This August, Harvard University Press will publish Religion Without God by the late Ronald Dworkin. The publisher’s description follows.
In his last book, Ronald Dworkin addresses questions that men and women have asked through the ages: What is religion and what is God’s place in it? What is death and what is immortality? Based on the 2011 Einstein Lectures, Religion without God is inspired by remarks Einstein made that if religion consists of awe toward mysteries which “manifest themselves in the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, and which our dull faculties can comprehend only in the most primitive forms,” then, he, Einstein, was a religious person.
Dworkin joins Einstein’s sense of cosmic mystery and beauty to the claim that value is objective, independent of mind, and immanent in the world. He rejects the metaphysics of naturalism—that nothing is real except what can be studied by the natural sciences. Belief in God is one manifestation of this deeper worldview, but not the only one. The conviction that God underwrites value presupposes a prior commitment to the independent reality of that value—a commitment that is available to nonbelievers as well. So theists share a commitment with some atheists that is more fundamental than what divides them. Freedom of religion should flow not from a respect for belief in God but from the right to ethical independence.
Dworkin hoped that this short book would contribute to rational conversation and the softening of religious fear and hatred. Religion without God is the work of a humanist who recognized both the possibilities and limitations of humanity.
This April, Fordham University Press published Pragmatic Pluralism and the Problem of God by Sami Pihlström (University of Jyväskylä). The publisher’s description follows.
Pragmatism mediates rival extremes, and religion is no exception: The problems of realism versus antirealism, evidentialism versus fideism, and science versus religion, along with other key issues in the philosophy of religion, receive new interpretations when examined from a pragmatist point of view. Religion is then understood as a human practice with certain inherent aims and goals, responding to specific human needs and interests, serving certain important human values, and seeking to resolve problematic situations that naturally arise from our practices themselves, especially our need to live with our vulnerability, finitude, guilt, and mortality.
This May, Oxford University Press will publish Reason, Morality, and Law: The Philosophy of John Finnis edited by John Keown (Georgetown University) and Robert P. George (Princeton University). The publisher’s description follows.
John Finnis is a pioneer in the development of a new yet classically-grounded theory of natural law. His work offers a systematic philosophy of practical reasoning and moral choosing that addresses the great questions of the rational foundations of ethical judgments, the identification of moral norms, human agency, and the freedom of the will, personal identity, the common good, the role and functions of law, the meaning of justice, and the relationship of morality and politics to religion and the life of faith. The core of Finnis’ theory, articulated in his seminal work Natural Law and Natural Rights, has profoundly influenced later work in the philosophy of law and moral and political philosophy, while his contributions to the ethical debates surrounding nuclear deterrence, abortion, euthanasia, sexual morality, and religious freedom have powerfully demonstrated the practical implications of his natural law theory.
This volume, which gathers eminent moral, legal, and political philosophers, and theologians to engage with John Finnis’ work, offers the first sustained, critical study of Finnis’ contribution across the range of disciplines in which rational and morally upright choosing is a central concern. It includes a substantial response from Finnis himself, in which he comments on each of their 27 essays and defends and develops his ideas and arguments.
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.
In March, Oxford University Press will publish Nations and Nationalism in the Theology of Karl Barth by Carys Moseley (University of Edinburgh). The publisher’s description follows.
Karl Barth was well-known for his criticism of German nationalism as a corrupting influence on the German protestant churches in the Nazi era. Defining and recognising nationhood as distinct from the state is an important though underappreciated task in Barth’s theology. It flows out of his deep concern for the capacity for nationalist dogma – that every nation must have its own state – to promote warfare. The problem motivated him to make his famous break with German liberal protestant theology.
In this book, Carys Moseley traces how Barth reconceived nationhood in the light of a lifelong interest in the exegesis and preaching of the Pentecost narrative in Acts 2. She shows how his responsibilities as a pastor of the Swiss Reformed Church required preaching on this text as part of the church calendar, and thus how his defence of the inclusion of the filioque clause in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed stemmed from his ministry, homiletics and implicit missiology.
The concern to deny that nations exist primordially in creation was a crucial reason for Barth’s dissent from his contemporaries over the orders of creation, and that his polemic against ‘natural theology’ was largely driven by rejection of the German liberal idea that the rise and fall of nations is part of a cycle of nature which simply reflect divine action. Against this conceit, Barth advanced his famous doctrine of the election of Israel as part of the election of the community of the people of God. This is the way into understanding the division of the world into nations, and the divine recognition of all nations as communities wherein people are meant to seek God.
At least since the Enlightenment, the West has assumed that “religion” and “civil government” are separate categories. “Religion” concerns spiritual things like the soul and salvation; civil government concerns the things of this world: health, property, leisure. In fact, the Enlightenment separated religion, not only from politics, but from disciplines like economics as well. Not all cultures share the assumption that religion should be strictly segregated from other aspects of social life, of course, and not everyone in the West does, either. But the Enlightenment assumption still informs much of what we do, whether we think about it consciously or not. Brent Nongbri of Sydney’s Macquarie University has written an interesting-looking book on the history of “religion” as a separate category in Western thought, Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept (Yale 2012). The publisher’s description follows:
For much of the past two centuries, religion has been understood as a universal phenomenon, a part of the “natural” human experience that is essentially the same across cultures and throughout history. Individual religions may vary through time and geographically, but there is an element, religion, that is to be found in all cultures during all time periods. Taking apart this assumption, Brent Nongbri shows that the idea of religion as a sphere of life distinct from politics, economics, or science is a recent development in European history—a development that has been projected outward in space and backward in time with the result that religion now appears to be a natural and necessary part of our world.
Examining a wide array of ancient writings, Nongbri demonstrates that in antiquity, there was no conceptual arena that could be designated as “religious” as opposed to “secular.” Surveying representative episodes from a two-thousand-year period, while constantly attending to the concrete social, political, and colonial contexts that shaped relevant works of philosophers, legal theorists, missionaries, and others, Nongbri offers a concise and readable account of the emergence of the concept of religion.
This December, Oxford University Press will publish Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience by Kimberley Brownlee (University of Manchester). The publisher’s description follows.
Arguing for the moral and legal defensibility of conscientious disobedience, and particularly civil disobedience, this book first examines the morality of conscience and conscientiousness and then the legality of conscientious breach of law.
Part I focuses on the morality of conscience and conscientiousness. These are two comparatively neglected concepts in contemporary moral and legal theory, though they are central to practical debates about the ethics of war, healthcare, and political participation, among others. The book disambiguates the descriptive notion of conscientiousness as sincere conviction from the evaluative notion of conscience as genuine moral responsiveness. This gives rise to a communicative principle of conscientiousness (CPC), according to which sincere moral conviction requires not only that we act consistently with our beliefs and make universal moral judgements, but also that we not seek to evade the consequences of doing so and be willing to communicate our convictions to others.
The CPC informs the ensuing discussion of persons’ rights and duties within a liberal democracy. In contrast with standard liberal theorizing, the book shows that people who engage in the communicative practice of suitably constrained civil disobedience have a better claim to a moral right to conscientious action than do people who engage in non-communicative, private, or evasive ‘conscientious’ objection.
Part II argues that civil disobedience is generally more defensible than personal disobedience. The book explores two putative legal defences – a demands-of-conviction defence and a necessity defence – and argues that each applies more readily to civil disobedience than to personal disobedience. The book responds to concerns about strategic-action, democracy, competition of values, and proportionality, all of which disregard the communicative nature of sincere conviction and underestimate the capacity of democratic law to recognise the legitimacy and importance of values other than literal compliance with the law.
The book concludes by highlighting a parallel between the communicative aims of civil disobedience and the communicative aims of lawful punishment. Only the former may claim to have dialogue ambitions, which raises difficulties for the justifiability of punishing civil disobedience.
This March, Stanford University Press will publish Outlaw Justice: The Messianic Politics of Paul by Theodore W. Jennings Jr. (Chicago Theological Seminary). The publisher’s description follows.
This book offers a close reading of Romans that treats Paul as a radical political thinker by showing the relationship between Paul’s perspective and that of secular political theorists. Turning to both ancient political philosophers (Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero) and contemporary post-Marxists (Agamben, Badiou, Derrida, and Žižek), Jennings presents Romans as a sustained argument for a new sort of political thinking concerned with the possibility and constitution of just socialities.
Reading Romans as an essay on messianic politics in conversation with ancient and postmodern political theory challenges the stereotype of Paul as a reactionary theologian who “invented” Christianity and demonstrates his importance for all, regardless of religious affiliation or academic guild, who dream and work for a society based on respect, rather than domination, division, and death. In the current context of unjust global empires constituted by avarice, arrogance, and violence, Jennings finds in Paul a stunning vision for creating just societies outside the law.
This June, Harvard University Press will publish Aquinas on the Beginning and End of Human Life by Fabrizio Amerini (University of Parma), translated by Mark Henninger (Georgetown University). The publisher’s description follows.
In contemporary discussions of abortion, both sides argue well-worn positions, particularly concerning the question, When does human life begin? Though often invoked by the Catholic Church for support, Thomas Aquinas in fact held that human life begins after conception, not at the moment of union. But his overall thinking on questions of how humans come into being, and cease to be, is more subtle than either side in this polarized debate imagines. Fabrizio Amerini—an internationally-renowned scholar of medieval philosophy—does justice to Aquinas’ views on these controversial issues.
Some pro-life proponents hold that Aquinas’ position is simply due to faulty biological knowledge, and if he knew what we know today about embryology, he would agree that human life begins at conception. Others argue that nothing Aquinas could learn from modern biology would have changed his mind. Amerini follows the twists and turns of Aquinas’ thinking to reach a nuanced and detailed solution in the final chapters that will unsettle familiar assumptions and arguments.
Systematically examining all the pertinent texts and placing each in historical context, Amerini provides an accurate reconstruction of Aquinas’ account of the beginning and end of human life and assesses its bioethical implications for today. This major contribution is available to an English-speaking audience through translation by Mark Henninger, himself a noted scholar of medieval philosophy.
I am a casual and qualified fan of the thought of the urbane, naturalist philosopher and public intellectual George Santayana, whose work on aesthetics is pretty neat. Here is his poem, “Faith”:
O WORLD, thou choosest not the better part!
It is not wisdom to be only wise,
And on the inward vision close the eyes,
But it is wisdom to believe the heart.
Columbus found a world, and had no chart,
Save one that faith deciphered in the skies;
To trust the soul’d invincible surmise
Was all his science and his only art.
Our knowledge is a torch of smoky pine
That lights the pathway but one step ahead
Across a void of mystery and dread.
Bid, then, the tender light of faith to shine
By which alone the mortal heart is lead
Unto the thinking of the thoughts divine.
I am not so familiar, though, with the connection of his work to distinctively Catholic ideas, so I am very interested in Edward Lovely’s (William Paterson University/Farleigh Dickinson University) recently published book: George Santayana’s Philosophy of Religion: His Roman Catholic Influences and Phenomenology (Lexington Books 2012). I am having trouble locating the publisher’s description, but believe this may be it:
George Santayana (1862-1952) of Spanish descent, and generally claimed to be in the canon of American philosophers, was substantially influenced by his Roman Catholic origins in his philosophical disposition toward the value of tradition, religious symbols and dogma. His philosophical project sustained a respectful attitude toward the spiritual value of orthodox religion while the thrust of his philosophy was naturalistic and materialistic throughout. There is a perception by some scholars that Santayana’s philosophy evolved from a humanistic perspective to a more spiritual one in his later years. It is the position of this thesis that his philosophy, at the “core” depicting a harmonious striving toward individual happiness, remained essentially consistent from his earliest publication of Interpretations of Poetry and Religion and The Life of Reason through his later works of Scepticism and Animal Faith, Realms of Being, Dominations and Powers and The Idea of Christ in the Gospels.
Santayana’s philosophical approach is both phenomenological and social constructionist in its methodology, significantly preempting the methodology of social constructionist theology and a post-modern interpretation of religion. His idiosyncratic phenomenological approach is compared with a “benchmark” methodology of Edmund Husserl, the generally accepted founder of the phenomenological method. There are also important similarities between Santayana’s phenomenological approach and those of Charles Sanders Peirce and Alfred North Whitehead. The basis for the comparison of the phenomenological methodology of Santayana and Husserl is their mutually similar fundamental theory of intuited essence. Santayana’s contribution to religious studies is not only philosophical but also theological where he has utilized Christian theological language in transposing and interpolating his philosophy of religion to the Christian drama of the salvational Christ. Santayana’s essay “Ultimate Religion” reflects his perspective of a disillusioned but still spiritual vision incorporating the piety, discipline, and spirituality; of a life of reason. Within the framework of this “model” Santayana’s philosophy of religion is developed and explored. Finally, the relevance of Santayana’s philosophy of religion to contemporary religious studies and selected religious issues is addressed with a delineation and discussion of some important aspects of his philosophical vision.