Free Willy in the United States of Personhood

I downloaded this image of a captive dolphin a number of years ago, can't remember where and can't provide attribution: apologies to the copyright-owner.I downloaded this image a number of years ago, can't remember where and can't provide attribution: apologies to the copyright-owner. Actually it's unclear as to whether dolphins were granted legal personhood status, or whether India "merely" banned the use of dolphins in aquatic theme parks. But whatever happened in reality has no bearing on whether cetaceans are or are not persons, or on how they should be treated. This issue is a great example of the relativity of values and the significance of context. The movie, Free Willy, is about the conflict of values and the impact of that conflict on the life of an orca named Willy. Many humans, including myself, believe that cetaceans are as "personable" as humans.
Free will means you are free to choose to do anything that is within your power to do; to think anything that is in your power to think; to experience anything that is within your power to experience. But the most significant freedom of all is the freedom to define your values, relative to the All, relative to Everything and every thing.

That relativity is inescapable, at least for the likes of you and me. You might, for instance, choose diversity as one of your values, except if you were supplying tomatoes to a supermarket, in which case you would want all your tomatoes to be the same size, weight and color. A supplier of tomatoes to a supermarket would prefer conformity to diversity, at least in relation to supplying tomatoes. To echo the "location, location, location" of realtors: context, context, context!

Every person with free will defines their values relative to the whole, to Everything, and relative to the values defined by other persons. Ironically, the reverse is true too: values define persons as much as persons define values. Free will is like a passport or visa issued by the United States of Personhood! But please note that there are many more non-human persons on the planet -- and in the universe -- than there are human persons. Infinity contains many types and kinds of sentient entities with free will.

All values and value-systems are relative: they change over time, and they vary by context. But some values approach absoluteness more so than others. It’s arguable that the values held in common among members of a particular culture, for instance, approach absoluteness more closely than the values held by an individual. I think it’s an hypothesis worth examining, that the greater the number of individuals holding values in common, the closer are those values to absoluteness. And perhaps the quality of the individuals also matters, that is, the higher the quality of an individual or individuals, the closer to absoluteness are the values of that individual or individuals. I don’t want to get into defining what “quality” means in this context, but I will say that in my view it doesn’t mean “intelligence”. In many contexts compassion matters more than intelligence, but let's not go there now.

While some values and some value systems approach absoluteness more than others, the approach is asymptotic, ie it never reaches its destination, but really does get closer and closer, irrespective of the number (quantity) or quality of the value-holders. But that doesn’t mean the approach is an illusion; it means that continuous progress is always made even though the journey never ends.

What about Everything herself, she who holds all values? Are any of the infinite number of values of The Biggest Person There Is, absolute? With one exception, they are not.

The fact that Everything values every thing, means that Everything values nothing. To put it simplistically, if you like all foods, then you have no favourite foods. If you like all types of music, then you have no favourite type of music.

The exception is the value of existence itself, ie, beingness, ontology if you will. The fact that I exist and the fact that you exist means that we share at least one value: existence. In fact, every thing that exists holds the value of existence, including Everything herself. The one and only absolute value, now and for all time, for all things alive and dead*, is existence. Every thing else is relative. Except maybe the second law of thermodynamics!

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* Dead things exist.


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