Today we look at the words inherent and worth in the First Principle. First let us look at them separately.
The Oxford Online Dictionary defines inherent in this way: "Inherent: Existing in something as a permanent, essential, or characteristic attribute."
What does this mean in terms of human relationships with others? No matter the species it means that another individual exists without being defined or judged by another. Instead they have inviolable characteristics with which they come into and leave this world. Experiences, behaviors, and thoughts of themselves or others, do not impact the basic defining characteristics of what it means to be that individual.The Merriam Online Dictionary defines worth as "the value of something measured by its qualities or by the esteem in which it is held." Dictionary.com defines worth in several ways, including, "excellence of character or quality as commanding esteem," and "usefulness or importance, as to the world, to a person, or for a purpose." In all these cases worth is determined by something outside of the individual or species under consideration. It is a value given to one by another.
When we combine inherent with worth, into inherent worth we come up with a strong statement about the existence of individuals. They have immutable value that does not change based on their experiences in their lives, the quality of life they lead, or the judgment of others.
Tom Regan explains inherent worth in terms of the cup analogy (1). Individuals are the cup, and for Unitarian Universalists, let's say chalice. By being a chalice we are saying that individuals come into existence with worth that is not dependent on what might eventually fill the chalice, such as how humans might describe, value, or use them, or the kinds of lives they live. A dog that attacks humans and cats with little provocation might be a different kind of dog from one that rescues mountain climbers or visits people in the hospital. The individual dog's experiences and nature, and how others perceive her, is what we might pour into the chalice to describe this particular dog. But by being a dog, she comes into this world as a sparking gem in the web of life, even though her lived experiences might be described in a range from dark coal to brilliant diamond. There is no bad dog or good dog, all dogs are God's children.
No matter what, inherent worth means one's existence is a luminous chalice, a sign that each life is a beacon to guide us in living a life of reverence, full of beauty and awe. How each fills that chalice and what you do with it will vary, but know that you hold something precious in your hands.
Rev. LoraKim Joyner, DVM
First Principle Project Facilitator