Where Humanitarianism Meets Nihilism

Cynthia Weisboro, a member of the South Kingstown Library Board of Trustees, doesn’t apparently believe that self government extends to determination of the principles by which we ought to govern ourselves:

[David] O’Connell bases his opposition to such research on the very questionable theological concept of the “soul,” a concept unproven and unprovable. Speculation on the existence of the soul is intellectually stimulating, but should not be the basis for public policy in our pluralistic society. Rather, policy should be rooted in rationality and humanitarianism.

Unfortunately, I can’t find Mr. O’Connell’s full letter online (without paying for it), but it’s adequate to note that he was explaining to pro-life U.S. Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) that an honest “search for foundational, objective truths regarding the presence of the spirit, human identity, and universal justice” would ultimately invalidate support for embryonic stem cell research. To Ms. Weisboro, that search — honest or not — is irrelevant. Religious citizens are not allowed strive for a government that designs policy in accordance with the area of their lives that they consider most important. Her preferred doctrine — rationalism — is the exclusive guide of our “pluralistic society.”
It isn’t even the fact that soul is “unproven and unprovable” that disqualifies the religious view. (One wonders by what mechanism Ms. Weisboro achieved the revelation that soul is unprovable.)

Putting the well-being of a cluster of cells, with or without souls, over the interests of our suffering loved ones is not rational, nor is it humane.

So, even if human beings in the early stages of development have souls, even if they are in that sense “persons,” it would still be the “humane” choice to kill thousands of them based on speculation that doing so will lead to treatment for human beings with more cells. Frankly, I suspect — rather, I hope — that Cynthia didn’t quite mean what her language states, because I’ve never heard its like. Or, to be more accurate, I’ve never heard its like in modern discussions about the rights of the unborn; the general idea has been promoted before in different contexts, and we should all tremble if it has found a new entrance to our culture.

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19 years ago

Isn’t the elevation of “humanitarianism” to the same level as “rationality” a backdoor admission that there is a soul?
In other words, if there is no soul, then how does someone like Ms. Weisboro explain why I shouldn’t dump the humanitarianism, and go all-out on the rationality when making my politcal choices?

Justin Katz
19 years ago

I thought to make that point, Andrew, but there are stock arguments that humanitarianism is rational. An interesting question: Would it be more effective to challenge those arguments (risking a retreat to complete rationalism) or to allow the humanitarian assumption so as to leverage it against excessive rationalism?

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