Chapter Two, Part One
In this chapter, I describe the main framework of the theory. The argument for it takes place in other chapters.
First, I hypothesize that individuals hold that they are of value (full stop). I call this their foundational attitude. A lot of people think that if anyone holds that he is of value, then he has to have a reason for holding it. On my theory, there is an evolutionary explanation, which I discuss in Chapter Three, but no justification for individuals holding that they are of value. This has important consequences.
Second, I hypothesize that individuals acknowledge others as being of value, too, provided that those others also hold that they are of value. In Chapter Three, I claim that there are good evolutionary reasons for individuals who hold foundational attitudes to acknowledge other holders as being of value. Again, there is no justification but there is an explanation.
Third, I say that once you have acknowledged one other holder, then you are inconsistent if you do not acknowledge all. You could go around holding that you were the only valuable individual in the world forever. But, if you accept one other holder of a foundational attitude as being of value, you have no logical choice but to accept all other holders as well.
Here’s the argument. I hold that I am of value (but I do not hold that I am of value because I have some non-moral characteristic C). I am not logically committed to acknowledge any one else as valuable.
However, for biological reasons, I inevitably acknowledge others as being of value (but not because they have any characteristic C).
Once I acknowledge some others, I am logically committed to acknowledge all others. The thing is that my initial acknowledgment is not random. There’s no point in my acknowledging anyone who does not hold that he is of value, so the others I acknowledge have symptoms of holding that they are of value (and I probably have a biologically acquired ability to detect the symptoms).
But if I hold that someone is valuable (without also holding that they are of value because they possess some characteristic C), I am committed to hold him to be of value throughout his entire existence. This includes times when he does not exhibit the symptoms. (If being of value does not supervene or depend on other properties, then it can neither be acquired nor lost.)
It follows that I am committed to hold to be of value everyone who does, who has, or who will exhibit the symptoms at some point in the course of their existence. (It would be inconsistent to say that some with the symptoms are valuable but to deny that others with the same symptoms are valuable and anyone who exhibits the symptoms at some point is of value throughout his entire existence.) That amounts to all actual and potential holders of foundational attitudes. I have no grounds to deny value to any of them. On the other hand, I have no commitment to those who lack foundational attitudes.
This is different from the standard approach that ethical theorists use. On the standard approach, we are committed to acknowledge others as being of value is when we can reason like this: I am value. I am of value because I have non-moral characteristic C. You have characteristic C as well. So, you are of value, too. They have the same characteristic, so they are of value just as we are. In describing this situation, philosophers say that value supervenes on non-moral properties.
It is important not to confuse the symptoms of being valuable with a non-moral property on which value supervenes. One difference is that if someone loses the property, then they stop being valuable. However, the absence of the symptoms does not necessarily indicate the absence of value. For my argument to work, individuals have to exhibit the symptoms at some time but they do not have to exhibit them at all times.
Another difference is that, with the supervenience approach, individuals can gain and lose value. If they acquire the non-moral property, they become valuable. If they lose it, they cease being valuable. In contrast, on my theory, the value individuals attribute to themselves and to each other can neither be acquired nor lost. If someone is valuable at one time during his life, he is valuable at all times during his life.
Third, on the supervenience approach, it will always be the case that some non-human animals are of value if any humans are of value (because they share property C) and that some humans will not be of value (because they have lost or not yet acquired property C). On my approach, if only human beings have foundational attitudes, then we are committed to attribute value to other human beings throughout their lives, no matter how they change or vary, and we are not committed to attribute value to animals, no matter closely they may resemble human beings.
At any rate, I think that individuals hold that they are of value, acknowledge some other holders as being of value, and, thereby, become committed to acknowledge all other holders. I call the group of individuals who are linked in this way “the natural moral community.”
There is one last refinement. An individual holds that he is of value. That’s his foundational attitude. He acknowledges some other holders and is committed to acknowledge all others. That’s his extended foundational attitude. The refinement is that a holder’s extended foundational attitude depends on his being able to desire to avoid significant injury to himself, to his family, and to his friends (in that order). Things are so arranged that there is the moral equivalent of an electrical circuit breaker. If there is an overload, the power is cut. Again, there’s an evolutionary explanation but no justification.
Copyright Brian Zamulinski.