Sunday, October 01, 2006

Pg. 69: "Lust"

The philosopher Simon Blackburn published a slender book in 2004 titled Lust: The Seven Deadly Sins.

The book is as enlightening as it is engaging. I plan to write more about it soon, so here I only want to apply the "page 69 test."

As it happens, page 69 is the start of Chapter Seven, "What Nature Intended."
We pause to reflect here on the argument that sex is for procreation, and hence that any sexual activity or desire that does not have reproduction as its aim is immoral. Here, philosophy can come to the rescue. The dry way of doing it would be through teasing out various different senses of "natural," and then worrying quite how the move works from what is there, in nature, and what ought to be there, in human activities. The quick way of realizing that something must be wrong is through humor.

The novelist and playwright Michael Frayn, himself trained in philosophy in Cambridge, nicely parodied the argument some years ago when the Roman Catholic Church was debating the encyclical Humanae Vitae, which ended up reaffirming the....
And that's where the page ends. (If you must know, the end of that last sentence is "...opposition to contraception.")

I would say that page 69 of Lust does in fact fairly represent the book: it's straightforward, mentions what philosophy--both in the "dry way" and a more lively way--offers in the way of understanding an interesting issue, gives a nod to an artist who has something interesting to say about the subject, and challenges the position held by a powerful institution.

"Instead of describing the book in Great Detail," writes Blackburn at his website, "I thought it might be useful to append my part of a thoughtful interchange it prompted with Father Alban McCoy of Cambridge. The full exchange appeared in The Tablet, February 2004."

Previous "page 69 tests":
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue