Leading a Worthy Life p.356

The Sabbath Day

Of all the statements in the Decalogue, the one concerning the Sabbath is the most far-reaching and the most significant. It addresses the profound matters of time and its reckoning, work and rest, and man’s relation to God, the world, and his fellow men. Most important, this is the only injunction that speaks explicitly of hallowing and holiness – the special goal for Israel in the covenant being proposed. Here is the relevant text:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work. But the seventh day [is a] Sabbath to the Lord thy God.

Thou shalt do no manner of work, thou, thy son and thy daughter, thy servant and thy maidservant, thy cattle and thy stranger that is within thy gates.

For in six days made the Lord the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them; but He rested on the seventh day; and therefore the Lord blessed the seventh day and He hallowed it. (Exodus 20:8-11)

The passage opens with a general statement specifying two obligations: to remember, in order to sanctify. Next comes an explication of the duty to make holy, comprising a teaching for the six days and a (contrasting) teaching for the seventh. At the end, we get the reason behind the injunction, a reference to the Lord’s six-day creation of the world, His rest on the seventh day, and His consequent doings regarding that day.

Imagine ourselves “hearing” this simple injunction at Sinai. We might find every term puzzling: what is “the Sabbath day”? What does it mean to “remember” it? And what is entailed in the charge “to keep it holy” or “to sanctify it”? And yet the statement seems to imply that “the Sabbath day” is, or should be, already known to the Israelites. What might they have understood by it?

The word “sabbath” comes from a root meaning “to cease,” “to desist from labor,” and “to rest.” Where, then, have the ex-slaves encountered a day of desisting? Only in their recent experience with manna.

After the Exodus from Egypt and their deliverance at the Sea of Reeds, the Israelites encounter shortages of water and food, and begin to murmur against Moses’ leadership. Comparing unfavorably their food-deprived new freedom with their well-fed existence in bondage, they long for the fleshpots of Egypt and accuse Moses of bringing them in the wilderness to die of hunger. As if waiting for just such discontent, the Lord intervenes even without being asked. He causes manna to rain from heaven for the people to gather, “a day’s portion every day,” not only to tame their hunger but explicitly “that I may prove them, whether they will walk in My law or not” (Exodus 16:4). The restrictions placed on their gathering are threefold: each should gather only what he and his household need and can eat in a day; there is to be no overnight storage or waste; and there is to be no gathering on the seven day, for which a double portion will be provided ahead of time on the sixth.

The provision of the manna, and the restrictions attached to its gathering and storage, teach several lessons: the condition of the world is not fundamentally one of scarcity but of plenty, sufficient to meet the needs of each and every human being; there is thus no need to hoard against the morrow or to toil endlessly, grabbing all you can; and there is no need to look upon your neighbor as your rival, who may keep you from a livelihood or whose needs counts less than yours. Accordingly, one may – one should – regularly desist from acquiring and provisioning, in an expression of trust, appreciation, and gratitude for the world’s bounty, which one also must neither covet beyond need nor allow to spoil. In all these respects, the provision of manna in the wilderness stands as a correction of fertile Egypt, where land ownership was centralized, acquisitiveness knew no respite, excesses were hoarded, the multitude sold themselves into slavery in exchange for grain, neighbor fought with neighbor, and one man ruled all as if he were a god. * Against the ex-slaves’ despairing belief that food is preferable to freedom and that serving Pharaoh offered the surest guarantee of life, the children of Israel are taught that they live in a world that can provide for each and every person’s needs, and also that the Lord helps those who will help themselves. They must work to gather, but what they gather is a gift. In a world beyond scarcity and grasping , the choice is not freedom versus food and drink, but grateful trust versus foolish pride or ignorant despair.


  • The provision of manna to sustain the children of Israel through their wilderness wanderings has political significance, in that economic matters are set aside so that moral and spiritual ones may be pushed to the fore. In keeping with its central mission to become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, Israel will be the only people who become a people before inhabiting a land and before being required to provide for their common subsistence. (Whether the subordination of autochthony and political economy to morality and holiness has been politically good for the Jews is another question.) The provision of manna returns the Israelites to a gathering society, preagricultural, not unlike the Garden of Eden, before the division of labor and before the emergence of inequality that comes with landed property. The community can thus be founded not on organic economic growth, with households giving rise to villages and then cities (Aristotle); not on conquest or plunder by the strong or an act of patricide or fratricide (Machiavelli, the biblical example of Cain, the Roman example of Romulus); not on a social contract, entered into by fearful individual aiming to escape the war of all against all (Hobbes), to protect private property (Locke), or to ratify a swindle pulled off by the rich against the poor (Rousseau); but on a covenant made by still-free and equal human beings with the Lord. The manna acknowledges the necessity of meeting necessity, but it does not put economics or the mastery of nature above the task of making men orderly and good. Getting the human beings out of slavery is easy compared with getting the inherent slavishness – and tyranny – out of the human beings.


Aside from their experience of manna, the Israelites may have had another referent for a “Sabbath day.” Before the coming of the Bible, many peoples in the ancient Near East already reckoned time in seven-day cycles connected with the phases of the moon. Among the Babylonians, these seventh days were fast days, days of ill luck, days on which one avoided pleasure and desisted from important projects out of dread of inhospitable natural powers. This was especially the case with their once-a-month Sabbath, shabattu or shapattu, the day of the full moon (that is, the fourteenth day from the new moon).

Against these naturalistic views, the Sabbath teaching in Exodus institutes a reckoning of time independent of the motion of the heavenly bodies, in which the day for desisting comes always in regular and repeatable cycles and is to be celebrated as a day of joy and benison. Readers of Genesis already know the basis of this way of reckoning time from the story of Creation, whose target was precisely those Mesopotamian teachings and the belief that the heavenly bodies are gods. But the children of Israel are only now learning that time in the world – and, hence, their life in the world – will be understood differently from the way nature-worshiping peoples understand it. The Sabbath day, blessed by the Lord, has existed from time immemorial, but the creation-and humanity-centered view of the world enters human existence only through the covenant being here enacted with the children of Israel.

What, then, is the duty to remember the Sabbath day? About some matters – such as their previous condition of servitude – the Israelites will be exhorted to keep in mind what they previously experienced. About the Sabbath day – whose original, of course, no human being could have experienced – the Israelites are told to keep present in their minds what the Lord is now telling them for the first time. Once they learn the reason for the injunction, the duty to remember will link their future mindfulness with their recall of the remotest past: the original creation of the world and the beginning, or prebeginning, of time. Each week, going forward, the children of Israel will be recalled to God’s creation of the world and invited to relive it symbolically.

Much later, when Moses repeats the Decalogue in Deuteronomy, he will enjoin the Israelites to “guard” (or “keep” or “observe,” shamor) the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, “as the Lord thy God commanded thee” (Deuteronomy 5:12). Guarding and keeping are duties for the Sabbath day itself, but remembering it can and should take place all week long, reconfiguring our perception of time and its meaning. Under this radically new understanding, the six days of work and labor point toward and are completed by the seventh day and its hallowing. Mindfulness of sanctified time makes an edifying difference to the manner and spirit in which one lives and works all the time; and the remembered change in the meaning of time transforms and elevates all of human existence. Work is for the sake of a livelihood, but a livelihood has a new meaning when staying alive is seen to have a purpose beyond itself.

The root meaning of qadesh, to make holy, is to set apart, to make separate. Other people have their own forms of separation or sanctity: sacred places, sacred rituals and practices, sacred persons or animals. But in Israel what is made holy is not a special object, place or practice, but rather the time of your life.

How to make this time holy we learn in the sequel, but here the Israelite idea of holiness is connected to the distinction between work (or labor) and rest, as well as the distinction between the things that are yours and the things that “belong” to God. The six days of work appear to be for yourself and your own; by contrast, the seventh day is said to be a Sabbath unto the Lord thy God, when “labor” (avodah) for oneslef is replaced by “service” (avodah) to the Lord.

Yet the form of devotion is odd. No rituals or sacrifices are specified; on the contrary, what is required is an absence, a cessation, a desisting, and this obligation to desist falls on the entire household. From master to servant to beast and stranger, the worldly hierarchy is to be set aside; regardless of rank or station, all are equally invited to participate in the hallowing of the day. Nor do people need to travel or to sacrifice in order to encounter this sanctified time. Holiness has a central and ever-renewable place in their ordinary life at home, if they but keep it in mind.

And the key to the holiness that is the Sabbath’s desisting from labor? It is nothing less than God’s own doing in connection with Creation. Every week the children of Israel are, as it were, returned to the ultimate beginning and source of the world, summoned to remember and to commemorate its divine Creation and Creator.

This means, among other things, remembering that what we call “nature,” once widely worshiped – heaven, earth, sea, and all they contain – is not itself divine but rather the aggregate of God’s creations and creatures. At the same time, in remembering the majestic fact of creation and the world’s plenitude and beauty, the Israelites are also taught not to disdain the world or regard it as hostile, malevolent, or inhospitable, but rather to see it as a generous gift for whose bounty and blessings all human beings can and should be grateful.

The Israelites are not only recalled to the Creation; their own weekly cycle of work and desisting is meant to reproduce it symbolically. Here is the most radical implication of the Sabbath teaching: the Israelites are, de facto, enjoined “to be like God” – both in their six days of work and especially on the day of desisting. Note well: their relationship to the Creator is no longer grounded solely in historical time and in their (parochial) deliverance from Egyptian bondage. It is also ontologically rooted in cosmic time and in the universal human capacity to celebrate the created order and its Creator, and in our special place as that order’s godlike, God-imitating, and God-praising creatures.

It is, of course, peculiar to command us to rest as God rested, because it is peculiar to speak of God “resting.” Nevertheless, we can conjecture something of what it might mean.

In the original account of Creation, at the end of the sixth day “God saw every thing that He had made and, behold, it was very good.” But the true completion of Creation comes on the seventh day, only after the creative work has ceased:

And the heaven and the earth were finished and all their host. And God finished on the seventh day His work which He had made and He desisted on the seventh day from all His work which He had made. And God blessed the seventh day and He hallowed it, because on it He desisted from all His work which God in creating had made. (Genesis 2:1-3)

Here there is no talk of resting but only of desisting, and in this way blessing and hallowing (or setting apart) the seventh day. A complete world of changeable beings has been brought into being by a divinity Who then completes His creative makings by “standing down.” In this mysterious blessing and hallowing of time “beyond” the world of creative making, God, as it were, makes manifest in the rhythm of the world itself that mysterious aspect of being that is beyond change.

Remarkably, this consecration of time – and this pointing to what is “out of time” – is something we (and only we) humans can glimpse and participate in. It is open to us if and when we set aside our comings and goings, and turn our aspirations toward the realm beyond motion from which motion derives. It is open to us when we are moved by wonder and gratitude for the existence of something rather than nothing, for order rather than chaos, and for our unmerited presence in the story.

It may seem similarly odd to suggest that human beings would be imitating God by feeling gratitude: why, and for what, would God be grateful? Yet gratitude for the created world is not itself part of the created world. It is literally a manifestation of grace, which stands us, however briefly, outside the world, beyond the flux of the world’s ceaseless motions and changes. Though ourselves being of motion and change, we alone, godlike among the creatures, are capable of standing outside and contemplating the world, and of feeling gratitude for it and for our place in it. In this respect, too, Sabbath remembrance and sanctification permit us to be “like God.”

The Sabbath rest thus offers a partial reprieve from the sentence of unremitting toil and labor prophesied by the Lord at the end of the story of the Garden of Eden – a “punishment” of the human attempt to become like gods, knowing good and bad,  undertaken in an act of disobedience. According to that account, our prideful human penchant for independence, self-sufficiency, and the rule of autonomous human reason led us into a life that, ironically, would turn out it be nasty, brutish, and short. This is still very much our lot. But here, with Sabbath desisting, we are not only permitted but obliged regularly to cease the life of toil, sorrow, and loss, and to accept instead the godlike possibility of quiet, rest, wholeness, and peace of mind.

And this rise to godlike peace, unlike the self-directed “fall” into the knowledge of good and bad, depends not on disobedience but on obedience: the only way a free and reckless creature like man can realize the more-than-creaturely possibility that was given to him at the Creation. It is not only or primarily in imitating God in our workaday labor, but mainly and especially in hearkening to a command to enter into sacred time, that we may realize our human yet godlike potential. Doing as I say, teaches the Lord, is the route to “doing as I did” (or “being as I am”).

The Sabbath teaching has other profound implications for human life, especially for politics. Adherence to the Sabbath injunction turns out to be the foundation of human freedom, both political and moral. By inviting and requiring all members of the community to imitate the divine, it teaches the radical equality of human beings, each of whom, may be understood to be equally God’s creature and equally in His image, each of whom is entitled to leisure from toil and the freedom to exercise our peculiarly human capacities for appreciation and gratitude.

Sabbath observance thus embodies and fosters the principle of a truly humanistic politics. Although not incompatible with political hierarchy (including kingship), the idea behind the Sabbath renders illegitimate any regime that denies human dignity or that enables one man or some few men to rule despotically as if he or they were divine. And in reconfiguring time, elevating our gaze, and redirecting our aspirations, Sabbath remembrance promotes internal freedoms as well, by moderating the passions that enslave us from within: fear and despair (owing to a belief in our lowliness), greed and niggardliness (owing to a belief in the world’s inhospitality), and pride and hubris (owing to a belief in our superiority and self-sufficiency).

The deep connection between the Sabbath and political freedom is supported by the repetition of the Decalogue in Deuteronomy. There the reason given for Sabbath observance rests not on God’s creating the world but on the Exodus from Egypt:

And thou shalt remember that thou wast a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God brought thee out thence with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore, the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:15; emphasis added.)

In place of the six days of God’s creative work contrasted with the seventh day of divine rest and sanctification, the Deuteronomic version contrasts the Israelites’ enforced labor in Egyptian servitude with the Lord’s mighty deliverance. The substitution invites us to see the second justification for Sabbath observance as the logical analogue and consequence of the first. In a word, where men do not know or acknowledge the bountiful and blessed character of the given world, and the special relationship of all human beings to the source of that world, they will lapse into worship either of powerful but indifferent natural forces or of powerful and clever but amoral human masters and magicians.

These seemingly opposite orientations – the worship of brute nature and the veneration of clever and powerful men – amount finally to the same thing: both deny the special god-like standing and holy possibilities of every single human being, and of humanity as such. Called upon to remember what it was like to have lived where men knew not the Creator in whose image we humans are made, and called upon to remember the solicitude of the Creator for His suffering people, the Israelites will embrace the teaching about Sabbath observance, and their politics will be humanized and their lives elevated as a result.


Leon R. Kass – Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times p.356

Leading a Worthy Life p.319

By design, the objectified world is abstract, purely quantitative, homogeneous, and indifferent to the question of being or science. Objectified knowledge is ghostly: “things” are “known” only externally and relationally. Moreover, unlike the signifiers of ordinary speech that are its general nouns, the symbolic representations used to handle the objectified world bear absolutely no relation to the things represented: a wavelength or a mathematical equation neither resembles nor points to color.

No one gets very excited about the objectification of color, but we become suspicious when science tries to objectify the viewing of color or, worse, the viewer.  And now we see why. By its very principle, “objective knowledge” will not be – because it cannot be – true to lived experience; for lived experience is always qualitative, concrete, heterogeneous, and suffused with the attention, interest, and engaged concern of the living soul. Real sight and seeing can never be captured by wavelengths, absorption spectra of retinal cells, or electrical discharges in the objectified brain. Likewise also the inwardness of life, including awareness, appetite, emotion, and the genuine and interested relations between one living being and others, both friend and foe; or the engaged, forward-pointed, outward-moving tendencies of living beings; or the uniqueness of each individual life as lived in living time, from birth to death; or the concern of each animal (conscious or not) for its own health, wholeness, and well-being – none of these essential aspects of nature alive fall within the cramped and distorting boundaries of nature objectified.


Leon R. Kass – Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times p.319

Leading a Worthy Life p.299

Nevertheless, despite its universality, its quest for certainty, its reliance on reason purified from all distortions of sensation and prejudice by the use of mathematical method, and the reproducibility of its findings, science does not – and cannot – provide us with absolute knowledge. The reasons are not only methodological but also substantive, and not merely substantive but also intrinsic and permanent.

The substantive limits of science follow from certain fundamental aspects of scientific knowledge and from science’s assumptions about what sorts of things are scientifically knowable. they stem from science’s own self-proclaimed conceptual limitations – limitations to which neither religious nor philosophical thought is subject. This is not because, since being rational, it is incapable of dealing with the passionate or subrational or spiritual or supernatural aspects of being. It is, on the contrary, because the rationality of science is but a partial and highly specialized rationality, concocted for the purpose of gaining only that kind of knowledge for which it was devised, and applied only to those aspects of the world that can be captured by such rationalized notions. The peculiar reason of science is not the natural reason of everyday life captured in ordinary speech, and it is also not the reason of philosophy or of religious thought, both of which are tied to the world as we experience it, even as they seek to take us beyond it.

Consider the following features of science and their contrast with the realm of ordinary experience. First, science at its peak seeks laws of nature, ideally expressed mathematically in the form of equations that describe precisely the relationships among changing measurable variables; science does not seek to know beings or their natures, but rather the regularities of the changes that they undergo. Second, science – especially in biology – seeks to know how things work and the mechanisms of action in their workings; it does not seek to know what things are, or why. Third, science can give the histories of things but not their directions, aspirations, or purposes; by self-definition, science is non-teleological, oblivious to the natural purposiveness of all living things. Fourth, science is wonderful at quantifying selected external relations of one object to another, or an earlier phase to a later one; but it can say nothing at all about inner states of being, either of human beings or of any living creature. Fifth, and strangest of all, modern science does not care much about causation; it can often predict what will happen if certain perturbations occur because it knows the regularities of change, but it eschews explanations in terms of causes, especially ultimate causes.

In short, we have a remarkable science of nature that has made enormous progress precisely by its metaphysical neutrality and its indifference to questions of being, cause, purpose, inwardness, hierarchy, and the goodness or badness of things, scientific knowledge included.

Let me illustrate these abstract generalizations with a few concrete examples. In cosmology, we have seen wonderful progress in characterizing the temporal beginnings of the universe as a “big bang” and elaborate calculations to describe what happened next. But from science we get complete silence regarding the status quo ante and the ultimate cause. Unlike a normally curious child, a cosmologist does not ask, “What was before the big bang?” or “Why is there something rather than nothing?” because the answer must be an exasperated “God only knows!”

In genetics, we have the complete DNA sequence of several organisms, including man, and we are rapidly learning what many of these genes “do.” But this analytic approach cannot tell us how the life of a cockroach differs from that of a chimpanzee, or even what accounts for the special unity and active wholeness of cockroaches or chimpanzees, or the purposive effort each living thing makes to preserve its own specific integrity.


Leon R. Kass – Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times p.299

Leading a Worthy Life p.243

The problem lies less with the scientific findings themselves than with the shallow philosophy that recognizes no other truths, and with the arrogant pronouncements of the bioprophets. Here, for example is the eminent psychologist Steven Pinker railing against any appeal to the human soul:

Unfortunately for that theory, brain science has shown that the mind is what the brain does. The supposedly immaterial soul can be bisected with a knife, altered by chemicals, turned on or off by electricity, and extinguished by a sharp blow or a lack of oxygen. Centuries ago it was unwise to ground morality on the dogma that the earth sat at the center of the universe. It is just as unwise today to ground it on dogmas about souls endowed by God.

One hardly knows whether to be more impressed with the height of Pinker’s arrogance or with the depth of his shallowness. Pinker is ignorant of the fact that “soul” need not be conceived as a “ghost in the machine” or as a separate “thing” that survives the body, but can be understood (a la Aristotle) to be the integrated powers of the naturally organic body. He has not pondered the relationship between “the brain” and the whole organism, or puzzled over the difference between “the brain” of the living and “the brain” of the dead. He seems unaware of the significance of emergent properties, powers, and activities that do not reside in the materials of the organism but merge only when the materials are formed and organized in a particular way; he does not understand that this empowering organization of materials – the vital form – is not itself material. But Pinker speaks with the authority of science, and few are both able and willing to dispute him on his own ground.

There is, of course, nothing novel about reductionism and materialism of the kind displayed here; these are doctrines with which Socrates contended long ago. What is new is that , as philosophies, they seem (to many people) to be vindicated by scientific advance. Here, in consequence, is perhaps the most pernicious result of our technological progress, more dehumanizing than any actual manipulation or technique, present or future: the erosion, perhaps the final erosion, of the idea of man as noble, dignified, precious, or godlike, and its replacement with a view of man, like nature, as mere raw material for manipulation and homogenization.


Leon R. Kass – Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times p.243

Leading a Worthy Life p.176

Human aspiration depends absolutely on our being creatures of need and finitude, and hence of longings and attachments. Pure reason and pure mind have no aspiration; the rational animal aspires in large part because he is an animal and not an angel or a god.

Once again it is our in-between status – at once godlike and animal – that is the deep truth about our nature, the ground of our special standing, and the wherewithal of our flourishing.

Perhaps the most profound account of human aspiration is contained in Socrates’ speech about eros in Plato’s Symposium. Eros, according to Socrates’ account, is the heart of the human soul, an animating power born of lack but pointing upward. Eros emerges as both self-seeking and overflowingly generative – at bottom, the fruit of the peculiar conjunction of, and competition between, two conflicting aspirations joined in a single living body, both tied to our finitude: the impulse to self-preservation and the urge to reproduce. The former is a self-regarding concern for our own personal permanence and satisfaction; the latter is a self-forgetting aspiration for something that transcends our own finite existence, something for the sake of which we spend and even give our lives.

Other animals, of course, live with these twin and opposing drives. But eros in the other animals, who are unaware of the tension between the two drives, manifests itself exclusively in the activity of procreation and the care of offspring…

But eros comes fully into its own as the arrow pointing upward only in the human animal, who is conscious of the doubleness in his soul and is driven to devise a life based in part on the tension between the opposing forces. Human eros , born of this self-awareness, manifests itself in explicit and conscious longing for something higher, something whole, something eternal – longings that are ours precisely because we are able to elevate the aspiration born of our bodily doubleness and to direct it upward toward the good, the true, and the beautiful. In the human case, the fruits of “erotic giving-birth” are not only human children but also the arts and crafts, song and story, noble deeds and customs, fine character, the search for wisdom, and a reaching for the eternal and divine – all conceived by resourcefulness to overcome our experienced lack and limitation and all guided by a divination of that which would be wholly good and lacking in nothing.


Leon R. Kass – Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times p.176

Leading a Worthy Life p.132

Although we know from biological science the equal contributions that both parents make to the genetic identity of a child, it is still true to say that the mother is the “more natural” parent, the parent by birth. A woman can give up a child for adoption, or, thanks to modern reproductive technologies, can even bear a child not genetically her own. But there is no way to deny out of whose body the new life sprung, whose substance it fed on, who labored to produce it, who wondrously bore it forth. The father’s role in all this is minuscule and invisible, in contrast to the mother, there is no naturally manifest way to demonstrate his responsibility.

The father is thus a parent more by choice and agreement than by nature (and not only because he cannot know with absolute certainty that the woman’s child is indeed his own). One can thus explain the giving of the paternal surname if the following way: the father symbolically announces “his choice” that the child is his, fully and freely accepting responsibility for its conception and, more importantly, for its protection and support, and answering in advance the vital question: Who’s my dad?

The husband who gives his name to his bride in marriage is thus not just keeping his own; he is owning up to what it means to have been given a family and a family name by his own father. He is living out his destiny to be a father by saying yes to it in advance. And the wife does not so much surrender her name as accept the gift of his, given and received as a pledge of (among other things) loyal and responsible fatherhood for her children. A woman who reuses this gift is, whether she knows it or not, refusing the promised devotion or, worse, expressing her suspicions about her groom’s trustworthiness as a husband and prospective father.

Patrilineal surnames are, in truth, less a sign of paternal prerogative than of paternal duty and commitment, reinforced psychologically by gratifying the father’s vanity in the perpetuation of his name and by offering this nominal incentive to fulfill his obligation to mother and child. This naming custom enables the father to become explicitly the parent-by-choice that he, more than the mother, must necessarily be. Fathers who will not own up to their paternity, who will not “legitimate” their offspring, and who will not name themselves responsible for childrearing by giving their children their name are not real fathers at all, and their children suffer. The former stigmatization of bastardy was, in truth, meant  to protect women and children from such irresponsible behavior.


Leon R. Kass – Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times p.132

Leading a Worthy Life p.105

Eros, however much it promises the lovers self-completion and self-fulfillment – that it will make one out of two, forever – cannot fully or permanently do so: the coupling two cannot really become one flesh or one soul, and, willy-nilly, death will part even the best of pairs. But eros itself, rightly understood, has the remedy for these difficulties. For eros points ultimately to procreation and the as-yet unborn children of erotic union, children who, as the genuine one-flesh fruit of their love, will in part redeem the perishable dyad by stepping forward to take their place.


Leon R. Kass – Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times p.105

Leading a Worthy Life p.62

Though maleness and femaleness are natural facts, manhood and womanhood are, in fashionable opinion, culturally constructed norms, at least to some degree. It is no accident that the meaning of being a man or being a woman has been radically transformed in a society that celebrates freedom and equality, encourages individualism and autonomy, rejects traditions, practices contraception and abortion, sees marriage as a lifestyle, provides the same education and promotes the same careers for men and women, homogenizes fathers and mothers in the neutered work of “parenting,” denies vulnerability and dependence, keeps mortality out of sight, and raises its children without any sense of duty or obligation to future generations.


Leon R. Kass – Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times p.62

Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity p.272

Against these considerations, the clever ones will propose that if we could do away with death, we would do away with the need for posterity. But that is a self-serving and shallow answer, one that thinks of life and aging solely in terms of the state of the body. It ignores the psychological effects simply of the passage of time – of experiencing and learning about the way things are. After a while, no matter how healthy we are, no matter how respected and well placed we are socially, most of us cease to look upon the world with fresh eyes. Little surprises us, nothing shocks us, righteous indignation at injustice dies out. We have seen it all already, seen it all. We have often been deceived, we have made many mistakes of our own. Many of us become small-souled, having been humbled not by bodily decline or the loss of loved ones but by life itself.  So our ambition also begins to flag, or at least our noblest ambitions. As we grow older, Aristotle already noted, we “aspire to nothing great and exalted and crave the mere necessities and comfort of existence.” At some point, most of us turn and say to our intimates, Is this all there is? We settle, we accept our situation – if we are lucky enough to be able to accept it. In many ways, perhaps in the most profound ways, most of us go to sleep long before our deaths – and we might even do so earlier in life if death no longer spurred us to make something of ourselves.

In contrast, it is in the young where aspiration, hope, freshness, boldness and openness spring anew – even when they take the form of overrunning our monuments. Immortality for oneself through children may be a delusion, but participating in the natural and eternal renewal of human possibility through children is not – not even in today’s world.


Leon R. Kass – Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics p.272

Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity p.269

Why do so many teach the promise of life after death, of something eternal, of something imperishable? This takes us to the heart of the matter.

What is the meaning of this concern with immortality? Why do we human being seek immortality? Why do we want to live longer or forever? Is it really first and most because we do not want to die, because we do not want to leave this embodied life on earth or give up our earthly pastimes, because we want to see more and do more? I do not think so. This may be what we say, but it is not what we finally mean, Morality as such is not our defect, nor bodily immortality our goal, Rather, mortality is at most a pointer, a derivative manifestation, or an accompaniment of some deeper deficiency. The promise of immortality and eternity answers rather to a deep truth about the human soul: the human soul yearns for, longs for, aspires to some condition, some state, some goal toward which our earthly activities are directed but which cannot be attained in earthly life. Our soul’s reach exceeds our grasp; it seeks more than continuance; it reaches for something beyond us, something that for the most part eludes us. Our distress with mortality is derivative manifestation of the conflict between the transcendent longings of the soul and the all-too-finite powers and fleshly concerns of the body.

What is it that we lack and long for, but cannot reach?


Leon R. Kass – Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics p.269