Religion is not getting a lot of slack nowadays. Maybe in reading those who were first to be overtly critical of religion we can learn exactly what occasioned the onslaught. This is an exercise in that, FWIW.
In tracing back the questions raised in the early modern period we may hope to trace back the current secular attitude to religion. To make a start with this analysis, I focus on 2 short texts by Baruch Spinoza, The Metaphysical Moralist (1), and David Hume, On Superstition and Enthusiasm (2), where they explicitly treat of the threats inherent to religions when the imagination goes unchecked by rationality. My analysis tries to bring to light that there is a crucial difference in their treatment: whilst Spinoza sees linear progress in using reason to eliminate ‘uncalled for’ imagination, Hume puts reason as a mediator between two extreme uses of imagination (one leading to docile superstition – the other to fanatic enthusiasm). In my view there is something of fanatic enthusiasm to Spinoza’s view on rationality which, in denying a constructive impetus in imagination, denies something more basic to the human condition than the arbitrary conventions of specific religions. Both Hume and Spinoza utter profanities against religion, but only Spinoza utterly desacralized the human condition. Continue reading
“The interest, on which justice is founded, is the greatest imaginable, and extends to all times and places. It cannot be possibly serv’d by any other invention. It is obvious, and discovers itself on the very first formation of society.”
David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Penguin Classics, 1985, p. 669.
[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 23-12-2009. I don’t know how good or bad what follows is, but it is for sure a great quote.]
Call it the Roddenberry-principle: you can’t imagine, can’t conceive of, a society that is composed of intelligent individuals in which there is no basic notion of justice & therefore of fairness. So much so that even the biggest bands of thieves have some code of law internal to them and that any changes to current laws are invariably justified – with recourse to some ‘higher’ principle of justice. Continue reading
“But tho’ education be disclaim’d by philosophy, as a fallacious ground of assent to any opinion, it prevails nevertheless in the world, and is the cause why all systems are apt to be rejected at first as new and unusual.”
David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, p. 167, Penguin Books, 1969.
[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 13-08-2009. Sounds promising, it’s at any rate actual.]
I do not exist! Or more accurately (and more boringly non-provocative): the ‘I’ does not exist. This claim would come closest to summing up my system, if such a thing as philosophical ‘systems’ would remain after Hume and Kant. As one was tempted to sum up Hume’s system in Hume’s day as “This world does not exist” in preparation of a smug chuckle with which to discard the details of what was said by him; I’m sure one would be tempted to Laugh Out Loud reading how I sum up my thoroughly individualist thought.