I measure it by their behavior as well. Considering that this is all about value, the logical question is: "where's the market?" If there were a market for human lives -- even a black market -- that would convince me that people value their lives at something less than infinity. But there isn't.
Yes there is, although I will grant you that there is no one market where the tradeoff happens explicitly. That being said, there are
differentials between different sectors of the labor- and product markets through which people trade off lives for money implicitly. For a semi-fictional but instructive example, you can look at the wage difference between lion tamers and rabbit tamers, compare it with the risk difference between getting eaten by a lion and getting eaten by a rabbit, and deduce an implied value of a human life by dividing one into the other.
statistical research, the idea is similar, but the execution is more complicated because jobs differ in more ways than just their risk to workers' lives. But you can still work out a price per life by running a multiple-regression analysis and looking at the coefficient of the deadly-risk variable for determining differences in market wages. I will stop here because actually running
such a regression is tedious and lies outside the scope of Debra's thread. I'll just leave you with a link to this peer-reviewed paper
(PDF), which has
run such an analysis and finds that in America, the value of a human life lies somewhere between $4 million and $9 million. This is consistent with the $5 million I came up with earler.
In any event, in calculating a human's life by how they safeguard their lives, you're measuring the wrong thing. You're not measuring value, you're measuring risk.
No, you're measuring people's willingness to take
risk in exchange for offsetting benefits. For example, if we offer someone a game of Russian roulette with one bullet in a ten-chamber revolver, and he is willing to take it for a reward of a million dollars but not of one hundred thousand, we can interpret his behavior as him valuing his own life at more than a million but less than ten million dollars. How is this interpretation unsound?
And people are extraordinarily bad at evaluating risk.
Maybe so, but the question was whether people place an infinite or a finite value on their own lives. So let me ask you: Do people know that overeating, smoking, base-jumping and so forth pose any
risk to their lives at all? Are they taking at least some
of these risks willingly nevertheless? As long as we can stipulate that the answer to both these questions is "yes", that's enough to decide that the value people place on their own lives is finite rather than infinite. The incompetence you attribute to people might lead them to choose the wrong finite value over the right finite value, but not a finite value over an infinite one.
joefromchicago wrote: Thomas wrote:
In the conventional Utilitarian calculus, your question implies a distinction without a difference. Society's valuation is simply the sum of all individuals' valuations.
Not so. Society's valuation is the sum of all individuals' valuations except for the individual whose life is being valued
This sounds absurd to me. Can you give me a link to utilitarians who actually said that?
Show me a market where people are buying and selling human lives at $10 million, and I'll be prepared to agree with you.
I already mentioned the labor market. Similar effects can be derived from product markets. You ask, "at what discount do risky products have to sell until consumers become indifferent between buying them and buying safer products?" Then you run your multiple regression (see above), and derive the implied value of life from the risk coefficient.