Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The intrinsic value of individuals

Standpoint provides a very interesting and wide-ranging conversation between Raymond Tallis [author of Enemies of Hope, 1997] and Roger Scruton [author of The Uses of Pessimism], which they title "Staving Off Despair: On the Use and Abuse of Pessimism for Life." One of the many topics they touch on is the ubiquity of sex in the culture:
Daniel Johnson: We have a culture now in which sex plays a central role, and yet it's strangely bloodless, isn't it?

Raymond Tallis: I strongly share Roger's point of view over this. We live in a world in which pornography or at least sexual allusion is almost wall-to-wall. You can't open a copy of The Times without seeing a naked woman and that to me is the marker of where we are at. It's as if sex has become shallower and shallower as it has become spread more widely. Sex as a consumer item increasingly dominates over sex as an encounter with the utter mystery of another person, with a profound sense of love and compassion for them. These are marginalised by the ubiquitous culture of pornography.

Roger Scruton: I agree. One of the social functions of religion is that of withdrawing certain things from the market. We fence them round and say that here is a realm where things are not exchanged, bartered, paid for or taken, but it's still a realm where things can be given in a special way.

That is the idea of a sacrament: certain ways in which human beings give to each other have a sort of blessing from another realm, and only then can they be fully themselves. It's not just sex that religion withdraws from the market — people too. At least in Christianity, people are not to be used and sold, they are to be understood as objects of intrinsic value. This intuition was rephrased by Kant in terms of his categorical imperative but it's there in Aquinas and all Christian thinking. It is there in the Old Testament too. .... [more]
Staving Off Despair: On the Use and Abuse of Pessimism for Life | Standpoint