Reason’s Disenchantment

This looks like a great book and one I have added to my Amazon wish list. Blurbs:

Thus, Rawlsian “public reason” filters appeals to religion or other “comprehensive doctrines” out of public deliberation. But these restrictions have the effect of excluding our deepest normative commitments, virtually assuring that the discourse will be shallow. Furthermore, because we cannot defend our normative positions without resorting to convictions that secular discourse deems inadmissible, we are frequently forced to smuggle in those convictions under the guise of benign notions such as freedom or equality.

Smith suggests that this sort of smuggling is pervasive in modern secular discourse. He shows this by considering a series of controversial, contemporary issues, including the Supreme Court’s assisted-suicide decisions, the “harm principle,” separation of church and state, and freedom of conscience. He concludes by suggesting that it is possible and desirable to free public discourse of the constraints associated with secularism and “public reason.”

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7 Responses to Reason’s Disenchantment

  1. Burk Braun says:

    Just from this blurb, it seems like the author is getting his thinking backwards. The problem is not one of “smuggling”. Theists are welcome to use and proclaim any kind of reasoning they like. It just isn't going to have any purchase with those who share little of their world view, so such reasoning and its conclusions are so much shouting into the wind. Not a priori, but in its effect.. posteriori.

    This is exactly like the weight you would give Islamic scholars arguing from Koranic principles, Hadiths, etc. Not a lot, I would bet.

    The common ground is ground that all can reason on, and that, as you have pointed out, I think, is secular not because of atheism, but because of the variety of religions, even in entirely Christian Europe- whence the secular space. That it makes room for total non-belief is just a bonus!


  2. Darrell says:

    Your comment makes no sense to me. His critique has nothing to do with theist reasoning, but rather secular reasoning. His point is that the secular has to smuggle convictions/morality into its arguments because it has no resources to produce them on its own and rules the source of those convictions/ethics out of hand a priori because their source is religion.

    You need to read Fish's article regarding the book.


  3. Burk Braun says:

    You are kidding, right? No, I guess you really believe this stuff.

    Fish and friends can assert all day long and till they are blue in the face if they like:

    “Once the world is no longer assumed to be informed by some presiding meaning or spirit … there is no way, says Smith, to look at it and answer normative questions, questions like “what are we supposed to do?” and “at the behest of who or what are we to do it?””

    This recasts theism as a premise rather than a conclusion. Fine for theists. Not so fine for others, including rational people, who can answer normative questions without spirits- presiding, hidden, or otherwise. There is no real normative question (which is to say, a question that does not make theistic assumptions) that is outside the reach of secular decision-making.

    Whether a murderer should die, whether wives should be subservient to their husbands.. these and a thousand other questions are vigorously asked and answered by non-theistic means. Do secularists pose an authority by which their conclusions are “authorized”? No, and this is the part you et al. don't seem to get- that theistic authority is merely a smokescreen for entirely human reasoning and desires- which are better discussed out in the open than behind competing and “presiding” ideologies with demonstrable human/historical origins. There is no iota of theistic meaning/authority that was not devised by humans in the first place, and thus is in actuality, secular.

    So the smuggling goes very much in the reverse. Here is an experiment- try thinking of a normative value from theism. Now figure out exactly where it came from, historically. I think in every case, you will end up with a human who wrote something down, or claimed to have a vision, or claimed to be god, or the like. No case can be traced to an actual god or non-human being. Trusting such accounts at face value is like buying whatever Goldman Sachs is putting on sale today.. it needs to be taken with great skepticism. The frequency with which people have claimed to be/see god is also no real defense, since such things continue to happen today and are dismissed as psychiatric episodes. That is where your evidence leads.


  4. Darrell says:

    “Fish and friends can assert all day long and till they are blue in the face if they like…”

    So can you.

    “This recasts theism as a premise rather than a conclusion.”

    Yes, right. And their other point is that the secular is also a premise. We went over this regarding world-view/faith. Further, you are not making an argument. Here is your assertion: None of this is true because there is no God. Oh, okay.


  5. Burk Braun says:

    Right, but note the relative positions of the two sides: ” … world is no longer assumed to be … “

    Who would assume such a thing? Why ever assume it? The whole thing requires positive evidence, not just assertion. It is the nontheistic position that is assumable by default, not the positive theistic claim. I would think that being in the law, you would recognize the requirement to believe in positive claims only with positive evidence. And increasingly solid positive evidence the more preposterous the positive claim. That is just what evolution (for instance) provides, but which theism can't.


  6. Darrell says:

    We've been over the “evidence” issue. All evidence is interpreted evidence. You have no more “evidence” that there is no God than a theist does that there is a God. We all have the same evidence. We view it differently. Why? That is the question. Or, better, tell us what “evidence” you are aware of that people like Francis Collins or the other myriad of theists are unaware of? Please do. Maybe you can solve this whole dilemma for us right now and resolve centuries of debate. We heard it here first folks.


  7. Burk Braun says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    Do you at least recognize the status of the positive claim? Is it clear that the theist posits something that is not self-evident or axiomatic, and thus begs for some kind of external support, previously supplied by signs and wonders?


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