A discussion of why a strong doctrine of 'reason' may not be worth sustaining in the face of modern scientific speculation, and the difficulties this poses for scientific rationality, together with comments on the social understanding of religion, and why we might wish to transcend common sense.
Why is Plotinus relevant to a study of marginality? On the one hand, moderns have marginalized the Platonic tradition. On the other, it is our ?common sense? that?on Plotinus's account at least?distracts us from the real, and better, world. We could have learned the same lesson even from modern naturalistic science, which seems to show that we live on the margins, in a universe far older, grimmer and more mysterious than we can easily imagine, but from our ordinary point of (...) view it is the universe aloft that is of marginal concern. But the vision which Plotinus hoped to awaken?a vision that he acknowledged was likely to be momentary, and speedily forgotten?is of a wilder world than the modern?and Stoic?theory of a natural, material world. I attempt to give a credible account of this Plotinian perspective, drawing on comparisons both with modern materialistic science and with the ?sudden enlightenment? of Zen Buddhism. (shrink)
A response to Michael Moxter's account of the need for 'religious feeling' for social order, suggesting that togetherness is currently promoted in overtly non-religious ways, and that true piety may often be at odds with social - and especially with state - order.
Consistent materialists are almost bound to suggest that , if it exists at all, is no more than epiphenomenal. A correct understanding of the real requires that everything we do and say is no more than a product of whatever processes are best described by physics, without any privileged place, person, time or scale of action. Consciousness is a myth, or at least a figment. Plotinus was no materialist: for him, it is Soul and Intellect that are more real than (...) the phenomena we misdescribe as material. Nor does he suppose that consciousness depends on language (as Stoics and modern materialists have sometimes said): wordless experience is actually superior. And much of what counts towards our present consciousness is to be discarded. It is better not to remember most of what now seems more significant to us; better to discard images; better that the intellect be than , losing any sense of separation between subject and object. The goal of the Plotinian intellectual is to join , but it is a mark of the good dancer that she is not conscious of what she does. There is therefore a strange confluence between Plotinus and modern materialists: our experience at least is transitory, deceitful, epiphenomenal, and is to be encountered when we have shed our illusions. (shrink)
I consider reasons for questioning 'the laws of logic' (identity, non-contradiction, excluded middle, and negation), and suggest that these laws do not accord with everyday reality. Either they are rhetorical tools rather than absolute truths, or else Plato and his successors were right to think that they identify a reality distinct from the ordinary world of experience, and also from the ultimate source of reality.
The world we lost, and now barely understand, was one where everyone knew her place, and her attendant duties. Civilized groups were the likeliest to insist on a diversity of rôle and rule. Primitive societies are ones where there are rather fewer such distinctions. Slaves and merchants offered a way of being outside the orders, and from the older point of view, the life of slaves and merchants is exactly what the ‘liberal’ ideal entails. No one can count on her (...) connections; everything is up for sale; no one is dishonoured by the acts of friends or family; only animal passions keep us all together. Even in societies that profess egalitarian theories, castes and classes re-emerge. If there is another option it may lie in drawing, as the ancients did, a clear division between selfhood and nature: even in a traditionally hierarchical society it is possible to recall the mere selves that play their various parts. In a would-be egalitarian society that hopes for something more than the hedonic or agonistic bonds that may bind small-scale communities together, recalling, and reconstructing, that distinction may be even more important. Footnotes1 This paper is intended as a prolegomenon to a larger study of NeoPlatonist ethics. I am grateful for the Leverhulme Trust's support for this project. (shrink)
The argument from evil, though it is the most effective rhetorical argument against orthodox theism, fails to demonstrate its conclusion, since we are unavoidably ignorant whether there is more evil than could possibly be justified. That same ignorance infects any claims to discern a divine purpose in nature, as well as recent attempts at a broadly Irenaean theodicy. Evolution is not, on neo-Darwinian theory, intellectually, morally, or spiritually progressive in the way that some religious thinkers have supposed. To suppose so, (...) indeed, is to misidentify the evils we should fear. But though we should neither conceal the evils of the world nor offer any consequentialist justification of them, we may still reasonably maintain an orthodox theism. Evil is not created so that otherwise unattainable goods may come, but is an unavoidable byproduct of creation which it is – or may be – God's purpose to redeem. (Published Online April 21 2004). (shrink)
Persons are creatures with a range of personal capacities. Most known to us are also people, though nothing in observation or biological theory demands that all and only people are persons, nor even that persons, any more than people, constitute a natural kind. My aim is to consider what non-personal minds are like. Darwin's Earthworms are sensitive, passionate and, in their degree, intelligent. They may even construct maps, embedded in the world they perceive around them, so as to be able (...) to construct their tunnels. Other creatures may be able to perceive that world as also accessible to other minds, and structure it by locality and temporal relation, without having many personal qualities. Non-personal mind, on both modern materialist and Plotinian grounds, may be the more usual, and the less deluded, sort of mind. (shrink)
Philosophers are usually expected to argue only from premises acceptable to a secular audience, in ways that require no special commitment beyond that to the value of argument itself. As a philosopher, I see no particular reason to deny myself the opportunity to argue from other, more `sectarian', premises, in ways now unfamiliar to an unbelieving nation. In so doing I may (as theistical philosophers often do) sound more traditional than many theologians.
This stimulating and wide-ranging book mounts a profound enquiry into some of the most pressing questions of our age, by examining the relationship between biological science and Christianity. The history of biological discovery is explored from the point of view of a leading philosopher and ethicist. What effect should modern biological theory and practice have on Christian understanding of ethics? How much of that theory and practice should Christians endorse? Can Christians, for example, agree that biological changes are not governed (...) by transcendent values, or that there are no clear or essential boundaries between species? To what extent can 'Nature' set our standards? Professor Clark takes a reasoned look at biological theory since Darwin and argues that an orthodox Christian philosophy is better able to accommodate the truth of such theory than is the sort of progressive, meliorist interpretation of Christian doctrine which is usually offered as the properly 'modern' option. (shrink)
An examination of the currently fashionable thesis that scientists, and especially biologists in the wake of the Darwinian Revolution, can now solve the problems that traditional philosophers have only talked about. Past philosophers, for example during the Enlightenment, have themselves made use of contemporary, scientific techniques and theories. The present claim may only be another such move, to be welcomed by philosophers who would distinguish themselves from rhetoricians. Others may prefer to stake out the merely human or subjective world as (...) their field, identifying 'truth' with 'what it's better to believe'. Both moderns and postmoderns must abandon the rational realism that actually sustained Enlightenment endeavours, and Darwinian explanation, on its own, must erode traditional ethical values and the meta-ethical assumptions that sustain them. Universal humanism is only one possible project among many - and Darwinian reasonings suggest that it is hypocritical. In this crisis there may after all be a rôle for traditional, Platonizing philosophers, believing that there is a truth, and that we can find it out. Such a theory is actually better able to explain our scientific successes, and our evolutionary past. (shrink)
Adam Sedgwick's complaint that Darwin's rejection of final causes indicated a "demoralized understanding" cannot easily be dismissed: if nothing happens because it should, our opinions about what is morally beautiful are no more than projections. Darwin was carrying out an Enlightenment project — to exclude final causes or God's purposes from science because we could not expect to know what they were. That abandonment of final causes was an episode in religious history, a reaction against complacent idolatry, an attempt to (...) purify the soul. By not moralizing the universe we were to be released to see the beauty in all its parts, and in the whole, and so to acknowledge our own selves as fragments or facets of a cosmos whose value transcends our petty purposes. Unfortunately, later thinkers, forgetful of the priority of value (both in human life and in the universe at large), supposed that merely material causes could and (weirdly) should explain away the very recognition of value which drives us and the world. If Darwin had been right — if we value what we do solely because our ancestors somehow outbred their cousins — there could be no authority in science, nor any real distinction between savages and sages (except, no doubt, that savages have more descendants). If he is wrong, then the way is open to consider that archetypes and values, as partial realizations of the single, simple, transcendent One, have had an effect on Nature as well as on our attitudes. The 'moral', so to speak, is always breaking in on the 'material', and always losing its way, to be renewed again. The real explanation of the world's existence, and of life's, is that God wills it so. This does not enable us to predict what else He wills, any more than Darwinian theory itself can actually predict in anything but the broadest, emptiest of terms. Without an appeal to that, broadly Platonic, picture there can be no genuine explanation of the world's variety, nor any duty to seek one. (shrink)
There is both theoretical and experimental reason to suppose that no-one could ever have learned to speak without an environment of language-users. How then did the first language-users learn? Animal communication systems provide no help, since human languages aren't constituted as a natural system of signs, and are essentially recursive and syntactic. Such languages aren't demanded by evolution, since most creatures, even intelligent creatures, manage very well without them. I propose that representations, and even public representations like sculptures, precede full (...) languages, which were devised by the first human children as secret tongues to create fantasy realms inaccessible to their proto-human parents. Language, in brief, is not required for truth-telling or for the convenience of hunters. It is a peculiar modification of public representation, which permits us to construct new public worlds. (shrink)
The Bishop of Questoriana has recently asked for a pontifical document ‘furnishing a doctrinal foundation of love and respect for life existing on the earth’. Mainstream moralists have urged, since the Axial Era, that it is human life that most demands love and respect. We realize and perfect our own humanity by recognizing humanity in every other, of whatever creed or race. Realizing that biological species are not natural kinds, more recent moralists have hoped to found moral decency either on (...) a respect for ‘rationality’ which excludes many of our conspecifics, or on simple loyalty to our immediate kin. Neither option is without its costs, and Catholic moralists in particular have often been suspicious of a morality that seems to lead to contempt for ordinary human life. Neither advocacy of ‘animal rights’ nor utilitarian calculation of animal pains and pleasures sit well with a traditional Catholic morality. Conversely, many of those who defend traditional practices such as hunting, farming or goading animals to fight, themselves suppose that ‘human’ and ‘animals’ may sometimes inhabit the same moral universe, that there are virtues that both may display in ‘noble action’. Developing this thought, it is possible to locate decency elsewhere than in an over-intellectual respect for ‘reason’. Decent treatment of animals (as of others) is that form of life which lets us live together ‘humanely’, in appreciation of the actual beings they are. Virtue, as Aristotle argued, lies less in acting nobly than in appreciating nobility. Those who claim to appreciate such nobility in beasts must learn to live humanely. (shrink)
In The Political Animal Stephen Clark investigates the political nature of the human animal. Based on biological science and traditional ethics, he probes into areas of inquiry that are usually ignored by traditional political theory. He suggests that properly informed political philosophy must take the role of women and children more seriously, and must be prepared to face up to the ethnocentric and domineering tendencies of the human animal.