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Do All Humans Have Equal Value?

  1. Jan 27, 2008 #1
    If so, why do we put people in jail? Isn't inequality necessary for a functional justice system or any praise or blame configuration?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 27, 2008 #2


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    You fall into the classic conceptual error of presuming value outside the individual human. Value isn't a tag, it is an intellectual and emotional assessment individuals make. I value my family over strangers and myself over all.

    Now if you wish to evoke a third party a.k.a. God then you may implicitly ask if His value system is egalitarian. This does not appear to be the case in most religious doctrines as they assert a chosen few who are favored either by behavior (worship/obedience) or by ethnic class.

    Now that having been said, we may construct an artificial value system as government policy which "Holds these truth's to be self evident..." which is, to my mind, a compromise between each of us holding ourselves and family above others while acknowledging that others feel the same way and thus in order to be able to act in unison via elected government we agree not to favor one group over the other.

    Otherwise the system will break down into a power struggle between groups and everyone looses the prosperity cooperative peace brings.

    But this "universal equality" is a pragmatic decision and not an actual existent value (unless you posit a deity out there making it so.)

    [PS: I think this answers your other questions if you follow it through.]
  4. Jan 27, 2008 #3
    Inequality isn't necessary for a justice system. It is a hinderance to justice. Ideally the judge and jury are held responsible for upholding the same laws as the accused. It doesn't always work that way in reality because individuals sometimes do assign different values to others and self. Bias is contrary to justice.

    History is a pretty good indicator of what happens when one group of people is viewed as having less value than another. It allows one to rationalize any kind of inhumane act.
  5. Jan 27, 2008 #4
    If society is the deciding entity then society seems to have answered in the negative. In general, humans of high social value receive more goods and glory than the average, those of negative value are put in jail or even executed. That everyone is created equal doesn't imply that everyone remain equal regardless of all actions and circumstances.
  6. Jan 27, 2008 #5
    Everyone's sum total of value may be equal. Some people may be athletic and have some smarts. Others may be very smart and not very athletic. And then there are other people who are very socially confident.
  7. Jan 27, 2008 #6


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    It seems to me that you are using the wrong words, every person on the face of the planet should have equal rights.
    Value on the other hand is dependent on need, a small person that can fit through a small hole, is of more value than a large person.
    By some standards Nelson Mandela is of great value, and yet he spent most of his life in jail.
    A person that can be instructed once and follow through with a task without more help, is more likely to be of more value than someone that has to be instructed many time how to do something.
  8. Jan 27, 2008 #7
    Everyone does not have equal rights or equal value, since we throw some people in jail, while we do not do that to others.
  9. Jan 27, 2008 #8


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    You missed the word "Should"
    And yes there is injustice in our system, as well as around the world
  10. Jan 27, 2008 #9
    I think we should consider the possibility that the justice system exists because we recognize that people haven't been treated equally in a society. Maybe we institute a justice system to try and correct the inequality that we can.

    People shouldn't be allowed to gain at the expense of others. That's why we impose consequences where we can. But I don't know if that means we're devaluing the person we put in jail. It might just mean we're trying to find an equitable solution to whatever that person did.
  11. Jan 27, 2008 #10
    People are not put in jail because they are deemed to have less value. First they must perform some action that is against the laws of that society. Then, if the laws are just, they are put in jail for actions that do not respect the value of others. If people choose to see a criminal as having less value as themselves, and use that to justify illegal actions against that criminal, then they will also be put in jail.

    It all boils down to the golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated.
  12. Jan 27, 2008 #11
    It would be impossible to put anyone in jail if everyone had the same value or rights. When you do something illegal, you are stripped of value and rights and thrown in jail.

    Ergo, if you want to be tortured, you should torture other people. I would argue that it is a morally disgusting rule.
  13. Jan 27, 2008 #12
    Well, as long as both parties consent to being tortured I don't have a moral argument against it. However, I do think that is insane, and probably the result of poor rationalization of harmful events to those individuals in the past. Or it could have a genetic cause. Justice systems have exceptions for cases of people who, by reason of insanity, are incapable of making responsible decisions. An empathetic person would feel sympathy and sadness for these people, not scorn.

    I would argue that a person should lose their rights when they fail to respect the rights of others, but they should not be treated as having less value; though this does seem to be how it works in reality. I think the hope for redemption is important and that is removed if a person is devalued. Maybe this is partly why there is a criminal culture that is very difficult to escape from once one falls into it.

    It's my opinion that choosing to devalue someone else would only devalue the individual that makes that choice. I disagree with your statement that people are stripped of value when they perform an illegal act. I believe that value cannot be taken, only given or received.
  14. Jan 27, 2008 #13
    So you agree that the golden rule presupposes the existence of natural morality?

    Then you cannot possibly justify putting someone in jail, now can you?
  15. Jan 27, 2008 #14
    Yes, I presuppose a natural morality. Please don't draw any conclusions based on that.

    I think it is sometimes necessary to put people in jail, but I do not see being placed in jail as a reduction in the value of a human being.
  16. Jan 27, 2008 #15
    Do you see the death penalty as such a reduction of the victim's value?
  17. Jan 27, 2008 #16


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    (Prepare for a soapbox speech....)

    You are fixating on a logical error. It is perfectly possible to put anyone in jail given you have the power. You are really saying it is impossible within some system of ethics to justify putting someone in jail. But until you clarify what you mean by "the same value or rights" and within what ethical framework you are reasoning you are mistaken.

    For example if you assert they all have the same value and rights and that these are nil then you can justify your actions purely by virtue of your own desire and ability since there are universally no rights to be violated.

    From there then your argument can only be that there are indeed some established rights and values but then you haven't been clear which you mean and again in which context of reasoning you are asserting this "impossibility". If you mean legally skip down a bit. If you mean something else then:

    The question you must answer for yourself and those to whom you would make proclamations is from whence do "rights" and "values" emerge?
    Are they dictates of God?
    Are they empirical facts which can be determined by observation?
    Are they logical necessities which can be argued from self evident postulates? (Side question are there any "self evident postulates?")
    Are they whims of our times?
    Are they pragmatic conventions we have adopted as a society until such time as a better system comes along?
    None of the above?
    Some combination thereof?

    Pick one and see where it leads in terms of resolving your assertion.

    But let me point out that given you can't justify say putting someone in jail given your postulate of equal value, how then do you reconcile that with the case where the person who would be put in jail is found guilty of say holding someone else prisoner? Where are the rights of that person and how do rights have any meaning if there is no "right" to protect people's rights?

    If you see a man raping a woman will you stand there and debate with him? Given no other help is available will you fail to protect the woman for fear of violating the man's rights? Or if you are the woman do you follow the same procedure?

    If not, if you choose to oppose violence with violence then do you assert you have transgressed their rights? If moral or legal necessity requires you to sometimes ignore rights then where is the "right" meaningful as a moral or legal concept?

    You wind up in the same place by the other extreme path. No action is justifiable by virtue of the fact that just breathing is going to interfere with someone's potential "rights". Rights cease to have meaning when they are too universal an absolute to be practically adhered to.

    You'll find that in our (the US and most Western Country's) legal system a "right" is not an inviolate absolute constraint but rather is subject to a procedure of due process through which it can be justly set aside. Conjugate to every right is a corresponding duty that the state has to protect said right and this they can only do by force or threat of force.

    Hence the state can kill, and may indeed be obligated to kill when there is no other available choice, as in say to protect one individual from being murdered by another.

    You don't have the right not to be killed by the state but rather the right not to be murdered by representatives of the state. Murder is a legal definition and your right to life is not violated by the state if the shoot you to keep you from blowing up a building.
    The state did not violate your right to life, you did by putting the state in the position where it was obligated to kill you to protect this same right for others. (Look carefully at the legal argument for felony murder, of which you'd be guilty if your friend is shot by the police while the two of you are say robbing a bank and waving guns around.)

    These rights of which I speak are not inscribed in the firmament by unalterable necessity. They are the law of the land written down as amendments to the Constitution by our legislative process. They are alterable and "alienable" by the same process which writ them.

    Congress and the state legislatures can legally repeal the 13th and 15th amendments and re-institute slavery. Or for that matter they could repeal all of them and amend the constitution so as to grant me absolute power over everyone else. This won't happen but legally it can if the due process of amendment is followed and the legislators vote it so.

    The rights outline in the amendments to the constitution are defined by this process and not by something external to it other than the fact that what rights we choose to establish stem for the aggregate sense of what is right and necessary to live together which the participants in this representative government hold within themselves. (This external input is itself outlined by the Constitution.)

    Where they find this sense of what rights the government should adopt and which rights those should be will vary from individual to individual. But in the end the actual rights are defined by their actualization within the Constitution. They are arbitrary in this sense and subject to modification and change. But once set down you can then deduce via legal argument whether a particular action of the state or of other private individuals is in accordance with or violation of these rights. You'll then see that since imprisoning a convicted felon is legal and constitutional it is not in violation of anyone's "rights".

    [Side note: Some current government actions are unconstitutional, e.g. Amendment X is flagrantly violate by the "Federal" government daily by use of taxes and conditions on block grants back to the states.]

    But nowhere in the constitution is it unlawful to via due process imprison an individual, and if you wish to argue such violates that individuals "rights" then you'll have to euclidiate what you mean by "rights" outside its constitutional and legal meaning.
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2008
  18. Jan 27, 2008 #17


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    I'll admit to only skimming the thread, so maybe I missed someone else saying it(didn't look like it), but this is a really, really simple issue, though the question is asked in a little bit of a confusing way.

    The Declaration of Independence says "all men are created equal..". The Fourteenth Amendment says: "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

    The simple answer to the question in the title is no. You asked about value, but the Constitutional and philosophical issue here isn't about value, it is about rights and treatment under the law based on those rights. The law defines how a person who commits a crime will be treated and the Fourteenth Amendment merely clarifies that everyone who commits a certain crime (under identical circumstances, with identical past records, etc.)will be treated the same way. The law even lays out how it is possible to lose some of your rights by commiting crimes. It's about fairness, not value.

    A person who commits a crime does, indeed, have a lower value than a person who does not.

    Incidentally, as is the case with several Amendments, the first part of the 14th is redundant and unnecessary. Equality under the law is required for the Constitution to be internally consistent. The second clause removed the 3/5 compromise from the Constitution, which was obviously logically inconsistent anyway (you're either a person or you are not).
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2008
  19. Jan 28, 2008 #18
    No one is placed into jail without value because the act is not effortless. It requires energy that a peace officer suspects your actions or intent suffecient enough to satisfy his rule of conduct, the judge will further hear evidence in your defense and at your prosecution, the judge basis his decision on the law writen and decided before hand, you are then convicted and handed to the baliff where you will then begin the process of being placed in jail.

    How is there no value in any of this? Are the officer, the judge and the baliff of no value constituting possible flaw in the system? His value is only in error of those around him who have not committed error.
  20. Jan 28, 2008 #19


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    "value" is a concept from decision theory: if you have to make a decision, you assign values to the different objects, states, happenings... that will reasonably follow from that decision, and a rational decision is when you pick the one that will go for the largest predicted value. You can also weight values with probabilities, if you can only make statistical predictions (or guesses).

    So, when putting someone in jail, or when looking at whether we should have a legal system which can put someone to jail or... we assign values to different concepts (value of a human life, value of the notion of being protected from physical agression, theft...., value of the suffering of being (rightly or wrongly) put in jail, tortured, being executed....), and out of that mix, we decide whether this or that thing is the best to do.
    "we" is moreover just a certain set of decision makers, so it is up to them to assign a list of values to a list of concepts.

    So, for instance, if we decide to put a murderer into jail, we make the tradeoff of the negative value of priving someone of his liberty with the positive tradeoff that doing so will 1) prevent this murderer from committing other murders and 2) inspire other potential murderers to refrain from passing in action. This is because the negative value of priving someone of his liberty is considered less important than the large amount of positive value it has to prevent a lot of murders.
  21. Jan 28, 2008 #20
    No. It is an individual's actions that should determine their social value. Punishments should be based on a person's actions, not their social value. A person who has committed no crime and is sentenced to death does not have lower value. A peaceful protester who is wrongfully arrested does not have lesser value. The fact that a person is convicted and sentenced to some form of punishment does not lower their value. It is the extent to which the criminal's actions harm others that determine their loss of social value.

    My grandmother has been dead for over 20 years, but she still has value to me. Einstein died over 50 years ago but he still has value also. Their actions in life continue to have an effect in the world. The death of an individual does not remove their contributions, or liability, to society. Death does not remove a person's value, nor do all individuals place value similarly. While society may assign positive or negative values to individuals, the manner that an individual chooses to assign values cannot be taken from them without their consent.

    How does the concept of social value apply to people who have not committed any crime? For example, does a homeless man have the same value as a doctor? How their contributions to society, or lack thereof, will be viewed very differently. Would it be any more or less demeaning if I were to spit on each of them? Who gains or loses value in this scenario, and to what extent comparatively? Is it necessary that all individuals remain equal under the law to maintain a relatively unbiased justice system?
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