Monday, March 15, 2004


Joe @ EO has a three part series on Defending the Wisdom of Repugnance (part 1, part 2, part 3) in which he addresses bioethics and whether or not the "ick factor" should play a role in the decision making process with regards to various ethical issues. He writes, "in this three-part series I hope to show that the emotion of disgust not only has a valid role to play in moral decision-making but that human dignity is put in danger when we reject the "deep wisdom" of repugnance." He states:
Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, the cell biologist who served on the Bioethics Council, is a prime example of one who would disagree:
Leon Kass has suggested that society should make decisions based on what he calls the "wisdom of repugnance." I think this is an unreliable kind of wisdom. Repugnance should serve not as a basis for any decision, but rather as a signal for honest, critical examination of what inspired it. In some instances, repugnance may indeed hint at moral qualms that will withstand the rigors of analytical questioning. But it may also simply reflect habit or custom.
Anyone wondering why Blackburn was removed from the President’s Council for Bioethics has to look no further than that quote. While dissenting voices are certainly needed on the council they should be those that espouse a coherent ethical view. Blackburn, however, would reject any ethical argument if it could not be supported by a rationalist foundation. The problem with this approach is not only that it is antithetical to ethical inquiry but it is also harmful to human dignity and liberty.
It's interesting to also note the inherent flaw in Blackburn's reasoning if, in fact, she would reject any ethical argument that could not be supported by a rationalist foundation. Just where, one wonders, does she have the rationalist foundation for supporting the belief that a rationalist foundation is required to validate an ethical argument? This dovetails into my argument that morality is not derived from our environment, and that anyone who adheres to a purely naturalistic view of the cosmos and to any form of morality must appeal to non-natural (super?) means.

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