Sunday, February 26, 2006

Enlightenment Values Watch

So, we now have the position that the pastime of the urban middle class (cocaine) is morally unacceptable because, through a very convoluted causal chain indeed, it leads to pain and misery overseas. But the pastime of the rural middle classes (fox-hunting) is A-OK, because although it involves the tearing apart of small animals, it would probably happen anyway and so it's basically a victimless crime.

This is genuinely "Enlightenment Values" in action, because as far as I can see the only way it could possibly make sense is if you believed Descartes' theory that non-human animals were automata without the capacity for feeling.

4 Comments:

Blogger Simon said...

Does anyone else get the impression from the last few weeks of Nick that he's seeing out his contract before intellectual honesty requires him to join the Mail on Sunday, or at least the Sunday Telegraph?

It's not that he's never before written paragraphs as bad as "Britain is the only rich country not to have had a modern revolution. In France, America, even Ireland, hunting arouses no great opposition because the aristocracy's estates were broken up in the 18th and 19th centuries, or were never there in the first place, in the case of America", it's just that he's never before written them with such frequency.

2/26/2006 02:51:00 PM  
Anonymous rioja kid said...

I think it's more that this off guerilla war he's been conducting against everyone else in the media - complete with cocktail party ambushes on Rory Bremner - seems to be approaching some kind of climax. What that'll result in, I don't know.

2/26/2006 04:46:00 PM  
Blogger The Couscous Kid said...

I don't know. Descartes may have kicked off the do-animals-have-souls debate, and it was certainly alive and kicking around the turn of the eighteenth century (Bayle's footnotes on the subject in his Dictionary would fill a medium-sized philosophical treatise), but I just don't think Nick is one of those "the Enlightenment happened in the 1680s" kind of chaps with a much-thumbed copy of Jonathan Israel's Radical Enlightenment in his bag.

I think he's a down-the-line Voltaire and Diderot kind of (pretty straight) guy, and from that point of view, the debate about animal souls is just so pre-Enlightenment...

(Yes: I think Cohen must have a thoroughly C18th-centric view of the Enlightenment, as he uses Isaiah Berlin's rather unsustainable idea of the "Counter-Enlightenment" from time to time, which only makes what little sense it doesn't if you're taking the E to be a largely French project focussed on the 1740s, with an assist from Adam Smith and Immanuel Kant a bit later in the century.)

2/26/2006 07:52:00 PM  
Blogger The Couscous Kid said...

(Or maybe he's a sort of Enlightenment d'Holbachian materialist who thinks that we're all automata - animals and humans alike - but that nevertheless there are still reasons of some kind to be troubled by the things people put up their noses. That might be it.)

2/26/2006 07:54:00 PM  

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