Nov 26, 2009

with the exception of pride

"Once upon a time, there were seven deadly sins. … The seven sins were (and are): lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, anger, envy and pride. Now, all of them, with the exception of pride, have become medical conditions. Pride has become a virtue."
-Frank Furedi, Humanist, Sociology Professor


  1. Whatever this guy is trying to say, I don't agree. The DSM doesn't go around pathologizing every possible vice. Conditions relating to the aforementioned 'sins' generally don't merit a diagnosis unless they are seriously debilitating or causing a lot of harm. In which case it makes a lot of sense to call it a medical condition (so it can be categorized, studied, prevented etc). In any case, it's not obvious that pathologizing sins has any bearing on the question of personal responsibility.

    Also, I never did understand the whole “pride is a sin” business. Am I allowed to be proud of a house I built? Or be proud of my children? Presumably yes, because virtuous god-faring people like Sean Hannity tell me they're allowed to be proud of their SUV. But then again that seems wrong at so many levels.

  2. Dunno if it helps, but he goes on directly after this to say “To be honest, as a humanist, I don’t much like the idea of sin. But given the choice of being powerless in the face of God or an impotent client of a therapist, I side with the church. Therapeutic definitions of addiction elevate the sense of human powerlessness to a level unimaginable in medieval times. . . . Addicts are told that they will never be completely cured. We have recovering sex addicts, recovering religious addicts and recovering alcoholics. No one ever really changes.”

    Random comments:
    “god-faring”; perhaps you are suggesting that Sean Hannity eats gods for breakfast? Or perhaps not.
    Sean Hannity is not a name I frequently hear, but upon enquiring of the Wiki I have discovered he is a conservative Roman Catholic – now, these kinda people intrigue me and I quite like them I guess, but I am not Sean Hannity and neither am I his buddy. I don’t generally approve of the baptism of American patriotism & capitalism - and I also don’t like it when religion/Jesus etc are just tossed into the conservative stew as a kind of cheap seasoning – but, there are many things in this world that I do not like.
    If you want an intellectual comment: apparently Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about "cheap grace" with relation to the church's capitulation to nazism - and that seems relevant somehow.

  3. Nuts. And here was I feeling proud I made all those comments without a single embarrassing misspelling.

  4. I did get the reference to the DSM, assuming you mean FSM, but just ignored it as I am not a believer, any more than you are.

    Interesting you seem to suggest that labelling something a pathology need not redeem one from having personality responsibility for it. This would suggest to me some kind of 'top-down' mental causation, with which the physicalist would generally have a problem, I would think.

  5. Yeah, I don't think I'm that clever. I was just referring to the DSM as in the book.

    So I've been reading a bit of Steven Pinker lately, and he seems to have interesting ideas about personal responsibility. You don't need top-down mental causation to have personal responsibility (in fact the whole idea of top-down choice is a bit dubious... ghost in machine or not, we either have externally caused behaviour, or we have random behaviour). I like Pinker's approach to personal responsibility as "the ability to have been deterred". Admittedly it's a bit unglamorous, but it works.

  6. Oh, right, the DSM - I finally found it on the Wiki and have I think heard about it (there is some standard Psych reference that I've heard of before anyway) - I didn't really follow before, but assumed, as you can see, that it was a comment about the superiority of Pastafarianism.

    I'm just slowly starting to enter the (mine)field of the philosophy of mind, so I'll take a crack at response, though haven't read more than a few pages of Pinker. I wasn't careful to understand your point before, so this may not be relevant.

    I wondered if you had suggested that the personal responsibility was somehow linked to the pathology - in a sense of a physical effect from a top-down cause, hence retaining personal responsibility while still having a genuine pathology. I couldn't before see how else personal respons. & the sickness/trait could be concurrent - but maybe Pinker has come up with something.

    The "ability to be deterred", without any further reading, appears a mockery of any sensible use of "responsibility" - but I won't pull out the internet thesaurus to prove it.
    I really wonder at your use of "random" in random behaviour within a dualistic world - I think, in other words, that your dichotomy is dubious; the two views (and of course there are various shades of each and probably some options that don't fit either physicalism or dualism; I wouldn't really know) have a rather different conception of behaviour, so I dispute the "ghost in the machine or not" bit, as admittedly clever as it was.

  7. My single paragraph doesn't really do Pinker justice. I'll lend you his book sometime (The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature). You'd quite like it I think.

    I'm having difficulty thinking of alternatives to the dichotomy. But perhaps you can enlighten men (might be easiest to continue this tomorrow night).