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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); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Friday, August 05, 2011

Lovely sentences from John F. Haught

"In any case, were I to try to elicit scientific evidence of immortality I would just be capitulating to the narrower empiricism that underlies naturalistic belief. What I will say, though, is that the hope for some form of subjective survival is a favorable disposition for nurturing trust in the desire to know."

And a bit later: "Such a hope is reasonable if it provides, as I believe it can, a climate that encourages the desire to know to remain restless until it encounters the fullness of being, truth, goodness and beauty."

Got it?


James Sweet said...

Let me test my understanding here... Haught is saying that trying to offer evidence for what he believes would be "stooping to their level", and that a far better justification for belief in the afterlife is that he likes it.

Is that about right? Man, by that logic I guess I'm a billionaire with a ten-inch dick.

zengardener said...

No. I must be dense.

Michael Fugate said...

What does "subjective survival" as opposed to "objective survival" entail? Is it just what each individual wishes happens after death versus what actually happens?
And of course, asking for evidence is treated as something that people in polite society just don't do.

Tom Clark said...

Got it! Here's a comment on Haught's notion of "richer empiricism" (as opposed to the "narrow empiricism that underlies naturalistic belief") from my review of his book Is Nature Enough?:

Haught discusses four “fields of meaning” that constitute the "richer empiricism" through which the mind contacts reality: affectivity, intersubjectivity, narrativity and beauty. He says these non-analytical, non-theoretic modes of knowing must be added to scientific inquiry to really understand the world. Of course, many might doubt that the intuitive, qualitative apprehensions in such domains meets the criteria of reliability, universality, and replicability that science assiduously tries to meet, however imperfectly, in its knowledge claims. Affectivity, intersubjectivity (a direct encounter with another subject), narrativity and beauty don’t seem, on the face of it, at all empirical, so Haught’s "richer empiricism" seems misnamed.


Steve Zara said...

It's painful. It sounds like it's making a claim for science to be able to investigate the supernatural, otherwise what else could a wider empiricism that underlies non-naturalistic belief mean?

Also, "Subjective survival" sounds rather miserable. If survival isn't objective, does it mean that you may survive death but no-one else could know about it? Eternal solitary confinement?

Svlad Cjelli said...

Lovely? Maybe. Lucid? Not really.

steve oberski said...

According to a Jesuit acquaintance of mine, Haught is one of the "heavy hitters" for the theistic camp.

I sure hope he's right ...

Christian said...

"Subjective survival" just means survival of subjectivity/the subject, I think. The soul, in other words. Not so mysterious.

My real problem with that same sentence is what comes next: Hoping that we have a soul, which survives death, "...is a favorable disposition for nurturing trust in the desire to know."

Does that mean something like this: "Being disposed to hope that we have a soul makes it easier to cultivate [in whom?] a trusting attitude towards the desire to know."

I'm fairly confident I know what the desire to know is. I feel it often. Why the hell would I want or need to trust in that desire? That makes no sense to me. All I need to know is that science works. Anyway, it is an empirical claim (admittedly one that would be exceptionally difficult to investigate). And from personal experience and anecdote I think it is dead wrong.

But maybe Christians do need to learn to trust their desire to know because more than two millennia of religious cultural dominance has scared them into believing that knowledge and curiosity are sinful and punishable by an eternity in Hell. So does Haught mean that turning religious people on to science will be easier if we don't challenge their belief in an afterlife? How does he know? It's yet another empirical claim. Shouldn't not believing that they just might end up in Hell for being curious make it more likely that they embraced their curiosity?

Jerry Coyne said...

Where did these sentences come from? I have to debate Haught in October.

ppnl said...

It hurts to even read that crap.

Russell Blackford said...

Jerry, they're from his book Is Nature Enough?

Russell Blackford said...

I guess you need to read that one and his more recent book about the new atheism, etc.

Tom Clark said...


See my reviews of Haught's God and the New Atheism and Is Nature Enough? linked at http://www.naturalism.org/theology.htm

He violates at least four basic basic epistemic requirements that apply when making claims about reality: reduce the influence of one's hopes and fears as much as possible; test claims using public evidence; don't presume what you're trying to prove; and have at least a sketch of an evidence-based theory of *how* you know what you know. These requirements are worldview neutral, so don't beg the question about the existence of God or the supernatural.

Good luck in your debate!

Russell Blackford said...

Tom, that material sounds like it could be useful for my purposes as well - I must have a look at it.

Dave Ricks said...

Tom, I liked your four rules of epistemology enough that I bookmarked them from your previous mention of them here in May (in reference to Haught's God and the New Atheism). Jerry Coyne might benefit from your one-paragraph conclusion at that link, too.

I personally find your four rules worth remembering because they extend epistemology beyond knowing that (e.g., knowing that the Earth goes around the Sun) to cover knowing how (e.g., knowing how I play trumpet). I especially appreciate your point of "providing public evidence against which subjective experience can be checked" (e.g., Neo says, “I know Kung-Fu,” so Morpheus says, “Show me,” and Morpheus tests Neo’s claim of knowing how to fight in that style).

My emphasis on knowing how seems contrary to most of the "rationalist" or "skeptical" community. Back when Russell originally mused "These things I know - or do I?" and his second post of musings was linked to RDnet, the commenters there came out with pitchforks and torches to kill it with fire. Part of the problem was they came in on the second post of Russell's musings, but I think a more fundamental problem was their implied judgement that the only "real" knowledge (and the only "real" epistemology) is knowing that (and if I were to mention knowing how, they would think of knowing how as a procedure written in a lab notebook, but that's not what I mean by knowing how).

Around 1980, I messed up my trumpet chops by setting my lips too far apart, thinking this would get a "big" sound like the vowel sound "aah" (wrong!). So Herb Pomeroy introduced me to my "chop doctor" Nat Paella (a special kind of teacher who can observe what brass players are doing wrong physically, and motivate corrections), and Nat got me back on track. Since then I've built beyond what Nat taught me, and I should write a book about it (as Fermat wrote, too big for this margin).

TL;DR: Brass players who have been "messed up" but relearn how to play finally "know how they play" in a way that more "natural" players don't. Communicating this form of knowledge is a big deal to me, so thank you for giving this a context in terms of epistemology.

Tom Clark said...

Thanks Dave, and wouldn't you know it, those rules were made apparent to me by reading Haught!