Open Lifespan as conservatism: a defence of human life as existing value, part 3: particular valuing, the pan-biological argument

In part 1 I introduced 3 kinds of conservative dispositions or attitudes, following G.A. Cohen.

  1. Valuing the valuable -> Particular Valuing
  2. Valuing the valued -> Personal Valuing
  3. Accepting the given

In part 2 I mentioned 4 different arguments in the context of Particular Valuing that can be formulated for the ongoing and unending preservation of individual human lives:

  • The pan-conservative argument: Valuing all actual, existing entities in general,
  • The pan-biological conservative argument: Valuing all actual, existing biological lives in general,
  • The pan-human, weak anthropocentric, conservative argument: Valuing all actual, existing human lives,
  • The ecological diversity argument: Valuing all actual, existing, living instances of ecological diversity.

In part 2 I worked out the first, most general pan-conservative argument in detail.

Today we discuss the more specific pan-biological conservative argument: Valuing all actual, existing biological lives in general.

The argument:

General conservative assumptions

  • Conservatives want to conserve everything that has an intrinsic value. (Particular valuing is a conservative attitude.) 
  • Wanting to conserve physical entities (with intrinsic value) includes (commitment to) developing technologies to do so.

Particular (life) valuing assumptions

  • A particular form of conservatism is pan-biological conservatism which values all actual, existing (intrinsically valuable) biological lives.
  • Individual human lives are existing (intrinsically valuable) biological entities. 

Conclusion: Conservatives want to preserve individual human lives as long as possible and develop particular technologies to do so.

’as long as possible’ entails ‘indefinitely long’.

Corollary: Conservatives endorse preserving human lives indefinitely and (commit themselves to) develop technologies to do so.

With every kind of particular valuing argument the conservative position needs to come up with something that looks like an explanation of valuing the particular entities in questions. Potential counter-arguments challenging the offered explanation might restrict further the scope of the particular kind of particular valuing as a result.

In case of biological organisms and live entities the explanation for intrinsic value is pointing towards life in general as something that (i) grounds every other value and (ii) is behind every actual act of valuing. Please note that here the argument does not restrict lives to human lives only, it states that any kind of life is intrinsically valuable itself, so all the 6 kingdoms of classification of biological organisms, that is plants, animals, protists, fungi, archaebacteria, eubacteria are included.

Let’s understand the difference between the 2 different explanations offered to evaluate the relative strength they play in the pan-biological argument.

(i) (Life is the (source of) value itself) Life in general, as it is instanced and represented by all living entities, can only ground every other value if we accept that without life in this actual world or universe (let’s not go into detailed possible world argumentation here) there’s no intrinsic value whatsoever. It is the emergence of life throughout the history of the universe that dates back the existence of entities with intrinsic value.

For some it might seem problematic that entities with intrinsic value have a birth date, and as such a date of expiry, for how can instances valuable in themselves be generated out of things or processes without such intrinsic value. 

But ‘intrinsic value’ is a property, not the the actual instance or entity so these kinds of ‘creatio ex nihilo’ metaphysical/ontological arguments do not apply.

By restricting instances of intrinsic value to biological entities as the source and originating point of this type of value we might be running into issues with recognising other physical, but non-biological entities as having intrinsic value. For instance, should we refrain ourselves acknowledging human artwork or buildings having intrinsic values under the spell of the pan-biological conservative argument?

The answer is no, and there’s no tension here between different sources of intrinsic value.

If life in general is something that grounds every other value, it can include all the products made by all those biological entities, hence the products of human culture too, or a termite nest. We did not specify further the ‘grounding’ relation – it’s a famously blurry one – so it is used in a broad sense that covers this derivative case of intrinsic value creation. 

(ii) (Life as the valuer) Life in general, as it is instanced and represented by all living entities, is behind every actual act of valuing.

Here a counter-argument helps to specify the statement further. It might very well be, that the particular valuer is always a living organism, but certainly not all of the organisms across the 6 kingdoms. Protists, fungi, archaebacteria, eubacteria and plants are not really in a position to value things according to our current biological understanding. But this is open for debate in the light of new evidence. On the other hand some animals perhaps, most notably the ones belonging to the species of Homo Sapiens definitely can do the valuing.

Without going into details of what kind of neurobiological complexity is required to enable valuing as a cognitive activity we might replace ‘all’ by ‘some’ in (ii) and say (Life as the valuer) Life, as it is instanced and represented by some living entities, is behind every actual act of valuing.

In a way this point is a variant and less or non-anthropocentric framing of the one, stated by the SEP entry on Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Value as the following: ‘Intrinsic value has traditionally been thought to lie at the heart of ethics.’

But here we must leave the level of the general pan-biological conservative argument and we will discuss the pan-human, weak anthropocentric, conservative argument in the next instalment of our Open Lifespan as conservatism study.