Sacredness of Life

So here’s a question I’ve been thinking about: is life sacred?

Many people consider life (especially human life) sacred, but what does that mean? If life is sacred, why is it sacred?

UPDATE: Perhaps the word “sacred” is a bad word to use in this context so let me try again. How about valuable?

So then here’s the question: does life have intrinsic value? If so, why? Many people consider life (but perhaps humans exclusively) having intrinsic value. But why? Why does life have intrinsic value?

About shaunmiller

I have just completed a visiting position as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
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7 Responses to Sacredness of Life

  1. Killer J says:

    –adjective 1. devoted or dedicated to a deity or to some religious purpose; consecrated.

    Due to the definition above, and our lengthy debate on the ‘spiritual/religious’ topic, is it even worth me responding? haha

  2. shaunmiller says:

    We can start there if you want. So it comes down to religious definition. The trouble that I find with that is similar to the Euthyphro problem (does God love the good because it’s good, or is it good because God loves it?) In this case however, Divine-Command theorists state that it’s good because God loves it. What it comes down to is that anything becomes good merely because God makes it good.

    Now there are many flaws with this but let me point out one: if there is no God, then that means nothing is good (or bad) anymore. But it seems odd that lying, murder, rape, torture and burning puppies are considered morally neutral just because God doesn’t exist. I would still consider these activities bad regardless if God existed or not.

    Ok, now let’s apply this to the sacredness of life. If God doesn’t exist, does this mean that life is no longer sacred?

    What does it mean to be sacred? Why is (human) life so important in the end? Why do we care about life? So let me give some examples: let’s assume that the fetus is a person. People would say killing that being is wrong because life itself is sacred. But here’s my question: what does that mean?

  3. Killer J says:

    I like ‘valuable’ much more. When I have some time, I’ll give you a response.

  4. Killer J says:

    My first answer would have something to do with God, but we’ll assume he doesn’t exist for this topic.

    My answer then, would still be yes (for most people). We value life because we know that people usually want to live. We also know we usually want those close to us to live as well.

    How do you know what somebody truly values? You look at their behavior. The instinct of our own self-preservation coupled with the emotional attachments and subsequent behavior we have with those close to us certainly are strong values held by most people.

  5. shaunmiller says:

    My answer then, would still be yes (for most people).

    Well, if we say most people, that means people are exempt. Doesn’t this say that life doesn’t have intrinsic value then?

    It seems that in the end, you want to say yes. You mention instincts, self-preservation. It almost sounds biological. But you also mention that we want those people close to us to live as well. So one could imply that people that aren’t that close to us, we really don’t care that much about. (Which might make sense, we care more about our families and friends rather than some starving people in Africa.)

    But in the end, it seems that life does not have intrinsic value because the whole reason we value their life is because it has some use to us, namely the closeness. Thus, this seems to argue for a utilitarian or at least an instrumental value of life. Does life have instrumental value?

  6. Killer J says:

    Yeah, I see what you mean. Are utilitarian/instrumental values and the idea of intrinsic values mutually exclusive though?

  7. shaunmiller says:

    I think they are. After all, the opposite of instrumental is intrinsic. Can we think of something that is instrumental and intrinsic?

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