The peculiar mixture of fairness, status, and purity constituting the moral sense should make us suspicious of appeals to raw sentiment in resolving difficult moral issues. In an influential essay called “The Wisdom of Repugnance,” Leon Kass (now the chair of George W. Bush’s Council on Bioethics) argued that we should abandon moral reasoning when it comes to cloning and go with our gut feelings: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 by 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.There may be good arguments against human cloning, but the shudder test is not one of them. People have shuddered at all kinds of morally irrelevant violations of standards of purity in their culture: touching an untouchable, drinking from the same water fountain as a person of color, allowing Jewish blood to mix with Aryan blood, tolerating sodomy between consenting men. As recently as 1978, many people (including Kass) shuddered at the new technology of in vitro fertilization, or, as it was then called, “test-tube babies.” But now it is morally unexceptionable and, for hundreds of thousands of people, a source of immeasurable happiness or of life itself.
The difference between a defensible moral position and an atavistic gut feeling is that with the former we can give reasons why or conviction is valid. We can explain why torture and murder and rape are wrong, or why we should oppose discrimination and injustice. On the other hand, no good reasons can be produced to show why homosexuality should be suppressed or why the races should be segregated. And the good reasons for a moral position are not pulled out of thin air: they always have to do with what makes people better off or worse off, and are grounded in the logic that we have to treat other people in the way that we demand they treat us.
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Excerpt of the day
From The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker
Posted by Hume's Ghost at 6/03/2009