Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Speaking of refreshing, if misguided, candor . . . "The Stupidity of Dignity" is the title of Steven Pinker's reaction to a collection of essays, Human Dignity and Bioethics, released recently by the President's Council on Bioethics. The piece is a rant -- Leon Kass is "pro-death" and "anti-freedom", the "theocons" are still coming, the Council is "imposing Catholicism", etc., etc., -- but revealing. Pinker spends little time actually engaging the various essays' arguments, and instead spends thousands of words convulsing in anguish over a conservative "ploy" -- worse yet, a "Catholic" plot (involving, apparently, Martha Nussbaum and Daniel Dennett) -- to throw up roadblocks to scientific progress. Whatever. Yuval Levin nails it, here.
Now, all that said, it is entirely appropriate, it seems to me, to demand that those who wield the concept of "dignity" in moral arguments work hard to figure out and express clearly just what it is they / we are talking about. Such demands, though, are better issued by people who actually care about the answer.
UPDATE: Fr. James Martin, S.J., weighs in, at America:
. . . To his credit, Mr. Pinker says that those who use the concept may not always be expressing the teaching in its fullness. Nonetheless, his article betrays a misunderstanding of understanding of the concept itself, and of its use in the world of Christian morality. You want to say to the writer: Let me get this straight, you're against the dignity of the human person?