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What is the Value of a Human Being? By Ivan Frimmel

What is the Value of a Human Being? Are we all equal or unequal?
By Ivan Frimmel© 2002 Cellphone: 082-454-0311

This paper was born out of my frustration with the terrible cognitive and emotive confusion I still hear frequently expressed on our radio (by many presenters and callers) and read in our press regarding the subject of human value, worth and equality – and for the purpose of helping us all in our thinking, talking and attitudes towards each other, regarding this issue. Some people maintain doggedly that we are all equal, in all respects – others that we are not; some say we are equal in some respects but not in other respects – and nobody that I know came to our rescue yet to clarify and simplify the issue satisfactorily, and to make it clear in what respect/s we are all equal and unequal. Although the paper took me only one day to write, it is the result of an idea that started germinating by something Jon Qwellane said on Radio 702 a few years ago – just a simple question about equality among people – a question that neither he nor any listener including myself could satisfactorily answer then. I hereby express my thanks to all those Radio 702 presenters and callers who stimulated and kept my thinking about the subject active and developing (on and off, besides many other ideas I have been occupying my mind with) in the past few years, e.g. Jon Qwellane, Kate Turkington, Dr D, Nick Ericsson, Peter Ndoro, Chris V, Mark Chase, etc., and to the authors whose books on the subject I read, especially the philosopher Ayn Rand. But I also hope that you will appreciate and give some credit to my own creative efforts in simplifying (hopefully not oversimplifying) and clarifying this complex subject matter in the clear and fairly concise way I did herein. If you don’t have the time to read the whole paper, go straight to the Conclusion at the end. Your comments, criticism, corrections and suggestions for improvement will be greatly appreciated. If you have any helpful short papers on this subject, please e-mail them to me.

1. What is Value?
Value is that which one may act to gain or keep; disvalue is that for which one has no desire, that which one may wish to avoid, discard, or totally eliminate as undesirable, unimportant, useless, bad, evil… Value of a thing is a measure of its desirability, importance, usefulness, goodness, beauty, rightness, or worth to oneself or to the person doing the evaluation, usually expressed in monetary units or in some other subjective (e.g. abstract, emotional, poetic) terms. In this paper I use value and worth as synonyms.

2. The Value of Things
Economics teaches that each thing or commodity (a thing that can be traded) can have at least three basic values: a) cost value: the total cost of the materials, labour, transport and overheads that went into its production; b) resale value

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in a free-market economy: the value as determined by the market supply and demand; i.e. the price or value of each commodity will be determined by what a buyer is prepared to pay and the seller prepared to accept for it at the point of sale; in a state-controlled economy or in a monopoly situation: a price established and dictated by the state departments (i.e. trade boards) or monopoly;

c) sentimental value: the value a seller or buyer attaches to the object for sentimental reasons. The production of an item can be done in stages, each stage adding-on some value to the cost of the item, which will, after including the seller’s profit, make-up its final value, or selling price. The cost of repairs and maintenance of an item throughout its life will add to its value and its aging, deterioration, wear and tear, etc. to its devaluation or depreciation. So, to determine the current monetary value of a commodity is usually fairly easy. For one who follows the market trends, it is also possible to predict (with varying degrees of accuracy) the estimated future value of a commodity. Material things as such have neither value nor disvalue (i.e. they don’t have an intrinsic value) in themselves – they acquire value or disvalue in relationship to a living human being, to the “evaluator” (e.g. the owner, collector, buyer or seller).

3. The Two Values of Human Beings: Intrinsic & Extrinsic

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What is the Value of a Human Being? By Ivan Frimmel Because human beings generally don’t see themselves as things, objects, utilities or commodities (even though they are often treated as such: in a capitalist economy as means of production; in many interpersonal relationships as utilities to fulfil each others needs, etc.) the determination of the value of a human being is much more complex, but not impossible. All human beings are said to a) have an intrinsic value, and b) acquire an extrinsic, instrumental, add-on value (or disvalue) in their life.

4. Total Value of a Human Being
In my opinion, the Total Value (TV) of an individual is the SUM of one’s a) Intrinsic Value (IV) and b) Extrinsic Value (EV)

TV = IV + EV
Depending on the purpose of the exercise, this formula can be easily modified, for example to reflect only one’s:

Total Current Value TVc = IV + EVc Total Past Value TVp = IV + EVp Total Future Potential Value TVf = IV + EVf
and any other permutations thereof.

5. Two Ways of Expressing the Value of a Human Being
It is also important to remember that one’s value or worth can be

expressed in two ways: i) • • in monetary terms: for example, as a value (price) one would put on one’s own life, in one’s own estimate; other people would pay to save (or take?) one’s life.

ii) in non-monetary (abstract, emotional, poetic) terms: as an estimate of the desirability, usefulness, importance or merit (real or imagined)… of the valued person to the person making the evaluation.

subjective or objective; a subjective evaluation may be either identical, very close to or far removed from the results an objective evaluation would bring, however difficult such objectivity (and objective evaluation) may be.

6. Intrinsic Value of a Human Being
Absolute or intrinsic value of an individual is a term defined in

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humanistic philosophy, ethics and atheism as the intrinsic value each individual has as a human being per se, not as means towards an end, but as an end for it’s own sake. religion and metaphysics as the value or worth o of our innermost and immaterial being, our essence, Self, Spirit, Soul;


an all-knowing, all-loving and all-forgiving God would (or does) allegedly see in each and every one of us through His all-merciful eyes ─ the way we actually are (or supposed to be?) as Pure Spirit, Soul, Atman ─ definitely NOT the worth of our (polluted?) bodies, (perverted?) minds & (sinful?) ways.

Intrinsic value or worth of a human being, however difficult (if not impossible) it is to quantify, is said to be the SAME:

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for the individual o through his or her life and o after his/her death; for all individuals, irrespective of their race, nationality, age, education, profession, health, behavior, relationship to the evaluator, usefulness for someone or contribution to the society as a saleable commodity, source of income, or means of production…

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What is the Value of a Human Being? By Ivan Frimmel

Intrinsic value (IV) of each individual can also be expressed as

IV = TV - EV
i.e. as the value that is left after subtracting all external, material, utilitarian, instrumental, add-on values (EV) from an individual’s total value (TV). It should be clear from the foregoing • how the whole issue of total human worth (and the answer to the question In what sense are we all equal?) depends entirely on the Intrinsic Value of an individual;

how the determination of Intrinsic Value depends entirely on the perennial philosophical and metaphysical questions: Who or what is one intrinsically, in essence? Who is an individual, stripped of all external, material and mental components? or Who am I, really, in essence?; how difficult it would be for anyone to

o o o

come-up with universally acceptable answers to the above questions; establish and prove the existence, reality or nature of such an intrinsic inner essence, quality or entity; and then, even if it is proven as real & existing, then quantify the value of such an essence, quality or entity in any measurable terms, other than by saying that “its” worth is: immeasurable or inexpressible INFINITE or NIL.

But whether the existence of such intrinsic essence is • proven or just speculated and postulated as being real and existing;

• asserted as having NIL or INFINITE or some other INEXPRESSIBLE value; it is widely held and maintained nowadays that such intrinsic human essence • •
EXISTS and that it is EQUAL for all people (and perhaps same in life - and after death - of an individual?).

It is obvious that it is only by accepting the foregoing highly abstract, speculative, and still widely debated philosophical and political assertions about the intrinsic value of each human being that the Human Rights Charter, our current South African Constitution and laws came into being, tacitly concluding that since WE ARE ALL INTRINSICALLY (IN ESSENCE) EQUAL

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we all deserve and get equal treatment before the secular law; and we must not unfairly discriminate against each other (there is a contradiction involved herein: the mere possibility that we could discriminate fairly or unfairly implies that INEQUALITY is real).

This led many people to erroneously believe and unthinkingly preach that we are now ALL EQUAL in each and every sense: intrinsically & extrinsically; it is now illegal to DISCRIMINATE at all, however fairly, for example o between a saint and a criminal; o a moron and a genius; o an industrialist employing thousands of people in his factory and a lazy, unqualified, unemployed and unemployable bum, and even fair and objective discrimination (the ability of all intelligent people to tell similarities and differences between people, things and concepts) became a “dirty word” in South Africa.

7. Extrinsic Value of a Human Being
In addition to our allegedly equal & constant intrinsic value as human beings, each individual acquires in life an extrinsic (instrumental, add-on) value: individual as a means for some end or purpose, for oneself, for someone else, or for the whole society, e.g. as a breadwinner, employee, business partner, customer, husband, lover, friend, father, taxpayer, etc. This extrinsic value CAN be established more-or-less easily (however arbitrarily, imprecisely and impermanently) by taking into consideration many different contributing factors that will make the extrinsic value of each individual different, and correspondingly affect his or her Total Value (or worth). a) How to Establish the Extrinsic Value? When we try to establish the extrinsic value of a person (or an object), we must first ask these two important questions: Value for Whom? and Value for What Purpose? i) Value for whom? The extrinsic value of an individual would obviously vary if the “evaluator” is • oneself; • one’s loved ones or fans; • one’s adversaries; • a criminal gang;

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What is the Value of a Human Being? By Ivan Frimmel • • disinterested strangers (e.g. life or disability insurance actuaries or assessors); society at large...

ii) Value as what / for what purpose?

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As a carcass? As a bag of meat and bones? Pulverized into a fertilizer? (Maybe R 100); As a provider for the family? (Good value before, lousy recently, perhaps better after death, when the insurance policy payout is received…); As a head of a large corporation? (Great value for the family; even better for the girlfriend; poor value for the shareholders; lousy tipper to the waitresses, good son, etc.); As a homeless, noisy, unemployed and unemployable drunk bum on a park bench? (Maybe of some value to his family and friends, or some Good Samaritan or social worker who may wish to help him; nuisance and non-value to the neighbors; non-value or disvalue to the society);

As a criminal? (Danger and disvalue to the society, if his upkeep and rehabilitation must be subsidized by the society for years)… The extrinsic value or worth of any given individual will in life be: o DIFFERENT from individual to individual; o FLUCTUATING throughout the individual’s life-span (depending on the situation, purpose of the evaluation and on the motives and skills of the evaluator); upon death: o GAIN or LOSE value in the eyes of others.

8. Conclusion
Your answers to this paper’s title questions will start with answering the philosophical question/s below first. The poet, novelist or musician in you can provide the rest of the answer in poetic and emotional terms and the actuary or accountant in monetary units. The politician or preacher in you may manipulate these cognitive tools to suit all kinds of noble or ignoble purposes, but I sincerely hope it will only be used for good purposes, with only good intentions in mind.


Is there an Inner Essence in each individual?
Is it worth NOTHING (zero worth)?


Then Individual’s Total Value is his (variable and unequal) Extrinsic Value only

if IV = 0
Is its value expressible in any measurable finite units? DEFINITELY NO Is its value inexpressible or immeasurable? YES

∴ TV = 0 + EV = EV
If Individual’s Intrinsic Value is inexpressible and immeasurable, then only EV is quantifiable, and thenTotal Value is unknown

if IV = ?

∴ TV = ? + EV = ?
Is its value INFINITE (or Absolute)? YES
(this allows for the possibility of expressing human worth only in some vague poetic terms)

Questions: 1. What is the Value of a Human Being? 2. Are we all equal or unequal? Possible Answers:

Then Individual’s Total Value is INFINITE or ABSOLUTE

if IV = ∞

∴ TV

= ∞ + EV =

and only EV is quantifiable


Since each individual’s Intrinsic (and Total) Value is INFINITE (or Absolute), and since in Infinity (or in the Absolute) there is no inequality among parts of the Whole, the Intrinsic and Total Value of each individual can be said to be ABSOLUTE, and thus INFINITELY VALUABLE (or INVALUABLE?) “in itself”, and EQUAL among people. Since only our Extrinsic Value is UNEQUAL we are of UNEQUAL VALUE only Since there is NO Intrinsic Essence at all in any of us, or if there IS it has NO VALUE at all, then the Since our but our Value is INDETERMINATE, IMMEASURABLE or INEXPRESSIBLE, and since externally, IntrinsicTotal Individual Value is INVALUABLE and EQUAL. it is an integral component of the Total Value of an individual, Value. Total Value of each individual IS equivalent to his or her Extrinsic then the Total Value of each Notice the similarity (almost identity) between or INEXPRESSIBLE. individual is also INDETERMINATE, IMMEASURABLEAnswers 1 & 2 Since our Total Value consists solely of our Extrinsic Value, and the Extrinsic Value is UNEQUAL Since only our Extrinsicare NOT EQUAL to each other, only similar in some (and different in other) among people, then we Value is UNEQUAL we are of UNEQUAL VALUE only externally, but our Total Individual Value quantifiable aspects. IMMEASURABLE or INEXPRESSIBLE. more-or-less observable and is INDETERMINATE,

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