I mean that both personally and philosophically.
And again, I need to explain what I mean.
First Thing’s First Thought’s blog linked to a really interesting book review by Michael Rosen in the Times Literary Supplement the other day. Looking at a recent monograph on Immanuel Kant he offers a critique based on his own understanding of the German philosopher. For Kant, he says:
“Personhood is an aspect of human beings that transcends the empirical realm and makes us, as it were, citizens of two worlds (“so that a person as belonging to the sensible world is subject to his own personhood insofar as he belongs to the intelligible world”). It is from this inner, intrinsic value of personhood that all other values must descend.
….If personhood is a transcendental inner kernel that all of us carry within us, then it is, it seems, something that can’t be increased, diminished or destroyed. How is it supposed to guide our actions? The immediate answer is that personhood is something that we have an absolute duty to respect.
…the price of a coherent account of Kant’s moral theory may be giving up one of the principal features that drew Rawls and his students to him in the first place….[namely the potential for Kant to be made to be or read as “thoroughly secular”]*”
That put me in mind of a post I wrote some years ago, which I am quoting directly below. Interestingly, I think it fits with what I posted the other day – about the problems inherent in seeing the cosmos as a machine – like a hand fits in a glove.
From the post:
It seems to me, that for the atheist – the strident philosophical naturalist (i.e. “nature” reveals itself to be unguided and purposeless) – they must believe that the personal realities of life are fundamentally false. After all, reality is, at bottom, fundamentally impersonal. Therefore, the idea of the personal – that we are persons, entitled to all the dignity that hallowed word implies, who meaningfully relate to other persons – can be nothing other than a useful fiction.
But if this is the case, this would mean, that in some sense, all of our experiences are false – even if, shunning solipsism, we take comfort in the fact we are all deceived together. After all, would this not mean that all of our ideas about life: what we theorize in this or that case – as well as what we “know” to be true – could be nothing other than “useful fictions”? How could anything other than useful fictions arise from useful fictions? All ideas – including “personhood” and everything else – could only be used pragmatically, which means they can only be used with cynicism. In other words, the philosophical naturalist must give up on the ideas of truth that philosophers have traditionally explored.
And as goes the person, so goes philosophy.
Really, if the personal arises from the impersonal, as some might argue, what does this mean? How can the personal be real, unless the impersonal is fundamentally changed into the personal? But how would this happen? How would an atheist define person – over and against “human being” (the definition which would have to include, at some level: “…a complex aggregation of fundamental particles, arranged through unguided and purposeless [i.e. “impersonal”] processes”) that is? And what would be the point – other than creating a useful fiction that allows one to sound sensible around people who really do believe in “personhood” and “human dignity” that is – of even trying to define such a [useless?] word (but then again, are not even all useful words ultimately useless, as life is ultimately meaningless)?
If the atheist says: we create our own meaning together, for some this is clearly too great a burden to bear. After all, it is a shallow meaning and purpose created by those who have derived from meaninglessness and purposelessness. What is truth indeed?
Of course, this is getting very far away from the thoughts of children. I suggest that for them, reality is fundamentally personal.
From the very beginning – from our first cries upon entering this temporal world – we discover that life is personal. Interaction with others is constant: we smile and look at one another, we make each other laugh, and we observe, study, and imitate those we admire and look up to. Through one another, we receive joy. And as Paul argued in Acts 14, seamlessly making the connection between the personal and the physical (or material): “Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Gladness is no doubt created in part through the awe and wonder the created world around us produces – but it is even more so a product of the loving relationships that we have been blessed to know.
How odd it would be if we were to discover that the closer we would examine this thing we call life, that it would reveal itself to be fundamentally made up of that which is impersonal.
(end of old post)
Yesterday, in response to my previous post, my pastor said to me: “Can you distill your argument to a sentence or two? Something like: “Modern man has been led away from God by the idea that the universe is simply a machine.”**
I replied: “…you drive me to be explicit. In this case, the truth is that I don’t know what I finally think or how I can be sure. Even if we think machine is a good analogy – and not a hard and fast reality – perhaps this idea does lead people away from God. Still, I am not sure that this is true, or, if it is true, why that is the case. I think that it is a reasonable and likely hypothesis (that is, that even the analogy is a strong causal factor in leading persons away from God) and it is what I want to explore – looking to see if this case can be strengthened – or if there are sensible objections.
I invite you to explore potential objections with me. Needless to say, it occurred to me this morning that this old post I had written and now quoted above might be of some assistance in getting to the heart of the matter… The cosmos shouts Personal Creator and must be inhabited by real persons with intrinsic dignity and worth.
Does it not seem to be the case that mechanistic conceptions of the creation – and Darwinian theories built upon such conceptions – both undermine the Crown of God’s creation, bought with the very own blood of the enfleshed Son of God Himself?
* From the review: “O’Neill explains that she was both attracted and repelled by utilitarianism. On the one hand, she shared with utilitarianism the view that moral theory should be something precise and determinate that guides actions – that one should look for (as Rawls put it in the title of his very first published article) “a decision procedure for ethics”. Yet utilitarianism’s own decision procedure is one of ruthless aggregation. Kant’s moral theory, by contrast, looks to be a way of defending the individual from instrumental subordination to collective ends. It is, to use the Rawlsian technical term, deontological. Finally, Rawls and his students took for granted that a Kantian ethical theory must be as thoroughly secular and compatible with natural science as its utilitarian rival seemed to be. Hence they focused on Kant’s formulations of the categorical imperative as a “moral law” and not his – avowedly metaphysical – ideas about how human beings’ moral agency ties them to a “noumenal” realm of freedom.”
**He also asked: “And a question: Doesn’t the assertion that God is an ‘artist’ and the creation His ‘art’ have its own inherent weaknesses?” I said: “I would be interested in hearing about the weaknesses you allude to regarding the art analogy.” From readers of this blog as well.