Richard Stith recognizes that not many individuals would wish for life to be preserved at all costs, as it ought to give a way to other human aspirations, and that people hold other people’s life as inviolable, regardless of whether they have usefulness in achieving their heart desires. Human beings have two intuitions; destroying of human life verses preservation, volubility of life in relation to other things, and sanctity of life and death. He recognizes the desire to separate the two, but, they seek to annihilate the other, and there is no clear line between them. We must therefore develop a method that states clearly the barriers and circumstances to taking of human life. The problem of valuation of human life is that, if it set too low, it is against our moral intuition of preservation of human life, and if we set too high, we have committed ourselves to an impossible task of eliminating death. This problem can be solved by adopting a different attitude of reverence in which sanctity is a component and is often linked to value, but refuted by the author.
He argues that sanctity and value are different, and it is thinking in terms of value that clouds people’s judgment, and moving away from it can make more sense of human life. He argues that value of life is not the reason for prohibition to taking human life, because life is often valued too low, which is not enough to preclude permission to kill, and even if life is infinitely valued, we would not feel killing is forbidden. Most individuals regard killing as wrong because of the value of life; however, it is Richard Stith’s opinion that it is not the only reason to our objection for not killing. He gives examples to situations where the value of life is outweighed by other values, but still people are unwilling to take other people’s lives. Sometimes life is not valued highly as given in his example of a doctor who may not be willing to perform an unusual procedure to keep a patient alive for a short time, yet they would be unwilling to kill people directly, so as to avoid the future scenarios. Another example of where life is not valued as high is where the government is willing to put speed limits, as these would reduce mobility and output that leads to lose of thousands of lives in the road accidents.
He discredits the notion of value of life through giving an example of a culture that does not want children, because of overpopulation and the high cost of living, but once it is born, the idea of killing is out of question, which is in conflict with something that we merely value. He says that if one preferred human beings of a certain kind, then the person should not object to increasing their kind, if even it involved killing others. He further argues that people say they value others because of their uniqueness, but he refutes this, because people are not interested in the unique characteristics like fingerprints and/or facial appearance, but of other’s humanity which would not be enough to make us reluctant to kill, as in the example of twins who are identical in every way, but one is not willing to kill one to save other, therefore, he discredits uniqueness as a reason to make one value others.
Respecting people means more than to value them, because this brings out human beings as persistent and committed to achieving their aims. Virtues are discovered at one time in any individual, and if it earns respect, then it is the attitude needed in the universe. If human beings breed respect in others, then it could be appropriate to even those unworthy. Respect for itself, although very important, is not enough description of our attitude towards life, as it does not prevent killing, but may lead to it. Someone we respect may be an enemy or a friend, and if he is the first then we may seek to destroy him although respectfully.
Reverence is preferred to valuing, as the latter is demeaning. Revering acknowledges a noble characteristic which may be referred to as sanctity. Objects which cannot be revered include; happiness and honor they can neither be respected. We can see other things, for example people, by looking at them from a different perspective than when we are valuing them. Value is neither sufficient nor a component of sanctity, because there may be a relationship between what one reveres and what he values. The revered do not need to have the traits of the respected, and unlike love, it does not to revolve around the individual to make him matter, but it revolves around types like churches and persons, but lets them retain their independence unlike value. Reverence revolves around the sanctity, and maintains the non-violation of others, it is also not dominating; it has sanctity and acknowledges and holds in high regard what it takes as important. Valuing, on the other hand, is dominating and what matters is the increase of what it terms as matters. It seeks to maximize the desired goods and items including human beings and exchanges them at will.
Reverence corrects perception of what is not addressed by valuing, loving and respect of human beings towards killing. Some argue that the sanctity of human life is violated in cases of capital punishments and voluntary euthanasia, but what is clear is that a low value alone cannot destroy the sanctity or create exceptions for reverence to life, as in the examples of the handicapped or lacking highly valued qualities.
Human rights and all interpersonal morality are all obtained from the sanctity for human life. These rights ensure the non-violation of human life. Sanctity alone is not enough to justify a moral system, but it could provide a basis for other moral principles, for example; without sanctity justice is not true, as we cannot be fair to everyone while not letting them exist, the demand for high universal quality of life could lead to killing of those of low quality of life, and finally sanctity lets us understand the meaning of life and have dignity as exemplified in respect for the handicapped.
In my own opinion, just value for life is not an adequate explanation for not taking human life. Value is in conflict with our moral intuitions, for example, the rank we assign life as either too high or too low. This could lead to a situation where human life is taken, for example, of people who are not considered of high value in the society, like beggars and the handicapped. Valuing seeks to maintain all the good values, and therefore dominate the world; it seeks to maximize all the good qualities. This virtue is relevant, as we can start not to merely value others, but to revere as it is not demeaning, noble way of acknowledging people and correct perception unlike love, respect and value.
Respect is an important trait that could do well to our universe, as recognizes the commitment of human beings to achieving their goals and aspirations. Respect is accorded to every individual, as respectable qualities can in one way or the other manifest itself in any individual. The greatest weakness is that respect does not defend human life, as one may kill someone he respects, therefore, it is an important trait, but it alone is not enough; it must be combined with other traits like reverence. It cannot be regarded as an explanation to the reluctance of people to take human life.
Reverence is an attitude which I believe can adequately explain the reluctance of people to kill. It is not dominating and does not emphasis the maximization of valuable traits. Reverence covers the weaknesses of value, love and respect of not being able to explain why people are reluctant to take another people’s lives. Reverence upholds the non-violation of another person’s life, and sets him free as it does not fasten itself around the person. Reference offers a balance between our intuitions of as does not emphasis on preservation of human life. Reverence can offer a solution to emerging issues facing us today, like allowing the capital punishment and voluntary euthanasia because of the balance struck.
Sanctity which is an important part reverence is very important in laying the ground for other moral principles to exist, like justice, dignity for less privileged in the society like the handicapped and ensuring that sanity prevails in the universe. Sanctity demands that there is a non-violation of human life and also letting everyone exist. Justice cannot be deemed to exist, if sanctity does not prevail, in that fairness cannot be administered, if everyone is not let to exist. Another example is where countries are emphasizing on improved standards of living; if sanctity does not prevail then, they could employ crude methods and eliminate the lower class people by mass murders which would not be morally acceptable.
Through sanctity, dignity of life is maintained and we gain deeper meaning of life. Accepting the burden imposed by the handicapped and eventually loving them can only be through sanctity. In a world where the handicapped are a source of financial and emotional burden through the extra attention and care needed by them accepting, and taking pride in the handicapped can only be through sanctity. Finally moving away from the method of valuing life to an attitude of revering is has far more benefits, and is a more rational attitude.