Sohrab Ahmari, Wall Street Journal, April 13, 2013.
“As pain is to the body so repugnance is to the soul,” Dr. Kass says as we sit down for an interview in his book-lined office at the American Enterprise Institute, where he is the Madden-Jewett Scholar. “So too with anger and compassion. Repugnance is some kind of wake-up call that there is something untoward going on and attention must be paid. These passions are not simply irrational. They contain within them the germ of insight. You cannot give proper verbal account of the horror of evil, yet a culture that couldn’t be absolutely horrified by such things is dead.”
The observation may not sound controversial, yet Dr. Kass, who was the chairman of President George W. Bush’s Council on Bioethics from 2001 to 2005, has often found himself in a minority among bioethicists when it comes to abortion, euthanasia, embryonic research, cloning and other right-to-life questions. Dr. Kass’s emphasis on what he calls “the wisdom of repugnance,” for example, has been assailed by liberal thinkers. The philosopher Martha Nussbaum, for instance, said in a 2004 critique of Dr. Kass’s work that repugnance has been used in the past “as a powerful weapon in social efforts to exclude certain groups and persons.”
Dr. Kass says his critics misunderstand the role of repugnance in his thinking. “It’s not that repugnance is always right,” he says. “There was once repugnance at interracial marriage, and there have been other repugnancies that turned out to be mere prejudice. But you wouldn’t want to live in a society where people feel no guilt or shame just because guilt and shame are sometimes disruptive—or in a society that doesn’t feel righteous indignation at the sight of injustice.”
Wall Street Journal