Volume 23, Issue 1 (2015)
An Awkward Quarrel: The Defense of Humanism in 1970s Britain
by D. L. LeMahieu
In the 1970s, student radicals, left-wing academic theorists and second-wave feminists challenged the relevance and social neutrality of humanistic study. Yet for all its tentativeness and studied modesty, humanism proved more powerful and aggressive than its critics realized. In their willingness to critique both their own limitations and those of their adversaries, humanists sometimes contributed to the deterioration of institutions and values that they most sought to protect. The reputation of universities as impartial and even hallowed places of learning suffered as education became politicized. The Left undermined its own authenticity when sectarianism eroded its political solidarity and disconnected socialism from its aspirational future.
Pluralistic Humanism: Democracy and the Religious
By Tibor Solymosi
I propose we discuss pluralistic humanism as an alternative to both atheism and traditional theism in an effort to establish a democratic faith to which we, despite our differences, can bind ourselves. I draw on the thought of American pragmatists (James, Dewey, Rorty, and Kitcher) to articulate a constructive criticism of new atheists (Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens). This criticism primarily focuses on the unacknowledged affinities between religion and scientific atheism—namely, a naive realism and a conversion experience—with the hope of using such common ground as a starting point for not only shared experience but for self-examination. I conclude with the proposal that we take up a Deweyan conception of democracy as a common faith aimed at effecting religious or spiritual experiences despite the traditional oppression of institutional religion.
A Noxious Injustice as Punishment: Prisoner Sexual Violence, Toxic Masculinity, and the Ubuntu Ethic
By Mark Tschaepe
The argument that justice entails a form of what is deserved continues to inform attitudes about punishment. The belief in ‘just deserts’ is especially relevant in cases of punishment that are not court-ordered or officially prescribed, but nonetheless are considered deserved. Perhaps the most egregious example concerns incarcerated persons who are sexually assaulted. The belief in violence as justly deserved is ethically problematic, negatively affecting the health of incarcerated persons, as well as those outside of prisons. I argue that in the context of prison sexual violence, acceptance and proffering of the just deserts position is founded upon and promulgates toxic masculinity, which undermines the personhood of prisoners and reinforces a culture of homophobia and sexism both within and beyond prison walls. I outline an alternative based on an Ubuntu ethic that rejects prison sexual violence as a form of just deserts and fosters an approach to justice that seeks reconciliation.
A Theory of the “Rights” Concept
By James A. Montanye
This essay examines the evolutionary development of the “rights” concept. It argues that the concept is both relatively recent and fundamentally economic rather than abstractly philosophical. The essay is unique, not only in its explication of the concept, but also in the use of ngram data (i.e., the changing relative frequency of published words and phrases) to visualize the correspondence between the evolving rights concept and growing aggregate prosperity.
The Eros and Tragedy of Peace in Whitehead’s Philosophy of Culture
By Myron Moses Jackson
One of the most intriguing and underappreciated aspects of Alfred North Whitehead’s philosophy is his treatment of peace as a civilizational aim of culture. The problem of peace is the subject in the final chapter of Whitehead’s Adventures of Ideas. It is considered along with the other four qualities of civilized societies, “Adventure, Art, Beauty, and Truth.” Although his analysis is driven by examples from Western and Christian history, respectively, the treatment of peace developed is not limited to this or any specific experiential epoch. Peace is a transcultural value, the “harmony of harmonies,” which lies at the heart or in the “nature of things.” Whitehead designates the permanence-flux contrast of peace in human life as a tension between the “dream of youth” and “harvest of tragedy.” Our lives give way to the dance of the possible and actual that both unites and divides us. This article explains how Whitehead attempts to argue for peace by way of “balanced intensity” in response to the triumphs and tribulations of life. Section one deals with the ways in which youth and eros symbolize possibility and orient us toward the possible. Tragedy, or the determination of the individual in its own subjective realization and the consequent nature it produces through the “unity of adventure,” is the focus of the second section. In section three, the erotic-tragic contrast is presented in relation to peace as an “intuition of permanence.” In conclusion, Whitehead’s humanism will be offered as a viable alternative against the modern belief of progress or the quest for worldly success, in which prosperity becomes antithetical to the achievement of peace given its propensity to evade or outrun tragedy.
Morality Without A God
By Alan Mandelberg
This essay defends the basis of morality as held by non-believers by arguing that we just like believers learn our morality by learning our language—which necessarily involves learning about the world, the “forms of life.” First other attempts by Niose, Epstein and Harris to argue for humanist morality are considered and rejected, the latter rejection based on G.E. Moore’s “open question” argument against naturalism. Contrary to Hume’s contention that it is impossible to jump the logical chasm from “is” to “ought,” it is contended in this essay that to understand morally relevant concepts, one has to already understand that they are either good or bad because to learn one’s native language is to learn what sorts of actions are right or wrong. This allows critical judgment about what is right or wrong. Humanism is based on such critical judgment. That is what makes it most moral. Deciding which acts are right or wrong is a matter of deciding what relevant facts apply to the situation. Some corollaries of the fact that humanism is moral because it relies first and foremost on critical judgment are considered.