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.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

The Angels and Us p.148

The third view, advanced by Aristotle, attempted to correct what he thought to be the errors in the two extreme views. In his conception of human nature, man is neither just a body or a collocation of atoms nor a union of two quite distinct and separable substances, one material and the other spiritual – one a body and the other a rational soul or mind.

In Aristotle’s view, man is a single substance and, in that respect, is like every other individual thing in the physical cosmos. However, unlike every other corporeal substance, man, as a single substance, is composite of matter and spirit, of material and immaterial aspects – the immaterial aspect consisting in the intellectual power that distinguishes man  from other animals.

According to this third view, man is neither entirely a material thing, composed of elementary particles of matter or quanta of energy, nor is he compounded of two substances as alien to one another as body and soul or matter and mind. He is a living organism like any other animal, but he is distinguished from all other animals by virtue of having a mind or intellect – the powers and operation of which cannot be explained by the action of the brain.

Brain action is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for the occurrence of mental operations or processes. There is, in short, something immaterial about man, something spiritual in the sense that it is not reducible to bodily parts or movements and not explicable entirely by reference to them.


Mortimer J. Adler – The Angels and Us p.148

Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity p.241

Human beings, alone among the earthly creatures, speak, plan, create, contemplate and judge. Human beings, alone among the creatures, can articulate a future goal and bring it into being by their own purposive conduct. Human beings, alone among the creatures, can think about the whole, marvel at its articulated order, and feel awe in beholding its grandeur and in pondering the mystery of its source.


Leon R. Kass – Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics p.241

Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity p.68

As Aristotle noted long ago, thought – or speech or reason – itself moves nothing, especially, one can add, thought merely laid down next to appetite. Thought, to be effective, must be inseparable from appetite.

The true source of action is not abstract thought, nor even thought applied to some separate motor or motive force, but rather a concretion, a grown-togetherness, of appetite and mind, so intertwined that one cannot say for sure whether the human principle of action is a species of desire become thoughtful, or an activity of intellection suffused with appetite. How mind and desire become grown together is, of course, a great question, but it is rarely accomplished by applying purely rational doctrines or rules in a passionless way to human agents. On the contrary, the true beginning is rather with the direct but unreflective education of our loves and hates, our pleasure and pains, gained only in practice, through habituation and by means of praise and blame, reward and punishment. Anyone concerned with influencing conduct must be concerned with these in-between powers of the soul, themselves irrational (in the sense of nonreasoning) but fully amenable to reason (in the sense of being formed, to begin with, in accordance with the reasons of one’s parents, teachers and laws, and being open to further refinement through the exercise of one’s own powers of deliberation and discernment).


Leon R. Kass – Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics p.68