Human Exceptionalism

Beginning to Receive Comments on the Starbuck’s Cup

I am beginning to receive comments on my cup. Some of the reactions read much more into my quote than I intended, and seem to miss the point I was trying to make. But that’s fine. The point of the “As I See It” program, as it was described to me, is to generate thought and discussions about matters of substance. Human equality would certainly seem to fit the bill. So, here is one note I received–not the only along this vein–and my response. (I will continue to keep to my practice of keeping correspondents anonymous unless I am specifically asked to identify them.)

“Dear Mr. Smith:

Does every human life have equal moral value? This is certainly the position of liberal thinkers like Rawls and Dworkin. It eliminates the idea of desert (as in just deserts), without which society cannot operate a system of justice to protect its members. Is a mugger who lies about idle except when he goes out to raise money by assaulting someone the moral equal of a woman, abandoned by her husband, who struggles to support her children? Should she have resources taken away by the state to afford them to the mugger, because he is of equal moral value and otherwise would not have enough, because he chooses not to work?

Before you decide that assuming the equal moral worth of every person is a good idea, you need think through some of the implications.”

My response:

“I think you mistake my point. I am writing of intrinsic value, e.g., as humans. This does not prevent us from punishing behaviors, etc. Nor does it imply any particular social welfare policy, particularly equality of results. For me it means that as human beings per se, we each matter equally, e.g., none of us should be used as a natural resource, for example, as some wish to do with those diagnosed in PVS. [To which point, I now add, or using condemned prisoners as organ farms, as seems to be happening in China.]

Of course, the reason I wrote the “cup” was so that people could ponder the matter for themselves, as you have. Thanks for writing. WJS”