(This completely slipped by me, but I stumbled upon our thread yesterday and thought we might continue the discussion. My apologies for the 6-month lag!)
Great response, Micah. Thanks for taking the time.
I originally wondered about your initial point: “Life is, after all, the most valuable thing in this universe”. To which you responded that, “value is something ascribed by beings like ourselves. We are value-ascribing beings.”
My initial curiosity was whether the designation of sentient life as the most valuable thing in the world could be problematically anthropocentric.
It seems that the main point of debate is the definition of value; what it is, where it comes from, and what the ideal form of “value” is. You imply value is a human construct, or at least a construct of “beings like us”. And I agree that this is certainly the popular conception of value, but I wonder if that might not be the root of many issues we face.
Specifically, if value has no intrinsic correlate beyond human constructs, and we are value-ascribing beings, then there’s certainly no uniform notion of value, not even human life (evidenced by the countless groups who do not value human life as such, but only human life that they deem valuable. Racists, anti-semites, and so on). Value becomes entirely subjective, and seemingly irreconcilable. A projection of arbitrary ethics. While I would like to agree that as a species we could unearth some basic commonalities upon which we could subjectively agree and construct values/ethics, I feel that doing so would require a radically different approach than the anthropocentric.
Where to go with this is a tough question, one that I’m actively struggling with. What, then, is valuable if not our subjective designations? One route is to invoke metaphysics. To claim that within a transcendental realm unavailable to human perception, therein lies inherent ‘value’. This, of course, is a rather impotent direction, as if that’s truly the case, there’s nothing humans can do to manifest this value, and it becomes moot.
But I think a fascinating realm is the budding field of contemplatives, scholars, and practitioners who speak of “rationalizing mysticism”. That what is often misconstrued as metaphysics can actually be an empirical insight when approached via contemplative disciplines, what Indian philosophy calls sadhana.
Ultimately, my speculation is that this leads to a theory of value derived from the unconditioned experience of consciousness. While in a sense still subjective, the nature of the subjectivity is radically different (like the difference between 0 and 360 degrees). And when you examine the claims of sages & contemplatives across the ages, those who’ve perhaps tasted this undifferentiated realm of consciousness, there is certainly no more value ascribed to sentient life than to a rock. There is no difference, no qualitative distinction between a human and something else, so how could one possibly be more valuable than another?
This would frame the potential problem with your original conception of value — one of subjective human designation— as being an enforcer of separateness, which actually impedes progress towards that wellspring of primordial value.
This is all, of course, arbitrary word vomit. I make no claims to knowing anything about the true source of value, and certainly don’t mean to denigrate your own (fascinating) position. But I do certainly enjoy wondering about it, and think these kinds of discussions help excavate really interesting questions. Would love to hear what you think!