General Question

whiteliondreams's avatar

If humans value life, what significance does another have for you?

Asked by whiteliondreams (1717points) July 31st, 2012

If a woman is aborting a fetus or an embryo, or a person wishes to commit actual suicide, or a person in chronic pain or with a chronic disease wishes to end with euthanasia, or a person joins the service…many of these similar concepts in relation to the end of life; hence, what is it, most of the time, that keeps people wanting to see these humans do otherwise?

Does this make humans selfish or possibly egoistic? Does wanting someone to live for the sake of their potential mean that you would want to benefit from this potential? Thus, equating to an egoistic agenda or would the person be selfish simply wanting to look out for their best interest for the same reason?

The difference is selfishness does not treat self-interest as a foundation for morality, egoism does.

I asked these questions because I am having a hard time understanding why people are against abortion aside from religious reasons, as well as euthanasia, but meanwhile, no one is concerned that the air is unfit to breathe and the water is unfit to drink. Perhaps we will be purchasing oxygen in a can some day.

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18 Answers

Shippy's avatar

I think the things you suggested as an example are in away quite misrelated. Abortion for one is the ending of a life, normally with one person deciding. Perhaps the father wanted the child, and of course the child itself has no say in the matter at all. So to me that is murder. I know “progressive thinkers” will say, well it gives rights to the women and her body, and I am a woman, but what rights did the unborn child have? And those rights also can harm other people, in the ways I have mentioned above.

With euthanasia I hear you. If I had an illness that only spelt pain for an extended period then death I would choose that option. I would feel that it’s my body and in the process I am not harming any one else. But am I? I know some people have kids, how hurt would they be? Unless they are too all for it, because of a deeper understanding and great emotional maturity and spiritual roundedness.

Suicide? Well, many people get to that state in a high crescendo of emotionality, so their choice at that point is skewed. But again I hear you on this one. To be saved then sent back to the same miserable life that one has? And why do people scurry around whilst the “victim” attempts it, but not before. I have known many people suffer their entire lives because a brother or husband etc killed themselves. They are forever trying to understand where they went wrong. I am not sure this is selfishness. A nice question I feel, but surrounding it are so many people in most instances. He are hurt and wounded by these types of actions.

newtscamander's avatar

I think the reason people wish for others not to abort is that they do not want anyone to think they have the power to decide who lives and who dies. Fear is the biggest motivation here I guess. Some may be worried about the health consequences for the pregnant woman, but this is not the reason why some religions are against it.
When someone is suicidal, we want to prevent his or her suicide out of egoistic reasons mostly, we hope that maybe with a psychotherapy or changes in his or her life, he or she will be happy again and want to stay alive. I think it is next to impossible to accept that someone you know wants to kill himself. We struggle to understand this simply because we are not in the same situation. And this is egoistic of course, to try and convince someone to stay alive merely because it would be so horrible for us to know there was nothing we did that helped.
I find it much easier to understand when people with a horrible illness just want it to end. If we have enough reasons that seem rational to us, we are definitely more likely to see reason. If I was asked to help someone end his life….well, I would be at an end and I would not know what to do, but I believe that if there is truly very little hope for someone to be happy in all his remaining time, this decision is one that is possible to make, even if it is such a huge one. And this is so hard for us because we fear we might regret our decision, so it’s pretty egoistic once again if we decide not to do it. But very understandable. I think everyone should be entitled to decide when he or she wants to die, but if I was close to this person I would surely think differently and try anything to change their mind.
The effect death has on us is just so huge because it is final, and usually we humans like to procrastinate and mistrust life altering experiences. We like to avoid pain and missing someone. No matter what the loss is, mostly we just want everyone we like to stay with us.

minnie19's avatar

It’s all because life has a beautiful side to it and it’s never too late to see it.

CWOTUS's avatar

Your thinking seems muddied to me.

In the first place, I question the thought process that equates “joining the service” with “ending life”. Do you assume that people join the service as a means to commit suicide while being paid for it? Or do you expect that they plan to commit homicide (or genocide if they’re lucky)?

But let’s disregard that, since you’ve provided sufficient real examples: abortion, actual suicide and euthanasia (disregarding from your example for the moment that “euthanasia” is the killing of another, and not oneself).

Why do we want people to live?

We want people to respect our own right to life, obviously. (That is obvious, isn’t it?) For most of us it’s not that we want to “compel” life as it is to “encourage” it, and encourage people to participate fully in it. For most of us I presume (as I know it is for myself) an act of love. I know how much I have enjoyed my own life up to now, and I want to encourage others to get to a similar (or better!) place in their own lives. I see others who have lived longer than I have, sometimes despite real hardship, obstacles and pain, and that encourages me to press on despite the accumulation of loss and pain that I also experience.


(You should also know the definition of the word – especially as Longfellow understood and used it.)

But even apart from all that, how can you blandly assume and assert as you do that selfishness does not treat self-interest as a foundation for morality? What a preposterous notion! Depending on how you understand the word, “selfishness” is a perfect basis for morality. If we accept that we are “more than our bodies”, then our “selves” can extend through other spheres of life aside from our own appetites for food, shelter, sex and so forth. I extend my self through my family, the groups that I’m a part of, and further. (I’m not here to explain my own basis for morality, except to say that we “selfish atheists” – and agnostics – don’t have to define our morals in terms of any of the various religions we’ve rejected, and we can be moral.) When I act “selfishly” (all the time) it is to improve “my life” on (usually) more than one axis of that life. To the degree that one acts in accordance with more than a single axis (such as when we spend time to write things like this on Fluther rather than eat another sandwich or chocolate bar) then the act is “more moral” than simply satisfying a simple craving that satisfies only one’s own body. (That’s grossly simplified, but like I said, I’m not here to write an entire treatise on “morality”.)

And apart from all of that… if you live in a place where the air is unfit to breathe and the water is unfit to drink, then you’re just watching too much television, I think. You really should get out more and… take a breath. (Also, in case you didn’t know it, and I expect that you’re young enough that you really don’t know this, the quality of the air and water in the US and most other developed nations has improved significantly since the 1970s and 80s. Ask most people in Eastern Europe how much their air and water has improved since the fall of Communism and you should get an earful. I expect that even India and China, where your statement is true – now – will also make great changes in the next thirty to forty years or so, given their increasing prosperity and our own history.)

thorninmud's avatar

People struggle to maintain the belief that life is worth living even in the face of suffering. Much of what religion is about is to provide an ideological basis for keeping going. If you begin making exceptions, so that this or that level of hardship makes life not worth living, that undermines the whole notion that life has absolute value, and makes life’s value subjective—open to interpretation. This is a much more ambiguous stance, and we don’t deal well with ambiguity. It opens up the possibility that life may not always be worth living, and that makes suffering more of an existential threat.

So when others, by their actions, choose death over suffering, some will unconsciously take this as a challenge to the underpinnings of their own justification for persevering.

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rojo's avatar

From a personal point of view I find it is selfishness that is the motivational factor. If it is not directly related to me or someone I love it does not bother me except, perhaps, in some abstract sort of way.

Abortion – When presented with a situation where this might have happened, my opinion was to go the abortion route because I felt it would be better for the young mother. My attachment was to her. I had not developed anything other than abstract feelings for the fetus. But that was my opinion, not my call. Others involved said no to it and that was the way it was. It has turned out ok for both mother and child but both had massive support from family. How many times is the exception and not the rule.

Murder – Awful in a societal way but unless it is personal in some way I feel rather detached. 9/11 and Aurora were tragic and the empathy I felt was for the survivors and relatives of the dead and not the dead themselves but overall neither episode emotionally effected me. This does not in any way mean I condone mass or individual murder. I do not because it is not your right to choose who lives and who dies; it is, or should be that persons decision as to when life ends.

Suicide – Is a quality of life issue. If it is not working for you, then you do what is best for you. Why should I have the right to stop you. There are many folks I would not like to see do this but, again, it is a selfish desire of mine to have them around because I enjoy their company or I do not want to see someone else that I love and who is emotionally involved with the potential suicide suffer. I almost said “victim” here but the victims are actually those who are left, not the person who commits suicide.

Euthanasia – Again, a personal choice. I would not want to live in certain circumstanses and I would not want loved ones to suffer more than they can stand just so I can have them around. But it should be their choice not the medical or government or even yours.

Voluntary Military – I do not believe that many people join the military with the intent of dying. Personal choice. If you want to, fine but not for me. I have a young grandson that wants to be a marine (thank you “Call of Duty” and “Halo”) but because he has problems in school, this is probably not going to be an option. This is the only good thing that will come of his educational problems as far as I am concerned because I do not want him fighting to make some rich bastard richer. His mom thinks I am terrible for this but that selfish gene is powerful in me I guess.

Military Draft – Oh, Hell No. I remember this was called “State Sponsored Retroactive Abortion”. and that, for me is a fitting description. The ones who start it and benefit from it do not pay the price and I am not dying for someone I do not know or care about. I also feel that unless I can see your ass, you are in no way leading me so if it is that important then our dear “leaders” need to be out in front otherwise, it is not “that” important is it? Selfish, yes

Self Sacrifice – For someone I love, yes. Why, because I do not want to hurt and knowing they were injured or died when I could have done something would hurt me. Again, selfishness.
For someone I do not know, maybe, hard to know or address each circumstance but there is probably less than a 50/50 chance I would risk my life. Harsh? Yes. Would I feel bad? Probably, for a short time.

As to other quality of life issues such as air and water. I want fresh air and potable water and food free of artificial chemical additives. I’m selfish like that. I do my best as an individual to accomplish what I can.
This is one of the major things that I believe the government should be involved in. They should be there for us as a society regulating those who would pollute our world for their own personal gain.
It is my belief that the main purpose of government is to protect me from you and you from me.
I am not allowed to blow up their factories, why then are they allowed to dump toxic chemicals into my water and carcinogens into my air? Doesn’t seem fair.
The government should be there for the little man against the massive legal and monetary firepower of business, not to supply and support them. I am sorry if your bottom line suffers or that everyone has to pay and extra $0.50 to cover the implementation of safety and pollution regulations but it is worth it to me to keep me heathy.

So, again, from my point of view. Selfishness is the major driving factor life and death situations. Does this help?

whiteliondreams's avatar

@CWOTUS No, when I say join the service, many people assume a member is going to die at war, which is why many a time they are discouraged from enlisting despite it’s “pride” and “glory”.

6 years, UH60 Mechanic, US Army, Aviation, 1 tour Afghanistan OEF 10–11.

flutherother's avatar

John Donne put it this way…...

“Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

wundayatta's avatar

What is the significance of another for me? Well, that really depends on my relationship to them. If they are in my family, and I rely on them, it can be devastating to me to have them die, whether they make that choice or not. But also, I think that if they want to die, it is probably because they are in a great deal of pain, and I, feeling empathy for them, do not wish they to die because I think there are other ways to get rid of the pain. I also think that they can find happiness if they live, but I know they can’t if they die.

Having been interested in suicide, I found it was not because I wanted to die. It was because the pain was overwhelming. I could not imagine it ever ending, and I just couldn’t bear it. Now I know that it can end. That is a big help, or should be, if I’m ever in that much pain again.

This knowledge makes me believe that no one really wants to die. They just want the pain to end.

As to abortion—well, there’s no person there, only a potential person. I have done my fair share of grief for potential people, and I can understand that potential people are as real as real people, and so I understand why some care for them so much. I also understand that if a child isn’t wanted, then it isn’t cared for. Since it’s just a potential being; not a person, yet, I don’t have any special feeling for the actual blob of protoplasm. What matters to me is whether it is wanted or not.

whiteliondreams's avatar


I know they can’t if they die” You only know what you see diminish about death. You know nothing beyond it. However, I like your answers, they seem emotional and rational in what you and I understand to be coherent, inasmuch, that coherency and rationality are distinct enough distinguish who supports what cause or effect based on their experience or logic. Thank you for posting.

Jenniehowell's avatar

I think that any case where one person is attempting to control the decisions in the personal life of another the person attempting to exert their control is fueled by their ego. It is only ego that has a person or group believing that their way/belief is more important/moral/valid etc than that of another.

Of course that is a very generalized statement & there are always exceptions – for instance a child cannot choose for themselves so with regard to abortion or child rearing of course someone else is in control – same with those who are disabled in some way mentally.

In general though, outside of cases where someone cannot make their own decision or where someone is doing some level of harm to another, it really is no business of anyone what a person chooses for themselves & to regulate such things is generally on some level ego fueled & often times hypocritical in addition. It’s unfortunate that in countries that claim to be free (or even those not claiming such things) that people are not actually free & that the things the general public or government attempts to regulate/control are often not so much enabling the freedom of the individual as opposed to the freedom/control of the corporate or the government.

LostInParadise's avatar

At any moment, we do what gives us the greatest pleasure. From this perspective, all our actions are selfish. One way of countering this view is to say that we have the ability to step back from our immediate self-interest and to see ourselves as part of something larger than ourselves. It might be a relationship or country or ecosystem. We are willing to make sacrifices to our well being to promote the welfare of the larger system and to individual members inside of it. Buddhists go so far as to say that the self is an illusion and that our problems stem from getting caught up in it.

wundayatta's avatar

@whiteliondreams If there’s no evidence to suggest a thing is true, my default assumption is that it doesn’t exist. In absence of evidence that life continues in any way after death, my default assumption is that life ends at death. In other words, there is no evidence of any life after death.

I could, of course, imagine all kinds of things that might exist for which there is no evidence. In fact, I imagine such things all the time. But I don’t base any of my behavior on the assumption they actually exist. Most people would probably agree that basing life decisions on the fact that an invisible pink hippopotamus floats in the sky raining down luck on people who recited the alphabet backwards is not very sensible. But you can’t offer a shred of evidence the invisible pink hippo doesn’t exist.

I can think of an infinite number of things in this category—things that I can suggest exist but for which there is no evidence. Life after death, and almost any definition of a God are among those things in this category. I say almost any, because someone could come up with a definition of god that might have supporting evidence, but if they do, that’s most likely something most people would not call a god.

I would argue that I know a lot about what happens when we die. You do, too, if you pay attention to the evidence.

CWOTUS's avatar

@wundayatta, it’s an invisible pink unicorn, damn it. But I forgive your heresy because I love you. So I only want you to burn in hell for half of eternity. Peace.

whiteliondreams's avatar

@LostInParadise So you are pleasure motivated (Utilitarian)? Are you a psychological egoist as well? I do agree about the illusion part. The problem is that illusion means something different to many people and have trouble understanding, yet fathoming the concept of ‘the self’.

@wundayatta That isn’t what I meant and I understand your perspective. What I am saying is, how can you perceive something as not existing simply based on it’s decomposition? Granted, a general definition would suffice; however, consider that it requires a doctor to claim death and not a military medic. Aside from “qualifications” and “authority”, who or what grants the authority when most medicine is empirical and hypothesis? Not to argue that we do rely on the professionalism and expertise of other human beings to live, so to speak, but for arguments sake and for logical and rationality’s sake, who is anyone to say that abortion is murder when actual murderers pay for their freedom in cash or credit? How is the military an exception? Murder is murder, yes? Mind you, I appreciate your perspectives a great deal because they exercise my small brain.

@Jenniehowell I also agree about the egoistic theory. However, have you contemplated the notion further in regards to your interpretation of freedom and America? Have you made that connection? I have trouble putting things into words.

wundayatta's avatar

@whiteliondreams I don’t understand. A live person doesn’t exist because they do nothing. Period. The remains of their body decomposes. That’s the definition of death.

Jenniehowell's avatar

@whiteliondreams not sure exactly what you mean in regards to contemplating my notion further in regard to freedom & America but I have definitely contemplated it out the wazoo. Ha ha

unfortunately it’s a viscious cycle. America is hypocritical because it calls itself free but in fact it is not that on many levels. The only way to call itself free would be literally no regulation, no taxes, no laws etc & in that case we’d be a crazy chaotic jungle. So then one has to make at least one regulation & say that America could be free with one single rule of saying “as long as no harm is done to any individual” but of course then you’re stuck with the fact that the supreme court has basically ruled the corporation as if it were an individual rather than a business & then it gets deeper into a situation where we we would then be forced to define just what we mean by harm – is it purely physical or does property damage count or what about environmental issues & in that case how do property rights harm or not harm others? Would there then be an argument for all out socialism so that everone would be equal? And then whether it be freedom or equality or both one would have to consider how to regulate it all & therefore the viscious cycle begins again while we contemplate how exactly to regulate the concept of freedom & equality therefore regulating exactly how to go about no regulation. A senseless cycle when America could just simply choose to change things from the “land of the free & home of the brave” but the “the land of the privileged victor of manifest destiny & the home of the easily manipulated fear filled ego driven lackin in well rounded education zealot” but all that is off topic a bit so I’m not sure if that’s what you meant by contemplating the freedom in America notion. But I figure we at the least could quit the hypocrisy of calling ourselves free.

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