Book

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The Value of Humanity (under contract with oxford university press)

The value of humanity is traditionally a Kantian topic, but I develop an account in a non-Kantian framework. Against the Kantian tradition, in which humanity is absolutely valuable and unlike the value of anything else, I develop a relational proposal according to which our value is continuous with the value of other valuable things. I argue that there is something distinctive about living beings, and about living beings with a human form, but I do not think we illuminate this difference by way of absolute value. I take the Socratic starting point that good is affecting, or in other words, that good is a notion of benefit. If people are bearers of value, I propose that our value is no exception. I explore the possibility that our value is explained through reciprocal relations, or relations of interdependence, as when—as daughters, or teachers, or friends—we benefit others by being part or constitutive of relationships with them. I also investigate the possibility that we can be said to stand in a valuable relationship with ourselves. Ultimately I propose that people are of value because we are constituted in such a way that we can be good for ourselves in the sense that we are able to lead flourishing lives. The value of humanity is grounded in a relational conception of good as good for someone, and the resulting view captures what is distinctive about people and what is at stake in our ways of relating to one another. Intuitively, a person matters because she matters to herself in a very particular sort of way. To appropriate a phrase, she is a being for whom her life can be an issue. In taking up foundational questions about metaphysical grounding and normativity, the project reflects my contention that we cannot think well about the value of humanity without thinking about the nature of value in general.

Michele Theunissen:
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1994