July 25, 2003
Kassical Values -- Quotations from Chairman Kass
"Nihil tam absurde dici potest, quod non dicatur ab aliquo philosophorum." [Nothing can be said that is so absurd that it has not been said by some philosopher.] - Marcus Tullius CiceroGlenn Reynolds (bless his heart) seemed to be attempting the impossible earlier today when he tried to make sense of (President's Council on Bioethics Chairman) Leon Kass. Noting (via Eugene Volokh) that Dr. Kass's 1978 sky-is-falling "fears about in vitro fertilization didn't exactly pan out," Instapundit asks,
So why are we listening to him now on cloning?Well, I am just a mere me!
In logic, I am no more of a "we" than is Kass. And so I cannot promise that I (much less you or we) will make sense out of Leon Kass here. But I do have this really cool, incredibly patient research assistant who has gone to a great deal of trouble to actually sit down and painstakingly read through a book by Leon Kass: Toward A More Natural Science (Free Press Division, MacMillan, 1985). Without Justin's help, tonight's collection would have been impossible, because I assure you that reading through the works of Chairman Kass is not the way I want to spend my evenings. (Alas, poor Justin! I'll tip him well.)
I don't know what to make of this guy who sits in judgment of science and technology and speaks for "us" as Chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics. His ruminations for the most part strike me as, simply, assertions. In fairness, you would have to sit down and read his books in their entirety.
But in fairness, I could say the same thing about Noam Chomsky. But who the hell wants to sit down and read Noam Chomsky OR Leon Kass? Anyway, Glenn Reynolds was right to zero in on the "we" problem -- because Kass has spent a huge amount of of time telling us what "we" are to think. I am assuming that "you" want to know what "we" think, just as much as I do, so I hereby present for you, "The Justin Case Collection of Quotations from Chairman Kass."
Here, then, is what we think (all quotes and page numbers reference Toward A More Natural Science):
"What about the changing mores of marriage, divorce, single parent families and sexual behavior? Do we applaud these changes? Do we want to contribute further to this confusion of thought, identity and practice?" 113
"Our society is dangerously close to losing its grip on the meaning of some fundamental aspects of human existence." 113
"A second mortal danger is contained in the now popular notion that a person has a right over his body, a right that allows him to do what ever he wants to it or with it. Civil libertarians may applaud such a notion, as an arguably logical expansion of the right of privacy, of the right to be free from unwanted or offensive touchings. But for a physician, the idea must be unacceptable." 198
"My approach is deliberately simple, but I hope not thereby simple-minded." 213
"Not every lost cause deserves to lose." 228
"The question, admittedly complex, is whether in opting for abortion a woman is doing injustice to herself as a woman, contradicting her generative nature." 235
"Even in my medical days, well before I acquired philosophical interests in these matters, I found the disappearance of a human life from a human body to be a simply incomprehensible occurrence. For this reason, I always disliked the autopsy room, where confident pathologists gave anatomical or physiological explanations, adequate to their limited purpose, that only increased my bewilderment regarding the questions that most troubled me: what happened to my patient? What was responsible for his extinction?" 279
"Withering is nature's preparation for death, for the one who dies and for the ones who look upon him." 307
"Could longer, healthier life be less satisfying? How could it be, if life is good and death is bad? Perhaps the simple view is in error. Perhaps mortality is not simply an evil, perhaps it is even a blessing -- not only for the welfare of the community, but even for us as individuals." 307
"It seems to be as the poet says: 'we move and ever spend our lives amid the same things, and not by any length of life is any new pleasure hammered out.' " 309 (thus dares Kass characterize the poet Lucretius!)
"The human soul yearns for, longs for, aspires to some condition, some state, some goal toward which our earthly activities are directed but which cannot be attained during earthly life." 312
"….Simply to covet a prolonged lifespan for ourselves is both a sign and a cause of our failure to open ourselves to this -- or any higher purpose. … For the desire to prolong youthfulness is not only a childish desire to eat ones life and keep it; it is also an expression of a childish and narcissistic wish incompatible with devotion to posterity. It seeks an endless present, isolated from anything truly eternal, and severed from any true continuity with past and future. It is in principle hostile to children, because children, those who come after, are those who will take one's place; they are life's answer to mortality, and their presence in one's house is a constant reminder that one no longer belongs to the future generation. One cannot pursue youthfulness of oneself and remain faithful to the spirit and meaning of perpetuation. … If our children are to flower, we need to sow them well and nurture them…. But if they are truly to flower, we must go to seed; we must wither and give ground." 316
"After a while, no matter how healthy we are, no matter how respected and well-placed we are socially, most of us cease to look upon the world with fresh eyes…. In many ways, perhaps in the most profound ways, most of us go to sleep long before our deaths." 317
"We stand most upright when we gladly bow our heads." 348
I'm almost done -- but let me note that while I don't normally allow others do to my work for me, I made an exception here, because I am upgrading to Movable Type pretty soon, and if I get favorable comments on the quality of Justin's research, I might be able to stroke his ego enough to get him to start logging in as a contributor. (He is, unfortunately, very shy, and will have to be dragged into this kicking and screaming.)
Aaahhhh... the best for last!
It's time for dessert!
This final quote I had to find myself, but only after Justin assured me that while it wasn't in the above book it was too good to leave out. Here's Kass on that fiendishly decadent American invention -- the (gasp) ice cream cone:
Worst of all from this point of view are those more uncivilized forms of eating, like licking an ice cream cone... This doglike feeding, if one must engage in it, ought to be kept from public view, where, even if WE feel no shame, others are compelled to witness our shameful behavior."Public gastronomical displays as shameful? And Kass claims to love the ancients? Has he ever heard of Roman banquets? Epicureans? The Bacchanalia?
That's enough for me, folks. I'm outa here! This is scary.
I'll close this nonsense with a quote from Queen Victoria.
"WE are not amused."
posted by Eric on 07.25.03 at 11:24 PM
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