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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019) and AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021).

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Twelve Worldviews?

John Shook's The God Debates (see previous post) has some interesting discussion in the final chapter of twelve worldviews that he sees as in competition for future influence. To be honest, I can't take such an elaborate taxonomy entirely seriously: it's inevitably too neat to match up perfectly with the messy contours of the real world. At the same time, there are some insightful ideas in Shook's discussion. For example, he is at pains to distinguish a number of conservative religious positions, rather than implying that there is just one way to be a religious conservative (so some people don't count) or that all religious conservatives are the same (so we don't appreciate the differences among those who do).

He also distinguishes a number of naturalistic positions - "Stoic Materialism", "Secular Humanism", and "Nihilistic Rationalism" - and a number of positions that do not figure prominently in public debate, even though many individuals find them attractive: these include various Romantic, Transcendentalist, and mystical positions. He attempts to identify which positions are most strongly opposed to each other (even offering a circle of positions to show this, as well as drawing out some similarities). Thus, he opposes Secular Humanism most strongly to Theocratic Covenantalism, the sort of religious position that demands subservience to God from whole groups of people (whereas other evangelical or fundamentalist positions may require only the free acceptance of God's grace by individuals).

In the end, he speculates on how there might be a grand and more constructive dialogue among people, Eastern and Western, adhering to a range of these positions, while counterbalancing what he appears to see as the more dangerous ones.

Some of this seems to me a bit too touchy-feely, but Shook is surely correct that we do need to have dialogue for the foreseeable future. We can't put all our efforts into simply wiping out certain positions (though it may be that some positions deserve to be marginalised). He suggests that, "We should be thinking about a planetary ethics to grapple with our planetary dilemmas."

That's probably right. Many of our problems now go far beyond survival of small human societies or even large, complex nations and empires. Issues of planet-wide climate change, the proliferation of massively destructive weaponry, and the burden of global poverty and disease, require global responses. That may involve discussions with people who have radically opposed views of the world. At the same time, we must not forget that there are many problems whose solution is made more difficult by the persistence of various kinds of anti-rationalism.

I'll give Shook the last word, quoting from the final paragraph of his book:

At this stage of our deliberations ... we leave Western theology and atheology where we found it at our start: at the inauguration of a truly global dialogue. Have our god debates prepared us for this next, grander conversation?


DEEN said...

Does he give some insight into the relative popularity and influence of these worldviews? I mean, I can't imagine that many people actually support "nihilistic rationalism".

Anonymous said...

conservation or conversation as the last word?

Russell Blackford said...

Fixed - thanks.

I think he just says that they vary greatly in popularity.