Skip to main content

What is the Source of Human Value? The foundations of morality and what this means for the value of human beings

Do we matter? The assumption that humans are valuable pervades our thought. Human rights, political ideologies, and perhaps morality itself, hinge on this assumption. But how can we account for this? We must explore the foundations of morality to answer this question. That is, we must explore what it is that justifies moral claims, what it means to say that one has a moral obligation. The question is not just whether one is justified in believing that humans are valuable, but whether humans are valuable in some objective sense. I compare two theories; moral realism argues that value is 'out there'. Some things have inherent value, including, perhaps, humans. What we must do is discover this. Constructivists argue that morality, like time, is a construct, but an important one. Value only makes sense within the human perspective. Without humans (or animals) nothing is valuable. This project examines Christine Korsgaard's theory as an example of constructivism and concludes that whilst both accounts face problems, they are promising, and moral nihilism looks unattractive. What future philosophers must do is counter the problems the theories face in order to support the conclusion that we are obliged to respect the value of humans.


Final Report - Part 2


This video synthesises highlights from the Philosophers' Question Time, funded by this project, on the question 'Are humans valuable?'

The first part of the film (2:03 to 17:39 minutes) looks at the view of various philosophers on the question: are humans valuable? Roger Crisp from Oxford presents a utilitarian view, Eileen John from Warwick presents the case that our capacity to hold and maintain interest – our aesthetic value – makes us valuable. Jussi Suikkanen from Birmingham asks why we can’t hold a pluralistic picture of value, and Keith Hymans from Warwick challenges the very underpinnings of moral theory.

The second part of the film addresses three specific questions. Is pleasure all that matters? (17:39-21:08) What is value (realism vs constructivism)? (21:08-22:53) And is it morally permissible to eat meat? (22:53-26:51) These were recurrent themes in the audience’s questions, and the answers are revealing and challenge common-sense opinion.