I hear people talking about the decay of values; that the value of man is steadily depreciating. But what is the value of man? This is an ancient question challenging philosophers since eternal times.

Diversity of Perspectives

I have been observing people taking different perspectives or a combination of these perspectives to define the value of man, the value of others and the value of one’s own.

Some evaluate the value of a human being by its virtues, by its character, by its way of dealing with fellow human beings or with events in its life, by its contribution to the society or by its personal development.

Most among us evaluate the value of a human by its contribution to our value creation. In this way, there seem to arise large differences between job seekers, managers, housewives, independent entrepreneurs or artists (still to be discovered). Between generalists and specialists, between academics and illiterates. Again others evaluate the assets, income and influence of a human.

Some evaluate the value of a human being even before birth, may them be trisomy 21 or unwanted female foetuses in several cultural areas. Let us shortly stick to health. Do humans (men) with a magnificent beer belly have a lower value than well-toned “I ride my mountain bike at least 100 km per week”?

Yet others examine in their value comparison the gender of a human being, its nationality or skin colour, its age or sexual orientation.

Perspectives of People to the Value of Man

Another popular perspective is to gradually determine the value of a human being between those being deeply rooted in traditions and those being open for new social and technological developments, between political opinions, and between religious beliefs of any kind (anarchists included).

There is even a price tag: a human being as a ware. What is the price for a kidney on the black market, what is the price for a woman and what price do parents have to pay to authorities and institutions for an adopted child?

Finally, we are able to agree on one thing. The Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation states in Article 7: “Human dignity must be respected and protected.” Here, human dignity applies to the legal norm of the value of man and is formulated in an absolute. Martin Ebel notes in his article “What is a human life worth?“: “The human value and dignity are not tied to any personal performances; each and every human is of value by the mere fact being a human.”

Is this Really the Case?

Let us shortly examine some institutions and branches. Our state invests in infrastructure. Decisions need to be taken based on a cost-effectiveness analysis and mostly on the ethics of utilitarianism: the greatest good for the greatest number. Are the costs for building a new traffic light with a pedestrian crossing and a heavy traffic on the road worth paying with regard to prevented deaths? The cost-effectiveness question is raised also in the health care sector, whether a heart surgery for a 78-year-old man is worthwhile. Insurance companies calculate the value of a human being based on different calculation models. One of these models – relatively over-simplified – takes into account, next to age, gender, and health, the value contribution to the overall value creation in form of the wage. In this way the different levels of compensation payments for surviving relatives of disaster victims are designed.

I recollect a survey in the context of self-driving cars. The attendees were asked to solve moral dilemmas in a large number of scenarios. Who should the self-driving car protect in a fatal dangerous situation? The passengers of the car, consisting of a young woman and her grandmother, or the 50-year-old manager, walking across the pedestrian crossing?

Development of the Value of Man

In our history, the value of man has been changing over time in consequence of social, political, and economical developments.

Now we are in the midst of the next major development, the digital change or industry 4.0. The positive paradigm (utopia) for our future assumes that a large amount of workplaces will be automated and lost, but therefore new job profiles and therewith also new workplaces will be created. The negative paradigm (dystopia) foresees a high level of unemployment and a lack of perspectives.

Which impact will the respective development have on the value of man, on our social norms? We have the opportunities and legal framework to actively shape the answer to this question under the awareness of Article 7.