Richard Kraut

in Against Absolute Goodness

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780199844463
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919550 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Moral Theory


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The intrinsic value of human life was cited in a 1990 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court (Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health) as one legitimate basis on which a state can forbid medical personnel from withdrawing life-sustaining support from a patient who has fallen into a persistent vegetative state. According to Justices Rehnquist and Scalia, even when it is contrary to the interests of those who are in this condition to continue to live, a state can legitimately prevent others from letting them die or killing them, because human lives have intrinsic value. As Ronald Dworkin reports their opinions, they held that “it is intrinsically a bad thing when anyone dies deliberately and prematurely.” The lives of human beings “have intrinsic value, even if it is not in their own interests to continue living.” The concept of intrinsic value being employed here is what has been referred to as absolute goodness. To assess the cogency of the reasoning of the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the permissibility of euthanasia, we must decide whether absolute goodness is a reason-giving property.

Keywords: human life; intrinsic value; absolute goodness; Ronald Dworkin; reason-giving property

Chapter.  876 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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