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September 17, 2013 / Congau

Does Society Have Intrinsic Value?

Society is an organism. It consists of parts that are connected together in a more or less well-functioning unity. A society that can contribute to the happiness of its members is a valuable society, but if we disregard this function, does it make sense to speak of society as having an intrinsic value?

A human being is of course also an organism, and it has an intrinsic value. It doesn’t matter whether the person is useful for anything at all, it still has a value. Why?

First we need to be clear about what that word “value” actually means and what we in fact mean when using it. (Like all fashionable words it tends to be overused and easily becomes meaningless.) “Value” indicates that someone wants something. Objects on the money market have a value because some people want to buy them, but what no one wants is valueless. Here there is no intrinsic value. The market decides. A wish must exist in someone’s consciousness to acquire the object, and from that very wish it derives its value. The existence of a consciousness is a prerequisite.

Accordingly a human being has an intrinsic value because obviously it wants its own existence. Human life has a value because at least the person himself wants to live.

Then how about lifeless objects? Natural substances like plants and rocks which don’t possess any consciousness, can they still have an intrinsic value? If so, we will have to imagine the existence of some kind of metaphysical consciousness; a god or some other concept of a superior “will”. What exists in nature is of nature and may be thought to be a part of the general “will” of the universe to preserve itself.

But society? A collective organism has of course no mental consciousness, and since it is a manmade creation, it can hardly be included in some universal “plan”.

What does it matter if a society falls? Well, the people living in it would be disrupted in their lives, so for them of course it has a value, but that’s not what we are talking about. We are asking for its intrinsic value. If society creates little or no happiness for its members, is there any reason to fight for its conservation? Or even if it produces some happiness, is that reason enough to keep the parts which do not contribute to the well-being of the citizens?

The conservative mind would rather want to ignore this question. One often prefers to avoid explaining the rational purpose of various cultural institutions. “We do it because it is our habit and our custom and it was also the way our ancestors did it. That’s just the way it is.” Can a consciously thinking person accept such an answer?

One Comment

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  1. I love Sophie / Sep 17 2013 9:19 am

    Reblogged this on I love Sophie.

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