Monday, 3 April 2017

Can Humans Be Good Without God?

Is belief in the supernatural an illusion, or is it the science we
do not yet understand? Image Copyright Janet Cameron


In her important book Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals, philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch suggests that in these time of change, it might be prudent to discard the old word "God" as it suggests an omniscient spectator and a responsive "superthou". 
She continues by asserting the obvious truth that religion can and does exist without the western concept of a personal God. It certainly does so already, in the religions of Buddhism and Hinduism. As she explains: 
"...religion involving supernatural belief (as in a literal after-life, etc.) was always partly a kind of illusion... we are now being forced by an inevitable sophistication to have a demythologised religion or none at all."

So what will happen to human morality if religion is demythologised?

The Connection Between the Good and the Moral

Murdoch favours Platonic ideas about the good and the moral:
·    Good is something distant, ideal and abstract, but it is not the function of, or the outcome of, desire or human will.

·    Human beings are naturally drawn to good merely by apprehending it.
                                  
     The degree to which we are attracted by the good depends on our own personal morality - we need to be virtuous in order to apprehend it.

Murdoch also recognises the bind we are in, our reluctance to lose elements of our culture should we move away from theology and metaphysics in order to embrace scientific thought.

In "The Philosophy of Logical Analysis" which is the final chapter in History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell confirms that there is, nowadays, a school of philosophy which works to 
"...combine empiricism with an interest in the deductive parts of human knowledge."

This philosophy supports the achievements of mathematicians, those who strive to discard fallacies and slipshod reasoning. Russell believes in making logical analysis the main point of philosophy. Although humans cannot always find answers, some of these modern philosophers do not believe there is a higher way of knowing or of discovering hidden truths that are above and separate from the intellect or personal observation..

Russell and his fellow philosophers who favour logical analysis uphold the following criteria:
·    An acceptance of the unifying force of scientific truthfulness, ie basing belief on impersonal and unbiased observations and inferences.

      Careful veracity extended to the whole of human activity, with less fanaticism and increasing sympathy and mutual understanding.

     Abandonment of dogmatic pretensions.

Changing Religion into Philosophy

Murdoch describes the ways in which Protestants and Catholics view each others' rituals and procedures with dismay. Instead, she argues for 
"...a moral philosophy which accommodates the unconditional element in the structure of reason and reality." 
Murdoch wants moral philosophy to include political philosophy and the morality of political thinking and she believes that art and philosophy "enliven the concept of reality."

In defining her stance, she says: 
"Nothing is more important for theology and philosophy than the truth it contains."

Sources:
·                                 Graham, Gordon, Spiritual Morality and Traditional Religions, Blackwell Publishers, UK and USA, 1996.
·                                 Murdoch, Iris, Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals, Penguin Books, 1993.

·                                 Russell, Bertrand, History of Western Philosophy, Routledge Classics, 2004. First published by George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1946.

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