Since time immemorial, there were many attempts to determine the value of life. During early times, people were being sold as wives, slaves, and other functions. There was even a time wherein people had embraced the idea that there is no value to life at all, particularly during the time of the prevalence of existentialism. In the context of today’s world, some argues that life is now given value by achievements, credentials, or the amount of salary one receives. But are these things qualified to be our measure of the value of life? Or perhaps the more profound inquiry would be: is it even possible to assign value to human life?
On her article on TIME, entitled “What is a Life Worth”, Amanda Ripley had argued that the modern society’s attempt to assign a value to life is based on money. The author had presented instances wherein someone dies while on the job, yet the family does not receive any compensation. It was like the family was expecting that someone pay financially for someone’s death. Although, insurance and compensation is a popular way of placing financial value to someone’s life, it still does not sound right. Money cannot simply be enough to compensate for someone’s life, simply because of the fact that we did not use money to acquire life. Moreover, any amount would not be enough to bring back someone who is already dead. Yet this is the way companies, the government, and the families left behind approach death of a person. (Ripley)
Interestingly, William Shakespeare, arguably the most influential writer of all time, presents a solution for determining the value of life. Through the soliloquy of the regarded best dramatic character of all time, Hamlet, Shakespeare laid down his argument. Hamlet’s soliloquy suggests to us that life is intrinsically full of misfortunes. The character of Hamlet is contemplating suicide, as he views this as the only way to free himself of life’s misfortunes. (Hamlet,Prince of Denmark,Act III,Sc.1)
It seems like both Ripley and Shakespeare are arguing that life can only be given value through death. Moreover, their arguments are focused on the misfortunes of an individual. We know that life is full of misfortunes, but there are still just as many positive points to being alive.
Both pieces are also suggesting that the social status of a person has much to do with the value life. Ripley had explored the question: is there a difference between a poor man and a rich man in terms of the value of life. Shakespeare is also seemingly suggesting the same question as his protagonist, Hamlet, is belonging to a high social status—not to mention he is the prince of Denmark. However saddening to think, both authors maybe irrefutably right. There seem to be a significant difference in the value of life between the average person and the privileged ones. This bitter truth is just observable under the naked eye as it is presented to us on a regular basis by the media. Just look at this, if a soldier dies in war, no one cares except those who know the soldier on a personal level. That reception is in a great opposition to a death of a famous person. We could take for example the death of the rock and roll legend Elvis Presley, when he died, the whole world is practically mourning for his death.
This, I believe, are one of the many consequences of modernity. People of the modern world seem to have a knack for putting a price tag on everything, even life. This materialistic approach to life had made businesses like insurance and funeral services money-generating industries.
But modernity’s attempt to assign value to life are not all on a negative note. It could also be argued that life has never been highly valued as it is treated by the modern world. Nowadays, pro-life industries like fitness, anti-aging, healthy foods, and the likes are gaining popularity. The sad part about this argument is that, again, it could only be afforded by the privileged. If the poor could not afford these pro-life services and products, are they not valuing life? Come to think of it, this just make the ambiguity of the issue of the value of life much worse.
It seems that, encompassing human history, all attempts of the society to assign a value to life have their respective loopholes. It could even be interpreted that the most influential writer of all time, William Shakespeare, is suggesting that we could never find value in life, it could be better if we end it.
In the countless attempts of humanity to assign a value to life, money seems to be a common theme. The society teaches that a good life could only be achieved with a good salary. The society also teaches that the poor could be called the miserable; they are not living a good life. Nevertheless, these money dependent definition utterly fall short in providing a satisfying measure to the value of life.
Of course, Shakespeare’s and the money dictated society’s attempt to assign value to life would always be contested by ethics and morality. The counter argument would always be: life is priceless, placing a price tag on life is simply unethical, immoral, and even inhumane.
It seems like the easiest and agreeable way to assign value to life is in accordance to the word itself. We should just live our lives instead of wasting our time searching for the value of life, which had remained as an unsolvable puzzle. In many respects, life is the only thing we have, if life is taken from us, material things like money would also perish. There should be no more dispute about the value of life. Life should be regarded with the highest value, after all, all of us are only given one chance to experience life.
Ripley, Amanda. What Is A Life Worth? Retrieved 11 June 2008
Shakespeare, William. Edwards, Phillip. Ed.Hamlet the Prince of Denmark. New Cambridge