As a subtle form of ressentiment, the emotivist theory of moral values fails to understand the profoundly problematic nature of pornography. Unable to name an objective standard of moral values, emotivism will in the end find a way to exculpate its production and consumption.
Scheler helps us understand ressentiment as the distinctively modern practice of the vice of acedia. The typically modern secular practice carries the inner logic of spiritual apathy further, to the complacent contempt, even under the guise of moral theory, for what imposes itself as truly and objectively good. Ours is, arguably, not a culture of tolerance but a culture of deep-seated ressentiment that makes possible the amorphous yet broad social and political acceptance of pornography. The vast numbers of persons who, unbeknownst to themselves, are indulging in acedia , despair of and eventually come to resent the very dignity of the human person that pornography treats with contempt. This spiritual apathy breeds other vices. In his overquoted but understudied Moralia in Job, Gregory the Great famously assigns six daughters to the vice of acedia: malice, spite, faintheartedness, despair, sluggishness with respect to the commandments, and—most important for our concern—“the roaming unrest of the spirit,” as the Thomist philosopher Josef Pieper aptly renders it in his book The Four Cardinal Virtues. This roaming unrest of the spirit takes initial shape in another vice, one hardly recognized as such anymore, because modernity all too often confuses it with intellectual inquisitiveness: vain curiosity, or the lust of the eyes. Fueled by ennui and ressentiment and elicited by the roaming unrest of the spirit, vain curiosity takes the first allegedly innocent step that all too soon leads to the regular, then habituated, and eventually compulsive practice of pornographic voyeurism. When considering the vice of vain curiosity, Thomas Aquinas offers in the Summa Theologiae a brief but profoundly pertinent remark: “Sight-seeing [inspectio spectaculorum] becomes sinful, when it renders [one] prone to the vices of lust and cruelty on account of things [one] sees represented.” Christian spiritual wisdom has long taught that the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh feed each other. The concupiscence of the eyes inflames the concupiscence of the flesh, and vice versa. St. Augustine offers in the Confessions a first step to understanding why the consumption of internet pornography can easily lead to the slow destruction of moral self-possession. “The truth,” he writes, “is that disordered lust springs from a perverted will; when lust is pandered to, a habit is formed; when habit is not checked, it hardens into compulsion. These were like interlinking rings forming what I have described as a chain, and my harsh servitude used it to keep me under duress.” Concupiscence indulged and habituated gathers such strength that it takes on the nature of a certain kind of necessity that compels the will in such a way that the attribute “free” becomes increasingly vacuous.
- Spring '12