Critique of Halla-aho on human value

Posted by – April 23, 2011

Some comments on Halla-aho’s post.

I don’t think people really mean that there’s some measurable universal value that’s equal between humans when they say eg. “all different, all equal”. Perhaps some do. That Halla-aho sort of forces that interpretation throughout the post could mean that in his opinion other ways of interpreting it are stupid – or I don’t know, maybe he thinks that’s what people really do mean. Or that they don’t even know what the pleasant-sounding words mean, they just like to say them.

Most likely most people intend it as a guide to behaviour: “It’s our responsibility to keep homeless alcoholics from freezing to death!” “Why?” “They are humans! Their lives have value!” In this case human value simply means that if something is a human, you should protect it and make sure it has various things – perhaps behave “as if all humans had equal value”. If this interpretation is roughly correct, the statement “All humans have equal value” strikes me as a pretty poor and ambiguous way to put it. A better way: humans have some value baseline, on which you can pile on other values – utility, personal affection, what have you (I wonder why Halla-aho only listed instrumental values – surely he has to care about something else, else what’s the point of all the procreation and instrumental-value-generation?). But that this value baseline is at the same point for all humans, and you shouldn’t throw that value away.

That Halla-aho didn’t try to seek out this kind of more charitable reading is a little unfortunate, because even if he had sincerely tried to hear what people mean, I think he could have made his point. This is how I would put what I think is his point: sure, we shouldn’t kill or allow anyone to die for no reason, but those people who think everyone’s life really has the same universal value are deluded. They sure don’t behave that way themselves, and the world would be an extremely weird place if we all did. We should accept and admit that we care more about our family members, brain surgeons and other generally useful people that we do about homeless drunks, newspaper columnists and people in war-torn countries far away.

I think that interpretation is fairly uncontroversial. Some hippies and religious people might disagree with it, but I don’t. I really wish Halla-aho didn’t choose interpretations for people’s ideas that make them appear as stupid as possible – it’s impolite, it makes the writer’s message weaker and most importantly of all, it’s a terrible way to find the truth. Then again, Halla-aho is a politician (dirty word!), not a rationalist.

4 Comments on Critique of Halla-aho on human value

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  1. Hanska says:

    Just came here to comment “Great post!”, but the computer said no.


  2. anon says:

    > Then again, Halla-aho is a politician (dirty word!), not a rationalist.

    Well, he is also a politician. As a linguist, of a sort, you … well, maybe not… I saw your:


    “Eventually I figured out how that goes, and also noticed that Finnish is no good for counts that go above 10. Till then most numbers have natural one-syllable abbreviations, but 11 doesn’t. It has 4 syllables, one more than in English.”





    You really should get the hang on the linguistics part of computer linguistics :-) or _language_ technology :-)

    Anyway, I was about to ask you what is not rational about Halla-aho’s linguistic writing when I saw your non-rational handling of counting in Finnish :-)


  3. sam says:

    @anon: Well, yy-toist is two syllables. But you’re correct, what I wrote makes it look like I was saying the best possible abbreviation for it is four syllables, which isn’t the case.


  4. sam says:

    @anon: I changed the post in question to reflect that it’s the unabbreviated “yksitoista” that has 4 syllables. Thanks for the correction!

    In case you’re wondering why I mentioned that at all: it was as an intro to a general musing about syllables/numbers.


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