To do that we must first appeal to their potential parents – young people. This suggests the age of 15 to 30. In this age range a study by Michel Mason of the Catholic University showed that such young people were naturally humanistic from age 12. I want us to be able to tap into that.
Humanism & young people? The books to be discussed are by Alain de Botton and Alex Rosenberg, respectively, and seem to raises questions at the extremes for Humanism. I ask: 1. which represents HSV thinking better? 2. which philosophy better permits a brief statement that can be presented to a four- year-old child who asks a question?
I use the phrase four-year-old child to indicate that a philosophy that needs a Rhodes Scholar to understand it is unsuitable for ordinary humans, and certainly for children. The best that a parent can reply would be that the child must wait until they are older.
De Botton treats qualities like Compassion, Courage, Kindness, etc as seen through the architecture, literature, rituals and sculpture of the past. The following series of five slides is on the topic of Community where de Bottons message is to continue to the celebration of Community by ceremonies and ritual, eg particularly the shared meal. The other topics are treated similarly in his book.
In the foregoing example, de Botton says that the restaurant management supplies travel books, etc to read and ensures that no one eats alone. In the following example, de Botton speculates that such extreme interpretations of the love feast may have earned Pauls criticism to the Corinthians and that such feasts were quickly replaced by the symbolic Eucharist.
De Botton writes that he, hopes to rescue some of what is beautiful, touching and wise from all that no longer seems true. Rosenberg says that reality lies in science and that a belief in science (scientism) may be designated as nice nihilism. He considers recent scientific work on the way the brain works.
Rosenberg is strongly influenced by Libets experiments on the response time between brain activation, the recorded moment of decision making and the implementation of the action for Rosenberg to conclude that there is no such thing as free will, but only the illusion of it. (Others interpret the results differently.)
Nice nihilism and evolution Nice behaviour selects for biological fitness – Rosenberg applies the prisoners dilemma game theory to scavenging on the savannah to show that humans who can reason will do better if they co-operate. The result suggests a bell-shaped curve (next slide) for the variation of behaviours with the core morality as shown in the two slides further on.
Core morality, Rosenberg suggests, p 1 Don't cause gratuitous pain to a newborn baby, especially your own. Protect your children. If someone does something nice to you, then, other things being equal, you should return the favor if you can. Other things being equal, people should be treated the same way. On the whole, people's being better off is morally preferable to their being worse off.
Core Morality, p 2 Beyond a certain point, self interest becomes selfishness. If you earn something, you have a right to it. It's permissible to restrict complete strangers' access to your personal possessions. It's okay to punish people who intentionally do wrong. It's wrong to punish the innocent. Question: Was core morality once called instinct?
Fine! This is a comforting set of values for adult modern day civilised city dwellers but I want some quick, albeit dirty (approximate), answers for children. Is the following set of Rosenbergs answers adequate?
Rosenberg answers the persistent questions, p1 Is there a God? No. What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is.. What is the purpose of the universe? There is none. What is the meaning of life? Ditto.. Why am I here? Just dumb luck.. Does prayer work? Of course not.. Is there a soul? Is it immortal? Are you kidding? Is there free will? Not a chance!. What happens when we die? Everything pretty much goes on as before, except us..
Rosenbergs answers, p 2 What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? There is no moral difference between them. Why should I be moral? Because it makes you feel better than being immoral.. Is abortion, euthanasia, suicide, paying taxes, foreign aid, or anything else you don't like forbidden, permissible, or sometimes obligatory? Anything goes.. What is love, and how can I find it? Love is the solution to a strategic interaction problem. Don't look for it; it will find you when you need it.. Does history have any meaning or purpose? It's full of sound and fury, but signifies nothing.. Does the human past have any lessons for our future? Fewer and fewer, if it ever had any to begin with.
Are the answers to the preceding questions too quick (and dirty) for the training of children? Can they inspire young adults? How do they mix with Humanism; see Rosenbergs own statement on next slide
Rosenberg himself asks, Who needs secular humanism anyway? Some atheists worry that sciences answers to the persistent questions will be psychologically disquieting … If we cant have religion, we need a substitute that is as much like it as science can provide. Enter secular humanism, a doctrine, dare I say it, designed to do this job. It hasnt worked.
Humanism and young people 1. Does anyone prefer de Bottons book for children and/or young people? 2. Is Rosenbergs nice nihilism ok for little children? 3. Are either of the books relevant to capital-H Humanism?
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