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The God Argument Part 2: For Humanism

06/26/2013

Grayling spends the second half of the book promoting Humanism, which he calls the

“ethical outlook that says each individual is responsible for choosing his or her values and goals and working towards the latter in light of the former, and is equally responsible for living considerately towards others, with a special view to establishing good relationships at the heart of life. . .” (139).

Well that’s a mouthful. Succinctly, and more colorfully, humanism is being a good dinner part guest- someone who can articulate, express, and explain his views, change them in light of evidence, listen, debate, and challenge others seeking clarity, understanding, and truth (140).

The second description sounds better to me. Most useful is a short history of the ideals of humanism starting on page 141 with Stoicism, Neoplatonism, then continuing through the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The morality he outlines is all pretty vague, and non-descriptive. Not very helpful for someone trying to solve abortion, or politics, or veganism and whatnot.

There are two essential premises, that no supernatural realm exists, and morality must be drawn from human experience and nature. This may be a sticking point for me in being a humanist. It seems a little speciesist. It seems unlikely that, given evolution’s truth, we are that qualitatively different from other animals. It seems like other animals, their desires, pain and suffering should be taken into account. Perhaps the “and nature” part includes that. EDIT: Yes, Grayling does explicitly include animals in his ethical considerations, so Humanism as he describes it may escape from speciesism.

The good life (chapter 14) is composed of 7 points (161):

  1. Good lives seem meaningful or purposeful to the people living them.
  2. They (meaningful lives) are lived in relationships- love and friendship.
  3. They are lives of activity- doing or making or learning.
  4. They are marked by honesty and authenticity.
  5. They manifest autonomy- the acceptance of responsibility for choices.
  6. They are aesthetically positive.
  7. They are lived with integrity- all the previous aspects blend together.

Okay. I guess I like those things. I’d like a little more on foundations. What makes them good? What are the foundations? Where does the normativity come from? I’m also still confused on his view of creating meaning. Where do we create it from? What counts as meaning? This seems susceptible to theists’ claim of arbitrariness, or ultimate nihilism.

Conclusion:

Overall I can’t say I ‘m a fan of this book. I just didn’t find it well argued at all. Any believer picking it up would probably just furrow their brows, and I can’t say I learned all that much as an atheist. I guess some of the humanism explanations are alright, but it just seems so sloppily argued. Unconvincing.

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