Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity p.39

Crudely put, the argument could be stated this way. Those who hold that the biggest obstacles to human happiness are material, and arise from scarcity and the stinginess and violence of nature, from the indifference of the powers that be, or (within) from disease and death, look to the arts, In this view, the inventors and bringers of the arts are the true benefactors of mankind, and are revered like the gods; the supreme example is Prometheus (literally, “forethought”), bringer of fire, with its warming and transforming power, and through fire, all the other arts. By contrast, those who hold that the biggest obstacles to human happiness are psychic and spiritual, and arise from the turbulences of the human soul itself, look instead to law (or to piety or its equivalent) to tame and moderate the unruly and self-destroying passions of men, In this view, the lawgivers, the statesmen and the prophets are the true benefactors of mankind – not Prometheus but Lycurgus, not the builders of Babel but Moses. The arts are suspect precisely because they serve comfort and safety, because they stimulate unnecessary desires, and because they pretend to self-sufficiency. In the famous allegory of the cave in Plato’s Republic, Socrates implies that it is the Promethean gift of fire and the enchantment of the arts that hold men unwittingly enchained, warm and comfortable yet blind to the world beyond the city. Mistaking their crafted world for the whole, men live ignorant of their true standing in the world and their absolute dependence on powers not of their own making and beyond their control. Only when the arts and men are ruled politically, and only when politics is governed by wisdom about the human soul and man’s place in the larger whole, can art contribute properly to human flourishing.


Leon R. Kass – Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics p.39