Monday, March 01, 2010

Are There Secular Reasons?

I recently read the subject Stanley Fish article and found it interesting - especially in regard to my other reading on related topics. Here's an excerpt from Beck's summary and analysis of the entire article:

My friend Steven sent me this link to Stanley Fish's February 22 opinion piece in the New York Times: Are There Secular Reasons?

Fish begins with what many think to be a truism of modern political life, that the religious life cannot provide "reasons" for public policy. Only "secular reasons" based upon "facts" can guide our social contract:
In the always-ongoing debate about the role of religion in public life, the argument most often made on the liberal side (by which I mean the side of Classical Liberalism, not the side of left politics) is that policy decisions should be made on the basis of secular reasons, reasons that, because they do not reflect the commitments or agendas of any religion, morality or ideology, can be accepted as reasons by all citizens no matter what their individual beliefs and affiliations. So it's O.K. to argue that a proposed piece of legislation will benefit the economy, or improve the nation's health, or strengthen national security; but it's not O.K. to argue that a proposed piece of legislation should be passed because it comports with a verse from the book of Genesis or corresponds to the will of God.
The outcome of this division is a kind of "apartheid" between faith and reason in our public life:
Whether the argument appears in its softer or harder versions, behind it is a form of intellectual/political apartheid known as the private/public distinction: matters that pertain to the spirit and to salvation are the province of religion and are to be settled by religious reasons; matters that pertain to the good order and prosperity of civil society are the province of democratically elected representatives and are to be settled by secular reasons.
Fish goes on to question this apartheid by reviewing Steven Smith's new book The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse. Smith's argument has a family similarity to David Hume's contention that "reason is incompetent to answer any fundamental question."

I especially like the Hume reference and, later on, this quote:

At root, empiricism and logic are normatively incompetent. Science cannot answer the questions "What is good?" or "What is best?"
 
This is an interesting discussion for an increasingly pluralistic and, to a lesser degree, increasingly secular world.

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