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Michael O'Malley is a senior studying political science at Ohio University.

For what it's Worth: The value of humanity is up for debate

You have been lied to. From childhood, you have been taught that every human life is inherently valuable. This notion was constantly drilled into you by your parents, your religion, your government and your society until you accepted it as gospel and it became a part of you. You have been lied to. Human life is not inherently valuable. 

As an aside it should be noted that I am not saying that murder is OK, but that is an entirely different discussion.

Because slavery is illegal, there is no market mechanism for determining the standard worth of a life. Consequently, value can only be derived from utility, scarcity and possession.

In this sense, utility refers not to the individual benefit derived from living, but rather to the broader societal good that a life may enable. I stake out this position on the basis that the human condition permits an individual to evaluate only the personal utility of his or her own life, as that is the extent of his or her experience. Meaning that any attempt to access the utility which another derives from living would be purely speculative. Therefore, any argument of this sort is without place in this discussion. Given that the vast majority of people will accomplish little in their lives and thereby contribute nothing toward the betterment of mankind, it is not possible to assign an inherent value to human life on these grounds. One may argue that each life endows the individual with the potential to contribute and therefore is valuable, however, the potential for contribution does not a contribution make and actual contribution is a statistical unlikelihood.

Scarcity refers to prevalence of a resource in relation to human demand. There are approximately 7,400,000,000 people living in the world today and an estimated 6 percent or approximately 450,000,000 of those people are unemployed. This can be taken to mean that there are more people living than we know what to do with. Furthermore, human life is eminently replaceable: Just yesterday, there were more than 350,000 babies born, compared to approximately 150,000 deaths. As such it can hardly be argued that human life represents a scarce (and therefore valuable) resource.

The final determinant of value is possession. Possession, as I define it, refers to the value ascribed to an object by its possessor based on the virtue of that possession. In other words, this notion refers to the value people assign to the things they own because they own them. Factors such as sentiment or necessity tend to come into play here. Because lives are non-transferable and possession only matters to the individual possessor, however, each life is only inherently valuable to the individual living it. Because existence ceases at the moment one loses their life, this metric has no value in our evaluation.

One might argue that the loss of life entails the loss of time, which is inherently valuable, and consequently life is valuable as a span of time. Time is only valuable based on how it is used and therefore is worthless as a determinant of value.

It might also be argued that the value of human life may be measured by the effects of its absence on those left behind. However, this effect is variable depending upon the life in question and in some cases this loss is totally unfelt. For example, a suicide truck bomb detonated in Baghdad on July 3, 2016, killing more than 320 people and injuring hundreds more and I would bet you didn’t care. Therefore, this effect is not an indicator of intrinsic value. The same logic can be applied to arguments which ascribe value to life based on external evaluations, such as life insurance or governmental evaluations.

Given these truths, one conclusion is inescapable: your life is only valuable to you and only because you possess it. 

Michael O'Malley is a senior studying political science at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. How do you feel human worth should be measured? Email your thoughts to Michael at

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