The spatio-temporal limitations of human existence can be considered a threat to the significance of our lifes. Ronald Dworkin proposes two competing models or metrics for the evaluation of our activities: the impact model and the challenge model. Using the first model involves assessing the contribution that an individual life brings to the objective value in the world, according to agent neutral and global standards. The second model is based on the assertion that our personal events, achievements and experiences can have ethical value even when they have no impact beyond the particularity of the life in which they appear. The assessment in this case is based on agent relative and localized standards. The purpose of the article is an analysis of how the two models solve the problem of the long term significance of our individual lives. If the ethical value of an individual life is the sum of its consequences, then, to the extent that they have no substantial effects on the world as a whole, human lives are threatened by insignificance. In the second case, it depends only on individual performance as a response to those challenges that we consider important for our own existence. This second view provides a more plausible explanation for how our achievements could remain meaningful even on a cosmic scale.
Keywords: Ethical valueimpact modelchallenge modelstandards of evaluationsignificance
We are profoundly and subjectively involved in the search for meaning within our own existences. Given the general and abstract character of our ethical concepts, their active interpretation is essential in order to avoid the risk of impulsive, inconsistent or arbitrary actions. The continuous interpretation of moral responsibility in the particular circumstances of one’s life is also connected to the problem of life’s significance.Because of the diversity of our views on the value of human life, a debate on the significance of our individual achievements implies the ability to assume a point of view that has to be detached from the particular value concepts that define our everyday discourse. Such a perspectivehas practical significance in terms of providing insights into the relevance our normative evaluations of everyday life situations.
In order to assess the meaning horizonof our personal achievements and experiences, we have to consider our activities depending on their extrinsic properties (Kauppinen, 2016, p. 288). Value and non-value predicates are different: a complete description of the predicates of value we use remains a difficult task because of the nature of their descriptive properties (Hartman, 1960, p.191). In this regard, assuming that the nature and properties of value are describable, we can take into consideration the following thought experiment: suppose we know for sure that the world will end andhumanity will vanish without a trace not long after we die. In spite of the diversity of our individual moral convictions this knowledge would affect our attitude throughout the remainder of our life span from the moment we acquire as well as our ability to lead value-laden lives(Scheffler, 2013, pp. 19-20).
If we lose confidence in the long-term significance of our projects, then to what extent dowe still have reason to think are lives are meaningful?
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this article is an analysis of the relationship between the value of our activities assessed according to their extrinsic properties and the long-term significance of our individual lives.
Starting from the premise that the value of human activities depends on their extrinsic properties, Ronald Dworkin proposes two competing models or metrics (Dworkin, 2002, pp. 252-253) for the evaluation of our activities: the
By using the
Given that the generating precondition of the entire debate is the ability to assume a standpoint that remains detached from our own particular situations, the relationship between the value of our activities and their significance appears in two instances. If the value of the consequences that our actions have is
The problem is that the radicalism of such a perspective can lead to doubt regarding the existence of life’s final value. Adopting a detached point of view we implicitly admit that there is nothing capable of conferring a final or absolute character to our goals and most profound values. The contribution that even the most extraordinary person could bring to the objective value in the entire universe remains “indescribably small” (Dworkin, 2002, p. 254).Even if we manage to create something that has instrumental value for all humanity like, for example, a cure for AIDS, its impact is not going to last forever. If we do not accept that human life has intrinsic value, then this objection can be overcome only by proposing a theory of objective value that can withstand indefinitely. For example the aesthetic value of a great work of art cannot be in any way diminished by the fact that, says Dworkin, "it is surrounded by billions of light years of aesthetic nullity"(Dworkin, 2002, p. 254). Because it is independent of time and space it would be a perennial contribution to the objective value in the universe. But can our creations withstand indefinitely given the transience and fragility of human existence? The question is obviously rhetorical and the consequence is the long-term insignificance of any human activity.
Given that that all meaningful lives imply goals and fundamental values which the moral agent judges as possessing final value, the value of our achievements and experiences determined by the quality of our response to those challenges we regard as significant for us, appears in two instances. If it is measured relative to global parameters then their individual value depends on how each other person will react in similar circumstances. If measured relative to local parameters then their individual value does not depend on how each other person will react in similar circumstances. In both cases, if our achievements and experiences are evaluated using the challenge model, then
A meaningful life is possible even if our moral performance in meeting the challenges of our own existence does not depend on substantial projects that may have a long-term or global impact. Assuming that our everyday actions have ethical value, forces us to face the objection of a self-indulgent attitude but allows our judgments on life’s significance to be more applicable and provides a more plausible explanation for how our achievements could become meaningful. If human actions have final value then the existence of humanity could be the most important event in the entire universe even if the vastness of the cosmos makes the existence of every particular human being seem utterly insignificant.
- Dworkin, R. (2002).Sovereign Virtue, The Theory and Practice of Equality. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
- Hartman,S. R. (1960). The Logic of Description and Valuation.The Review of Metaphysics, 14 (2), 191-230.
- Kauppinen, A. (2016). Meaningfulness, G. Fletcher, (Ed.)The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Well-Being. New York: Routledge.
- Nagel, T. (1979), Mortal Questions.New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Scheffler, S. (2013).Death and the Afterlife. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Seachris, J. (2013). The Sub Specie Aeternitatis Perspective and Normative Evaluations of Life’s Meaningfulness: A Closer Look, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 16(3), 605-620.
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30 July 2017
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Rebrean, L. M. (2017). Human Activities In The Universe And Ethical Value Of Life. In A. Sandu, T. Ciulei, & A. Frunza (Eds.), Multidimensional Education and Professional Development: Ethical Values, vol 27. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 429-432). Future Academy. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2017.07.03.51