Shouting begets more shouting. So I shan’t shout against a militant liberalism deafening our reason. I won’t even ironize about their inconvenient marriage with zealots. It’s their conviction that runs deep after all and we should respect people’s convictions.
I’ll just ask a simple question: “Are militant liberals still liberal?”.
There was a time not that long ago when being liberal was risky. It did not quite get you fed to the lions but it required you had a lot of money to get away with saying your piece. In an attempt to make peace, John Rawls said: “Thus I believe that a democratic society is not and cannot be a community, where by community I mean a body of persons united in affirming the same comprehensive doctrine.” Political liberalism was born again, and with it the new consensus of agreeing to disagree.
That got us here so another simple question is: “Were non-militant liberals ever liberal?”.
Scylla and Charybdis always all over again, can we find a way not to exclude the middle?
“(..) this command that we shall put a stopper on our heart, instincts and courage, and wait (..) till doomsday, or till such time as our intellect and senses working together may have raked in evidence enough – this command, I say, seems to me the queerest idol ever manufactured in the philosophic cave.” W. James, The Will to Believe, p. 32 (1).
In his essay “The Will to Believe” (1), William James makes the case that reason does not stand supreme, that being human we always also have some passional skin in our games. James relies on “Pascal’s wager” – where passion and reason are so peculiarly mixed as to yield holy waters that can’t be reduced to the characteristics of hydrogen or oxygen. His paper maybe reads more as an attack on our modern scientific consensus, as establishing its own scientistic holy cows, than as a defence of religion. He challenges a purely rational truth-seeking attitude as committed to a prior passionate and absolutist conception that we ought to constantly suspend judgment to avoid the False. My short piece will not challenge that analysis – mainly because for the most part I pragmatically agree with it – but analyze whether we can, by James’ own lights, be passionately committed to believe in Truth at all. If not, as I will try to defend, then the whole business of comprehensive doctrines as taken for granted by Rawls (3), and certainly sympathetic to James’ view, becomes problematic – even within a religious or moral philosophical outlook. Believing in truth is not the same as believing in Truth and sceptics get away with not believing in the latter if they’re passionate in practice i.e. willing to act on their moral passions and reflect on their actions.
I proceed as follows: in the next section I explore the link between passion and truth in (1), the section thereafter deals with truth and practice, then I conclude. Continue reading
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