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§5. The Relation between Religion and Science
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[ ]
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
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[ ]
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.