Monday, May 26, 2008

Pinker on Kass
Mike Rappaport

This critique by Stephen Pinker of Leon Kass and his use of dignity as a limit on science to improve the human condition seems right on target to me.  I had written a post about it, but it was somehow lost, so a briefer version will have to do.  I haven't read very much Kass, so I was scared that Pinker's criticism might be unfair.  But this defense of Kass by Larry Arnharat, whose blog I very much like, is so weak, that it lend credence to Pinker's criticism.  I particularly like Pinker's analysis of dignity as relative, fungible, and harmful.

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Mike Rappaport


This is very interesting. Kass's comments that eating in public and without utensils is undignified and animalistic is quite curious. I have read (in a journalist's account of travels in Sicily of all places) that our attachment to eating utensils does not go that far back in the West. Apparently forks were considered effete and sinful by the Church for quite a while, because they suggested an excessive sensuality about food, or gluttony, or something like that. At least according to what I read, Italian aristocrats made using utensils popular. You can sort of imagine how using a fork would seem sort of unmanly when first introduced. This around the time of the Renaissance, allegedly. I really don't know if this is true, but if it is, it goes to show you that what seems gross and what refined can vary a lot over time and culture. Obviously, there are some basics of hygiene, but beyond that opinions can vary a lot. Skill in manipulating chopsticks is supposed to be a sign of civility in China, I suppose, while Muslims (is it?) eat only with their right hands.

Posted by: Tom Smith | May 27, 2008 10:16:45 AM