There are certain people who consider conscious beings or "life", however that is define, to be important in the sense that there is some form of intrinsic value in them or that they are axiomatically mandated for the functioning of the universe.

Notable examples include Alfred North Whitehead, possibly Julian Jaynes and some obscure Stefan Schindler.

My question is, what are some arguments, preferably those based on physical sciences, that suggest life and conscious existence to be more than a stable arrangement of particles not unlike rocks or stars?

When I talk about the relationship between science and values, I am looking for arguments that suggest some kind of objective sanctity in life or consciousness. For example, so likely misinterpreted "theories" of quantum mechanics treats conscious observers as having more physical effect on the universe than the amalgamation of flesh and blood they are. Whitehead seems to adopt some strain of such ideas, but his arguments are obscure and by no means exclusive, hence the question.

  • On a commonly held view values can not be derived from facts, and doing so constitutes the naturalistic fallacy. So the arguments you are looking for can not come from "physical sciences", those can tell us what is, not what to value. We can choose to value life and consciousness above rocks and stars "because" they are much rarer, for example, or, in Whitehead's case, due to higher complexity and "intensity of experience". But again, these are measures of value, not arguments for choosing them to be valued.
    – Conifold
    Feb 24, 2017 at 21:04
  • (1) Almost all ethical theories of ethics take life or some variation on it to be valuable (only a few esoteric ones don't). (2) Also, the science in your last paragraph seems garbled. Are you asking what science defines life as? Are you saying you think living things and rocks exist in the same way (with respect to stability)?
    – virmaior
    Feb 28, 2017 at 3:26
  • @virmaior I updated the question, hope that makes it more clear for you.
    – user289661
    Feb 28, 2017 at 4:16
  • Rereading your question several times, I think what you mean is "when do humans modify the physical world in a tangible" way? Which is interesting but a question about which philosophical schools diverge greatly. (I'd suggest not using 'sanctity in life" for this for several reasons)
    – virmaior
    Feb 28, 2017 at 5:16
  • @virmaior Can you point to an example (or few) of the esoteric ethical theories that don't take life/some variation to be valuable?
    – Justas
    Apr 18, 2017 at 17:07

2 Answers 2


The best way I can answer your question is to give an analogy.
The "stable arrangement of particles in a rock" equates to a stable arrangement of computer parts (a computer).
Conscious existence equates to computer program(s).

So now the question is, is a computer running a given set of programs "more" than a stable arrangement of computer parts?

I would answer in the affirmative.

  • That sounds pretty inspiring, what would you put forth as an argument for that answer?
    – user289661
    Feb 28, 2017 at 2:45
  • @user289661: The argument is: If you remove the programs from a computer, it is incapable of doing anything. It would just be "an arrangement of computer parts." However, with the "right" programs, its capabilities are limitless! Likewise, the human brain is a stable arrangement of neurons, but with the "right programing" (knowledge, experience, etc.), its capabilities are also limitless.
    – Guill
    Apr 15, 2017 at 2:41
  • If you are still following this topic as I, would you please further specify what you meant by being "more". Sure, a computer may be useful for many things, but does that necessarily mean that it is "better" or "more" than a rock?
    – user289661
    Apr 20, 2017 at 22:05

As a biologist(and one who spent a lot of time working precisely on the definition of Life)I can tell you in my opinion(like everything in philosophy in the end decision-making is an act of choice, not an obligation of the facts)the value of Life(and of consciousness as an "advanced" case for Life)is its ability to choose!

Really, what do you think evolution amounts to in the "Big Picture"? I think it is one giant CHOICE by the biosphere(which I personally think is a living creature like any other and should be protected by the same arguments necessarily to protect any other living organism)to develop in that particular way. If you start treating it just like you treat rocks, rivers, the air and any other inanimate object you are only one very "little" step away from deciding it can be used as a resource like any other and therefore, there is no reason why its own choice should be protected. If you start treating people the same way what happens? What if someone starts treating you the same way? Will you abide to his will or will you rebel in anger? Here is where I think the Golden rule can come in the question.

Life and consciousness in particular are the results of matter able to change in an unprescribed way. I think it is this ability to change that gives Life its unique set of properties. Everything else just follows in the laws of Nature without any resistance whatsoever. Only Life and its extension consciousness have this unique ability to change in many ways the laws of Nature didn't initially prescribed. So, if you value choice and its extension free will you simply must value Life and consciousness as well.

Of course, if you think there is no free choice and everything is predetermined as some religions do, then there is no reason to value either Life or consciousness and if you look at the news from the Near East you can see what happens(just a reflection on the point, don't mean to offend anyone :).

  • Can you possibly elaborate a little more on the point of "change"? You say that the ability to change somehow distinguishes life from non-life? What do you mean by that? Is the homeostasis of a bacterium a "change"? Or does the significance lie in its "defiance" of natural processes, which likely "intends" to make the cell swell and burst due to salinity gradient imbalance or something
    – user289661
    Feb 28, 2017 at 20:20
  • Actually I thought I made it clear but it appears I have not. The ability to change is in the context of choice. You can't have choice, if you don't have change. Do you understand my point. I tell the unique ability of Life to change due to its ability to choose the form it changes is what distinguishes it from inanimate matter and makes it valuable(if you value the freedom of choice of course). I make the point that our thinking of choice has to be extended to the biosphere and make it valuable because of it. Do you understand me now? Feb 28, 2017 at 20:25
  • Inanimate matter can't choose its form, only animate can. You yourself will go through a great deal of change during your life from baby to elder person. Can a stone do this? It is the unique ability of Life to change on will in analogy and the consciousness in practice that give them value over the inanimate matter if you value choice(if you value freedom in a way extending to anything able to evolve). Do you understand me? Feb 28, 2017 at 20:29
  • The sentence "I tell the unique ability of Life to change due to its ability to choose the form it changes is what distinguishes it from inanimate matter and makes it valuable" is hard to understand. More importantly, it appears that you believe values to be something that is conferred to objects by human subjectivity, which is not what I was looking for.
    – user289661
    Feb 28, 2017 at 20:31
  • What are you actually looking for then? Feb 28, 2017 at 20:31

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