Tuesday, December 07, 2004

What about bacterial dignity?

Just how did the word “liberal” become a pejorative? John Lukacs explains in the Chronicle Review. It’s a good piece, but I didn’t quite agree with the last part. Lukacs writes:

Liberalism in its noblest, and also in its most essential, sense has always meant (and, to be fair, here and there it still means) an exaltation, a defense of the fundamental value and category of human dignity. But much of scientism and technology (yes, including the orthodoxy of Darwinism and the absolute belief in progress) declares that there was, there is, and there remains no fundamental difference between human beings and all other living beings. But if that is so, what happens to the emphasis on human dignity? Either human beings are unique or they are not. Either thesis may be credible, but not both. That is not just a question for religion.


I think both theses are misrepresented. Firstly, I don’t believe that it is only liberals who believe in “an exaltation, a defense of the fundamental value and category of human dignity”. Isn’t that what all of us believe in, including conservatives (and excluding communists)? Also, it is too simplistic to speak of orthodox Darwinism as concluding that “there remains no fundamental difference between human beings and all other living beings”. This is certainly true when we speak about the process of how we evolved and of the biological systems that sustain us, but that does not preclude the possibilty of dignity.

It is not speciesism to say that humans are different from apes, who are different from kangaroos, who are different from bacteria. Any Darwinian will agree with that, and will elaborate that one of the qualities that sets up apart, indeed our most favourable adaptation, is our large brain, and the powers of cognition that we have developed. Our brains enable us to reason about things, learn how to live with each other and form a moral sense. “[T]he fundamental value and category of human dignity” arises from that. The two theses Lukacs talks about, thus, are not just mis-stated, but also perfectly compatible.

1 comment:

Zeke said...

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lol My wise desicion was to stop and read this entire astounding blog. It is well organized and is a bit unique than the rest... Keep up the good work.

I soon go and look at the archives!

Regards,
astounding blog