Tuesday, February 28, 2012
I appreciated, as always, Bob Hockett's post (and his fascinating conversion story). The money quote, it seems to me, is this:
"Our embodiment is essential to who we are, and what has value in our judgement, it would seem to me, must accordingly itself relate back to embodiment."
In thinking about human dignity and human rights, it is critical, in my view, to avoid the mistake of supposing that the human "person" is a non-bodily substance (a mind, a consciousness, a spirit, a soul) that inhabits and uses (as if it were an extrinsic instrument of the non-bodily self) a non-personal (and, thus, subpersonal) body. If we avoid that error, we are unlikely to embrace propositions whose logic takes us down the road to infanticide and euthanasia. We will avoid the idea that there are human beings---living members of the species Homo sapiens---who (1) are not, or (2) are not yet, or (3) are no longer persons. Rather, we will affirm that every member of the human family, irrespective of age, size, location, stage of development, handicap, or condition of dependency, possesses (if any member possesses) inherent worth and dignity. None lack a right to life; none may justly be treated as less than equally worthy of respect and concern.
Of course, that leaves the question of what, if anything, makes human beings special as bearers of a unique dignity, such that we are (to borrow Kant's formulation) morally obligated to treat ourselves and others as ends, and never means only. The answer, it seems to me, has to do with our nature as rational creatures---creatures possessing the (quite literally God-like) capacities for deliberation, judgment, and choice. The error made by many who defend abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia, it seems to me, is to suppose that the relevant "capacities" are the immediately exercisable capacities for characteristically human mental functions, as opposed to the basic natural capacities for reason and freedom--capacities that human beings come to possess in radical (=root) form simply by coming into being, and which they do not lose except by ceasing to be (by dying). The principle of the radical equality of all human beings, which is at the heart of the sanctity of life ethic and much more in our culture, and which, in my opinion, is the glory of our civilization, reflects the insight that it is indeed the basic natural capacities, and not their full flowering in the form of immediately exercisable capacities, that is the ground of our dignity.
I defend these claims, and respond to what strike me as the strongest arguments against them, in an article entitled "Embryo Ethics" that appeared in the Spring 2008 issue of Daedalus. Here is a link: