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

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Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity, p.19

For human eros is the fruit of the peculiar conjunction of and competition between two divergent aspirations within a single living body, the impulse to self-preservation and the urge to reproduce. The first is a self-regarding concern for our own personal permanence and satisfaction; the second is a self-denying aspiration for something that transcends our own finite existence, and for the sake of which we spend and even give our lives. Other animals, of course, live with these twin and opposing drives. But only the human animal is conscious of their existence and is driven to devise a life based in part by the tension between them, in part of the fact that he does not fully understand what it is that his embodied life “wants of him.” In consequence, only the human animal has explicit and conscious longings for something higher, something whole, something eternal, something that we would not have were we not the conjunction of this bodily “doubleness,” elevated and directed upwards through conscious self-awareness.

 

Leon R. Kass – Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics, p.19

The Beginning of Wisdom p.625

Earlier we learned that the Egyptians abominate eating with the Hebrews (43:32), perhaps because they eat lamb. And much later, Moses will refuse Pharaoh’s permission to “sacrifice to your God in the land,” because “we shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians [most likely, sheep] to the Lord our God; lo, if we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not stone us?” (Exodus 8:21-22). The Egyptians abominate what the Hebrews eat, how they gain their livelihood from animals, and what they choose to sacrifice to their God. From extrabiblical sources, we learn that the Egyptians are well known for their worship of certain animals. Accordingly, they may regard the Israelite assumption of human superiority over the animal world as an abomination, a deep violation of Egyptian belief in the unity (or at least the interchangeability) of man, nature, and the divine. The Egyptians, on this interpretation, abominate those who make too much of the difference of man.

Abominable or loathsome are those sexual practices said to be characteristic of the land of Egypt behind and the land of Canaan before: incest (Leviticus 18:6-18), male homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13), and bestiality (Leviticus 18:23). Abominable too are child sacrifice (Leviticus 18:21; Deuteronomy 12:31 and 18:9-10) and, most especially, idolatry (Deuteronomy 7:25-26), as well as the related practices of divination, soothsaying, augury, and sorcery (Deuteronomy 18:10-12). In short, abominable in Israel are those activities that deny or efface the fundamental distinctions of creation: child sacrifice, which make a child into an animal; bestiality, which makes an animal into a human being; homosexual sodomy, which makes a man into a woman; and idolatry, which makes an animal or a man or some other creature or object into a god. For the Israelite way, with its view that man – and man alone – carries the divine image, failure to see the superiority of man vis-à-vis the animals is necessarily connected with failure properly to apprehend that which is truly divine. Setting itself in direct opposition to Egyptian (and Canaanite) ways, Israel eventually will separate itself by loathing the chaos-inducing denial of the importance of separation itself.

 

Leon R. Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom p.625