Durant, Burgess-Jackson, (Richard John Neuhaus,) and the Thesis That Religion is the Basis of Morality

The contingency of the future set aside, an explanation of my prolonged absence from posting will soon be forthcoming. In anticipation, however, of a return to active blogging, I want to ask a question occasioned by Keith Burgess-Jackson’s post, “Will Durant (1885-1981) on Humanism.”

Burgess-Jackson first therein presents a passage from Durant’s “Humanism in Historical Perspective,” The Humanist 37 [January/February 1977]: 24-6, at 26 [italics in original]).” In it we find Durant saying, among other things, that:

[W]e shall find it no easy task to mold a natural ethic strong enough to maintain moral restraint and social order without the support of supernatural consolations, hopes, and fears.

Burgess-Jackson’s response to that declaration is as follows [italics in original]:

Note also Durant’s admission that morality without religion is questionable. Is it not foolhardy to eradicate religion without assurance that it will not undermine morality? For without morality (i.e., moral restraint), there is no hope for humanity. Why are atheists such as Durant so willing, even eager, to play with fire?

The thesis which both passages seem to have in mind, that “religion is the basis of morality,” is one which I find it a bit strange to see philosophers entertaining without immediately asking the question, “What about philosophical ethics?” So, myself having in mind, e.g., the ethics found in or derivable from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, I’ll ask it:

What about philosophical ethics?

July 11, 2013, Update: Today my eyes fell upon the following text, from Richard John Neuhaus’s inaugural editorial in First Things, quoted on p. 33 of R. R. Reno’s “Our Challenges,” his contribution to the “The Challenges We Face,” a “symposium on the future of First Things,” in the magazine’s August/September 2013 issue.

If the American experiment in representative democracy is not in conversation with biblical religion, it is not in conversation with what the overwhelming majority of Americans profess to believe is the source of morality. To the extent that our public discourse is perceived as indifferent or hostile to the language of Jerusalem, our social and political order faces an ever-deepening crisis of legitimacy.

I do not doubt that “the overwhelming majority of Americans” then professed to believe and perhaps even now profess to believe that “biblical religion” is “the source of morality.” I further do not doubt that “To the extent that our public discourse is perceived as indifferent or hostile to the language of Jerusalem, our social and political order faces an ever-deepening crisis of legitimacy.” I do ask, however, whether it is true that biblical religion is the source of morality. I ask, then, again:

What about philosophical ethics?

[I wish I knew how to control font size in WordPress.]

About Rchard E. Hennessey

See above, "About the Author/Editor."
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