Repuglican seeks uncircumcised feet

There's an old saying, De gustibus non est disputandum.

(On matters of taste, there can be no dispute.)

But this man does not agree.


Leon Kass thinks taste should be a matter of dispute, and he's gone to great lengths to dispute it -- in many ways, big and small.

A cornerstone of his philosophy is that there's "wisdom" to be found in repugnance:

... repugnance is the emotional expression of deep wisdom, beyond reason's power fully to articulate it.

Justin's last post reminded me of a post I wrote about Chinese footbinding, once considered a very wise thing. Young girls who didn't want to go through the torture were reminded that unbound feet were, well, repulsive:

The beauty of bound feet was a value deeply rooted in the Chinese aesthetic and sexual psyche. Bound feet, and the women who had them, were considered beautiful and highly desirable, and natural, so-called big feet were considered ugly, as were the women who possessed them. To change such deeply held values, the patterns and feelings associated with them had to be inverted. What was beautiful had to be rendered ugly, and what was ugly, beautiful.
(The site compares bound feet to circumcised penises, which, interestingly enough, people in many uncircumcised societies consider as "repugnant" as people in circumcised societies consider the uncircumcised penis.)

And brace yourself, but many wise and enlightened people over the centuries would have considered the idea of doing this to a child to be "repugnant" -- in the extreme:

brace yourself.jpg

As a morbid person, I find myself fascinated by many things ordinarily considered repugnant. I consider repugnance to be a form of emotion, and while I do have emotions, I am not so arrogant as to declare that they are a source of wisdom. Creativity, perhaps. But wisdom to me means being able to see past, and think past, the emotions.

Calling repugnance a form of "wisdom" offends logic and common sense, and substitutes emotion for reason, with demagoguery as a catalyst.

Like a lot of things that pass as "intellectual" these days, it's window dressing on superstition.

UPDATE: (Link and quote added above.)

posted by Eric on 10.22.05 at 07:55 PM


I find that picture repugnant, and it makes me glad I'm not a dentist. Repugnance, disguat, is an interesting emotion. I have written about it in the past. Emotion alone cannot be a guide, that is true. Law cannot be based on repugnance, disgust, or it must be balanced by other considerations of justice. E.g., while I can fully understand the disgust which a gynosexual man might have toward an androsexual man, it is unjust to such men to legislate against them as in, e.g., Leviticus 20:13. Similarly, a man's man would not have the right to legislate against women, whom he finds disgusting.

Attraction and repulsion, desire and disgust -- yet another eternal polarity. I must say that I feel both intensely.

I do not agree that reason and logic alone, drained of emotion, is or can be the source of wisdom. I have long observed that the most lucid thinkers are the most passionate, e.g., Ayn Rand, G. K. Chesterton. In order to reason, you must start with certain premises, and in ethics or morals, these are necessarily value-premises, which cannot be reasoned to, only reasoned from. These necessarily proceed from a basic emotional "sense of life".

I have never been able to tolerate the so-called "reasonable" people whose "reasoning" consists of telling others to calm down and be reasonable, and who never seem to be able to follow, much less make, a coherent argument themselves.

You know what? I've never much liked the character of Mr. Spock in the old Star Trek. I always preferred the passionate Dr. McCoy, who was constantly chewing Spock out, and almost always turned out to be right. Perhaps the most integrated character was Captain Kirk, who was also a highly emotional man. And, recalling that show, I can scarcely recall Spock uttering any syllogisms or making any brilliant deductions. Aristotle he was not. His "logic" seems to have consisted mainly in saying "That sounds logical, Captain." It was the Captain who kept coming up with all the brilliant, logical ideas that saved the day in each episode. That's why he was the Captain and Spock was not.

Passion and reason, the Right Hemisphere and the Left Hemisphere, complement each other. Both are necessary. They must be integrated.

"De gustibus non est disputandum."

For a long time, I did think this way, that taste was purely a matter of individual subjective preference, but I have more and more to conclude that, particularly in the arts, there are objective standards, that in aesthetics as well as in ethics or theology, there are absolute values, a hierarchy.

Maitland Graves proved this in his excellent book The Art of Color and Design (1951). His Taste Test and his Design Judgement Test were quite illuminating and, I have to say, chastening. He showed why certain designs are superior to others, certain tastes are superior to others. Don't buy "borax" furniture.

A connoisseuer of fine wines and a person who can't tell the difference between such a wine and the cheap beer he usually drinks are not equal. One may say that the Parthenon and the Taj Mahal are equal to the Cathedral de Notre Dame de Paris because each is superlative in its class. But there is no equality between the Cathedral de Notre Dame and what is called "gingerbread Gothic". In music, there is an absolute hierarchy with Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven at the very top, and today's (c)rap "music" at the very bottom. Shakespeare may be equalled by Homer or Dante, but he is superior to just about any other writer I can think of, including, I have to say, even Ayn Rand.

If my own tastes, perferences, deviate from the high standards that Maitland Graves describes so well, then, I have to say, the problem lies with me. The standards still stand.

Excellent thinking Steven, and well put.

Passions and tastes are fine, and we all have them. Obviously, I prefer my own, but if someone has demonstrably bad taste, I don't find it productive to argue with him. I prefer Bach to Eminem, but I can't think of a more colossal waste my time than arguing with an Eminem fan. (Might as well argue over whether French food is better than McDonald's -- or Mexican food.)

Nor do I think such things alone should be the basis for legislation.

Eric Scheie   ·  October 23, 2005 12:27 PM

Legislate taste? Absolutely not! Keep the government as far away from all that as possible. The idea of politicians being the arbiters of art is as repugnant as their being arbiters of theology or morals. The sole legitimate function of government is to protect life, liberty, and property.

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