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.
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.
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)
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)
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.
Chesterton was a serious and even excellent philosopher, whose reputation has suffered because his style was so striking, and his conversion to Catholicism so unpopular with Whiggish Britons. He had many ?politically incorrect? opinions, but those ?faults? were symptoms of a greater virtue, his insistence that ?the whole object of history is to make us realize that humanity can be great and glorious, under conditions quite different and even contrary to our own?. His desire for a United Europe was not (...) for a larger, self?willed State, but for a continent of peasant proprietors, workers owning their own tools, citizens alive to their own local heritage. What he distrusted was the Laodicean mood that best defines modernity, that nothing is worth dying for but life is not worth living. What he consistently opposed was the power of businessmen and aristocrats, and their Whiggish supporters? habit of supposing that the actual course of history was inevitable. Speculation about might?have?beens (including the great might?have?been of medieval Christendom) is a way to subvert the oppressive weight of the present. His hope was for a revolution ('we may or may not see the New Jerusalem rebuilt. .. on our fields, but in the flesh we shall see Babylon fall'), one made easier by the realization that Babylon need never have been built. (shrink)
Immortality has long preoccupied everyone from alchemists to science fiction writers. In this intriguing investigation, Stephen Clark contends that the genre of science fiction writing enables the investigation of philosophical questions about immortality without the constraints of academic philosophy. He shows how fantasy accounts of phenomena such as resurrection, outer body experience, reincarnation or life extending medicines can be related to philosophy in interesting ways. Reading Western myths such as that of vampire, he examines the ways fear and hopes of (...) immortality are an intrinsic part of Western culture and philosophy. As one of the first works to suggest the use of science fiction in the study of philosophy, Clark creates a ground for intellectual, philosophical and experimental inquiry. (shrink)
Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life is a study of the fossils of the Burgess Shale of British Columbia. My concern is with the morals that Gould draws, with the ?new picture of life? that, he says, the reinterpreted Burgess animals compel. I conclude that his case is not established. (1) There may have been reasons to do with ?fitness? why most of the Burgess animals left no descendants, even if we cannot guess exactly what they were. (2) We do not (...) know that our past is dotted with the kind of mass extinctions that are needed for the random evolution that he proposes. (3) Even if what happened does rest on random variation and largely random selection, it does not follow that there are no standing forms that will be constantly re?instantiated. If Rational Life, in particular, is not special, then we have no right to think the world we experience bears any remote resemblance to a putative real world. (4) Even if there are no such forms, the fact that nothing in the state of things required us to exist is no good reason to say that No one requires us to. What Gould says does count against a simple progressivism, but not against an older and more orthodox theology. It also has implications for the Search for Extra?Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI). (shrink)
Dennett's Consciousness Explained presents, but does not demonstrate, a fully naturalized account of consciousness that manages to leave out the very consciousness he purports to explain. If he were correct, realism and methodological individualism would collapse, as would the very enterprise of giving reasons. The metaphors he deploys actually testify to the power of metaphoric imagination that can no more be identified with the metaphors it creates than minds can be identified with memes. That latter equation, of minds with meme?complexes, (...) rests for its meaning on the existence of real minds, which are not to be equated with the thoughts they have. (shrink)
In this book, Stephen R.L. Clark defends the primary faith of humankind, that there is a real world which is more than a shadow of our desires and fancies, and which can be discovered through right reason. Focusing on the way in which we can "turn aside" to the Truth from the normal delusions of self-concern, Clark offers a properly worked, Platonic metaphysics as the key to identifying that reality. This book is the final volume of Limits and Renewals, a (...) trilogy based on the author's Stanton lectures, delivered at Cambridge between 1986 and 1989, and his Wilde lectures, delivered at Oxford in 1990. (shrink)
Taylor recognizes the problems posed by the ideals of disengaged reason and the affirmation of ?ordinary life? for unproblematic commitment to other ideals of universal justice and the like. His picture of ?the modern identity? neglects too much of present importance and he is too disdainful of Platonic realism to offer a convincing solution. The romantic expressivism that he seeks to re?establish as an important moral resource can only avoid destructive effects if it is taken in its original and Platonic (...) context. (shrink)
This second volume in the Limits and Renewals trilogy is an attempt to restate a traditional philosophy of mind, drawing on philosophical and poetical resources that are often neglected in modern and postmodern thought, and emphasizing the moral and political implications of differing philosophies of mind and value. Clark argues that without the traditional concept of the soul, we have little reason to believe that rational thought and individual autonomy are either possible or desirable. The particular topics covered include the (...) political context of identity claims, the possibility of knowledge and the dangers of curiosity, the fear of death, the philoprogenitive gene, and the mind-body problem. (shrink)
The victory of Ellerman's technetronic civilization is indeed a fearful prospect, but one that is much less plausible than he allows. His imagined makers, as was pointed out forty odd years ago by C. S. Lewis, could themselves have no criterion of right action or right belief, nor could they sensibly expect ? either on secular or on thcistic suppositions ? to be able to control the world forever.
This book is an ambitious and challenging restatement of traditional political philosophy. The first of a three-volume series, Limits and Renewals, the book is concerned with the nature of political society, particularly with the errors and faulty arguments that have been used to support a "liberal modernist" view of the state and our political system. Clark argues that political modernism, which is determinedly secular and untraditional, has been a destructive influence on religion and our understanding of community living. In order (...) to secure a decent social order, he contends, we must rediscover our allegiance to a sacred order that is represented by, for example, family loyalties, a respect for tradition, and attention to the wider interests of the global and historical community. (shrink)
To believe in fairies is not to believe in rare Lepidoptera or the like, within a basically materialistic context. It is to take folk?stories seriously as accounts of the ?dreamworld?, the realm of conscious experience of which our ?waking world? is only a province, to acknowledge and make real to ourselves the presence of spirits that enter our consciousness as moods of love or alienation, wild joy or anger. In W. B. Yeats's philosophy fairies are the moods and characters of (...) human life, conceived not as alterations in a material being, but as the spiritual rulers of an idealistically conceived world. Yeats follows folklore in making them ambivalent: either the sweet undying voices of nature or the disillusioned destroyers of humane life. His prophecies of a New Age were of a world ruled unknowingly by fairies, spirits invoked by music, poetry, and love, that do not necessarily take much care of ordinary human life. The ?Fairy Faith? described by Yeats and Evans?Wentz is a variety of idealism, and by no means absurd. (shrink)
Maclntyre's claim that contemporary moral language is, by traditional standards, merely chaotic somewhat exaggerates our chaos, and traditional order. He accuses. Moore and his disciples in particular of using moral language merely as propaganda, failing, like other critics, to reckon with the Platonic context of Moore's argument and the reasons why Goodness is an idea that rational inquiry should not abandon. Genuine moral action is done as the right thing, that produces more that is good than any alternative. Plato's model (...) of the threefold structure of human motivation, and his image of the cave, locates moral action at a higher level than action from desire or social prejudice. We discover our real selves, distinct from our physical and social natures, in seeing what Goodness requires. This neo?Platonism is a better bet than Maclntyre allows, and an answer to the barbarian puppeteers he rightly condemns. (shrink)
An inquiry into the possibility that life?after?death be understood as waking from a shared dream into the real world. Attempts to outlaw the possibility that ?really? we are, e.g., vat?brains are shown to lead to unwelcome, anti?realist conclusions about either the world or consciousness. The unsatisfactory nature of empirically observable (Humean) causal connections suggests that real causes may be found beyond the world of our present experience. Though such a story cannot now be proved to be true, we are entitled (...) to entertain it as a serious possibility. An attempt is made to say what life is like in the ?Real World?, whether this be a spatial world like our present one or not, and what moral it holds for our present life. I suggest (like Plato) that there are many levels of waking, and that our ?Real Self should not be identified simply with our present egos. (shrink)