What could determine the value of a person in a similar way to how I imagine (because of a vaguely Christian upbringing I guess) their ethical behaviour does?

I'm interested in any sort of contemporary philosophy on this, but I don't mean just their value to e.g. society or the capitalist class, though this may have a stake in the answer.

I mean something like their human worth.

  • apologies if too broad, any tips totally welcome
    – user6917
    Jul 30 '16 at 0:26
  • 2
    Does your sense of the value of a particular person change over time based on what you are doing at the time, or do you see your sense of value of a person being entirely intrinsic to the individual? Also, do you see the value of two individuals being comparable or incomparable?
    – Cort Ammon
    Jul 30 '16 at 2:24
  • i was talking about self or individual appraisal really @CortAmmon, so that unethical behaviour reflects badly, etc. so not intrinsic, and likely incomparable
    – user6917
    Jul 30 '16 at 5:49
  • i wanted to leave that open to increase the odds of an answer... @CortAmmon should i edit the question or leave it as it is?
    – user6917
    Jul 30 '16 at 6:21
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    My opinion is that, as written, this is one of the "questions of life" where everyone has a different opinion. The broadness of these answers is so great that, in my opinion, if a person, looking into their past from their deathbed, can decide that their value was merely positive, they can die happy. That's determining the value of just a single person (not comparing between them), using the best information possible (everything you're do is now in the past and known, no future unknowedness), and that one case is still powerful enough to be a key to peace and happiness in one's life.
    – Cort Ammon
    Jul 30 '16 at 15:44

From a few different directions, there have been attempts to decouple value from behavior in recent religious or political philosophies.

Such moves are often motivated by feminism or other kinds of inclusiveness, as they restore the value of being itself, or the inherent value in being valued. So they are often initially motivated by the inequality of the valuations of being vs doing.

  • the Ethics of Care attributes value both to the carer and to the one cared for in a bond between two people. Caring is not entirely, or even primarily a result of the carer's behavior. It is also an aspect of our ability to allow relationships and the bonds out of which they are made to continue and to provide value for others' actions. Otherwise, the behavior of carers in caring loses its inherent natural logic and must be recast in the form of some other system of reward or self-judgement.

  • the New Age notion of chosen destiny has a similar notion of the value of others as opportunities for resolution, growth, competition, etc. It is not your destiny that provides value, but the way it interlocks with others'. It is the "Non-Player Characters" in our lives that are the actual source of our own leverage for improvement. And they are not more valuable by being ethical, but by being appropriately cast.

  • From a more general pacifist/feminist point of view, men have traditionally attributed to women, more than themselves, some quasi-magical sense of greater inherent personal worth which is too easily then removed, manipulated or denied, in ways that disempower women individually and as a group, while devaluing men by reducing them to their products. Most measures of human value declare this 'love we owe' in some way beyond comparison: human value is infinite, equal in everyone, an epiphenomenon of the value of the one doing the valuing, completely subjective, etc... But that is a false equivalence declaring something unequally distributed to be equal, at the cost of those to whom we assign value through the real thing whose value is being obscured. (So we can somehow love our enemies as much as our families, because we are ordered to, and still shoot them.)

  • really interesting etc., thanks. could probably agree with most of it. do you have any interest in laing?
    – user6917
    Jul 30 '16 at 17:38
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    Actually, I probably do, but have no idea. My education in psychology is all secondary sources outside of the psychodynamic parts. It did involve Tavistock group method training in the Bion fashion, Rogerian 'Person Centered' training and Narrative Therapy, all of which seem to contribute to or borrow perspectives from Laing according to his Wikipedia entries.
    – user9166
    Jul 30 '16 at 18:18
  • alright. pretty much all i took from the divided self is that an ethico-existential relation is a relation hah
    – user6917
    Jul 30 '16 at 18:27

This question is as broad as they come. The only question I have heard in philosophy which is potentially broader than this is, "What is the meaning of life?" and even then its highly likely that the two answers are intimately related. This question is certainly far too broad for Philosophy.SE, but I think I can speak to the broadness in an answer and provide more value to the forum than a mere vote to close, so I will do that.

What could determine the value of a person in a similar way to how I imagine ... their ethical behaviour does?

This sentence is quite tricky to work with, tying concepts of value and ethics together. I wanted to start off with some grounding, so it seems reasonable to quote the second paragraph from Wikipedia's article on Ethics:

As a branch of philosophy, ethics investigates the questions "What is the best way for people to live?" and "What actions are right or wrong in particular circumstances?" In practice, ethics seeks to resolve questions of human morality, by defining concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime. As a field of intellectual enquiry, moral philosophy also is related to the fields of moral psychology, descriptive ethics, and value theory.

So right away we can see why this question is so difficult to answer. Ethics is concerned with the concepts of right and wrong, two cultural universals. Anyone who has stepped outside their own philosophical comfort zone is aware that there is great disagreement about right and wrong. There's so much disagreement that we will often go to war and kill each other over such disagreements, despite the fact that many of these peoples going to war have a moral code against killing one another!

Now consider the concept of value. By your phrasing which uses the term "a person" and the sentence "I mean something like their human worth." you are clearly talking about someone else, so this is not a question of self-value (which is good, because that is a far far harder concept). A value of another being would certainly be used to make decisions whether one should act or not. This leaves the question of whether the value of a human being is above that of all else, making human life sacrosanct, or whether it is something on the level of other things which can be traded. The former opinion is popular, but famous thought experiments such as the Trolley Problem or any of its many variants make those positions very difficult. In these experiments, we see just how much trouble we get in if we cannot include life in a series of balances.

The next question is whether this value is a one dimensional thing. Are we assigning a dollar value, or is this more like sports stats, showing varying facets of the individual? The latter often makes more sense, but makes for hard decisions if it comes down to trading that individual for someone else.

Finally, we can come down to what we want to go into that value in the first place. In the comments, Jobermark recommended exploring value according to the Greek tenses: 'doing' 'being' and 'being done to.' We can do this, but such an approach is not very universal. Many Asian martial arts seek a balance between 'doing' and 'being' which is ill captured by either word. There's also a strange region between 'being' and 'being done to.' Jobermark points out that there are few who value 'being done to,' but consider the value we put on the strong individual who chooses to just sit there and let someone beat on them until that person calms down rather than responding with actions. What about the man or woman with demons they hold back day by day, is there no value in that?

In the end, the only reason this question is answerable is because of the section of the first sentence which I omitted when I quoted it the first time. Here it is again, with my own emphasis on the removed part and its surroundings:

What could determine the value of a person in a similar way to how I imagine (because of a vaguely Christian upbringing I guess) their ethical behaviour does?

The only thing which can determine that value is you, but you may be able to hedge your bet by looking the valuations of Christianity in its most general sense.

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