Rowan on Individualism

Rowan Williams writes here about the dangers of individualism and the need to cultivate virtue. Of course, therein lies the problem. However, if people really believe they are nothing more than matter-in-motion and that the core underlying motivations and purpose of the universe and life is self-preservation, all against all, then good luck trying to cultivate virtue in the long run. Rowan is right though and he points in the right direction.

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6 Responses to Rowan on Individualism

  1. Burk Braun says:

    But just possibly a blob of matter in motion might want to enjoy the love of its fellow blobs, to which the standard virtues are usually a decently reliable route.

    “… how few people seem to want a society composed of people like this.”

    Just so, whether splotchy matter blobs, or properly prayerful immaterial essence-blobs.


  2. Darrell says:

    The question would be-why would “blobs” care or even know to love. Logically, it would simply be about survival if we were such. That they “just” do is not an answer. The eagle doesn't care about or love the fish. And, if pressed, the reason Rowan would say few people do not seem to want a society composed of such people is because we are not just “blobs” of matter-in-motion.


  3. Burk Braun says:

    Well, the answer is that they just do. That they do is hardly in question, so going on about the logical impossibility of them doing so is not very relevant.

    But of course you are asking why they do. That is a scientific question.. why human nature is the way it is, how and why our brains work as they do, etc. Obviously, I would go to an evolutionary explanation, citing the social nature of our species- that we rely on each other for practically everything in life, thus have to keep in relation to our fellows in a rich social life. The evolutionary explanation (considered broadly, with genetic drift, developmental channeling, sexual selection, etc.) is the only working explanation of how biological organisms develop and change through time.

    And we are far from alone in these instincts, which are widespread among mammals and other species. Chimpanzees groom each other, we tell jokes. As for the eagle, it cares about the fish about as much as we do- we both kill and eat fish with hardly second thought. But our own kind and our own young? I think eagles care about their relations with each other and especially their own young. That much is obvious. They don't write up constitutions or disarmament agreements, but they care for their young assiduously, and mate monogamously, for life, which is more than we can say for ourselves, generally.

    The idea that survival (i.e. Darwinism) can not give rise to the complexities of social systems with caring and morals is false on its face. Social systems have arisen many times- among ants, mammals, birds. Even some dinosaurs seem to have social behaviors of herding and care for young.

    So social instincts are part of the landscape of Darwinian evolution. In us, with vastly increased intellect, social instincts are still run by rather primitive systems, like pheromones, orexin, oxytocin, etc., even while they are harnessed to complex social structures. It is obvious that our social instincts have serious problems (Nazi-ism, Palin-ism, Islam-ism), which fits very well with this kind of theory by which we have inherited a general set of social predispositions, which can be channeled through cultural means for good or for ill. I am all for good cultivation (as per Rowan), but through honesty about it, not bad theories of souls, salvation, etc…


  4. Darrell says:

    Well, the worse theory is philosophical naturalism, which is partly responsible for the very problem Rowan is addressing. And since philosophical naturalism doesn't have a place for “good” or “ill”; existence simply “is”- there is no “ought” it gives us nothing to “cultivate.” The rest of your explanation could fit into a theistic worldview, so it doesn't really do what you might think. That you think the “why” is a scientific question only simply reveals your philosophical naturalism, thus we come full circle.


  5. Burk Braun says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    You don't really have a choice about the “why” question. Clearly you think you do, but human origins are written in mountains of material evidence. That is the way it is. Whether you like it or not is another matter, but has no effect on the reality of human origins.

    Nor is there any evidence for theistic jumping into the course of human events later on. A lot of tall tales, more or less artistic. But their origin is likewise well-covered by historical, analytical methods (even psychological), and no more magical that that of human origins themselves.

    But hey, that is only my view of evidence and facts. Make up your own! That is the nature of theology immemorial.


  6. Darrell says:

    You know no more about human origins than anyone else. You only know some small part about how life developed over time–something we all know, both theist and atheist. So what? While your faith (philosophical naturalism) is interesting, it has no final say about the matters at hand. And the rest of your response addresses nothing in this post as it is known and accepted by most, whether theist or otherwise. Don’t get upset just because people do not believe your same faith-view about such things. It’s okay.


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