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§5. The Relation between Religion and Science

§5. The Relation between Religion and Science

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deterministic view of the world while preserving important elements of a

religious (but heterodox) doctrine. His view is one that neither Leibniz nor

Kant can accept, and they are on guard against falling into Spinozism, socalled, something then to be avoided at all costs. (Likewise, in the late

seventeenth century, falling into Hobbism was to be similarly avoided.)

Leibniz was particularly worried about this, and some think that he did not

succeed in avoiding Spinozism and that there are deep Spinozistic elements

in his view.

Of the writers we study, Leibniz is the great conservative in the best

sense of the term. That is, he fully accepts orthodox Christianity and its

moral view, and he confronts and masters—and indeed contributes to—

the new science of his day, making use of it in his philosophical theology.

He is a great conservative in the way Aquinas was in the thirteenth century:

Aquinas confronted the new Aristotelianism and used it for his own aims

and purposes in his magnificent Summa Theologica, his restatement of Christian theology. Similarly, Leibniz incorporates modern science into traditional philosophical theology; and in this enlarged and revised scheme he

tries to resolve all the outstanding problems. Thus, for example, he uses

the new science in his definition of truth, in his distinction between necessary and contingent truths, in his account of free will and God’s foreknowledge, and in his vindication of God’s justice in the Theodicy. From our standpoint, Leibniz’s moral philosophy—his metaphysical perfectionism, as I

shall call it—is less original than the others are, but it nevertheless represents an important doctrine and one particularly instructive in contrast to

Hume’s and Kant’s.

. Hume may seem to be an exception to the idea that the writers we

study are concerned with the relation between modern science and religion.

Now, it is true that Hume is different in that he tries to get along entirely

without the God of religion. Hume believes in the Author of Nature; but

his Author is not the God of Christianity, not the object of prayer or worship. Spinoza, by contrast, presented his view as pantheism—certainly a

religious view, though very different from Christian and Jewish orthodoxy.

But Hume does without the God of religion altogether, and he does this

without lament or a sense of loss. It is characteristic of Hume that he has

no need for religion; moreover, he thinks religious belief does more harm

than good, that it is a corrupting influence on philosophy and a bad influ[  ]

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ence on one’s moral character. A good use of philosophy is that it tends

to moderate our sentiments and to keep us from those extravagant opinions

that disrupt the course of our natural propensities. He says (T: [near the

end of the last section of Book I]): “Generally speaking, the errors in religion

are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous.”

In the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Hume has a particularly

harsh passage on the Christian virtues. He has argued that every quality

that is either useful or agreeable to us or to others is in our common life

allowed to be a part of personal merit, of good character. No other qualities

will be recognized as virtuous when we “judge of things by their natural

unprejudiced reason, without the delusive glosses of superstition and false

religion.” He then lists as what he calls “the monkish virtues . . . celibacy,

fasting, penance, mortification, self-denial, humility, silence [and] solitude.”

These are rejected by people of sense, he says, because they serve no purpose: they advance no one’s fortune in the world, nor do they make us

better members of society; they do not make us more entertaining in the

company of others, nor do they increase our powers of self-enjoyment. The

monkish virtues are in effect vices. He then concludes: “A gloomy, harebrained enthusiast, after his death may have a place in the calendar; but

will scarcely ever be admitted, when alive, into intimacy and society, except

by those who are as delirious and dismal as himself ” (E:II:).

I suggest that while Hume’s view seems completely nonreligious (in

the traditional sense), he is always conscious of its nonreligious character.

In Calvinist Scotland he could hardly be otherwise; he is fully aware that

he is going against his surrounding culture. In this sense his view is secular

by intention. Raised in a Calvinist lowland gentry family, at an early age

(circa twelve?) he abandoned the religion he was instructed in: that’s one

solution to the problem of the age.

. In support of what I have been saying, note that we today often feel

a need for the reflections of moral philosophy in view of the profound

disagreements and great variety of opinions in our pluralist democratic society. Our disagreements extend to the political sphere, where we must vote

on legislation that affects all. Our task is to find and elaborate some public

basis of mutually shared understanding. But this is not how Hume sees the

problem (nor how Kant sees it, for that matter).

Hume’s skepticism in morals does not arise from his being struck by

[  ]

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the diversity of the moral judgments of mankind. As I have indicated, he

thinks that people more or less naturally agree in their moral judgments

and count the same qualities of character as virtues and vices; it is rather

the enthusiasms of religion and superstition that lead to differences, not to

mention the corruptions of political power. Further, Hume’s moral skepticism is not based on an alleged contrast between moral judgments and

judgments in science. His is not a typical modern (often positivistic) view

that science is rational and based on sound evidence whereas morals is

nonrational (even irrational) and simply an expression of feeling and interest. To be sure (as we shall discuss), Hume thinks that moral distinctions

are not based on reason, and, in the famous provocative and exaggerated

remark, says that “[r]eason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions”

(T:). But something parallel to this is true, Hume thinks, of science: his

skepticism extends to reason, to the understanding, and to the senses. His

moral skepticism is part of what I shall call his fideism of nature.

Now, as I shall note briefly next time, Hume believes that reason and

the understanding, when proceeding on their own and not moderated by

custom and the imagination—that is, by the benign principles of our nature—destroy themselves. We cannot live in accordance with the ensuing

skepticism; fortunately, when we leave our study, we inevitably act from

our natural beliefs engendered by custom and imagination. He pursues his

skeptical reflections—that is, philosophy—because when we leave our

study, not all our beliefs return. In particular, our fanaticisms and superstitions (our traditional religious beliefs) don’t return; and we are morally

better and happier for it. The point, then, is that Hume’s skepticism, of

which his moral skepticism is but one part, belongs to skepticism as part

of a way of life—a way of life that Hume quite explicitly sees in contrast

to that of traditional religion. Thus Hume does not simply abandon that

religion: he has a way of life to replace it, which, it seems, he never abandoned. It seems to have suited him perfectly.

§. Kant on Science and Religion

. Hume, then, along with Spinoza, adopts a radical solution to the problem

of the relation between modern science and traditional religion and ac[  ]

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cepted moral beliefs. Kant can’t accept Hume’s solution any more than he

can accept Spinoza’s. However, with respect to the points I just noted about

Hume, Kant and Hume are somewhat alike. Kant is also not troubled by

the diversity and conflicts between our moral judgments; he supposes that

what he calls “common human reason” (gemein Menschenvernunft), which

we all share, judges in more or less the same way; even the philosopher

can have no (moral) principles different from those of ordinary human reason (Gr I:[]; KP :).

And again like Hume, for Kant science and morals stand on a par: if

for Hume they both involve forms of sensation and feeling, for Kant they

are both forms of reason, one theoretical, the other (pure) practical reason.

Of course, this is in fundamental opposition to Hume’s skepticism; but, the

point is that, in contrast to modern views—the logical positivism of Vienna,

for example—that count science as rational but morals as not, Kant, like

Hume, does not elevate science to the detriment of moral thought and

judgment. Of course, Kant’s way of reconciling science with traditional religion and accepted moral beliefs is basically opposed to Hume’s. His attempted solution is found in the three Critiques and supplemented by various of his writings in moral philosophy. I shall not try to characterize it

today, but I will comment on the three topics in Kant’s moral philosophy

we will be studying.

. You will observe first that while we begin with the categorical imperative as found in the Groundwork, this short work is only one of the three

parts of our study of Kant. Now certainly the Groundwork is important, but

it fails to give an adequate account of Kant’s moral doctrine as a whole.

What it does provide is a reasonably full analytic account of the moral law

by developing “the concept of morality” implicit in our commonsense

moral judgments. As Kant says (Gr II:[]), Chapter II of the Groundwork,

like Chapter I, is “merely analytic.” What he means in saying this is that

it still remains to be shown that the moral law has “objective reality”: that

is, that it is not a mere concept but actually can and does apply to us. In

Chapter III of the Groundwork, Kant does try to show this; but I believe

that he later abandons the kind of argument he attempts in that chapter

and replaces it in the second Critique with his doctrine of the fact of reason:

it is this fact which shows that the moral law has objective reality. And

what this fact amounts to is our second topic.

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§5. The Relation between Religion and Science

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