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Friday, June 20, 2008

Vining on Law and Religious Commitment

Apropos of Rick Hills' post on "theophobia" and the myriad comments that follows, Joseph Vining (Michigan) has posted Legal Commitments and Religious Commitments, a comment on Steven D. Smith's Law's Quandary (HT Larry Solum).  Here's the abstract:

Person, individual, purpose, value, authority: Can these be realities for law without making a commitment to law into a religious commitment? Can the affinities between the world of law and the world of religious life be as close as they are without leading one to conclude, empirically or introspectively, that these dimensions of experience are the same? In a comment on Steven Smith's Law's Quandary, this essay suggests law has an ontology of its own. As Smith argues, the language of everyday life does not fully reach what is real for law, and law's ontology is clearly not limited to the ontology of science and mathematics. But we can think law need not live in an "ontological gap" unless absorbed into religious life. What is real for law is connected to what is real in religious life, but a commitment to law and a religious commitment are not the same. As dimensions of human experience, law and religious life may be not separate but nonetheless not the same.

I've only skimmed this, but it addresses, it seems to me, the legitimate point of discussion somewhere in between the die-hard religionists and the die-hard atheists not only about the ontology of the law, but its apparent teleology.  That is, in Law's Quandary, Steven Smith ponders why, when we are all acknowledged legal realists, do we still speak a language of the law that implies there is some author?  The implication of Smith's final chapter is that the author really is the Author (God) - indeed, Justice Scalia (not surprisingly) wrote a review in First Things suggesting Professor Smith not beat around the bush.  Professor Vining, on the other hand, is looking for a way of explaining this sense of meaning or purpose without having to concede one needs to have a religious discussion in which to do it. 

Some commenters styled this kind of inquiry "thin" religion, a characterization that bothered me.  My wife and I were once considering changing synagogues (ours was in the midst of significant administrative turmoil).   We talked to the Reform rabbi of the temple we were considering leaving and to the Conservative rabbi (a former president of the world Conservative movement) who had married us.  To the latter I had expressed some concern about the movement's positions to which I objected.  Both acknowledged the far more difficult task of what the commenters call "thin" religion - if you are not orthodox or fundamentalist or a professional philosopher, religious institutions are where you engage with issues of meaning, purpose, good, and evil.  The Conservative rabbi went further to suggest that all differences among non-Orthodox Jews boiled down to whether you were what he called a "searcher" or not.

I'm not sure where in the continuum from Vining to Smith to thin religion to thick religion you draw the line and say we not searching any more.  I do think there's collateral damage to that entirely legitimate intellectual discussion from the theist-atheist wars Rick's post brought out.

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw on June 20, 2008 at 05:49 PM in Legal Theory | Permalink


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It's now crystal clear you're relying on a stipulative if not persuasive definition that forecloses treating the topic at hand in an open-ended manner liable to argument, consistent with your impugning the motives of those who believe there are a variety of forms of experience: after all, even phenomenologically sensitive intra-religious accounts distinguish between profane or mundane and sacred or religious experience (only the mystic tends to view all experience as in some sense 'religious'). A principle of charity would admit the possibility that a discrimination of forms of experience need not be motivated by an attempt to "marginalize religious commitments," but rather to simply acknowledge that some people neither recognize nor have what others would christen "religious experience," and they would categorically and emphatically (deny, refuse, insist in the terms of your vocabulary) state that this is not an accurate or true characterization of their experience. I myself can certainly concede that this is true while believing in religious experience qua religious experience. Those subscribing to a non-religious worldview can't make sense of their experience in your terms, and I would think that at theory or definition here should have at least phenomenologically descriptive plausibility for all concerned parties, which yours denies to those who understand themselves as being non-religious.

It's best we not discuss Smart unless you've read him carefully and at length, as he has a number of books on the philosophy and phenomenology of religion, worldviews, and so forth that are pertinent to our topic and reading snippets out of context here and there is patently absurd by way of any endeavor to properly characterize or summarize what he has to say on this subject.

I'm sorry, but I can't really make sense of your last paragraph (too vague and general?). Be that as it may, feel free to have the final word as it seems I've said all I want to say on the matter.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jun 25, 2008 12:49:55 AM

"It simply is the case that some principles or axiomatic beliefs will have to be presupposed or assumed in the construction of any philosophical system or worldview."

Exactly. My basic contention, however unclear I have been in explaining it, is that the axioms presupposed or assumed by the "non-religious" are no more worthy of uncritical acceptance--and no less accurately described as faith-commitments--than those made by self-consciously religious persons. The "scientific picture of the world" is an axiom no less than belief in God. The two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive--I both believe in God and have a firm commitment to scientific explanations of empirical phenomena--but they aren't in different categories.

I deny that there is a meaningful distinction between "religious experience" and normal, everyday experience, and view attempts at cordoning off a "religious experience" from "universal experience" as an attempt at marginalizing religious commitments. Insisting upon the distinction privileges the "non-religious" position, and I refuse to do that.

By the way, I'm entirely guilty of the "vice" of epistemic imperialism: I only differ from those I accuse in that I'm deliberately so. My accusation is based upon the fact that many non-religious types claim not to be privileging any one position but do so no less than I, who quite explicitly believe that true knowledge is impossible without God. A bold claim, true, but no less bold than its alternative.

From the portions of his book available on Google (away from my academic library at present), Smart doesn't seem innocent of this. He treats belief in the existence of God as a conclusion to be reached from a set of axioms, and because he cannot attain that conclusion from his set of largely materialist axioms, he rejects it. So do I, when it comes down to it. I do not believe that any of the classical arguments for the existence of God are satisfactory. But I reject Smart's axioms, and as he doesn't seem to defend those (at least not in the brief excerpt on Google)... what's the point?

I suggest that only superficial agreement is possible when axioms are in dispute. I also suggest that the law is a weighty enough subject that superficial agreement on fundamental issues is unsatisfactory (we may be in complete agreement as to particular legal results, but though that is a remarkably useful kind of agreement, in some sense it's kind of trivial). Thus, until axioms can be clarified, unified, or, at best, exposed and understood, I feel no strong compulsion to see what unsatisfactorily superficial jurisprudential agreement is possible.

Posted by: Ryan Davidson | Jun 24, 2008 9:25:26 PM

The scientific humanist or, say, the Marxist of a certain sort, is not non-religious because they have a negative reply to the question of God's existence, but because, such a question has no traction for them in the first place, they can't make sense of, or make meaningful, what "God" in the question is in reference to. I'm not sure what evidence you rely on to come to the conclusion that "persons of self-consciously religious persuasions would describe" scientific humanists and and Marxists as "religious" but I'd sure like to see some examples of it, as I think you're empirically mistaken. The asking of a question of the sort you cite cannot be used to simply and categorically shift the burden of proof and/or attribute presuppositions and assumptions to one of the parties, in this case, the non-religious (it's interesting that you invoke the question of God's existence, given your earlier remarks about the problems associated with equating religious belief with theism simpliciter!). A scientific humanist, for instance, may hold, with J.J.C. Smart (beloved brother of my former teacher, Ninian Smart), "that an important methodological principle...is that an important guide to metaphysical truth is plausibility in the light of total science," and for Smart, this does not sanction deism or theism but only atheism.

Now atheism need not, nor typically is, the centerpiece or fulcrum upon which a scientific worldview pivots, but rather a response to those who would contend that God, as some sort of spiritual being, exists. For the scientific humanist, perhaps here invoking the principle of Occam's razor, there simply is not the kind of evidence, alongside their commitment to a scientific picture of the world, that allows one to make such an inference or deduction or conclusion. On the other hand, evidence aplenty exists for the other constituent elements of their worldview. Now one cannot use the fact that philosophy "cannot provide a rational explanation for *everything*, rationalizing all of its claims "all the way down" (N. Rescher), to argue that this invariably commits one to faith of a religious sort. It simply is the case that some principles or axiomatic beliefs will have to be presupposed or assumed in the construction of any philosophical system or worldview. What it does mean is that even the most "demonstration-minded philosopher" or scientist must, at some point, "invite assent through an appeal to sympathetic acquiescence based on experience as such," and that hardly means such experience is by nature or necessarily what we call "religious experience," as that would simply beg the question (as does the manner in which some theists of a teleological bent will invoke the notions of 'meaning' or 'purpose'). What is more, in Jack Smart's words, while "metaphysics cannot be avoided," "it need not be apodeitc or entirely a priori." That self-described non-religious types might, in your words, "insist that their beliefs are inherently more rational than religious beliefs" does not of course make it so, but it certainly points to different estimations of the value and worth of rationality (if not philosophy and science), as the theist, even the natural theologian who cherishes the role of reason in the defense of her faith, believes the non-rational or supra-rational, in the end, trumps the merely rational, for reason unaided cannot know or fathom God, as God is, as they say, beyond reason, even if reason is capable of supplementing or aiding the religious faith of the theist.

Incidentally, your remark that "non-religious commitments allegedly only depend on universally verifiable 'facts'" may be true of the positivist, but it does not suffice to account for, or apply to, all who refuse to believe in what the theist understands by God. There is, nor need be epistemic imperialism of any kind at play here, as fallibilist epistemology is a given in philosophy of science and among non-theistic philosophers. Read, for instance, the debate in J.J.C. Smart and J.J. Haldane, Atheism & Theism (2nd ed., 2003), and tell me again that an atheist like Smart exemplifies the vices of "epistemic imperialism." But it does smack of the imperialist's hubris and a lack of philosophical charity to state that unless those who understand themselves as non-religious concede an essential premise in your argument that they are bereft of intellectual integrity and that they are no longer worthy of being in interlocutor in debate or dialogue!

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jun 24, 2008 8:56:57 AM

I understand and agree with you that this is the way the term is usually employed in the academy. But I argue that this is, in fact, a means by which critics of religion privilege their own position, a rhetorical dodge which makes the playing field inherently unfair.

Conceding that scientific humanism and Marxism are non-religious is not agreeable to both parties, as persons of self-consciously religious persuasions would describe both of them as religious. The question "Is there a God?" is, by any definition, religious in nature. I fail to see how answering that religious question in the negative makes one non-religious. Scientific humanism and Marxism clearly have religious content to them, even if that content amounts to a denial of the significance of the supernatural, as both attempt to offer final explanations for human experience. But by describing themselves as non-religious, they attempt to gain an epistemic advantage over those worldviews they categorize as religious. By refusing to recognize their own faith commitments, self-described non-religious types can then insist that their beliefs are inherently more rational than religious beliefs, as non-religious commitments allegedly only depend on universally verifiable "facts." This is epistemic imperialism of the worst sort, and unless secular humanists, Marxists, etc. (essentially, anyone who would categorize their worldview as non-religious and others' as religious) have the intellectual integrity to concede this, I see little point in protracted dialog.

Posted by: Ryan Davidson | Jun 24, 2008 7:33:06 AM

The problem with a definition of religion is not one about religious *belief* per se, as belief is only one dimension of religions, and a dimension that tends to be emphasized in the monotheistic traditions while "right praxis" appears to assume more salience in the case, say, of Asian traditions. The list is of "religion making characteristics:" religions may possess all, most, or some of these characteristics. Scientific humanism, some forms of Marxism, existentialism, etc., are certainly vivid and, I think, convincing examples of "non-religious" worldviews. Of course if your definition of religion is sufficiently stipulative or what is known as a "persuasive definition" it might very well rule out materialist and atheist worldviews but I prefer, after Ninian Smart, who wrote several books making the argument, the broader category of "worldviews" to encompass conventional religious worldviews and those worldviews that are *not*, by most theories and definitions of religion in the academy, "religious." This would certainly be more agreeable to the parties involved, as I doubt, for example, that those subscribing to a worldview of a largely "scientific humanism" orientation or of Marxist provenance would think their worldview is best described or defined as religious. And it allows us better to ascertain and discuss the (often intractable and fundamental) differences and conflicts, apart from any functional similarities, between religious and non-religious worldviews.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jun 23, 2008 5:34:08 PM

I recognize the difficulties in coming up with a definition for what constitutes religious belief, so I'm going to take as given that you aren't presenting that list as a list of necessary and sufficient criteria for considering a given belief/set of beliefs "religious." But I'm going to specifically deny that points 1 and 2 are necessary. In my book, 6 comes pretty close to being sufficient.

If, after all, what Vining and others are asking is if we can "do law" without believing in God, that's a good and interesting question, but it's a different one than asking whether or not we can do law without "being religious." I suggest that we cannot do anything without being religious, i.e. there aren't any "non-religious" worldviews. There are certainly materialist and atheistic ones, but no non-religious ones. I seek, in part, to deny that there is a non-religious "default view" to which religion may be added; on the contrary, the default is a necessary choice between one of any number of competing religious claims.

Posted by: Ryan Davidson | Jun 23, 2008 4:33:30 PM


I did not use, nor did Haldane, "religious" in a pejorative sense. Nor did I assume religion refers largely to theistic traditions, as I teach a course in world religions that deals with Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism, for example, that are of course not theistic. Non-religious spirituality is in reference to philosophical traditions that don't fit within any existing religious traditions: it is not meant to disparage religious traditions as such, and it is not an oxymoron in the sense defined and outlined by Haldane.

There is indeed much about our everyday experience that from the point of view provided by religious traditions and the spirituality discussed by Haldane is inferior: lack of attentiveness, fragmented consciousness, too much reliance on habitual modes of thinking and seeing (cognitive heuristics and biases, for instance), the use of concepts and cateogries in a way that shuts out that which does not easily conform to these concepts and categories, an ability to look at the big picture or see beyond ourselves and an egoistic or self-conscious way of relating to others and the world, etc., etc. Religious experience is, after all, from its more common and devotional expressions to rarer forms of numinous (ater Rudolf Otto) and mystical forms of consciousness, thought to be by degree or kind qualitatively different than our routine, profane if you will, way of relating to the world.

Although we can amply allow for the possibility that all have access, in principle, to the divine, it is not surprising that within religious traditions some forms of religious experience are valued more highly than others, and not a few traditions find these "higher" forms of religious experience requiring at least as a necessary condition, some kind of "ascetic" preparation or rigorous self-discipline which means, in practice, few will have the requisite spiritual will to allow for the possibility of having such experiences.

Incidentally, definitions of religion are notoriously inadequate and qhile there's nothing wrong with proposing a working definition of religion, I've found it more fruitful to speak of the "characteristics" found in most or all religions, and then in varying degrees, with religions exhibiting an inclination to lean, in general, toward the orthodoxy or orthopraxis end of the specturm (as ideal typical categories). And the late Ninian Smart, for example, came up with a definition of "worldviews" that encompassed philosophies and ideologies that are not, strictly or conventionally speaking, religious, but nonetheless functionally play a role identical or similar to that played by religions in the lives of their adherents (species of Marxism or Maoism, or forms of ethno-nationalism, for example).

I've pasted below the handout I give to my students on the first day of class.

As this is an introductory survey course of seven major world religions, these religious worldviews will be treated in a largely introductory, abstract and stylized fashion that provides you with the basic concepts and categories with which to further explore these religions on your own, either personally or academically. Each religion has numerous sub-traditions or schools within it and these, in turn, are often rather different owing to historical, geographical and cultural conditions. Although titled a course in “comparative world religions,” we will only engage in a relatively small number of comparisons, and then only with large brushstrokes. The reason for this is that one cannot engage in a systematic comparison until one has a good grasp of the terms of the comparison, and because this is an introductory course, you will be learning the fundamental terms of any possible comparison as we proceed. It would be rather unhelpful and presumptuous of us to make comparisons before we understood what was being compared.

In a course of this sort, there is no way we can do justice to the myriad forms of religious expression from within any given religious tradition, although we may touch upon some of the principal divisions within a particular tradition (e.g., Christianity, as Catholicism, in the first instance is divided between Roman and Eastern Orthodoxy, only to be later divided from within the former by Protestantism which, in turn, has many sects within itself). Given the approach of this course, some of the characteristics below will receive more emphasis than others, in part owing to the fact that we are studying religions in large measure from the vantage point provided by philosophy.

Religions treat, not unlike classical Greek philosophy, what are, loosely, ‘existential’ (or metaphysical) questions: What is the meaning of life? Why do human and non-human animals suffer? Is death the end of us? Is ‘the physical’ or ‘material’ world all there is? What is happiness (or better, eudaimonia)? Is it reasonable for us to expect to be happy? What is evil? How do we overcome evil? What does it mean to live a ‘good life’ or to ‘live well’? Are we essentially fallible creatures or are we conspicuous by our potential for perfectibility? What is wisdom? And so forth and so on.

I share the viewpoint articulated here by John Cottingham in The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy and Human Value (2005):

"Current attitudes to religion among philosophers are highly polarized, some impatient to see it buried, others insisting on its defensibility. But as long as the debate is conducted at the level of abstract argumentation alone, what is really important about our allegiance to, or rejection of, religion, is likely to elude us. There is, to be sure, a cognitive core to religious belief, a central set of truth-claims to which the religious adherent is committed; but it can be extremely unproductive to try to evaluate these claims in isolation. There are rich and complex connections that link religious belief with ethical commitment and individual self-awareness, with the attempt to understand the cosmos and the struggle to find meaning in our lives; and only when these connections are revealed, only when we come to have a broader sense of the ‘spiritual dimension’ within which religion lives and moves, can we begin to see fully what is involved in accepting or rejecting a religious view of reality."

Religion-making Characteristics:

1. Belief in supernatural beings (spirits, gods, etc.), God, or a supreme divine principle or force. A doctrinal, theological, ethical and/or philosophical dimension.

2. A distinction between sacred and non-sacred (or ‘profane’) objects, space, and/or time. An experiential or emotional dimension.

3. Ritual acts centered upon or focused around sacred events, places, times, or objects. This includes such activities as worship, prayer, meditation, pilgrimage, sacrifice (vegetable, animal, or human; literal or figurative), sacramental rites, lifecycle rituals, and healing activities. A ritual and/or praxis dimension.

4. A moral code (ethics) or ‘way of life’ believed to be sanctioned by the gods or God, or logically derived from adherence to the divine principle or force. A doctrinal, theological, ethical and/or philosophical dimension.

5. Prayer, worship, meditation, and other forms of communication or attunement with the gods, God, or the divine principle or force. An experiential or emotional and ritual dimension.

6. A worldview that situates, through (usually mythic) narrative, the individual and his/her community and tradition within the cosmos, world, and/or history. It is a significant, if not primary source of one’s identity, both in its individual form and group aspect. The worldview articulates the meaning—makes sense of—the group’s cultural traditions: its myths, history, rituals, and symbols. A mythic or narrative dimension.

7. Characteristically religious emotions or attitudes: a peculiar form of awe and fear, ‘dread’ or angst, existential anxiety, sense of mystery, adoration, reverence, love, devotion, hope, a sense of guilt or shame, serenity, compassion, etc. An experiential or emotional dimension.

8. A more or less total organization or structuring of one’s life based on an understanding (hence interpretation) of the worldview. Experiential, narrative and philosophical dimensions.

9. A social group wherein personal and collective identity is forged by the aforementioned factors. An organizational or sociological dimension. .

10. Artistic or creative expressions related to any of the above. An artistic and praxis dimension.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jun 23, 2008 2:37:13 PM

Both Vining's article and the lengthy comment above seem to make the same mistake: advancing an argument against law being inherently religious without actually defining what makes something religious or not. As far as I can tell, both authors are using the term "religous" as a substitute for "theistic," a mischaracterization. Does "non-religious spirituality" seem like an oxymoron to anyone else?

In these discussions, "religious" seems to be me to be used in a perjorative sense, indicating "knowledge" which is somehow "inferior" to everyday experience, direct observation, and the deductive sciences, and thus to be avoided where possible. This unnecessarily and unjustifiably privileges those who would criticize religion by rendering it an essentially second-class intellecutal position. I, for one, am not content to leave this incredibly bold epistemic assumption unexamined. I believe that a rigorous definition of the term is needed before we attempt decide whether or not law belongs within that definition or not.

I would suggest a much broader definition for "religion," something along the lines of "any set of beliefs about the world, systematized or not, that attempts to explain, in an ultimate sense, human experience." Under that definition not only the major theistic and East Asian religons but also many so-called secular ideologies would count as "religious," even atheism.

Should that definition be accepted, why doesn't the law obviously have some religious componants to it? If rejected, why isn't that definition acceptable?

Posted by: Ryan Davidson | Jun 23, 2008 2:03:23 PM

Hi. I hope it's not inappropriate to link to an essay of mine called "Faith in the Rule of Law" at the following link -- http://www.stjohns.edu/academics/graduate/law/journals/lawreview/issues/82-2/issue.stj -- that discusses just this question in the context of commenting on Brian Tamanaha's wonderful book, Law as a Means to an End. I think I come out somewhere between Professors Smith and Vining, though I'm not certain. Anyway, it'd be wonderful to get reactions.

My best,


Posted by: Marc O. DeGirolami | Jun 20, 2008 8:18:56 PM

I'm wondering if we might have a more fruitful (and perhaps less predictable) discussion if we looked instead at questions of morality and justice important to both religious worldviews and those of nonreligious orientation, while at the same time, according to a recent article by Joseph Singer (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1093338), are (or ought to be) central to the sorts of normative legal arguments lawyers should be capable of making. As Singer says in his abstract: "Moral and political theory provide resources to help lawyers make evaluative assertions about human values that the legal system should respect. At the same time, lawyers possess substantial expertise in analyzing, shaping, and defending normative claims and the methods used by lawyers should be of interest to moral and political theorists." I think Singer's paper has a way of focusing the discussion that makes it less abstract while engaging those keen on according a greater or more explicit role to questions of meaning, value and morality without presuming those questions are simply within the sole purview or prerogative of religious worldviews.

It might even be the case that there is something like "non-religious spirituality" that, at least at one time in the history of Western philosophy, was an integral part of the philosophical tradition (and is thus to some extent akin to classical Chinese worldviews). This, at any rate, is the argument of John Haldane in an essay, "The Very Idea of Spiritual Values" (in Anthony O'Hear, ed., Philosophy, the Good, the True and the Beautiful, 2000: 53-71). Haldane notes, for example, that "the ancient world especially engaged in styles of reflection about conduct that bear the mark of spiritual meditations." Now this sort of philosophical reflection in ethics is often canalized into what we today label "virtue ethics" (Haldane rightly says that such theory is proffered as an account of *morality* and thus simply as an alternative to consequentialism and deontology, with its own account of right conduct) but I suspect that this fails to capture what Haldane would call "spiritual values" or what John Cottingham terms the "spiritual dimension" which, like ethics and moral values, need not be seen as the monopoly of religious traditions proper (I'm not thereby arguing or implying that such traditions are therefore superfluous or that we should ignore or jettison them, were that even possible). Haldane argues that contemporary philosophy has tended to set aside or forget, for various reasons, aspects of the philosophical tradition that once had spiritual values and questions at its heart (as with the Hellenistic philosophers and their 'therapy of desire' so well analyzed by Martha Nussbaum):

"Certainly many privations may not befall one, but their very possibility casts a shadow across human lives. Those who are betrayed or bereaved, those who long for recognition or for love, those who are ill or dying, those who are clinically depressed, those who fear creeping insanity, those who feel used, those who labour with mental and physical handicaps, or who struggle with sufferers, those who are victims of injustice, all are in a position to see into the frailty of the human condition, and to see beyond the possibility of immediate and temporary relief to the facts of unredeemed suffering, weakness, solitariness and death. In the face of all this human beings often ask whether there is any spiritual truth that might counter, alleviate, or otherwise help deal with these facts, and they often suppose that it might be the task of non-religious philosophy to identify such a truth or to show there is none. Clearly this supposition is related to the still popular belief that philosophy has something to do with the meaning of life. Such, however, is the growing ignorance within the profession of the broad history of the subject, and such has been the extent of specialisation with accompanying technicality, that many philosophers are genuinely puzzled when they encounter these expectations. The fact that 'philosophy' means love of wisdom (philo-sophia) will be set aside as being of purely antiquarian interest."

A philosophical spirituality is not centered on conduct as such, but gives pride of place to experience and contemplation on experience ('self-knowledge' in the Socratic or Platonic tradition). Haldane continues:

"[E]ven the most cursory reflection upon human experience, and on the efforts of great writers and others to give expression to it, suggests that there is a domain of thought, feeling and action that is concerned with discerning the ultimate truth about the human condition and with cultivating an appropriate mode of being or demeanor in response to that truth. The phenomenology is compelling, the concerns are intelligible, and for some reason intelligent people persist in supposing that it must be a central part of philosophy to deal with these matters and therefore look to it to do so. [....] Spirituality involves intellect, will, and emotion and is essentially contemplative, but the process of discovering the nature of reality, evaluating its implications for the human condition and cultivating an appropriate demeanor in the face of these is not reducible to ethics, nor to aesthetics. Yet unless philosophers can show this enterprise to be confused or exclusively religious they are open to the charge that they are neglecting something of fundamental, indeed perhaps of ultimate human importance."

Haldane proceeds to discuss exemplars in the history of philosophy, in particular the Stoics, for what he has in mind by the phrase "non-religious spirituality." In fact he relies heavily upon Pierre Hadot's interpretation of the Stoic philosophers, which emphasizes the fact that at that time and place philosophy as such was understood as the "practice of wisdom" and the philosophers and their pupils, including the texts the former composed, focused on, "and in some cases *are*," spiritual exercises (which Christianity later appropriated!).

So, and in short, we might take a look at Singer's paper, which Rob Vischer brought to our attention over at the Legal Ethics Forum (http://legalethicsforum.typepad.com/blog/2008/06/normative-metho.html#comments) by way of addressing the ontology, teleology, and morality of law, while keeping in mind these topics can be fruitfully addressed by those subscribing to traditional religious worldviews, by those who are avowedly agnostic or atheist or non-religious in the conventional sense, and by those who may be attracted to something like (if not identical to) the non-religious but philosophical spirituality introduced by Haldane above.

[Incidentally, I noticed in the 'Theophobia' discussion that on occasion there was evidence of very constricted or attenuated conceptions of religion lurking in the background and thus I'll have the temerity to suggest that some readers might benefit from an acquaintance with a book by a contemporary philosopher with impeccable 'analytic' credentials, namely, John Cottingham's The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy and Human Value, 2005]

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jun 20, 2008 7:28:19 PM

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