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Episode Summary

Miroslav Volf and Yale philosopher John Hare discuss the fundamental question behind reopening the economy from COVID-19 lockdown.

How much is a human life worth? What price should society be willing to pay to save a single human life?

Theologian Miroslav Volf and philosopher John Hare (Noah Porter Professor of Philosophical Theology at Yale Divinity School) discuss Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s fundamental question behind reopening the economy from COVID-19 lockdown, “How much is a human life worth?”

  • Why should we go to such great lengths, sacrificing so much, to save a single human life?
  • What about humans gives us dignity?
  • How should we approach the dilemmas posed by incommensurable values, where there’s no agreed upon standard for comparison?
  • How can we better frame the question of the value of human life by observing the life of Jesus?

“My conviction is that human life doesn't have a price. And I take this from the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, who distinguishes between the dignity human life has, and price. And dignity is, he says, incommensurable worth."

"Jesus came to be with us: Emmanuel. And that's what we have lost. We can't be with each other. … I think what we've learned through this is: A good human life is one that has physical contiguity with other humans."

"I was for some years working on the staff of Congress, and public policy decisions often came down to this question of comparing goods. I think a Christian has something to say about this, and it is, Miroslav, part of your work, that you've been thinking about what a good human life is like. One of the ways to look at that is to look at what the life ofJesus was like. And that gives us a sense of what's important, what matters. It doesn't answer all the questions, but it does give us a map, as it were, of how we should think about what is more important and what is less."

Show Notes

  • “Jesus came to be with us and that's what we’ve lost. We can't be with each other”
  • Andrew Cuomo’s decision making about reopening
  • “A human life is priceless” – John Hare
  • John Hare: God and Morality: A Philosophical History
  • John Hare: Why Bother Being Good? The Place of God in the Moral Life
  • John Hare: The Moral Gap, Kantian Ethics, Human Limits, and God's Assistance
  • John Hare: God's Command
  • The financial cost of the ICU, can we put a price on human life?
  • What about humans gives us dignity?
  • Kant and dignity
  • “We fail to see the fundamental distinction between price and dignity”
  • “All things that have intrinsic value, they are all part of human life. They’re what gives human life dignity.”
  • “And when we talk about the dignity of human life, we're not talking only about physical life or physical health. We're talking about the whole constellation of values that make humans human.”
  • We can’t leave some humans out
  • Human goodness and God’s creation
  • “What we’re called toward is a union with God, and that’s a unique love”
  • The call to love and its relationship to dignity
  • Love and the Trinity
  • Are there certain capacities specific to human beings?
  • “My value has not diminished because of my age”
  • What risks should we take when we talk about our physical life?
  • What is the relationship between physicality and dignity?
  • Sometimes it’s worth risking physical life and health for other goods
  • Singing Bach: Hare knowing the base part of the B minor Mass by heart
  • Should we stop signing in choirs? Can we justify the risk for the sake of music?
  • “Singing Bach is what makes us human. It’s what the old theologians would have called perfection”
  • Risk taking and individuality; Christ’s self sacrifice as the example
  • Balance: “Often we speak as though we are balancing the human life against the 30 thousand dollars (of the ICU). But that implies that the two units are commensurable with each other. Dignity is incommensurable. A human life is not worth any amount of money”
  • But do we rank goods as a society anyway?
  • This physical life is a necessary condition for all the other human goods
  • “The good human life is one that has physical contiguity with other humans, the body that He gave to us”
  • “Each human life is worth His death, He died for each one of us. We know what value He placed on our lives”

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