A secular wonder

In George Levine (ed.), The Joy of Secularism: 11 Essays for How We Live Now. Princeton University Press (2011)
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What is it like to be an earthly, worldly, “secular” creature? Is it a blessing or is it a curse? During the last two centuries, this question has generally been answered with an appeal to disengagedness and objectivity, that is, to an indisputable “scientific” representation of the whole of “reality.” The world then seems to serve as a justification, through the “facts of the matter,” of the superiority of optimism or pessimism. On the contrary, I want in this essay to show that, in order to argue convincingly about our basic attitudes towards the world and the reasons pro or con for them (if we have any reasons at all), we do not have to insist on disinterest; we need, rather, to move toward primary and apparently objectless emotions, of the kind that are called Stimmungen in German. In other words, we need an epistemology of basic existential moods. In particular, I examine, out of many possible, one basic attitude toward world – the readiness to be surprised or amazed by things or events – on the hypothesis that one of the preconditions for feeling at home in the world has to be sought exactly here.



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