Wednesday’s Words of WorryWednesday, 9 April, 2008
I’m getting back to the idea of quoting very influential and commonly used quotes for these things, so I’ve gone to Leon Kass and his oft-quoted work “The Wisdom of Repugnance” for this Wednesday’s Words of Worry:
“We are repelled by the prospect of cloning human beings not because of the strangeness or novelty of the undertaking, but because we intuit and feel, immediately and without argument, the violation of things that we rightfully hold dear. Repugnance, here as elsewhere, revolts against the excesses of human willfulness, warning us not to transgress what is unspeakably profound. Indeed, in this age in which everything is held to be permissible so long as it is freely done, in which our given human nature no longer commands respect, in which our bodies are regarded as mere instruments of our autonomous rational wills, repugnance may be the only voice left that speaks up to defend the central core of our humanity. Shallow are the souls that have forgotten how to shudder.” – Kass, L. R. (1997). “THE WISDOM OF REPUGNANCE. (Cover story).” New Republic 216(22): 17-26.
Note especially that Kass uses the phrase “things that we rightfully hold dear”. It is of course obvious that we should protect that which we rightfully hold dear. It must be right to value such a thing, so that thing must truly be valuable. However, Kass provides no evidence at all for us to use repugnance in order to determine which things are right to hold dear and which things are not. Disgust could, after all, just be a result of pure prejudice (such as being disgusted at homosexuality or mixed-race couples). Therefore, repugnance is not helpful at all, because it still requires us to turn to some other means to find out what is right and what is wrong.