Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Mar/12

25

Why reinvent the wheel?

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Alain de Botton and Robert Wright have a long discussion about atheism and the “need for religion” (or at least the exoteric accoutrements of religion). But the conversation seems ahistorical. Confucianism seems to address many of their “wants”; that is, a moralistic framework that makes positive claims with communitarian presuppositions which are not necessarily contingent upon supernatural agents.

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9 comments

  • Dwight E. Howell · March 26, 2012 at 12:49 am

    A careful check of Greek and Roman philosophy will show that they went much farther with a much more profound grasp of the issues than the moderns.

  • Author comment by David Hume · March 26, 2012 at 2:42 am

    say more. which ancients? which moderns? what specific issues?

  • Author comment by hanmeng · March 26, 2012 at 5:47 am

    The Analects and other Confucian texts mention Heaven as a supernatural moral force a little too much for that.

  • mark e. · March 26, 2012 at 7:33 am

    Even if you’re right about Confucianism, DH, what good is that to us in the West?

    Some of what A. de B. was saying is plausible (the lack of structure, the need for good advice for students, flawed human nature) but we can’t create proper rituals – they evolve. I’ll go with Wright’s irony (sarcasm?) every time. Non-believers can respect religion and give credit where credit is due. But de Botton’s ‘middle ground’ is a fudge and verges on nuttiness.

  • Author comment by David Hume · March 26, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    The Analects and other Confucian texts mention Heaven as a supernatural moral force a little too much for that.

    first, ‘heaven’ is NOT a personal god. especially as confucianism is elaborated. second, the third of the great confucian sages, xunzi, was a materialist. so there isn’t unity on this issue. third, the primary point is confucianism is not necessarily grounded on belief in a personal supernatural agent.

    DH, what good is that to us in the West?

    we don’t need to generate insights de novo. a lot of te basic elements have been test run already.

  • Narr · March 26, 2012 at 10:46 pm

    Gotta go with mark e on this one. Nobody in the modern West is going to give a fraction of a fart what Confucianism argues, except those that are already convinced of the need for something like it.

  • GTChristie · March 27, 2012 at 6:48 am

    I don’t think DH actually recommends Confucianism. It’s just a good counter-example of a moral belief system without a god in the center. In academic studies of religion, it is sometimes debated whether Confucianism itself is actually a religion. As I understand it, Confucius did not establish a religion, and any “religious” references (such as to heaven) simply built upon the metaphors of existing folk religions — beliefs in common use that people already understood. Any rituals associated with Confucianism appear to be more ancient than the system itself — borrowed, one might say. Confucian emphasis on the pragmatic and practical aspects of leading a good life (with arguments to match, which are mostly parable-like) outweigh any mystical mumbo jumbo usually associated with religion. Which makes Confucianism a pretty good example of a “moral belief system” without the huge dose of supernaturalism common to cultures outside the Great Wall. Even so, I don’t think DH is saying we should use it as a template (much less convert). All I took away from the post was that there are moral systems sometimes called “religious” without a lot of voodoo at the core.

  • Narr · March 27, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    To GTChristie: No, I don’t think DH was actually recommending Confucianism either, though I see how my brief observation could be seen that way.

    I’ll try to get back to this soon.

  • Author comment by David Hume · March 27, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    GTChristie captures my sentiments correctly.

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