Fundamental Principles

The Intrinsic Value of Human Life

Does human life have intrinsic value?  Do humans have dignity? Why should we give rights to people? Why should we hold that human beings, as opposed to other beings, are persons with moral worth?  If we cannot answer these questions, then there is no basis for protecting humans or forbidding murder, theft, etc.  If we believe that we have rights and that we deserve respect, than we need to be able to answer these questions.  We need to provide arguments that support the conclusion that human life has intrinsic value.  The Catholic Church has always taught that humans are made in the image and likeness of God and that this is the fundamental reason that human life ought to be respected.  However, it is important to note that secular Philosophers have come to the same conclusion supporting the dignity and value of human life.  Religion is only confirming what we can know from human reason.

We have summarized the various arguments of the intrinsic value of human life into 5 categories:

Political Arguments:  Most political systems and human societies believe in the inherent dignity of human life as evidenced by their laws forbidding the intentional and voluntary killing of innocent human beings.  The only time that societies allow for the killing of its citizens is usually when the one being killed is viewed as not innocent or not fully human.  


Human Nature:  The intrinsic dignity and value of human life flows from the recognition that human beings are rational and free-determining creatures.  Human beings excel all “lower” animals, since they understand their world, reflect on their place in the world, and freely engage in the world.


Soul:  Another popular Western philosophical idea centers on the belief that members of a species have the same essence or form and that form of the human being is the soul.  Evidence for a human soul is the spiritual nature of man.  We have a spiritual dimension than can recognize beauty, justice, love and other abstract and spiritual realities. 


Self-centered:  We recognizes that our own lives are valuable and it would be wrong for someone to harm us.  Consistency demands that we treat others the way we want to be treated.


Equality:  Most people believe in equal human rights, such as equal treatment under the law or equal rights to liberty.  However, this equality cannot be dependent on some characteristic that is not shared by all (such as gender, race, religion, etc.).  What we share equally is a human nature which must serve as the sound basis for attributing equal rights to any subset of human beings providing a basis for equal rights to all human beings.



Since no other right, including the right to property or liberty, can be exercised without the right to life, the right to life is the basis for all other rights and is enjoyed by all human beings.  Philosophers have various reasons for holding that life has an intrinsic value but civilizations throughout the world have built legal codes on that claim.  If this fundamental principle is not believed than human freedom is compromised and societies are weakened.  The fundamental principle of the diginity of human life is the basis and rationale for all other rights.


What is the meaning of suffering from a Christian perspective?

There is no simple solution that does justice to this question.  Ultimately Jesus Christ is the answer to the problem of suffering.  Suffering can be physical, psychological, social, & spiritual.  We recognize that suffering can build character within a person and can "unleash" love from those who care for them.  Suffering can also break the primordial human sin...namely the desire to be God.  Suffering can also be redemptive.  It can reveal our complete dependency on God and shatter our illusion of self-sufficiency.  Through his suffering on a cross, Jesus Christ also won our redemption.  He calls us to participate in the work of redemption by offering up our own suffering for others.  

“In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.”

– Pope John Paul II from his encyclical Salvifici Doloris


Intrinsically Evil Acts:

Intrinsically evil acts are actions that ought never be done regardless of the circumstances.  They are acts that are inherently incompatible with human dignity. (i.e. rape or murder).  Although the severity of intrinsically evil actions can differ, they are still acts that ought never be done. Nothing can make an intrinsically evil act good.


Principle of Double Effect:

This is a principle that governs actions that have both positive and negative effets.

The conditions for this principle are:

1. The act itself is not evil

2. The evil is not a means to a good

3. The evil is not intended as an end

4. There is a proportionate reason for allowing the evil



Intrinsically Evil Acts - actions that ought never be done regardless of the circumstances

"Per se" Good Acts - the kind of acts that are generally always good to do

Morally Neutral Acts - actions that are neither intrinsically evil or "per se" good

Prudential Judgment - judgement that is needed when there is no intrinsically evil act and a variety of good possible choices

Principle of Double Effect - a principle that governs actions that have both positive and negative effets