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← Philip Kitcher - Living with Darwin

Russell Blackford's Avatar Jump to comment 6 by Russell Blackford

Kitcher is one of our best current thinkers in philosophy, and in this interview he says many things that I agree with: it is difficult to reconcile the Darwinian picture with the idea of a providential deity; a significant diminution in the practical role of faith in the US will probably require a less relentlessly competitive society with a better social safety net; it is worthwhile doing follow-up philosophical work to explore the moral and political implications of a naturalistic picture of the world, and specifically to identify and develop a morality that does not depend on supernaturalistic skyhooks; it would be good if philosophers dealt more with the big picture and were less narrowly focused on specialised, technical problems; religion itself has been backsliding, or hardening, in recent decades, which creates an important social problem that must be addressed.

That's all music to my ears.

Furthermore, the book that Kitcher has written sounds like a very useful one, and I admire his earlier books such as The Lives to Come and The Advancement of Science (the best general work on philosophy of science that I have ever come across). Kitcher is someone who is worthy of great respect.

But I also disagree about some things. First, I am not so sanguine that a truly rational morality, based solely on a naturalistic understanding of the world, would preserve as much traditional Christian morality as Professor Kitcher assumes. In my view, religion fossilises a lot of morality that may never have been justified in the first place and is certainly not justified in current circumstances. I see no choice but to be open about this fact. I'm especially thinking about attitudes to sexuality and reproduction.

Second, I think that the negativity of his comments about Richard Dawkins, and the others who were mentioned, was very unfortunate, and I hope he will rethink his attitude on that.

On that subject, we desperately need major intellectuals such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens to play the role that we've seen from them in putting on the agenda the important idea that religion as we know it is just not true and is often harmful. That helps clear the ground for people who want to challenge religion's political and moral prestige, or authority, which seems to me something that must happen if we are to make progress. I, for one, am very grateful to Dawkins and Hitchens for doing that (and to Onfray, Grayling, Dennett, Carrier, Stenger, Hirsi Ali, Harris, etc., etc.).

These people cannot be expected to address every possible issue in just one or two books each - though I should note that Richard Carrier's Sense and Goodness without God, which is rather underrated, and doesn't even seem to have found a good publisher, does an impressive job of defending a truly comprehensive philosophical naturalism, including the moral implications. (If anything, Carrier tries to do too much.)

That said, of course we need more books, and the existing books have not done everything that is needed. How could a relatively small (still) number of books ever do that? But it is great that a torrent of explicitly atheistic work has now started, with more and more on its way. Opportunities are opening up. Kitcher's own contribution may well be an important one, and let's hope he follows up in the way he says he wants to do.

But, Professor Kitcher, please rethink this aspect. There is no need to be so negative about books, just because none of them so far has managed to be and do everything that is required. We need your contribution without it having to detract from those of others.

Btw, was I the only one who found Grothe a bit annoying with his long leading questions? Kitcher didn't let him put words in his mouth, fortunately, and I realise that this sort of interview is very difficult to do ... but I could have done with less of Grothe's own formulations of the issues.

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 02:26:00 UTC | #56428