December 5, 2009
Simon Blackburn of Cambridge University has mounted a defense of the relevance of the discipline of moral philosophy in Cam Magazine (Issue 58, Michaelmas 2009, p.35-37). In response to those disciplines that would reduce human behavior to matters of genetics, or to some basic assumption such as the economic one that we are inherently selfish. He says “just as we need clean air, we need a clean moral climate,--and one of the tasks of moral philosophy is to worry about whether we have it.” He challenges the extreme individualism of much modern thinking pointing out that such things as language, money and law are ”socially constructed and sustained”.
Our friend Giles Frazer (who is once again going to be the presenter for adults at our Kanuga parish weekend next autumn) has take up a similar theme in a recent article in The Guardian, arguing against the belief of much modern atheism that children ought to be left to decide for themselves about religious faith when they are older. He makes the point that we are socially constructed and that transmitting societal values is comparable to teaching language to children. He distinguishes this from ‘religious brainwashing’.
Reading these articles leads me back to my fundamental assumption that what makes any of us who we are is some kind of sense of self together with all that we can call our ‘circumstance’, --our history, culture, adoptions and rejections, language and so on. I would count God as the source and prime mover of this circumstance (This is the phrase from José Ortega y Gasset: “I am myself plus my circumstance”) I reject anything such as the waiter of Jean-Paul Sartre that would define human freedom in extremely individualistic terms. In the same way I reject any kind of communalism that seeks to give ultimate power to some notion of community such as seen in the attempts of Lenin and Stalin to put the Marx-Engels philosophy into practice.