Is every life worth the same?

A person has no market price – and yet their value is often calculated. The philosopher Volker Gerhardt explains in SZ Wissen whether one can make a living out of money.

From a lecture held in 1784 by Immanuel Kant , a remark has been handed down that seems quite monstrous: “The existence of unreasonable things has no value if there is nothing there that can use it.”

Examples include the moon, the earth and the animals. In themselves, they are worthless; their value is that they are of some use.

From this devaluation of all values, according to Kant, only humans are excluded. And not because they are the crown of creation, but because they are free beings who use reason to set their own ends.

For only those who are able to understand what ends are; only man connects a meaning with the talk of ends and values.

It follows that one must preserve the freedom of the individual if one wants to secure values. Freedom is the reason for every possible evaluation. And because that is so, Kant calls man a “purpose in itself,” a “self-purpose,” which must never be used merely as a means.

The monstrousness of this devaluation of all things in the course of an absolute revaluation of man has not prevented that it finds wide recognition:

Whoever declares freedom and equality as “fundamental values” and human dignity as “inviolable”, makes the unconditional self-proclamation of man binding not only for himself but for all.

People who are close to nature can also give their consent to this because man can know and feel how connected he is to other living beings. To treat them with respect is a commandment of respect for their own dignity. And as you know, even religious people can confess to the absolute value of the person. Because he is the prerequisite for a self-responsible belief.

A person has no “market price”

Precisely because there is nothing in the world of things that surpasses the value of the freely responsible person, no matter comes into question, but at best a God as a superior power. But you also have to be free to decide for him. The practical consequence of Kant’s metaphysical insight is that nothing can balance a human life.

A person has no “market price”; it is superior to any object, no matter how precious it may seem. It is also not possible to charge them against esteemed animals, as understandable as it may be, when a stud owner first thinks of his precious horses in case of fire.

Now it is the case that man is not alone in the world. As a social being, he is dependent on his peers in almost all life achievements. In these relationships, no human being is merely a “purpose in itself”, but always also a “means” for given purposes. Any mother, however remote she may be, is a means of giving life to her child. A doctor serves the health of his patients, who in turn serve his livelihood.


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