In Infrahumanisms Megan H. Glick considers how conversations surrounding nonhuman life have impacted a broad range of attitudes toward forms of human difference such as race, sexuality, and health. She examines the history of human and nonhuman subjectivity as told through twentieth-century scientific and cultural discourses that include pediatrics, primatology, eugenics, exobiology, and obesity research. Outlining how the category of the human is continuously redefined in relation to the infrahuman—a liminal position of speciation existing between the human and the nonhuman—Glick reads a number of phenomena, from early twentieth-century efforts to define children and higher order primates as liminally human and the postwar cultural fascination with extraterrestrial life to anxieties over AIDS, SARS, and other cross-species diseases. In these cases the efforts to define a universal humanity create the means with which to reinforce notions of human difference and maintain human-nonhuman hierarchies. In foregrounding how evolving definitions of the human reflect shifting attitudes about social inequality, Glick shows how the consideration of nonhuman subjectivities demands a rethinking of long-held truths about biological meaning and difference.
In the nineteenth century, richly-drawn social fiction became one of England’s major cultural exports. At the same time, a surprising companion came to stand alongside the novel as a key embodiment of British identity: the domesticated pet. In works by authors from the Brontës to Eliot, from Dickens to Hardy, animals appeared as markers of domestic coziness and familial kindness. Yet for all their supposed significance, the animals in nineteenth-century fiction were never granted the same fullness of character or consciousness as their human masters: they remain secondary figures. Minor Creatures re-examines a slew of literary classics to show how Victorian notions of domesticity, sympathy, and individuality were shaped in response to the burgeoning pet class. The presence of beloved animals in the home led to a number of welfare-minded political movements, inspired in part by the Darwinian thought that began to sprout at the time. Nineteenth-century animals may not have been the heroes of their own lives but, as Kreilkamp shows, the history of domestic pets deeply influenced the history of the English novel.
“Lawler proves himself again one of liberal democracy’s most perceptive friendly critics. . . . Lawler ranges widely—drawing on Socrates, Tocqueville, Solzhenitsyn, and Benedict XVI, among others—to explore the disturbing challenge modern liberalism poses to human dignity.” —First Things
“Written with grace, wit, and irrepressible self-assurance, [Modern and American Dignity] explores the moral, philosophical, and religious sources of human dignity. . . . Lawler argues that human rights and choices must rest on human dignity, and that dignity requires ontology—a concept of a person as a whole being—at odds with both neo-Darwinian sociobiology and Enlightenment individualism. . . . Recommended.” —Choice
“Lawler’s study excels at introducing critical themes in the discussion of what it means to be human . . . One of the most intellectually stimulating studies I’ve read in a long time. . . . Lawler is brilliant in his analysis. . . . The separate points of each chapter rise to the level of seminal insights. And in the end, like all profitable lines of thought once properly balanced, they form a very satisfying whole: They converge.” — Dr. Jeff Mirus, CatholicCulture.org
“As go the souls of individual Americans will go the future of our country. . . . Peter Lawler’s book should be studied so that we too can be open to the truth about ourselves and our country.” —University Bookman
“A lively and illuminating book . . . Lawler’s wide learning is never merely academic, but always at the service of understanding the human soul, and the political predicament of late modern man. . . . This is a book that allows us to think realistically about personal virtue.” —Journal of Markets and Morality
“Puts Mr. Lawler firmly in the rank of generally Christian and usually progressive-conservative thinkers identified by Russell Kirk as contributing to the uniquely Anglospheric form of the Conservative Mind. He is a real joy to read. . . . Grade: A+.” —BrothersJudd.com
Winner of “Author of the Year Award for Essay” from the Georgia Writers Association
An Indispensable Guide to Our Most Pressing Moral and Political Debates
The horrors of the twentieth century exposed the insufficiency of speaking of human rights. In intending to extinguish whole classes of human beings, the Nazis and Communists did something much worse than violating rights; they aimed to reduce us all to less than who we really are. As political philosopher Peter Augustine Lawler shows in this illuminating book, rights are insecure without some deeper notion of human dignity.
The threats to human dignity remain potent today—all the more so for being less obvious. Our anxious and aging society has embraced advances in science, technology, and especially biotechnology—from abortion and embryonic stem-cell research to psychopharmacology, cosmetic surgery and neurology, genetic manipulation, and the detachment of sex from reproduction. But such technical advances can come at the expense of our natural and creaturely dignity, of what we display when we know who we are and what we’re supposed to do. Our lives will only become more miserably confused if we cannot speak confidently about human dignity.
In Modern and American Dignity, Lawler, who served on President George W. Bush’s Council on Bioethics, reveals the intellectual and cultural trends that threaten our confidence in human dignity. The “modern” view of dignity, as he calls it, denies what’s good about who we are by nature, understanding human dignity to mean moral autonomy (freedom from nature) or productivity (asserting our mastery over nature by devising ingenious transformations). This new understanding of dignity stands at odds with the “American” view, which depends on the self-evidence of the truth that we are all created equally unique and irreplaceable. The American view, which is indebted to classical, Christian, and modern sources, understands that free persons are more than merely autonomous or productive beings—or, for that matter, clever chimps. It sees what’s good in our personal freedom and our technical mastery over nature, but only in balance with the rest of what makes us whole persons—our dignified performance of our “relational” duties as familial, political, and religious beings.
Modern and American Dignity explores these topics with wit and elegance. To make sense of contemporary political and moral debates, Lawler draws on a wide range of thinkers—from Socrates to Solzhenitsyn, from Tocqueville to Chesterton, from John Courtney Murray to our philosopher-pope Benedict XVI. In revealing the full dimensions of these debates, he exposes the emptiness of glib pronouncements—such as President Obama’s—that our bioethical conflicts can be resolved by a consensus of scientific experts. As the experience of the Bush Bioethics Council demonstrated, there is no scientific consensus about who a human being is.
Lawler has provided an indispensable guide to today’s complex political, bioethical, and cultural debates.
Challenging traditional philosophical views of moral responsibility, Eugene Schlossberger argues that we are responsible not so much for what we do as for who we are. He explores what it means to be a person, concluding that personhood is the sum of beliefs and values—which are by no means entirely within our control. Consequently, the voluntariness of our acts—or even whether we act at all—is irrelevant to the moral evaluation of us as persons. Schlossberger contends that we are to be judged morally on the basis of what we are, our "world-view," rather than what we do.
In Moral Responsibility and Persons Schlossberger disputes various received philosophical positions. His challenging and entertaining account also examines psychology and its view of the nature of personhood, as well as insanity and the "personality" of animals, children, and computers. He explores the validity of emotions we may feel in response to others—especially gratitude and resentment. And finally, Schlossberger tackles the inevitable implications of his position in the area of crime and punishment.
Persons and Things
Barbara Johnson Harvard University Press, 2008 Library of Congress PN49.J55 2008 | Dewey Decimal 809.9335
Moving effortlessly between symbolist poetry and Barbie dolls, artificial intelligence and Kleist, Kant, and Winnicott, Barbara Johnson not only clarifies psychological and social dynamics; she also re-dramatizes the work of important tropes—without ever losing sight of the ethical imperative with which she begins: the need to treat persons as persons.
In Persons and Things, Johnson turns deconstruction around to make a fundamental contribution to the new aesthetics. She begins with the most elementary thing we know: deconstruction calls attention to gaps and reveals that their claims upon us are fraudulent. Johnson revolutionizes the method by showing that the inanimate thing exposed as a delusion is central to fantasy life, that fantasy life, however deluded, should be taken seriously, and that although a work of art “is formed around something missing,” this “void is its vanishing point, not its essence.” She shows deftly and delicately that the void inside Keats’s urn, Heidegger’s jug, or Wallace Stevens’s jar forms the center around which we tend to organize our worlds.
The new aesthetics should restore fluidities between persons and things. In pursuing it, Johnson calls upon Ovid, Keats, Poe, Plath, and others who have inhabited this in-between space. The entire process operates via a subtlety that only a critic of Johnson’s caliber could reveal to us.
Taking as their departure point the political-philosophical analyses of German scholar Tilo Schabert, the philosophical and empirical essays in this volume invite the reader to move beyond the sterile dichotomy of political activity as either pure will or as folded into a more manageable activity.
In his 2010 book What Is a Person?, Christian Smith argued that sociology had for too long neglected this fundamental question. Prevailing social theories, he wrote, do not adequately “capture our deep subjective experience as persons, crucial dimensions of the richness of our own lived lives, what thinkers in previous ages might have called our ‘souls’ or ‘hearts.’” Building on Smith’s previous work, To Flourish or Destruct examines the motivations intrinsic to this subjective experience: Why do people do what they do? How can we explain the activity that gives rise to all human social life and social structures?
Smith argues that our actions stem from a motivation to realize what he calls natural human goods: ends that are, by nature, constitutionally good for all human beings. He goes on to explore the ways we can and do fail to realize these ends—a failure that can result in varying gradations of evil. Rooted in critical realism and informed by work in philosophy, psychology, and other fields, Smith’s ambitious book situates the idea of personhood at the center of our attempts to understand how we might shape good human lives and societies.
This text looks at the people, ideas and events between the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the Second Reform Act of 1867. From "John Arthur Roebuck and the Crimean War", and "Samuel Smiles and the Gospel of Work" to "Thomas Hughes and the Public Schools" and "Benjanmin Disraeli and the Leap in the Dark", Asa Briggs provides an assessment of Victorian achievements; and in doing so conjures up an enviable picture of the progress and independence of the last century.
"For expounding this theme, this interaction of event and personality, Mr. Briggs is abundantly and happily endowed. He is always readable, often amusing, never facetious. He is widely read and widely interested. He has a sound historic judgment, and an unfailing sense for what is significant in the historic sequence and what is merely topical. . . . Above all, he is in sympathy with the age of which he is writing."—Times Literary Supplement
What is a person? This fundamental question is a perennial concern of philosophers and theologians. But, Christian Smith here argues, it also lies at the center of the social scientist’s quest to interpret and explain social life. In this ambitious book, Smith presents a new model for social theory that does justice to the best of our humanistic visions of people, life, and society.
Finding much current thinking on personhood to be confusing or misleading, Smith finds inspiration in critical realism and personalism. Drawing on these ideas, he constructs a theory of personhood that forges a middle path between the extremes of positivist science and relativism. Smith then builds on the work of Pierre Bourdieu, Anthony Giddens, and William Sewell to demonstrate the importance of personhood to our understanding of social structures. From there he broadens his scope to consider how we can know what is good in personal and social life and what sociology can tell us about human rights and dignity.
Innovative, critical, and constructive, What Is a Person? offers an inspiring vision of a social science committed to pursuing causal explanations, interpretive understanding, and general knowledge in the service of truth and the moral good.
Just what is a human being? Who counts? The answers to these questions are crucial when one is faced with the ethical issue of taking human life. In this affirmation of the intrinsic personal dignity and inviolability of every human individual, John Kavanaugh, S. J., denies that it can ever be moral to intentionally kill another.
Today in every corner of the world men and women are willing to kill others in the name of "realism" and under the guise of race, class, quality of life, sex, property, nationalism, security, or religion. We justify these killings by either excluding certain humans from our definition of personhood or by invoking a greater good or more pressing value.
Kavanaugh contends that neither alternative is acceptable. He formulates an ethics that opposes the intentional killing not only of medically "marginal" humans but also of depersonalized or criminalized enemies. Offering a philosophy of the person that embraces the undeveloped, the wounded, and the dying, he proposes ways to recover a personal ethical stance in a global society that increasingly devalues the individual.
Kavanaugh discusses the work of a range of philosophers, artists, and activists from Richard Rorty and Søren Kierkegaard to Albert Camus and Woody Allen, from Mother Teresa to Jack Kevorkian. His approach is in stark contrast to that of writer Peter Singer and others who believe that not all human life has intrinsic moral worth. It will challenge philosophers, students of ethics, and anyone concerned about the depersonalization of contemporary life.
During the oppressive reign of Louis XIV, Gabrielle Suchon (1632–1703) was the most forceful female voice in France, advocating women’s freedom and self-determination, access to knowledge, and assertion of authority. This volume collects Suchon’s writing from two works—Treatise on Ethics and Politics (1693) and On the Celibate Life Freely Chosen; or, Life without Commitments (1700)—and demonstrates her to be an original philosophical and moral thinker and writer.
Suchon argues that both women and men have inherently similar intellectual, corporeal, and spiritual capacities, which entitle them equally to essentially human prerogatives, and she displays her breadth of knowledge as she harnesses evidence from biblical, classical, patristic, and contemporary secular sources to bolster her claim. Forgotten over the centuries, these writings have been gaining increasing attention from feminist historians, students of philosophy, and scholars of seventeenth-century French literature and culture. This translation, from Domna C. Stanton and Rebecca M. Wilkin, marks the first time these works will appear in English.