Monday, March 28, 2005

The Heel of Achilles

It is the rarest thing in the world to hear a rational discussion of vivisection. Those who disapprove of it are commonly accused of 'sentimentality', and very often their arguments justify the accusation. They paint pictures of pretty little dogs on dissecting tables. But the other side lie open to exactly the same charge. They also often defend the practice by drawing pictures of suffering women and children whose pain can be relieved (we are assured) only be the fruits of vivisection. The one appeal, quite as clearly as the other, is addressed to emotion, to the particular emotion we call pity. And neither appeal proves anything. If the thing is right -- and if right at all, it is a duty -- then pity for the animal is one of the temptations we must resist in order to perform that duty. If the thing is wrong, then pity for human suffering is precisely the temptation which will most probably lure us into doing that wrong thing. But the real question -- whether it is right or wrong -- remains meanwhile just where it was.

We don't talk about vivisection much anymore, but, manalive! it always seems a case of the characters changing but the game remaining the same. The above quote, by the way, is by C.S. Lewis. It opens his paper, "Vivisection," which was first published in 1947 in pamphlet form, and was collected by Walter Hooper in God in the Dock. The Lewis Estate is not particularly blessed with a capacity for making good decisions, nor even remotely comprehensible decisions, but God in the Dock is one of their good moves, since the posthumous anthology, containing a hefty number of smaller works otherwise hard to find, is probably one of the works that display Lewis at his very best. It's also one of the works that should be of greatest interest to philosophers, since it contains a number of interactions with Joad, Price, and Smart. By the way, a little known fact about C. S. Lewis: as a Junior Fellow he started out as a Tutor in Philosophy, and but moved to English Literature due to quirks in the job market. While a Junior Fellow he and several other Junior Fellows got together regularly to read and argue over papers in philosophy. This little club was called the "Wee-Tees"; other early members included Gilbert Ryle and H. H. Price.

God in the Dock was one of several books I acquired yesterday. It started out as an innocent Easter Sunday walk, but as I was walking down Queen Street, I passed a used book store. "Closing," the sign said, "everything 50% off." Of course I bought books. Several, in fact; books are a weakness of mine. Besides God in the Dock, I bought Moffat's Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament, two books on Galileo, Toulmin and Goodfield's The Architecture of Matter, a biography of Lavoisier (I've recently been on a philosophy of chemistry kick, for some reason), Frank Herbert's Dune, and Dorothy Sayers's Lord Peter Views the Body.

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