The Death of Humanity

The Death of Humanity is a new book by Richard Weikart.

Are humans intrinsically valuable, or are they simply a cosmic accident with no real meaning or purpose? Since the Enlightenment this debate has raged in Western culture, profoundly influencing our understanding of bioethics and informing the debate over abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, genetic engineering, etc. The title of this book, The Death of Humanity, refers not only to the demise of the concept that humans are intrinsically valuable, but also the the resultant killing of actual human lives.

This book explains first why the Judeo-Christian sanctity-of-life ethic has declined historically since the Enlightenment. Second, it depicts the deleterious consequences this has had on contemporary society. Third, it demonstrates the poverty of many secular alternatives to the Christian vision of humanity, such as materialism, positivism, utilitarianism, Marxism, Darwinism, eugenics behaviorist psychology, existentialism, sociobiology, postmodernism, and others. Finally, it defends the sanctity of human life on a variety of fronts – abortion, euthanasia, infanticide, suicide, eugenics, and transhumanism, among others.

If humans are intrinsically valuable, where would that value come from?

If humans are simply a cosmic accident with no real meaning or purpose, would it follow that humans lack any real meaning or purpose and lack any intrinsic value?

Has the Judeo-Christian sanctity-of-life ethic declined historically since the Enlightenment? Is that bad?

See also:

A Grave Matter: Richard Weikart on Humanity’s Life or Death Struggle

Darwinism and Humanity: A Matter of Life and Death

New Poll Reveals Evolution’s Corrosive Impact on Beliefs about Human Uniqueness

48 Replies to “The Death of Humanity”

  1. Neil Rickert
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    … by Richard Weikart.

    That’s already enough to decide that the book is not worth reading.

  2. Mung Mung
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    Finally, a true skeptic.

  3. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    If humans are simply a cosmic accident with no real meaning or purpose, would it follow that humans lack any real meaning or purpose and lack any intrinsic value?

    No.

  4. keiths keiths
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    says:

    There’s also some hand-wringing at ENV over a survey the DI commissioned:

    But a new survey by Discovery Institute of more than 3,400 American adults indicates that the theory of evolution is beginning to erode that belief in humanity’s unique status and dignity.

    According to the survey, 43 percent of Americans now agree that “Evolution shows that no living thing is more important than any other,” and 45 percent of Americans believe that “Evolution shows that human beings are not fundamentally different from other animals.”

    The highest levels of support for the idea that evolution shows that humans aren’t fundamentally different from other animals are found among self-identified atheists (69 percent), agnostics (60 percent), and 18 to 29 year-olds (51 percent).

    The theory of evolution is also reshaping how people think about morality. A majority of Americans (55 percent) now contend that “Evolution shows that moral beliefs evolve over time based on their survival value in various times and places.”

  5. Reciprocating Bill Reciprocating Bill
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    Mung:

    If humans are intrinsically valuable, where would that value come from?

    Value that “comes from somewhere” is extrinsic, not intrinsic.

  6. Tom English Tom English
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    Fabulously stupid stuff.

    There are hundreds of millions of atheistic Buddhists on the planet who value life of all species. Judging by their actions, they value human life much more than does the Christian Wrong — those latter-day Hebrews carrying get-out-of-hell-free cards stamped “John 3:16.”

    Very few nations on the planet evince less respect for human life than does God’s Country. No Christian who neglects or deflects that awful fact can lay claim to philosophical coherence.

  7. Rumraket Rumraket
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    Mung:
    If humans are intrinsically valuable, where would that value come from?

    Please prove that humans have intrinsic value.

  8. Mung Mung
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    Tom English: Very few nations on the planet evince less respect for human life than does God’s Country.

    So you agree with Weikart?

  9. Rumraket Rumraket
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    Mung: So you agree with Weikart?

    One does not have to agree with Weikart to notice that more religious countries have worse human rights records.

  10. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    Reciprocating Bill: Value that “comes from somewhere” is extrinsic, not intrinsic.

    I’m not completely sure of this.

    In environmental ethics, “intrinsic value” is sometimes contrasted with “instrumental value”: the value something has in itself vs. the value it has by virtue of what one can do with it.

    In those terms, the Mona Lisa has intrinsic value as a work of art, and its value as a work of art would not be changed if capitalism collapsed and it lost its monetary value. When we describe the Mona Lisa in value-rich terms — as mysterious, sublime, evocative, etc. — we recognize the intrinsic aesthetic value that the work of art has. But recognizing that it has intrinsic aesthetic value is fully consistent with recognizing that it was created by a human being.

    If that’s right as a story about the intrinsic aesthetic value of a work of art, then the intrinsic ethical value of human beings is consistent with giving an account of how we have come to possess that value.

    The real issue on the table is how to think about the logical and/or causal connections between naturalism and dehumanization. Both concepts are far more complicated than Weikert’s snake-oil salesman routine would have anyone believe. For one thing, dehumanization is actually a murky notion and the social psychology is complicated.

    The culture wars business is largely about the cultural politics of dehumanization: pro-life advocates think that easy access to abortion dehumanizes fetal humans, and pro-choice advocates think that restricting access to abortion dehumanizes women. The abortion issue in the US is almost impossible to resolve precisely because it invokes the logic and rhetoric of dehumanization. Just as the US was unable to resolve the issue of slavery within the normal political procedures (though arguably the political procedures were constructed in such a way that slavery could not possibly be resolved within it), so too it may be very difficult to resolve the debate about abortion through normal politics.

    The further question is whether naturalism either entails or causes dehumanization. (Curious, too, that people say the former when they want to sell books but retreat to the latter claim when criticized.)

    I take the entailment claim to be too silly to be worth taking seriously.

    The causal claim is somewhat more interesting, but harder to establish, because correlation does not entail causation. Just because acceptance of evolutionary theory has increased over the same time that reactionaries are losing the culture war does not establish that one is causing the other, or even that there is any causal relationship between them at all.

  11. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    If humans are intrinsically valuable, where would that value come from?

    I don’t see why it needs to have come from somewhere in order to be true. That is, I think it is a moral truth that human lives are intrinsically valuable. I’m not sure why there needs to be an account of how this moral truth came to be.

    That said, one would need some argument as to why this moral truth rationally depends on any specific theological metaphysics. It won’t do to say that, as a matter of historical fact, this moral truth was first appreciated by people who accepted some sort of theological metaphysics. Firstly, that’s simply false. Secondly, saying that would involve conflating causes and reasons.

    Even if it were the case that the intrinsic dignity of human life were first appreciated in cultures that accepted some sort of theistic metaphysics, it could be that the acceptance of that metaphysics was a cause of their recognition of the intrinsic dignity of human life, and not a reason and certainly not the only kind of reason that could be given.

    If humans are simply a cosmic accident with no real meaning or purpose, would it follow that humans lack any real meaning or purpose and lack any intrinsic value?

    No, it wouldn’t follow at all, and it is simple error in reasoning to think otherwise.

    Has the Judeo-Christian sanctity-of-life ethic declined historically since the Enlightenment? Is that bad?

    The “Judeo-Christian sanctity-of-life ethic” is a very modern invention. It has some roots in Catholic doctrine, but Catholics were at least consistent to be as opposed to capital punishment as they are to abortion and euthanasia. Some Catholics take their just war doctrine very seriously, and many take their social justice seriously as well.

    The very idea of a “Judeo-Christian sanctity-of-life ethic” is a Protestant idea that begins when politically marginalized Protestants who were angry about civil rights made common cause with politically marginalized Catholics. They decide that abortion and euthanasia are more serious than capital punishment and wars, then make common cause with orthodox Jews who are deeply upset about sexual liberation.

    Thus the cultural right comes into existence as a reaction to the civil rights movement and the feminist movement, with some roots in the anti-progressivism of early 20th-century Protestants who feared the loss of their sacrosanct white male privilege and the Catholic doctrines about the mysteriousness of “personhood”.

    There is no historical evidence at all that “the Enlightenment” had much to do with the devaluing of human life in the 18th through 20th centuries. There was a great deal of dehumanization in those periods — slavery, colonialism, imperialism, genocide — and while some Enlightenment philosophers could be found defending dehumanization (Locke on slavery, Mill on imperialism), more often than not they were critics of it.

    In short, the idea of some long-standing conflict between “the Judeo-Christian ethics” and the ethics of “the Enlightenment” is sheer right-wing fantasy.

  12. Robert Byers
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    I don’t like the phrase Judeo-Christian. its only Christian which includes the old testament. Thats including Jews with no reason then any other people on earth who are not included.
    Anyways.
    Its true our value comes exclusively from our being made in God’s image or as my pastor says we are Mini-Gods.
    otherwise we have no reason to say we have value anymore then butterflies could make such concept about butterflies.
    there is no value from nature that gives us value anymore then bugs.
    It could only be a contract of love or society.
    Yet its just a contract or agreement.
    Why should we have more value then animals except WE said so?
    There is no value to people anymore then animals/bugs from nature.
    So its just a contract however enforced or not.
    OTHERWISE our value must come from our identity as God’s children and that is a great value that breaking requires punishment.
    A hell if you will because its so important.

  13. keiths keiths
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    Byers:

    I don’t like the phrase Judeo-Christian. its only Christian which includes the old testament. Thats including Jews with no reason then any other people on earth who are not included.

    LOL. Imagine Robert’s shock and dismay the first time someone told him that Jesus was a Jew.

    ETA: You did know that, right, Robert?

  14. keiths keiths
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    KN,

    In environmental ethics, “intrinsic value” is sometimes contrasted with “instrumental value”: the value something has in itself vs. the value it has by virtue of what one can do with it.

    That’s a different sense of the word “intrinsic”, based on the “intrinsic vs. instrumental” dichotomy. In terms of the “intrinsic vs. extrinsic” dichotomy, the value in both cases is extrinsic. It is bestowed upon the thing by a separate valuer.

    The one case in which I can imagine arguing for intrinsic value (in the intrinsic vs. extrinsic sense) would be when we are talking about a valuer who values him or herself. In such cases the value is bestowed upon oneself by oneself and is thus arguably intrinsic.

    In those terms, the Mona Lisa has intrinsic value as a work of art, and its value as a work of art would not be changed if capitalism collapsed and it lost its monetary value.

    Both its financial value and its value as a work of art are extrinsic in the sense I described above. If there were no valuers to value it, the Mona Lisa would have no value.

  15. petrushka
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    keiths:
    Byers:
    LOL. Imagine Robert’s shock and dismay the first time someone told him that Jesus was a Jew.
    ETA: You did know that, right, Robert?

    I think you are misreading Robert’s post. You are assuming it can be parsed for meaning.

  16. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    keiths,

    I am probably more of a realist than you are about value, but that’s a separate issue.

    I simply do not know if the sense of “intrinsic” that Mung (or Weikert) had in mind was the sense in which you contrasted it with “extrinsic” or the sense in which I contrasted it with “instrumental”.

  17. Robin Robin
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    Kantian Naturalist:
    keiths,

    I am probably more of a realist than you are about value, but that’s a separate issue.

    I simply do not know if the sense of “intrinsic” that Mung (or Weikert) had in mind was the sense in which you contrasted it with “extrinsic” or the sense in which I contrasted it with “instrumental”.

    I don’t know about Mung, but I’m pretty sure Weikert actually means “inherent”.

  18. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    Robin: I don’t know about Mung, but I’m pretty sure Weikert actually means “inherent”.

    Perhaps he does.

    But what we need here is an argument as why anyone should believe that the claim that human beings evolved from other primates undermines or contradicts the claim that human beings have inherent value.

    Weikert needs to say that somehow evolutionary theory undermines a certain moral status that individual human life supposedly has. And this can’t be a mere correlation or even a causal account — everything here depends on the claim that this is a logical entailment.

    The only way that Weikert can establish any of his claims is if he can show that Hitler understood Darwinism better than Dewey did.

    That’s what he’s logically committed to saying if he wants to say that Darwinism leads to genocide and the devaluing of life (as it arguably does with Hitler), rather than to a new and deeper appreciation of the importance of community, democracy, education, and the central role of beauty in experience and knowledge (as it does in Dewey). (See Evolution’s First Philosopher for more.)

    Weikert simply does not know what he is talking about.

  19. Mung Mung
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    Kantian Naturalist: Weikert simply does not know what he is talking about.

    You left out the word ever.

  20. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    Mung: You left out the word ever.

    I wouldn’t go that far. I’m sure he knows more about Ernst Haeckel than I do. He’s just wrong about the societal consequences of Darwinism.

  21. Mung Mung
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    Weikart’s latest book is about more than just Darwinism.

    Chapter 1 was about man the machine. Chapter 2 about man the animal. Chapter 3 about genetic determinism and Chapter 4, which I am getting to next, is about environmental determinism.

  22. walto walto
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    What about this part:

    If humans are simply a cosmic accident with no real meaning or purpose, would it follow that humans lack any real meaning or purpose….

    What is a real meaning or purpose? What makes a purpose REAL?

  23. petrushka
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    The Blue Fairy?

  24. hotshoe_
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    Kantian Naturalist: The only way that Weikert can establish any of his claims is if he can show that Hitler understood Darwinism better than Dewey did.

    That’s what he’s logically committed to saying if he wants to say that Darwinism leads to genocide and the devaluing of life (as it arguably does with Hitler), rather than to a new and deeper appreciation of the importance of community, democracy, education, and the central role of beauty in experience and knowledge (as it does in Dewey). (See Evolution’s First Philosopher for more.)

    Got it, thanks!

  25. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    Mung:
    Darwinism, the Meaninglessness of Life, and of Death

    If you feel like making a point about why you think Weikert is right, by all means please do so.

  26. Mung Mung
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    KN, you seem pretty critical of Weikart. Have you actually read any of his books?

    The only way that Weikert can establish any of his claims is if he can show that Hitler understood Darwinism better than Dewey did.

    Does that sound as absurd to you as it does to me?

  27. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    Mung:
    KN, you seem pretty critical of Weikart. Have you actually read any of his books?

    No, but I’ve read his blog posts. I only read books that strike me as having a slight possibility of being true.

    The only way that Weikert can establish any of his claims is if he can show that Hitler understood Darwinism better than Dewey did.

    Does that sound as absurd to you as it does to me?

    Obviously not, or I wouldn’t have said it.

    My point here is this: Weikert claims that “Darwinism” either entailed, or caused, or “inspired” some sort of “devaluing of human life”. But this can’t be mere correlation, right? He needs to show either a logical or causal relationship between the two, otherwise it’s all correlation and circumstantial evidence. Correlation doesn’t imply causation!

    What he would need to do is consider someone like Dewey, or Philip Kitcher. Kitcher has written Living with Darwin, The Ethical Project, and Life After Faith. I put it you to show that Kitcher’s view has anything at all to do with “devaluing of human life”.

    What Weikert would need to do here is take on the egalitarian, communitarian humanism that Dewey develops in Human Nature and Conduct and Democracy and Education and The Public and Its Problems — and which Dewey himself grounds in Darwinism in Experience and Nature as well as “The Influence of Darwinism on Philosophy”. Dewey gives us a perfectly clear understanding of how Darwinism does not, in any sense, entail or cause a devaluing of human life.

    Weikert simply ignores Dewey, and he ignores contemporary pragmatic naturalists like Kitcher in order to go after the low-hanging fruit like Coyne and Rosenberg. Coyne is a cheap target who has a far larger presence on the Internet than his accomplishments warrant.

    Rosenberg is actually a very interesting philosopher, but Weikert conveniently ignores all of the naturalists who have shown why Rosenberg’s version of naturalism is deeply flawed. By pretending that Rosenberg has never been refuted by other naturalists, it’s easy to make it seem as though Rosenberg’s view is simply the logical consequence of naturalism. That’s intellectually dishonest.

    No one would deny that the ideologues of the Third Reich took themselves to be influenced by a certain understanding of Darwinism. That’s not even the point. What would be need to be shown here is that the Nazi understanding of Darwinism is the correct understanding of Darwinism. We would need to be shown that the Nazis understand Darwinism better than the pragmatic, egalitarian, communitarian, democratic secular humanism of Dewey and Kitcher.

  28. dazz dazz
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    Theists keep rehashing the same arguments over and over again. This nonsense is no different in essence to the moral argument, with a pinch of slippery-slope fallacious reasoning. They run out of arguments centuries ago and it’s just a matter of time before they run out of time too

  29. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    dazz:
    Theists keep rehashing the same arguments over and over again. This nonsense is no different in essence to the moral argument, with a pinch of slippery-slope fallacious reasoning. They run out of arguments centuries ago and it’s just a matter of time before they run out of time too

    It’s not theists — it’s just these pathetic, frightened right-wing cultural warriors who are scared of women having reproductive freedom and same-sex couples enjoying the legal benefits of marriage and who claim to be speaking in the name of theists in general.

  30. Flint
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    keiths:
    Byers:

    LOL. Imagine Robert’s shock and dismay the first time someone told him that Jesus was a Jew.

    ETA: You did know that, right, Robert?

    As I read it, Judaism around the time of Paul was divided into a great many splinter cults, depending on their various interpretations of existing scripture. Those who accepted Paul’s visions, and right up through the gospel of John (and apparently for another century or two) STILL regarded themselves as Jews — they were simply those Jews who regarded Paul’s visions as a proper and appropriate instantiation of OT prophecies.

    There was a lot of debate as to whether “Jesus Christ” of Paul’s writing really WAS the predicted messiah. Most Jewish sects rejected this, because THEIR messiah was supposed to conquer his kingdom on Earth by military might. They’re still waiting, though the Romans are ancient history.

    Back on topic, I feel I am as inherently worthy as I think myself to be.

    Coyne is a cheap target who has a far larger presence on the Internet than his accomplishments warrant.

    I have read both Why Evolution is True and Faith vs. Fact, and I didn’t regard the clarity of his writing as indicative of thoughtlessness or ignorance. Maybe KN is one of those philosophers who regard profundity and impenetrability as synonymous.

  31. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    Flint: I have read both Why Evolution is True and Faith vs. Fact, and I didn’t regard the clarity of his writing as indicative of thoughtlessness or ignorance. Maybe KN is one of those philosophers who regard profundity and impenetrability as synonymous.

    I like the cheap shot against my chosen profession. Very classy.

  32. Flint
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    Kantian Naturalist: I like the cheap shot against my chosen profession. Very classy.

    I guess cheap shots are only legit when you take them? I guess low hanging fruit is hard to resist, don’t you agree?

  33. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    Flint: I guess cheap shots are only legit when you take them? I guess low hanging fruit is hard to resist, don’t you agree?

    Very witty, sir, very witty!

    My point was that Coyne hasn’t done any of the hard philosophical work that Dewey or Kitcher have done. As a popular exponent of evolutionary theory no doubt he’s perfectly serviceable, but when he says things that are philosophical nonsense he opens himself up to easy criticism by second-rate intellects like Weikert or Feser.

    Case in point: Weikert quotes Coyne as saying

    Evolution is the greatest killer of belief that has ever happened on this planet because it showed that some of the best evidence for God, which was the design of animals and plants that so wonderfully matched their environment could be the result of this naturalistic, blind materialistic process of natural selection.

    This is just bad. Firstly, it’s only a very specific tradition of theological reasoning that ever regarded adaptation as “evidence” for the existence of God. To say that this is “the best evidence” is already to privilege Anglican natural theology over scholastic classical theism, which was always an a priori enterprise and must be criticized along wholly different lines (as Kant showed).

    Secondly, “natural selection” is only “blind” and “materialistic” in the sense that the information in the environment about what would be adaptive in that environment does not bring about new genetic information that causes those adaptations. Restricting ourselves to what evolutionary theory asserts or entails is a much more modest affair than grandiose metaphysical pronouncements, and it does not lend empirical support to Epicurean metaphysics.

    Thirdly — and here I think Coyne and Dawkins have the same problem — they never even attempt to reconcile the following three assertions:

    (1) the natural world is devoid of meaning and purpose
    (2) human beings can create meaning and purpose for themselves
    (3) there is no discontinuity between humans and the rest of nature.

    A metaphysical dualist — like Descartes or Sartre — can happily accept both (1) and (2) precisely because she denies (3). Once you accept a Darwinian commitment to continuity between humans and other animals, you need some account of the origins of our capacity to create meaning in a (supposedly) meaningless cosmos. And no phylogenetic explanation of that capacity is offered, which is precisely why it is trivially easy for anti-materialists to point out the contradiction — as they routinely do on Uncommon Descent, and as Feser does all the time on his blog.

    If Coyne and Dawkins were better philosophers, they would at least notice the need for a solution to this problem. They don’t. They think that they can have their Sartrean existentialism and their Epicurean metaphysics and don’t bother themselves to show how those can sutured together with Darwinism. And the result is that Darwinism ends up looking like pixie dust: just sprinkle it over the problem and it disappears like magic.

    None of this is to say that I think Weikert (or Feser) is right about — well, anything. It is to point out that Coyne and Rosenberg are easy targets, and that the anti-materialists studiously avoid engaging with sophisticated naturalists like Kitcher, Okrent, or Rouse. (Feser, to his limited credit, does talk about Dennett and Churchland, but he has virtually no genuine understanding of their views.)

  34. Mung Mung
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    Robin: I don’t know about Mung, but I’m pretty sure Weikert actually means “inherent”.

    I could quote a number of passages from the book in support of that reading, yes.

  35. Mung Mung
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    KN, ii would be quite the mistake to think that Weikart’s book is limited to dealing with the likes of Coyne and Rosenberg.

    Also, Weikart is an historian. He’s not likely to be mistaking correlation for causation. He is tracing ideas and their influence. It does seem odd to me that you are asking that he make his case for causation in order for his inferences to carry any weight.

    I am currently reading Chapter 5, The Love of Pleasure. I’m up to the section on John Stuart Mill. Before him Jeremy Bentham. Before him Diderot. Before him Helvetius. Toss in Marquis de Sade and Le Mettrie. Seems to me this would be right up your alley. And I bet Freud is coming up too.

  36. Mung Mung
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    dazz: Theists keep rehashing the same arguments over and over again.

    It is important to keep reminding people when they are misrepresenting theism.

  37. Mung Mung
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    Kantian Naturalist: It’s not theists — it’s just these pathetic, frightened right-wing cultural warriors who are scared of women having reproductive freedom and same-sex couples enjoying the legal benefits of marriage and who claim to be speaking in the name of theists in general.

    And that’s why you are here at “The Skeptical Zone”? Shouldn’t you go where the enemy is located in order to wage battle? Your talents are wasted here.

  38. Mung Mung
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    The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as the tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure.

    – J.S. Mill

  39. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    Mung: He is tracing ideas and their influence. It does seem odd to me that you are asking that he make his case for causation in order for his inferences to carry any weight.

    But he is being extremely selective in which influences he traces and which he ignores, which skews the implications he is trying to sketch. If he’s trying to make a point about “the implications of Darwinism”, it does him no good to stress Hitler, or Leopold and Loeb, while ignoring Dewey.

    Mung: And that’s why you are here at “The Skeptical Zone”? Shouldn’t you go where the enemy is located in order to wage battle? Your talents are wasted here.

    I’m not really interested in doing battle, and I waste enough time on the Internet as it is.

    Mung: The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as the tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure.

    I guess I don’t see the point of arguing that utilitarianism has some deep connection with the Enlightenment, or that it contradicted Judeo-Christian ethics. Mill himself thought it was the culmination of Christianity, actually, though some have suggested he was being disingenuous — in Mill’s time it was not entirely safe to be openly atheist in England.

    Only with Peter Singer does the contrast between sanctity-of-life ethics and quality-of-life ethics become fully explicit. But of course Singer thinks that it is up to each individual to determine for him or herself whether his or life is worth living, if he or she has the sufficient cognitive capacities to make that determination in the first place.

    Personally I am deeply opposed to utilitarianism, but the idea that it somehow grows out of the materialism of the radical Enlightenment is mighty odd to me.

  40. Mung Mung
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    Kantian Naturalist: Personally I am deeply opposed to utilitarianism, but the idea that it somehow grows out of the materialism of the radical Enlightenment is mighty odd to me.

    Weikart:

    Most philosophes, however, even those in the Radical Enlightenement, rejected La Mettrie’s nihilistic conclusions, and they were even more horrified by Sade’s brutality. They tried to build a more humane morality out of Epicureanism. Helvetius was one of the luminaries of the Radical Enlightenment who hoped to establish a more sure footing for morality rather than dispense with it. He wanted to construct a scientific morality based on reason rather than revelation. He founded his moral philosophy on his view of human nature

    Is there anything in that statement that you contend is false?

  41. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    Mung,

    I’d need to see a further argument that La Mettrie’s conclusions were regarded by his contemporaries as “nihilistic”, and I’d also like to see some argument that they were “horrified by Sade’s brutality”. I rather had the impression that Sade was not well known for a long time. And I’m not sure if anyone associated Sade with the Enlightenment before Adorno and Horkheimer made that connection in Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944/1947).

    I find it curious that he uses Israel’s term “radical Enlightenment” but doesn’t seem to discuss Spinoza. Does Weikert talk at all about Spinoza there?

  42. Mung Mung
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    Weikart:

    Pleasure had become his god. No wonder historian Johnathan Israel calls him the “self-proclaimed prophet of pleasurable indulgence.”

    La Mettrie’s message of the primacy of pleasure found a ready audience in the eighteenth century, even though almost everyone rejected the amoral bent of his philosophy. Indeed, even other leading figures of the Radical Enlightenment distanced themselves from La Mettrie. Most of the philosophes – even the more radical ones – hoped to find a rational basis for morality, rather than dispensing with it altogether. Jonathan Israel argues that this made La Mettrie out of step with the Radical Enlightenment: “This amoralism of his last works sets La Mettrie firmly at odds with the neo-Spinosistes [followers of Spinoza] and materialists and hence with the Radical Enlightenment.”

    Weikart, it would appear, does not adopt the trajectory of Radical Enlightenment -> Utilitarianism.

    There are a number of references to Spinoza in the index (how could there not be!). If you’d like, I will process them.

  43. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
    Ignored
    says:

    Mung: There are a number of references to Spinoza in the index (how could there not be!). If you’d like, I will process them.

    No need to go to any trouble on my account. I asked because I am devotee of Spinoza himself and of Israel’s work on the history of the radical Enlightenment. In the past two years I have been gradually further from Kant and closer to Spinoza, to the point that my basic philosophical orientation could be described in terms of developing a version of Spinoza’s naturalism that is not vulnerable to Kant’s criticism of a priori metaphysics.

  44. dazz dazz
    Ignored
    says:

    Mung: It is important to keep reminding people when they are misrepresenting theism.

    Except when rehashing Paley for example, to pretend ID is science and not theism. Then misrepresenting stuff is perfectly fine, right Mung?

  45. TomMueller
    Ignored
    says:

    Interesting blog! Mung, je vous tire mon chapeau bien bas

    The catastrophe of the 20th Century was presciently predicted by atheist philosophers such as Nietzsche, who correctly foresaw that the rise of rationalism and scientific thought (specifically Darwinism) would lead to “nihilism” a readiness to repudiate all previous theories of morality or religious belief. Voilà right-wing Social Darwinism (including its extreme, Nazism) together with the left-wing contrary, Neo-lamarcksim (including its extreme, Stalinism and Lysenkoism)

    Nietzsche did not delight in his aphorism “God was Dead”. When Nietzsche ruefully predicted (in Ecce Homo) that the twentieth century would be a century of “wars such as have never happened on earth”, he offered a prophet’s alternative, the call to Humanity to rise to the level of Übermensch, to a will to create moral meaning in a modern world. Sadly, his message was coopted by the Nazis and Nietzsche has been generally misunderstood ever since. Segue to Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir’s (and a host of others’) attempt to search, retrieve and to create moral meaning in existential terms.

    I will need to check out Weikart’s book. ITMT, I throw out the suggestion that the premises of the Judeo-Christian belief system, as a force in human history has resulted in a “net positive” on the historical ledger of humanity (although many may disagree).

  46. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
    Ignored
    says:

    TomMueller,

    All of that seems pretty much right to be, esp. re: Nietzsche.

    Nietzsche’s analysis and explanation of “European nihilism” is that results from the conflict between scientific metaphysics and transcendent conceptions of value.

    For if one thinks that scientific explanations have epistemic priority over other accounts of reality, and also one only has affective investment in narratives about value and significance which make sense within a theological metaphysics, then one will have an inevitable conflict between knowledge and value — between what one takes to be true and what one takes to be important.

    Nietzsche attempted, I think, to generate new narratives about value that would allow us to redirect our affect from the transcendent to the immanent.

    Whether he was successful or not is an open question — though I would contend that his was only partially successful, and that his failures are as instructive as his successes.

  47. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
    Ignored
    says:

    TomMueller: I throw out the suggestion that the premises of the Judeo-Christian belief system, as a force in human history has resulted in a “net positive” on the historical ledger of humanity (although many may disagree).

    I wouldn’t disagree with that, though it’s hard to make such judgments.

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