Lust a virtue

by Chris Bertram on January 11, 2004

The BBC website picks up on “Cambridge philosopher Simon Blackburn’s claim”: that lust should be reclassified as a virtue rather than a sin:

bq. Professor Blackburn is quoted as saying: “The important thing is that generally anything that gives pleasure has a presumption in its favour.

bq. “The question is how we control it.”

I had heard that lust had become fashionable among the Cambridge faculty, but I hadn’t expected a theoretical elaboration of its benefits.



Ophelia Benson 01.11.04 at 9:49 pm

Surely you jest. Theoretical justifications have been pouring or do I mean thundering off the presses for centuries. Well more or less theoretical anyway. Look at Montaigne, On Some Verses of Virgil. All right, not very theoretical, but then he didn’t have the maths for it.


Chris Bertram 01.11.04 at 11:05 pm

Surely I do.


Nasi Lemak 01.11.04 at 11:27 pm

Perhaps it was the opportunity for a dig at last summer’s Cambridge scandal?


Ophelia Benson 01.11.04 at 11:50 pm

Well of course I knew you did – I just wasn’t sure what the jest was about. If it’s insider gossip [sigh] I’m at a disadvantage. I live under a bramble bush 752 miles from the nearest settlement in Tierra del Fuego. It’s quite pleasant, but I lose touch with the gossip.


jason 01.11.04 at 11:52 pm

i think i’d be in support of this by default of affliction. is that so wrong? he he.


Ophelia Benson 01.12.04 at 12:01 am

I’m awfully tempted to google “Cambridge sex scandal”

but that’s silly.


Nasi Lemak 01.12.04 at 12:18 am

I assume this is the story to which a reference may be being made. (The actual original story being in the Mail on Sunday last July, and therefore not online outside of lexis-nexis etc.)


Ophelia Benson 01.12.04 at 12:45 am

Why how very kind of you, to satisfy my Patagonian curiosity.

I’m very glad it’s all anonymous, I have no desire whatever to know anything further.

What was that people were mumbling about blog scholarship?


John Isbell 01.12.04 at 3:23 am

A group of Oxford dons were bathing in the Cherwell, when a party of ladies happened past. All the dons instantly covered their groins, except for one who covered his face, saying, “I don’t know about you, but in these parts it’s my face I’m known by.”


Jeremy Pierce 01.12.04 at 4:24 am

It seems to me that Blackburn is trying to win an argument by definition. What he’s calling lust is what most people would call sexual desire, something most evangelical Christians believe is good and was created by God for our enjoyment. Whether you are lusting is whether you are uncontrolled in that desire. He’s not saying anything that would even be objectionable to most conservatives on sexual issues. It just sounds radical because he’s redefined ‘lust’.


Stewart Kelly 01.12.04 at 4:34 am

I thought his analogy with thirst was a bit weak. Thirst doesn’t drive the alcoholic to drink, and lust does not sustain life in the manner drinking, say, water does.


Paul 01.12.04 at 6:35 am

While I tremendously enjoy CT, perhaps its writers could separate lust and Cambridge faculty, writing about the latter in the context of academics and the former in the context of the Swimsuit Issue? Otherwise, the images that come to mind are predictably unpleasant.


dsquared 01.12.04 at 9:37 am

If lust has been mainly a source of pleasure rather than its opposite for Simon Blackburn, I have to say I envy him his life.



Fontana Labs 01.12.04 at 9:40 pm

Yes, Simon also argues on a priori grounds for a third martini. If I were a famous academic, I would try to avoid offering theoretical justifications for my reputed vices, on pain of looking, you know, silly– but maybe that’s just me.


Nicholas Gruen 01.13.04 at 12:00 pm

Lust is its own reward.

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