Steven Pinker From The New Republic: The Stupidity Of Dignity

Full essay here.

Pinker attacks “dignity” arguments put foward by the President’s Council On Bio-Ethics in Human Dignity And Bioethics.

He’s not impressed with the set of largely conservative ideas he finds there, a few of which are rooted in Catholic doctrine.  Who’s putting them foward?

“…a group of intellectual activists, many of whom had jumped from the radical left to the radical right, has urged that we rethink the Enlightenment roots of the American social order. The recognition of a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and the mandate of government to secure these rights are too tepid, they argue, for a morally worthy society.”

A group grimly attaching its interests to politics and enfringing upon our cherished enlightenment values as enshrined in the Constitution.

So is Pinker trying to define himself as closer to national goals?  His concept of “dignity” is:

“…a phenomenon of human perception…

…Just as the smell of baking bread triggers a desire to eat it, and the sight of a baby’s face triggers a desire to protect it, the appearance of dignity triggers a desire to esteem and respect the dignified person…”

“…This explains why dignity is morally significant: We should not ignore a phenomenon that causes one person to respect the rights and interests of another. But it also explains why dignity is relative, fungible, and often harmful. Dignity is skin-deep:”

In this view, “dignity” is not a deep enough argument upon which to base the kind of moralism that will end up restricting progress.  Instead, Pinker is seeking to define and create more freedom for this progress to occur where biology, medicine and technology meet.

In fact:

“Even if progress were delayed a mere decade by moratoria, red tape, and funding taboos (to say nothing of the threat of criminal prosecution), millions of people with degenerative diseases and failing organs would needlessly suffer and die. And that would be the biggest affront to human dignity of all.”

These people are morally responsible to all the sick people that would have been helped had they not gotten in the way!

That seems a little extreme.  I’m glad that neither Pinker nor the “dignity” crowd is the final word on any of this, nor solely responsible for our moral thinking.

See Also:  Ross Douthat has more here at Pinker vs. Humanism, Ann Althouse has more here.

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