Book

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The Value of Humanity

In my book (under contract with Oxford University Press) I develop an original account of the value of humanity. This is a traditionally Kantian topic, but I develop a proposal in a non-Kantian framework. Against the Kantian tradition, in which humanity is thought to be absolutely valuable and unlike the value of anything else, I develop a relational position according to which our value is continuous with the value of other valuable things. I argue that the values of diverse kinds of objects and activities—trips to the museum, friendships, acts of charity—are plausibly explained in terms of their propensity to benefit someone—to do good. If people are bearers of value, then I propose that our value is no exception. I explore a proposal according to which our value is explained through relations of interdependence, as when we benefit others by being part or constitutive of relationships with them as daughters, or teachers, or friends. 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, lives that are of value because they are good for others, and most basically, good for the people whose lives they are. 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. In taking up foundational questions about metaphysical grounding and normativity, the project reflects my contention that we cannot understand the value of humanity without thinking about the nature of value in general.

Michele Theunissen:
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1994