Immanuel Kant argued that everything in the world has either price or dignity. The difference is that things with price can be substituted for each other whenever their value is equivalent. Dignity, on the other hand, is always unique to the individual that has it; the value of these individuals can never be replaced with anything else. Things have price; people have dignity. How does this fit with the notions of intrinsic and instrumental value?
What consequences does this distinction have for the ethical choices we make in everyday life? Kant held that this provides a rational philosophical basis for morality, under which we should treat people as ends in themselves and never as means to some other end. Does this approach help us to understand the different roles played by scientific thinking and the humanities?
Science and the Humanities
Much of modern science can be characterized as the slow but steady recognition that human beings do not occupy a uniquely privileged position in the natural world. Nicolaus Copernicus and Johannes Kepler showed that the Earth is not the center of the universe. Sir Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle identified natural processes that generate natural phenomena without regard for human concerns. And Charles Darwin established that our very existence as a species is the result of an ongoing process that began long before our appearance, and will continue long after we are gone.
What has this progressive displacement of any claim to human centrality or superiority done for our sense of the meaning of our lives and culture? How can the humanities interpret human significance in the face of such facts?
Review the posts of your classmates and respond to at least two of them.