Pieter Bruegel the Elder The Seven Deadly Sins or the Seven Vices Lechery

Simon Blackburn on lust

Simon Blackburn will be defending our first issue’s central theme: lust.

He writes that, after exploring the negative associations placed upon this sin by, especially, the religious (‘guilt’, ‘shame’, ‘honour’ and ‘aggression’ etc) he believes

pure lust, cleansed of these awful associations, is nearer to being a virtue than a sin. The great Scottish philosopher David Hume defined a virtue as a ‘quality of mind useful or agreeable to oneself or others’, and it’s plain that lust qualifies on all four counts. Its utility to the human race is obvious, and most people find it agreeable to feel lust, still more to excite it, and above all to gratify it.

It is hard to disagree with this position, but some (cynics) may be moved to argue the ‘awful associations’ he removes are inherent within the feeling, that Blackburn’s position is unduly utopic. To which the fun-lover need only note that there are no virtues completely separated from their (awful) worldly associations. Is not generosity often a mask for vanity or love a mechanism of control?

Before retirement Simon Blackburn was the Bertrand Russell Professor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge. He remains a Fellow of Trinity College, and is a guest professor at the New College of the Humanities. His book on Lust was published by the Oxford University Press.