Getting Started


(This was posted two weeks ago but in the wrong blog…) I have been thinking about something that was mentioned in the “utilitarian” article since I read it yesterday, and again more intensely since class today. I am not convinced that we can actually estimate the value someone places on something. The example that I have been having the most trouble wrapping my head around is if life insurance really shows the value one attributes to his/her life. I didn’t say anything about this in class because a) we were running out of time and b) because I grew up in another country and wasn’t sure I clearly understood how life insurance works here. Now that I’ve done some research, I have confirmed my initial belief that life insurance is NOT a valid estimate of how much someone values one’s own life. I think that someone would pay much less for life insurance (the money that a family is given after a family member’s death) than they would state, if asked, as the estimated amount of money they would value their life for.

Additionally, I would just like to add insight into an answer for the question about empathy posted. I am in a primate behavior class where we observe monkey behavior and do research on whether or not they have consciousness. Empirical data suggests that they do have morality, culture, and theory of mind. I therefore believe that humans, having evolved from these primates, are hard-wired to be empathetic in the same way. Humans without moral consciousness must have a mutation (I mean this from a medical perspective, not in a negative way) that has caused them to act without compassion.

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4 Responses to Getting Started

  1. MDHarbin says:

    First off, life is invaluable! Secondly, insurance companies, more specifically insurance agents, should be described as act utilitarians. According to Snoeyenbos and Humber, if I am an act utilitarian and “my alternatives involve keeping or breaking a promise and keeping it is morally right, then that act is right solely because it produces more utility than breaking the promise. If breaking the promise has more utility than keeping it, no other feature is morally relevant and breaking it is morally right.” This summer while sipping some frozen margaritas by the river in San Marcos, TX, my friend and I began (basically were forced into having) a conversation with an insurance agent from Allstate, who promises to pay you when disaster strikes. The agents destination: tornado victims in the Midwest, his motive: pay out the least amount of money possible to all the helpless victims. How can someone honestly value the damage of a natural disaster or the condition of a (now) homeless family, or place a price on a life? Be a drunk (he had to be at least 10 deep) emotionless act utilitarian, thats how.

    P.S. You study the monkeys? What!? I’ve wanted to take the class but too many pre-reqs

  2. Hey Matt, GREAT story about the insurance man. I think it’s sick that people can act like that, but I guess that, to some, the only social responsibility of a business is indeed only to increase profits. And yes, I study the monkeys in my primate behavior class and do my undergraduate research with the honeybees! But I am a biology major too so I have taken the pre-reqs…it’s pretty sweet.

  3. jwhite17 says:

    I don’t necessarily think that life insurance represents what a person values his or her life at. The purpose of life insurance is to create a safety net in case the unthinkable should happen. If you asked me what I valued my life at I don’t think I could ever give you an answer. If you asked an insurance salesman he could probably generate discounted projected cash flows and give you a number. The purpose of life insurance is not to give money in equal value to your worth (because it is impossible to value the life of an individual), rather it is meant as a way to guarantee a certain level of safety for your dependents. If you look at it in that view it’s actually quite empathetic.

  4. meghancrawford says:

    I agree with the earlier post that we cannot actually estimate the value someone places on life using life insurance, but I do feel we are able to estimate the value someone places on something’s. Life insurance is insurance against the risk of death of the insured person, therefore two parties are involved in the decision of the designated beneficiary. The fact that other individuals are part of the decision made on valuing one’s life does not attribute the actual amount one may put on their life if they were to value it alone. (Even though as said above most of us would never be able to put an actual value on our life.) As for other things in life I feel we are able to estimate somewhat of a value we place on something’s. In life we all have preferences, whether it is what we like to eat, what sports we like the most, or what interests us academically, we are able to clearly separate the things in life that give us the most joy or value and intern with a system could place a numerical value/rank on our preferences.

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