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1: Ethics, Religion, Education, Welfare, Peace, and the State
2: The Aesthetics of Humanism
3: Science and Humanism
4: Rethinking Humanism: History, Philosophy, Science
5: The Enlightenment Reconstructed
6: Meaning in Humanism
7: Humanism and New Age Thinking
8: Humanism and Postmodernism
9: Humanism's Answers: Speaking to the Challenge of Orthodoxy
10: Living as Humanists
11: Humanists and Education
12: Globalization and Humanism
13: Beyond Reason?
Harvey Sarles
Meaning, Being, and Identity: The Question of the Knower
Michael Werner
Humanism and Beyond the Truth
Howard Callaway
Intelligence, Community, and Cartesian Doubt
Andreas Rosenberg
Science, Rational Thought, and the Moral Calculus for Humanists.
Paul Kurtz
The Science of Religion: Why Do People Believe or Disbelieve?
Robert B. Tapp
What Beyond Reason?
Howard B. Radest
One World at a Time
Vern L. Bullough
Beyond Reason and Science: A Radical Challenge
Carol Wintermute
The Aesthetic Pillar of Humanism
J. Calvin Chatlos
The Human Faith Project: "Our Commitment is to the Worth and Dignity of Every Person"
Gerald A. Larue
Euthanasia: A Global Issue
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14: Multiculturalism
15: Ecohumanism
16: The Fate of Democracy
17: Biomedical Ethics
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The Humanist Institute

Introduction

Alas, poor Reason! Set about by enemies and even defected by some erstwhile friends. When the adjunct faculty of The Humanist Institute decided to reconnoiter this situation for their 1998 annual meeting, one of the hardest tasks was framing a title. "Beyond Reason?" finally seemed best since it embraced all the ambiguities of the present moment.

Reason has meant many things to Western thinkers since the Greeks started us on this path. Synonymous with philosophy for Aristotle and his followers, the Platonists elevated it to a transcendental realm where the beginning inputs could be ignored as parts of this shadowy world. The most extreme example was Anselm of Canterbury who felt that abstract reason could "prove" not only the existence of a Summum Bonum but also those Christian glosses on the god-concept which supported the idea of a substitutionary atonement (which could only be made by a god-man since humans were too lowly to have any effect on a sovereign god). Aquinas quickly demolished this abstruse logic with the help of Aristotle and Ibn-Rushd (Averroës)

Luther would have no part of such philosophizing, and in Tabletalk is remembered as saying that if "he didn't know that the Devil already existed, he would have supposed Aristotle to have been the evil one!" This Christian distrust of reason also pervades Calvin and the more mainstream Protestants. At least as old as James Joyce is the exchange between two Catholic friends: "I don't believe any longer." "Then you have become a Protestant?" "Certainly not. I have lost my faith but not my reason!"

Realistically, of course, it is very difficult for conversations to get very far without invoking some principles of consistency and logic. The typical Christian response was to allege some prior divine event (revelation, Scripture) and then assert that such an incursion could be freely examined logically. Such incursions, alas, could only be recognized and affirmed by faith (or authority).

A new tack appeared with the astronomers of the sixteenth century. They took an external world as a given, and asserted universally-present human powers were capable of sensing and potentially decoding this world. When Luther heard about Copernicus' heliocentric theory (again trusting that the Tabletalk scribe had not imbibed too much beer), he snorted "Hasn't that fool read Scripture." (He referred to the story of Joshua, where the god Jahweh stopped the sun so his servant could slay more of the enemy Jerichites). If the sun could be stopped, this surely meant that it moved around the earth and not the reverse.

Bypassing such Christian perturbations, the emerging empiricism relied on reason to bring order to the perceptions of human senses, and reason and sciences came to be almost interchangeable by the Enlightenment period of the eighteenth century. We need always remember that reason in that period was the great sender-up of authorities. Neither kings nor clerics would ever be the same in those parts of Euroamerica liberated by this great revolution. Immanuel Kant at the end of the century could speak of "religion within the limits of reason alone" and could mean by this phrase that morality was the supreme good, open to all persons by virtue of their humanity (and not by their circumcision or baptism).

Romantics in the nineteenth century reacted both to the excesses of the French Revolution and to the limits of the mechanistic sciences in relation to human feelings and moralities. But the Darwinian revolution placed humans directly within "Nature" while at the same time destroying the last defense of theism in its argument from design. Most of us, however, do not live by logic alone, and we exhumed our gods under new guises. [1] The most common strategems were variant idealisms which set forth from some postulated concept such as Mind or Self. As John Dewey would point out so aptly, we "get over" our interest in these antiscience gambits, in part due to the growth of biological and social sciences. [2] These quasi-religious alternatives, with their basic optimism, were further demolished by the two great wars that rocked the world between 1914 and 1945.

In the aftermath of these bloodbaths, accompanied as they were by economic upheavals and dictatorships, reason again was pushed aside. The empiricism ("logical positivism") stemming from the Vienna Circle held everything but sense perceptions of external objects to amount to "nonsense." This latter umbrella contained, of course, all morality, aesthetics, and religion. Other philosophers made an existential turn in which all hope of rationality was abandoned, and we were left only with leaps (of faith—or of despair). In this situation, many British and American philosophers retreated into an analysis of ordinary language, while their Continental counterparts proclaimed a phenomenological stance which ranged more widely, but suspended all truth-tests. More recently, a postmodernism that abandons all truth-claims as "socially constructed" has proved attractive to many non-scientists. [3] Lastly, in many parts of the world (including the United States!) religious fundamentalisms are in full strength. They not only abandon evolution and modern cosmology but attempt to freeze morality to maxims from ancient agricultural societies.

Given these factors, can nontheistic humanists defend and expand the relevance of their historical reliance on reason? The 1998 annual gathering of the Institute faculty discussed these matters closely, and this volume represents their response to the current challenges.

Much of the conservative attack rests upon the assumption that the Enlightenment viewed the person as an isolated individual, in a cosmic as well as social sense. Sarles confronts with this by a careful analysis of the pragmatic tradition of John Dewey and George Herbert Mead, an analysis that rooted the human in evolutionary processes and stressed "self" as a continuously-emerging process. Werner stresses the continuity between physical and biological sciences and the more recent social sciences, arguing that a naturalistic grounding permits desirable social change and improvement.

Callaway sees "intelligence" as a preferable modern term for the Enlightenment's "reason," more clearly rooted in practice and the social life of humanity. This approach can also deal more effectively with the alleged alternatives to reason. Rosenberg starts out from a reconsideration of the differences between the models of the sciences and the ways that they relate to operations in the real worlds. Using this parallelism, he teases out the classical Enlightenment axiom of the U.S. Constitution, and then suggests contemporary qualification and improvements.

The persistence of religious ideas and tractices is a puzzle for many social scientists who assumed science and secularization would expand together. Kurtz addresses this, suggesting that the answer may well be in combinations of social and genetic factors. He raises the question of whether humanism can successfuly deal with the widespread needs that religions meet for many persons. Tapp focuses on several types of experience that have been seen as "religious" and cognitive, and he contends that attempts to exempt these from rational evaluation are failures.

From a somewhat different angle, Radest weighs the possibilities that varieties of god-talk might be approached in terms of their underlying "stories," and that such stories deal with many of the "horizon" situations faced by all humans (including humanists). Bullough, reflecting on the logocentric focus of so much of humanism, argues that this is better pursued in academic settings. Humanists should shift to centers where they could come together for social and aesthetic purposes, creating communities that are now largely lacking. Wintermute stresses our aesthetic side, mining Dewey's restoration of that dimension, Without making "cognitive" claims for the arts, she insists on their centrality for an understanding of human experience.

The concluding papers can be viewed as chronicling tests of reason-in-action. Chatlos describes the formation of a humanist group to explore the present meanings of the classical affirmations of the Ethical Culture movement. The experiment should remind us of the ways that "ordinary language," when it is explored critically, both frames and expands experience. Larue shows the ways in which clarity regarding euthanasia becomes a global ethical issue as a result of scientific and social changes. His ethical analysis illustrates the strengths of a naturalistic philosophy as compared to traditional religious visions.

This will be the last volume of Humanism Today to be published in journal form. Volume 14 on Multiculturalism will come out as a hardcover book by Prometheus Books in the year 2000. Current members of the North American Committee for Humanism will receive copies. The faculty in 2000 will assemble to consider Eco-humanism.

 RBT

NOTE. Ana B. Martinez shared in preparing this volume, but any remaining errors or omissions or ambiguities remain at my desktop.



[1] A. N. Wilson, God's Funeral (New York: Norton, 1999).

[2] John Dewey, "The Influence of Darwinism on Philosophy." In The Philosophy of John Dewey, ed. John J. McDermott (1909, New York: Putnam, 1973), 31–41.

[3]Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodernist Philosophers' Abuse of Science (New York: Picador, 1999).


© 1999 by the North American Committee for Humanism (NACH) All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof in any form, including electronic media, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.

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