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Friday, November 14, 2008

Dignity versus autonomy

The August/September issue of First Things has a thought-provoking editorial on autonomy versus dignity as important concepts in medical ethics, or in the ethics of how we treat various categories of humans. The editorial was provoked by an essay by Steven Pinker, in The New Republic.

Pinker argued that dignity is a fuzzy and meaningless concept, but one which is invoked by Christians and others who are concerned, for example, about the production of embryos for the development of stem cells.

The First Things editorial basically agrees, but argues that Pinker's attempt to substitute autonomy for dignity is misguided. Autonomy, says the author, is also fuzzy, and should not be used to justify things that should not be justified.

Pinker makes some disparaging remarks about the predictive power of Huxley's Brave New World. The First Things editorial, on the contrary, says that fantastic stories, such as Ishiguro's Never Let me Go, may be giving us valid warnings. I have posted about Ishiguro's book, here.

Interesting reading. Thanks for reading.


Julana said...

Autonomy is an illusion. I have been told the goal for my son is independence (in certain areas) almost since the day he was born. Dependence is on a continuum. There is no true independence or autonomy for any of us. :-)

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, julana. I guess you are right, but we don't like to think that.