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The Hungry Soul: Eating and the Perfecting Our Nature. By Leon R. Kass. New York: Free Press, 1994. Pp. 248. $24.95. The possibilities implied by progress in biology make it urgent that we seek ethical perspectives grounded in a meaningful account of human life. The analytic and reductive methods of our modern science, however, leave us distrustful of nature as a source of moral guidance and disenchanted with die moral norms of our cultural traditions. Increasingly, ethics is reduced to rules and rational formulas unrelated to the vibrant experience of either our inner sense-of-self, or our shared social realities . The origin of our concept of ethics, however, is from a quite different notion. Our word ethics comes from the ancient Greek which means "habit, custom and character." Ethos, in turn, shares with our word ethnic a still more ancient ProtoIndoeuropean root seu, meaning "our kind, what we are by our nature." The original idea of ethics, therefore, is that of a unifying practice of a people that both manifests their intrinsic nature and cultivates their human character. In The Hungry Soul: Eating and the Perfecting of Our Nature, Leon Kass has written a book of great value in reorienting our thinking about human life and reopening the possibility of such an approach to effiics. Through the subject of eating, as a bridge between basic biological necessity and fullest humanity, Kass reconnects the realms of biology and human cultural practice, and reestablishes the link between nature, human nature, and ethics. Leon Kass is trained as a physician and biochemist and teaches philosophy and literature at the University of Chicago. He is a founding Fellow of the Hastings Center and among America's most thoughtful and respected writers in the field of biomedical ethics. His previous book, Toward a More Natural Science: Biology and Human Affairs, sought an ethically relevant philosophical biology, one truer to human life as lived and inwardly experienced. The Hungry Soul extends this discussion into the realms of custom, civility, and religious practice through the relationship between human eating, human freedom, and human moral self-consciousness. Kass begins his discussion with an uncommon suggestion, "We have lost our way in the world partly because we no longer believe that our ordinary experience of life in the world may be the privileged road to the deepest truth." He then proceeds by looking at the actual phenomena, both living nature and historical cultural practice , to gain insight concerning human place and human purpose. Against the stream of modern thought, Kass argues that animal life, even at its simplest metabolic level, cannot be fully understood without reference to "some notion of form or soul or purpose." Drawing on the Aristotelian concept of form (Gk. eidos: idea, look, species) as the organized, purposeful unity of an organism, he distinguishes between what something is "made-out-of" and what it "is." Not content to define the whole in terms of its parts, he points to the integrated vital powers of appetite, action, and awareness that comprise die inner meaning or soul of animal embodiment. Beginning with the most fundamental biological necessity of food, Kass notes how "each animal, to preserve its lively existence and its formed identity, is appetitively driven outward in space and forward in time, in quest of appropriate material for nourishment." In the higher organisms, the integrated vital powers, served through intermediate activities such as smelling, tasting, and chewing, take on ever greater capacities for richer encounter and genuine relationships with the surrounding world. These intermediate activities themselves involve Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 39, 3 ¦ Spring 1996 463 needs and desires that, though in the service of survival, take on pleasures and satisfactions that become part of the goal for which the animal seeks to survive. Basic need, then, becomes the occasion of higher appetite (the hungry soul) and "appetite governs, guides and interates awareness and action: appetite or desire, not DNA is the deepest principle of life." In a chapter that leaves the reader with a renewed appreciation for the special dignity of the human form, Kass shows how upright posture leads ultimately beyond appetite to aspiration and the quest for the perfecting ofour nature...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 463-464
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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