Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Dignity of Inanimate Objects

Working in Gettysburg and driving past the cemetery where Lincoln delivered his address every morning, you understand the ways in which we take things and places and grant them a special status.  I have a student who argues that this status is dignity and is the same sort of dignity we grant to human beings.  Kant argues that with dignity comes moral consideration and therefore, my student contends, we can understand why certain things that may not have been thought to be moral objects become objects of moral consideration.

It made think of a story told by The Old Man when he and mom got back from a trip to Las Vegas.  They were in a nice restaurant and at the table next to them was a small group of college students who had clearly just hit for a bunch of money in the casino.  They used it to buy an incredibly expensive bottle of wine which they were swilling.  The quality of the wine, the specialness of the vintage, was clearly unappreciated.  The Old Man spoke of this not in objective terms of reporting facts, but indignantly.  The bottle of wine was being treated without the proper sense of dignity, something it deserved for being what it is.  Similarly, a longtime baseball card collector I was talking with recently was saying how his wife cannot understand why his 1909 Honus Wagner card is not "just a piece of cardboard."

Do these sorts of things have dignity and does it carry with it a certain moral responsibility for us?  Or is it just that we have an attachment that creates a sense like dignity, but is different?