Tal Brewer - Abstract for June 2016 Working Group Meeting


I take it as a starting point that human beings have a very distinctive kind of value, such that the loss of a human being is not compensable by the creation or preservation of another human life. What rules out such compensation is that each human being has irreplaceable value. Any account of the value of human beings must make sense, then, of their irreplaceability. Any such account must also make sense of the standing of human beings as beings who can properly claim certain forms of regard and treatment as their due. It must make sense, that is, of the fact that human beings are not merely beings who ought to be treated as bearers of irreplaceable value, but that they are due such treatment, hence that we would not merely do the wrong thing but would wrong them if we did not so treat them. It is often alleged that Aristotelianism cannot make good sense of these features of the value of human beings. Some think it has special difficulty acknowledging the value of those whose natural attributes, upbringing, or afflictions put virtuous character beyond their reach. Others think the eudaimonistic structure of Aristotelianism bars the way to acknowledgment of others as self-standing sources of reasons. Those who raise such concerns often suggest that a broadly Kantian approach to ethics can offer a more illuminating account of the irreplaceability of each moral agent, and of the standing of all agent to claim certain kinds of treatment as their due. I will suggest that these charges should be reversed. It is the Kantian, not the Aristotelian, who faces special and perhaps insuperable difficulties on
this front. I’ll try to set out these difficulties before offering some
speculations on how a broadly Aristotelian approach might do better. In this effort, I will draw upon a Thomistic conception of the relationship between love and the perfection of the full array of ethical virtues.