Hill on Theism, Naturalism, and Liberalism

John Lawrence Hill (Indiana U., Robert H. McKinney School of Law) has posted Theism, Naturalism, and Liberalism: John Stuart Mill and the “Final Inexplicability” of the Self. The abstract follows.

The purpose of this essay is to explore what often is overlooked in political and constitutional discussions of the relationship between law and religion. Law and religion are not natural adversaries. They are thought to conflict today not simply because secular law must create a space for competing religious viewpoints. The source of the conflict runs much deeper. It is nothing if not metaphysical–a conflict of worldviews.

This essay explores the metaphysical conflicts between the religious and the secular-naturalist worldviews by examining the philosophy of John Stuart Mill. I chose Mill not only because he is arguably the most important liberal philosopher of all time, the thinker who transformed liberalism from the older, classical to the modern, progressive ideal, but because he also had a well-developed metaphysical conception of human nature which is so strikingly in tension with his political liberalism. Mill’s “harm principle,” developed in On Liberty, is the true philosophical source of the modern right of privacy. And his overarching justification for liberty as a means of self-individuation is the dominant idea of freedom today. Yet Mill was a deeply conflicted thinker–a utilitarian who was drawn to romanticism, a political libertarian and a metaphysical determinist, a naturalist who rejected God, soul, and self, who nevertheless made self-individuation the real animating justification for political liberty.

The contradictions within Mill’s thought are the contradictions of liberalism itself. They are ultimately our contradictions–and they derive from our own ambivalent attachments to theism and naturalism.

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