.
Characteristics of Values
Values are are both positive and negative: good and bad, important and unimportant, right and wrong, valuable and worthless are all values.
There are three essential characteristics of all values: 1. values are not intrinsic, 2. values are relationships, and 3. values are absolute.
Values are not intrinsic.
Nothing is just good or bad, important or unimportant, right or wrong. Before a thing can have a value it must be determined what it is good for, important to, or why it is right and for what. A thing (anything, a non-living entity, an organism, a man, an event, or an idea) must be good for something to someone.
Nothing is, “just good.” It is what is wrong with statements like, “God is good.” If a God were good, what that God was good for and to whom would have to be specified. To say something is, “just good,” is using a word without meaning. It is exactly like saying something is “just left” without specifying what it is left of, because values are relationships like positions.
Values are relationships.
All terms of value like good, bad, important, irrelevant, right, and wrong describe a relationship. Before there can be a value there must be a purpose, a goal, or an objective relative to which a thing has some value; a positive value like good or important if the thing enables or furthers the goal or purpose, a negative value like bad or wrong if it hinders or prevents the achievement of the goal or purpose.
Since only human beings have purposes, goals, or objectives, only human beings need values (to determine what to choose to achieve their goals) and without human beings there are no values, because nothing matters except to human beings. If there were no human beings, Mr. Prager, there would be no values.
Values are absolute.
It might seem that values being absolute contradicts the fact that they are relationships. This dual aspect of values is very much the same as the dual aspect of most of the physical world. In one sense how the physical world is used is entirely arbitrary. Nothing in the sciences determines whether one uses chemicals to make explosives or fertilizer, for example, but how the chemicals must be used to make either is absolutely determined by the nature of the chemicals and what one needs the chemicals to do.
What individual human beings choose as their real life goals and purposes will determine what will or will not be of value to them, but while they can choose their goals, they cannot choose what things or actions will succeed or fail to achieve those goals, because it is reality itself that determines what will work and what will not, and therefore what will be valuable in achieving those ends, and what will not.
The following observations assume that a human being chooses as his primary objectives to live and to live successfully and happily and to be all he can as a human being. I know this is not the choice of all human beings, but when life, success, happiness, and being all one can be is not one’s choice, what they actually choose to pursue and thus value does not really matter. Human failure, unhappiness, and worthlessness are very common just because they require no particular method to achieve and no objective values.
For everyone else, there are certain primary values determined by human nature: values determined by the physical nature—physical health; and values determined by the psychological nature—mental health and ethics. It is the same unique aspect of the human nature, the mind, that determines both how the mind must be used (mental health) and how a human being must live (ethics) to be successful, happy, and fulfilled. [Note that ethical principles are determined by both human nature and the nature of the world, that is, reality.]
The important point here is not any specific set of values, but the fact the values are not arbitrary (dictated by a God, an ideology, and most certainly not some political authority) and they are not intrinsic in anything.
The most damaging aspect of so-called values that are simply dictated is that there is no logical connection between the values and reality; there is no relationship between such values and any real life objective or purpose. Unlike all true principles, there is no way to discover such arbitrary values; they must be learned from some authority. Such values are either worthless or anti-life.
Answering A Stupid Question
As profound as some would make it, the question, “Are Humans More Valuable Than Animals?,” is simply stupid. Remember the only way to ascertain the value of anything is to ask the question, “of value for what to whom?”
Since nothing, no object, substance, animal, human being, idea or event, has any value just because it exists, and only has value, either positive or negative, relative so someone’s goals, objectives, or purposes, such a question is very dangerous because it ignores the basis of all values.
“But all human beings are valuable,” they wail with righteous indignation, which makes no more sense then saying, “all human beings are inside.” If someone said that, they would immediately ask, “inside what?” And when they say, “all human beings are valuable,” they must be asked, “of value for what to whom?”
What Is The Value Of A Human Being?
Except for that small number of people I know who have similar views and values as I, I cannot answer what the value of any human being is to others. I can only know what the value of human beings are to me.
As an individualist I can only identify human beings individually. Since terms like, “humanity,” and, “mankind,” are collective terms that do not recognize the extreme differences between individual human beings, such terms do not identify anything that can be evaluated in any way. The value of every human being is determine solely by who that human being is and what he has chosen to be and make of himself.
Since I regard every human being as an individual with all the potential of a human being, every human being is of value to me as a source of pleasure to be derived from my relationships with them, from casual acquaintances to serious business relationships, from personal friendships to those worthy of my love. Though I know not everyone I meet or deal with will be honest or decent and that some might even be a threat, I, nevertheless, give all individuals the benefit of the doubt until they have demonstrated they are not a value to me.
In the latter case, it is not a source of hate or animosity, but of disappointment. It is never what I expect of individuals individually. I know the history of mankind well enough, and I certainly know what goes on in the world every day, so the disappointing things human beings do are never a surprise. I know what most individuals have chosen to do with their lives and what they have made of themselves, and though it never shocks me, it bewilders me, because I know what the potential of every human being is. That so many can waste that potential is inexplicable.
Perhaps I should say I value every human being as a potential good to me and assume they are, unless they demonstrate they are not; even then, I know they still could be and would hope they would be.
"The creator is the man who disagrees." -- Ayn Rand