Has any philosopher, ever, claimed that the life of some people is of no value whatsoever?

Not just that someone is e.g. dangerous, but some people can have no moral claim whatsoever to life?

Conversely, has anyone claimed that human life does not have a universal equivalent, by which I just mean a means to measure out the value of any and all human life?

  • by "null value" do you mean "no value" or do you mean "null" in the way it is used in programming and databases?
    – virmaior
    Apr 18, 2016 at 2:57
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    'Theres no scientific consensus that life is important!' - Futurama Apr 18, 2016 at 12:08
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    Probably not what you're looking for, but the philosophical position of antinatalism assigns negative value to life and birth in general. Otherwise, a list of e.g. eugenics or nazi ideologues may be a good place to start.
    – w128
    Apr 18, 2016 at 18:17
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    "The unexamined life is not worth leading?"
    – user9166
    Mar 14, 2019 at 13:45
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    To the second question: Plato definitely put different values on the lives of the different kinds of men in The Republic, because he affords equal value as a whole to a small group (the ruling class) and to a much larger group (workers). That means the loss of one of the smaller group properly matters more to the city. The notion of equal value comes rather late. When warfare was continual and slavery was common, it would be very hard to consider your foes' lives, or your slaves' lives equal to your own, and philosophers made excuses for these decisions.
    – user9166
    Mar 14, 2019 at 13:52

2 Answers 2


I would say that Mein Kampf is the strongest example I know of that speaks directly to the question you've asked. He speaks to the purity of the aryan race and degrades other races as inferior.

Another good example would be Joseph Stalin (moral nihilist).

Mao Tse-tung's red book is another example that presents national superiority.

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    But are politicians philosophers?
    – user9166
    Apr 18, 2016 at 17:57
  • Are they not philosophers because they apply a practical application to philosophy instead of discourse on rhetoric? That describes a Platonic Sophist, not a philosopher. Your very comment, therefore, also falls into sophistry and not philosophy by the same definition and is not constructive. Apr 20, 2016 at 14:13
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    Those guys were not philosophers. Not because they were politicians, but simply because they didn't do philosophy. Having an opinion (even expressed in the form of a book) doesn't make you a philosopher.
    – E...
    May 6, 2016 at 20:08
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    @EliranH I would go even further and say that even if the books were philosophy, that doesn't make the authors philosophers. You don't have to be a professional philosopher to be a philosopher, but you do have to be a philosopher.
    – Era
    May 6, 2016 at 20:34
  • dwai @jobermark it was a quirk
    – user35983
    Mar 14, 2019 at 0:43

Yes, me.

I am not an antinatalist, I do not believe that human life, broadly speaking, has no value, in fact my position is that human life does have value - hence why some human life doesn't.

There's a Latin expression: "homo homini lupus" - man is a wolf to other men. Vonnegut once wrote 'there are plenty of reasons to fight, but no good reasons to hate'. If, say, there are humans committing genocide against other humans, those humans committing genocide are, in a humanitarian sense, value negative.

I would take it much further. Though I am not interested in actually going out and killing humans, it's simply not within me to be able to do such a thing, preference utilitarianism is very salient to me, but others seem indifferent to its conclusions. I see it as the only ethical system that could possibly be said to be "objective" since, afterall, if morals are just a subjective set of preferences, then the 'objective' (intersubjective, whatever) morality must be the one that prioritises, and seeks to maximise, preferences. QED.

So long as people are convinced, without good reason, that their own totally subjective, often obscene, moral codes are the capital-T "Truth", I see no good reason to value their lives. In other words; if you don't value the life of others, then there's no compelling reason for me to value yours. I certainly wouldn't kill you, but I would argue that your life has no value. If you are ignorant and evil, you are simply not worth my moral concern. It sounds callous, I know, but the important thing to recognise is that it's callousness only in response to the callousness of others. Pretty simple stuff, at least as far as I'm concerned.

To put a little pithy summary on this: there are some people in this world who think that the millions of children who routinely starve to death somehow deserve it when, by virtue of holding this perspective, it is actually they who deserve to die. Maybe not of starvation, but their perspective makes them useless, even a drawback, to the rest of humanity.

As for the second part of your question: this appears to be pretty normal, albeit reductive and naive, moral reasoning. When I was still a fist year I learned it as "The Sanctity of Life", it's especially apposite in Western European Cultures*, and it means there's some debate about whether a mentally lucid fifty year old with fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (the disease that ossifies lean tissue - turns your muscles into bone) should be able to choose to die. It's clear to me that this kind of thinking is just another example of how the philosophy of a compassionate Judean anarchist can be deformed by knaves into something that is, frankly, sadomasochistic.

*Eastern Europe is different, apparently. According to Slovenian philosopher, Zizek, they have a joke: "A man is cleaning his house one day and comes across a magical lamp. As is the way with these things, he rubs the lamp and a genie pops out. The genie tells the man he can have anything he desires, but he also warns him that whatever he wishes for, his neighbour will get twice that. The man thinks on this for a moment and finally says: "beat me half to death."

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    So basically, If anyone's life has value, then some lives must not, because if everyone's life has value, the 'value' term of the equation simply factors out. But actually, it is more like a temperature scale: you can set zero to different places - at the bottom, the middle, the top... You could say that the absolute minimum value is some positive number. Or, if you feel dysphoric, that the absolute max is negative. You get to choose your value scale, just like everyone else! Ha ha
    – Scott Rowe
    Jul 8, 2023 at 12:39
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    At risk of coming across as gatekeeping, I'd imagine the original poster was looking for a citation. Would you have either a paper to your own name or an inspirational source that your position draws on?
    – Paul Ross
    Jul 8, 2023 at 13:19
  • That's obviously not what I'm saying at all Scott. I feel like I was being very clear, then you come along and write some kind of haiku. Where do you get "factoring out" value from? Preference utilitarianism is the way you account for the subjectivity of value. As for citations, R.M. Hare, Peter Singer. Jul 8, 2023 at 21:11
  • you remind me of someone i used to know from art school. thanks!
    – user66697
    Jul 8, 2023 at 21:23
  • Welcome to Stack Exchange! :) Jul 9, 2023 at 9:43

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