Marsh borrows Richard McKeon's methodological notion of the "problematic" approach to intellectual history. Concentrating on their dialectical character, English criticism from 1650-1800 is explored in the writings of the third Earl of Shaftesbury, Mark Akenside, David Hartley, and James Harris.—D. J. B.
This essay explains the inescapability of moral demands. I deny that the individual has genuine reason to comply with these demands only if she has desires that would be served by doing so. Rather, the learning of moral reasons helps to shape and channel self- and other-interested motivations so as to facilitate and promote social cooperation. This shaping happens through the “embedding” of reasons in the intentional objects of motivational propensities. The dominance of the instrumental conception of reason, according to (...) which reasons must be based in desires of the individual, has made it harder to recognize that reasons shape desires. I attempt to undermine this dominance by arguing that the concept of a self that extends over time is constructed to meet the demands of social cooperation. Prudential reasons to act on behalf of the persisting self's desires are often taken to constitute the paradigm of reasons based on desires of the individual. But such reasons, along with the very concept of the persisting self, are constructed to promote human cooperation and to shape the individual's desires. (shrink)
The main lines of this exploration are quite simply drawn. That the God whom Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship outstrips our capacities for characterization, and hence must be unknowable, will be presumed as uncontested. The reason that God is unknowable stems from our shared confession that ‘the Holy One, blessed be He’, and ‘the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth’, and certainly ‘Allah, the merciful One’ is one ; and just why God's oneness entails God's being unknowable deserves discussion, (...) though that will occur as we move along. The issue facing us is the one which preoccupied al-Ghazali: how does a seeker respond to that unknowability? The root meaning of the Arabic word for ‘student’ means ‘seeker’, and that attitude of ‘seeking the face of God’, along with the indescribability of the face, will be presumed throughout our discussion. That's why we are struck with the clumsy term ‘unknowable’ rather than its more euphonious Greek form ‘agnostic’. For Western agnostics are such largely because they cannot find God sufficiently compelling, while they ‘would not have the impudence to claim to be atheists’ – as one contemporary seeker puts it. So theologians feel it necessary to enclose the term in quotation marks when discussing, say, Aquinas' ‘agnosticism’ regarding divinity. Yet a genuine unknowing does lie at the heart of the inquiry of the Jew, Christian or Muslim seeking after God; indeed, it is the unknowing which distinguishes a search for God from lusting after idols. So let us follow al-Ghazali in an effort to discover the lineaments of both search and seeker after an unknowable God. (shrink)