Valuing Life

Valuing Life

John Kleinig
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Valuing Life
    Book Description:

    Abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, war, genetic engineering and fetal experimentation, environmental and animal rights--these topics inspire some of today's most heated public controversies. And it is fashionable to pursue these debates in terms of the negative query "Under what conditions may life be disregarded or terminated?" John Kleinig asks a different, more positive question: What may be said in behalf of life? Looking at the full range of appeals to life's value, he considers a variety of issues. Is livingness as such to be affirmed and respected? Is there an ascending order of plant, animal, and human life? Does human life possess a distinctive claim, or must we discriminate between humans that do and humans that do not have claims on us? Kleinig shows that assertions about valuing life camouflage a complex normative vocabulary about worth, reverence, sanctity, dignity, respect, and rights. And "life," too, is subject to an assortment of understandings. Sensitive to the frameworks informing diverse appeals to life's value, this comprehensive work will interest readers concerned with the environment, animal rights, or bioethics.

    Originally published in 1991.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6228-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-2)

    In November 1975, Justice Robert Muir, Jr., of the Superior Court of New Jersey, refused an application for the withdrawal of mechanical life support from Karen Quinlan, several months after she had lapsed into what was generally acknowledged to be an irreversible coma. It was, he claimed, the Court’s task to protect and aid the best interests, “in a temporal sense,” of those suffering under disabilities, and, he opined, the termination of life support would not be in Karen Quinlan’s best interests: “The single most important temporal quality Karen Quinlan has is life. This Court will not authorize that life...

    (pp. 3-28)

    Invocations of “the value of life” are common. Discussions of abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment are replete with them. But they are also heard in debates over war, pacifism, and genocide; genetic engineering and fetal experimentation; environmental and animal rights; risk-taking, rescue and compensation. In some of these contexts, it is not unusual for appeals to “life’s value” to be accorded the status of a moral “bottom line,” an argumentativeterminus a quo, moral rationality’s final appeal. Those who would gainsay “life’s infinite value” are suspected of being morally reprobate, or at least morally untrustworthy. Yet the issue is not...

    (pp. 29-45)

    As I have already intimated, the language of “life” is no less problematic than the language of “value.” Appeals to the value of life do not have as their object some uniformly cognizedgiven, but a phenomenon having varied forms and disputed boundaries. Life—though not necessarily of the same kind—may be predicated of cells, tissues, organs and organisms, of plants, animals, humans and gods, of individuals, groups, species and systems. Some would go further: animism, hylozoism, and panpsychism, though alien to the thought-patterns of twentieth-century scientific rationalists, nevertheless pose a continuing challenge to those who would see the...

    (pp. 46-69)

    The last two chapters will have made it clear that appeals to “the value of life” may take a variety of forms with a diversity of reference. The rich vocabulary of value reflects the importance of choice to us—the significance attached to directing our conduct along one path rather than another. Yet these value-terms bear on choice in different ways (and with different degrees of directness). Some, as we have already noted, are more concerned with choiceworthiness, others with choice-constraint, and though they are often connected their focus is very different. The appropriateness of a particular value-concept may depend...

    (pp. 70-95)

    The distinction between plant, animal, and human life has very deep roots. Some would say that it is naturally given, a differentiation that owes nothing to human conceptualizing interests. This probably overstates the case. Nevertheless, the distinction is firmly entrenched in both the Judaic and Hellenistic traditions out of which our culture has developed. The creation stories of Genesis no less than the systematic reflections of classical Greece proclaim a world in which plant, animal, and human life are radically, even if not always rigidly, differentiated. As to the precise significance of this differentiation, there is less agreement, though writers...

    (pp. 96-114)

    In 1973, Peter Singer revitalized a longstanding, but at that time largely neglected, debate on the moral status of animals.² Most of Singer’s discussion centered on “higher” animals—those with a central nervous system of sufficient complexity to allow for plausible attributions of a capacity for pain. And his primary concern was not with animal life as such, but animal pain and/or suffering.³ However, Singer’s arguments and conclusions triggered a more extensive, general interest in the moral claims, if any, of animals, including those linked to their status as living beings.

    The moral status of animal life has already been...

    (pp. 115-163)

    There is no doubt that the varied appeals to life’s value are heard most frequently and insistently where the object is human life. It is here, too, that such appeals have usually seemed most at home. As we have already seen, many of the arguments mounted in favor of other forms of life presume the “value” of human life, and seek to show that whatever it is that gives human life its appropriate values can be attributed in some relevant way to some or all nonhuman life.

    At certain periods of human history, the broad appeal to human life’s value...

    (pp. 164-189)

    To a significant extent, the past six chapters have been devoted to clarification, classification, and critique. I have endeavored to provide some insight into the considerable variety of concerns that lie behind and inform appeals to “the value of life.” I have sought to organize these appeals in a reasonably systematic or at least a structured way. And I have offered the beginnings of a critical analysis of those appeals. Some arguments I have rejected completely; others I have pursued only so far, because to take them further would have immersed us in much wider debates in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics,...

    (pp. 190-228)

    Over the past several chapters I have offered an analysis and appraisal of appeals to “the value of life.” To some extent this discussion has been abstracted from both the particular controversies in which such appeals are heard and the competing considerations against which the varied values of life are ranged. The destruction of flora and killing of animals for food, abortion, and embryo experimentation, the treatment of anencephalic and severely retarded newborns, organ and tissue “harvesting” and genetic manipulation, capital punishment and war, suicide, euthanasia and the maintenance of those in persistent vegetative states, have all been opposed on...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 229-256)
    (pp. 257-276)
    (pp. 277-280)
    (pp. 281-284)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 285-286)