Where have all the flowers gone?


Long time Kass-ing, I guess...

But here's another Kass quote which will not go away:

"Could the beauty of flowers depend on the fact that they will soon wither? . . . How deeply could one deathless ‘human’ being love another?"
Is love conditioned upon death? I thought love was theoretically "eternal."

But I want to allow Kass as much latitude as possible -- and I do mean latitude, because in Chicago the flower season is short. Maybe even brutishly short. Californians, on the other hand, do not see the seasons quite the same way, and I'd be willing to bet are not as inclined to define the beauty of flowers based on their mortality.

Besides, I see a logical error in identifying mortality with flowers in order to "beautify" death. Plenty of ugly things also die, yet Kass would not cite them as arguments in favor of the beauty of mortality. Or would he? Guys like Kass are often inclined to factor anything that happens as favoring their arguments, so perhaps the death of more obnoxious life forms is also an argument in favor of mortality.

(I suspect he uses flowers as a selling point because they invoke a more predictable emotional response than say, the death of plague-infected rats.)

Continuing the Kass logic, however, let us try for a moment to imagine what an awful world it would be if flowers never died! Why, there'd be so many flowers, no one would think they were beautiful, right? (Tell that to the breeders of perrenial orchids!) Great works of art are not said to be mortal. Would, say, the Mona Lisa or the Pieta be "improved" if some nutcase like Laszlo Toth managed to destroy them? I can't see how.

The whole notion of placing limits on things by invoking nature and the ancients is problematic at best, because there are always other ways of seeing the same ideas.

Perhaps Mao knew what he was thinking when he announced, "Let a hundred flowers bloom!"

Maybe we need some slogans to really get this "mortal conservative" movement of neo-nihilism going....


All flowers must die!

Death is beautiful!

Immortality = immorality!

All good things must come to an end!

(And so on.....)

posted by Eric on 03.06.04 at 03:02 PM


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Where have all the flowers gone?:

» Life is a good thing from Oddly Normal
Too much of a good thing is bad. Therefore living too long is bad. Yes, it's Leon Kass again, and Classical Values is all over him. [Read More]
Tracked on March 7, 2004 4:09 PM


I think you understate Kass's position. Finitude of life is one thing, although I personally find it hard to even imagine a litereally infinite life, let alone pass ethical judgement on such a concept. But Kass not only opposes literally infinite life, but even finite extenstions:

The pursuit of perfect bodies and further life extension will deflect us from realizing more fully the aspirations to which our lives naturally point, from living well rather than merely staying alive.

So not only is the difference-in-kind of infinite life anathema, even, say, acheieving a mean life span of 100 years is ethically suspect. I find this much more disturbing -- I wonder if he thinks human love would be attenuated over such long but finite lives -- I suspect so. Further, literally infinite life is probably not in the cards, but living a few centuries might actually be a practical possiblity, so Kass's "naturalist" objections to it might have pragmatic impact, a thought I, and likely you, find profoundly disquieting.

In any event, I quite enjoy your writing. Thanks!

Oddly Normal   ·  March 7, 2004 12:58 PM

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