Home

French philospher and superstar of atheism Michel Onfray’s (Onfray 2007) movement of evangelical secularism depends on a moral mathematics of risk society. At its most extreme it advocates a form of instrumentalist social atomism and radical anthropocentrism.

Onfray refers to the influential writings of Nietzsche, who combines philosophy with a searing aesthetic to unsettle 19th century ethics, ethos and morals. Nietzsche work is permeated with a heightened moral relativism where individuals are free to choose their own virtues and vices subjectively and interchangeably. But Nietzsche’s avatar Zarathustra is not advocating a new religion. He is following in the Enlightenment tradition wherein the modern individual perceives religion to be pitiably self-delusional and comfortable. And I never forget that Nietzsche wrote against a late 19th century backdrop of a distorted form of Christian/utilitarianism driving unfettered destructive colonial expansion.

These masters of today- surpass them, O my brethren- these petty
people: they are the Superman’s greatest danger!
Surpass, ye higher men, the petty virtues, the petty policy, the
sand-grain considerateness, the ant-hill trumpery, the pitiable
comfortableness, the “happiness of the greatest number”-!
And rather despair than submit yourselves. And verily, I love you,
because ye know not today how to live, ye higher men! For thus do ye
live- best! (Nietzsche 1892)

The brilliance of the canonical writing of Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Foucault, Deleuze and even Derrida, is not enough to provide incentive to transform inner ethical orientations or to change outward moral behaviour. Marx was not a Marxist. Derrida himself deconstructed the Author. These leaders of thought provide useful concepts and robust arguments but not comprehensive systems intended for universal adoption. Their space-time dependent oeuvre never claimed to provide comprehensive manifestos with an ethos, code of ethics and a will for social change under accidental temporal and spatial conditions.

Moral orientation imposed through legislation and education aims at protecting current and dominant (not necessarily democratic) concerns of society. Such ordinances and curriculum are necessary in a civil society but they provide at most a minimalist state protection for those at-risk of social exclusion. At their worst the algorithms of moral mathematics ensure a legal and civil method to heighten the vulnerability of the most vulnerable. See Foucault on crime, punishment and discipline.

Nietzsche’s concept of authenticity which is a form of self-making in the register of the aesthetic is incompatible with that form of imposed morality, the Christian-inspired ethic of charity for the Other crushes an individual’s elemental, instinctive and powerful desires (Taylor 1991:65).

In contrast the inner ethical orientations ( BIC 2006 ) of moderate civil religion relevant to social, historical, economic and political context are constituted by a concept of faith as conscious knowledge expressed in action (‘Abdu’l-Baha 1915:549) combined with an an ethos of caring and mutual trust. This concept of faith is held in tension by the use of the faculty of reason to prevent fanaticism and superstition. First it is to know and then to do (‘Abdu’l-Baha 1915:549).

Taylor (1991:10) describes the fading of moral horizons, the loss of meaning, the eclipse of ends, rampant instrumental reason and the loss of freedoms as all part of the malaise of modernity. He cautions that atomist and instrumentalist approaches promote a debased and shallow form of authenticity (1991:120).

keywords: moral mathematics, consequentialism vs deontology, 

Webliography and Bibliography

‘Abdu’l-Baha. 1915. Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Baha.

Bahá’í International Community (BIC). 2006. “A New Vision for Humanity’s Future.

Colbert, Stephen. 2007. Unquisition. May 3.

Derrida (1990) in Le droit à la philosophie du point de vue cosmopolitique.

Etzioni, Amitai. 2007a.”The West Needs a Spiritual Surge” >> Amitai Etzioni Notes. March 6, 2007.

Etzioni, Amitai. 2007b. L’Occident aussi a besoin d’un renouveau spirituel.” Le Monde. 7 avril.

Hitchens, Christopher. 2007. God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Twelve/Warner Books.

Higgins, Andrew. 2007. As religious strife grows, atheists seize pulpit.” Northwest Herald. >> nwherald.com. April 13.

Kinsley, Michael. 2007. “In God, Distrust.” Sunday Book Review. New York Times. May 13.

Lacroix, Alexandre, Truong, Nicolas. 2007. “Nicolas Sarkozy et Michel Onfray: Confidences entre Ennemis.” Philosophie Mag. No. 8. >> Philomag.com

Onfray, Michel. 2007. Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1892. Thus Spake Zarathustra. Trans. Common, Thomas.Taylor, Charles. The Malaise of Modernity. Concord, Ontario: House of Anansi Press.


Ontological certitude has been embedded in influential pockets of academic disciplines that operate within a persistent and pervasive assumption of realism (Beck, 1992: 4). See Bauman (1994). There is a marked impatient, dismissal and neglect of highly relevant and useful contemporary theory which unsettles the notion that we can access raw chunks of reality as facts. But this is crucial in order to open up forums for debate between differing view points in a highly pluralistic society.

Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman who became increasingly influential in the late 1980s (1973) argued that sociology needed to questions its own troubled self-annihilating historiography and recognise that cultural praxis is the unique domain of humans. Rather than focus on on the production of professional technocrats, sociologists need to come into direct contact with the human praxis. While Bauman (1993) claims that the human subject produced by modern management is stripped of moral purpose, he also argues that humans are uniquely situated and capable of challenging our own reality individually and collectively in order to investigate deeper meanings of justice, ethics, freedom (1973?).

In the period post-1989 has witnessed an ethical turn in the social sciences informed in part by philosophy (Mikhael Bakhtin) and political philosophy as found in the work of Paul Ricoeur, Charles Taylor, Emmanuel Levinas and the more recent works of Jacques Derrida.

Bauman (2001) discusses the complex dilemma of the stranger, the unfamiliar other in the social landscape as the European Union materialized.

He described political classes diverted the public’s “deepest cause of anxiety, that is the experience of individual insecurity, to the popular concern with (already misplaced) threats to collective identity. ” This resulted in a heightened coldness and even aggression towards the stranger next door. He compared two scenarios: Girard’s scenario for dealing with difference was to join together to create common enemies which Bauman considers to be “not just cruel and inhuman it is also ineffective.” John Rex (1995) presents one of the “public political culture and a political society ased upon the idea of equality of opportunity, but often also on a conception of at least a minimum of social rights for all, i.e. equality of outcome”.

If this is the case, then the choice between Girard’s and Rex’s scenarios is far from being just a matter of an academic interest. It involves the value which our civilisation rightly considered to be the main, perhaps even the only, title to its glory. Its past readiness to recognise sense and dignity in alternative ways of life, to seek and to find grounds for peaceful and solidary coexistence which are not dependent on compliance with one, homogenous and uncontested pattern of life. The choice between scenarios is also a deeply ethical choice; what depends on that choice, is whether the form of life the chosen strategy is meant to preserve is worth defending in the first place. The future of Europe and every part of it depends on our ability and willingness to learn to live with cultural diversity (Bauman 2001).

Slow world interrupted . . . to be continued [. . .]

Edgoose (1997) responded to Derrida in terms of ethical and legal judgment in the care/justice debate:

Derrida (1990) distinguishes between two types of justice: in French, droit and juste. Droit – “right,” “law” – resembles “justice” in the care/justice debate. It is universal and intelligible and can be written down and used to guide future judgment. But droit is not an idealization of the mechanism of law. It is not the case that droit represents the way in which unbiased and universal legal judgments are made – by the application of universal law and rights. Droit is, rather, the self-understanding that accompanies our sense of the law, but it is only a partial understanding.

Juste, on the other hand, has little to do with “justice” in the care/justice debate. But it has everything to do with the empirical openness to the Other which I have identified with Levinas and as the inspiration for the ethics of care. Yet for Derrida, as we shall see, the openness to the Other of care is involved in the process of ethical and legal judgment, and so the connotation of justice is still needed.

Like Levinas, Derrida believes that caring justice juste is born out of attention to many particular Others. It is defined by its very plurality. Derrida writes, for example, that “the condition of all possible caring justice juste” would be, “to address oneself to the Other in the language of the Other” (1990:949). But Derrida declares that in the language of the law, this is impossible, since in the law assumes a universality by which it can be applied to everyone.

Notes

Zygmunt Bauman is known throughout the world for works such as Legislators and Interpreters (1987), Modernity and the Holocaust (1989), Modernity and Ambivalence (1991) and Postmodern Ethics (1993), Liquid Modernity (2000), The Individualized Society (2001), Conversations with Zygmunt Bauman, with Keith Tester (2001), Society Under Siege (2002), and Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds (2003). See a brief biography.

In Modernity and the Holocaust (1989) sociologist Zygmunt Bauman argued that genocide was the logical conclusion of a misguided, strong version of the Enlightenment project ‘Every ingredient of the Holocaust… was normal… in the sense of being fully in keeping with everything we know about our civilisation, its guiding spirits, its priorities, its immanent vision of the world – and of the proper ways to pursue human happiness together with a perfect society (Bauman 1989:8).'”

Bibliography

Bauman, Zygmunt. 1973. Culture as Praxis, London and Boston, Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Bauman, Zygmunt. 1993. Postmodern Ethics.

Bauman, Zygmunt. 1994. Alone Again – ethics after certainty. London, Demos.

Bauman, Zygmunt. 1998. Globalization the Human Consequences. Cambridge: Polity Press. See review.

Bauman, Zygmunt. 2001. “Europe of Strangers.” Transnational Communities Programme. October.

Beck, Ulrich. 1992.

Critchley, Simon. 1992. The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas . Oxford: Blackwell.

Derrida, Jacques. 1978. “Violence and Metaphysics.” Trans. Alan Bass, in Writing and Difference. Chicago: University of Chicago:79-153.

Derrida, Jacques. 1981. Positions. trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 1990. “Force of Law: The Mystical Foundation of Authority.” Trans. Mary Quaintance, Cardozo Law Review. 11:919-1070.

Edgoose, Julian. “An Ethics of Hesitant Learning: The Caring Justice of Levinas and Derrida“. Philosophy of Education Society.

Honneth, Alex. 1995. “The Other of Justice: Habermas and the Ethical Challenge of Postmodernism,” in The Cambridge Companion to Habermas. Ed. Stephen K. White: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Luce Irigaray, Luce. 1993. An Ethics of Sexual Difference, trans. Carolyn Burke and Gillian C. Gill. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Levinas, Emmanuel. 1969. Totality and Infinity. Trans. Alphonso Lingis: Pittsburgh: Duquesne.

Levinas, Emmanuel . 1991. Otherwise than Being, or Beyond Essence. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Noddings, Nel. 1984. Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Morality. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Rex, John. 1995. “Ethnic Identity and the Nation State.” Social Identities. 1.


Charles Taylor distinguishes between ethics and morality by describing the latter as “that part of ethics which is concerned with our obligations to others, in justice and benevolence.” In the course that he is currently teaching (2007) Taylor examines how,

For some thinkers, this is the really important department of ethics, far more significant than questions about what constitutes a good or worth-while life. For others, this primacy is quite mistaken and unacceptable. This issue is often fought out under the description “the primacy of the right over the good”. If one accepts the primacy, certain questions open up: viz, utilitarianism versus a Kantian approach. If one refuses this primacy, then another set of questions become important, because there are a host of different ways of defining the good life (Taylor 2007).


Nussbaum (1994) rejected pro-patriotism arguments in favour of a more cosmopolitan identity which prioritizes human rights above a sense of national belonging. She began her essay with a quote from 4th century BC Cynic Diogenes who, “Asked from what country he came, he replied, “I am a citizen of the world.”4

The Stoics stress that to be a citizen of the world one does not need to give up local identifications, which can frequently be a source of great richness in life. They suggest that we think of ourselves not as devoid of local affiliations, but as surrounded by a series of concentric circles. The first one is drawn around the self; the next takes in one’s immediate family; then follows the extended family; then, in order, one’s neighbors or local group, one’s fellow city-dwellers, one’s fellow countrymen — and we can easily add to this list groupings based on ethnic, linguistic, historical, professional, gender and sexual identities. Outside all these circles is the largest one, that of humanity as a whole. Our task as citizens of the world will be to “draw the circles somehow toward the center” (Hierocles 1st 2nd CE)1, making all human beings more like our fellow city dwellers, and so on. In other words, we need not give up our special affections and identifications, whether ethnic or gender-based or religious. We need not think of them as superficial, and we may think of our identity as in part constituted by them. We may and should devote special attention to them in education. But we should work to make all human beings part of our community of dialogue and concern, base our political deliberations on that interlocking commonality, and give the circle that defines our humanity a special attention and respect.

The Stoic model is of course imperfect since Stoic process of drawing the circle toward the centre was based on assimilation. There was no concept of a sophisticated Derridian “philosophy from a cosmopolitical point of view” or a “politics of friendship” which unsettles relationships to the stranger, the unfamiliar, the unheimlich.

Taylor has deplored the fact that most of us are content to not question what we value. What are the ethics and morals that are most important to us? Where and when did we adopt them? Was it conscious choice or osmosis? Pondering these questions in moral philosophy is not part of our everyday lives. As we slide towards a form of world citizenship, we will need to know ourselves so the values that are important to us are the ones we end of defending.

While Charles Taylor2 (1994) admired Martha Nussbaum’s (1994 ) with one caveat, he disagreed with her proposal that cosmopolitan identity replace patriotism. And of course they are both correct. Nussbaum’s call for a more inclusive global citizenship based on responsibility and caring is essential to the sustainable futures. But for all appearances we are still national citizens (Rorty 1994). However, the concept of the Westphalian nation-state has a historical beginning and its future form may be quite different from what we now experience. National sense of belonging will be quite different a decade from now just as it was prior to 911 when these articles were written. As we move into the unknown area of morality in a post-national world, will the secular humanist discourse be enlightened enough to stretch our sociological imaginations and allow us to negotiate solutions to seemingly irreconcilable differences.
Writing in Palestine3 in 1917 Abdu’l-Baha, a Persian spiritual leader called for a unity of the Orient and Occident, the North and the South. He called these concentric circles, ‘collective centres of human association and unity’ which were necessary for the prosperity of the world of humanity. However, he reminded his audience that these centres are accidental and temporary, composed of matter not substance, and therefore vulnerable over time to being swept away by revolutions and upheavals. He compared the transitory nature of these concentric circles of belonging and responsibility to the eternal and everlasting spiritual collective centre which is capable of embracing all races of men.

In the contingent world there are many collective centers which are conducive to association and unity between the children of men. For example, patriotism is a collective center; nationalism is a collective center; identity of interests is a collective center; political alliance is a collective center; the union of ideals is a collective center, and the prosperity of the world of humanity is dependent upon the organization and promotion of the collective centers. Nevertheless, all the above institutions are in reality, the matter and not the substance, accidental and not eternal — temporary and not everlasting. With the appearance of great revolutions and upheavals, all these collective centers are swept away. But the Collective Center of the Kingdom, embodying the Institutes and Divine Teachings, is the eternal Collective Center. It establishes relationship between the East and the West, organizes the oneness of the world of humanity, and destroys the foundation of differences. It overcomes and includes all the other collective centers. Like unto the ray of the sun, it dispels entirely the darkness, encompassing all the regions, bestows ideal life, and causes the effulgence of divine illumination. Through the breaths of the Holy Spirit it performs miracles; the Orient and the Occident embrace each other, the North and South become intimates and associates; conflicting and contending opinions disappear; antagonistic aims are brushed aside, the law of the struggle for existence is abrogated, and the canopy of the oneness of the world of humanity is raised on the apex of the globe, casting its shade over all the races of men. Consequently, the real Collective Center is the body of the divine teachings, which include all the degrees and embrace all the universal relations and necessary laws of humanity. (Abdu’l-Baha 1917)

Footnotes

1 Each of us is, indeed, as it were circumscribed by many circles, larger and smaller, comprehending and comprehended, according to various mutual circumstances (Hierocles 1st 2nd CE)


2
This essay is hosted on a Charles Taylor resource site by Professor who describes it as “a response to Martha Nussbaum’s “Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism” which appeared in the Boston Review (Vol. 19, No. 5). Taylor’s response is part of an excellent discussion which includes Hilary Putnam, Benjamin Barber, Judith Butler, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., William E. Connolly, Sissela Bok, and several other excellent thinkers. For Nussbaum’s reply to her critics, see “Asking the Right Questions,” from the same issue of the Boston Review.”

3. Delivered on March 8, 1917, in the summerhouse (Isma’il Aqá’s room) at `Abdu’l-Bahá’s house in Haifa, Palestine and addressed to the small, emerging community of Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada. Throughout his writings there is an insistence on the unicity of God and inclusivity though union and diversity, so that ‘divine teachings’, Holy Spirit, the Cause refers to a progressive religion which is constituted by all world religions.

4. The irascible Cynic Diogenes is perhaps not the most noble example of a world citizen since he lived by the precept that one’s personal happiness was “satisfied by meeting one’s natural needs and that what is natural cannot be shameful or indecent. His life, therefore, was lived with extreme simplicity, inured to want, and without shame.” Asked from what country he came, he replied, “I am a citizen of the world.” (Diogenes. vi.). His world citizenship was not based on the responsibility or caring of a world citizen rather on his insistence on dismissing societal norms for his own sense of happiness. See Grout (1997-2007). Diogenes is perhaps a citizen of the world in the same sense as Humphey Bogart as Rick in the 1942 film Casablanca who declared his nationality was “drunkard” when interrogated by German officers. His companion joked that “That makes Rick a Citizen of the World.”


Bibliography

Abdu’l-Baha. 1917. “Tablet to the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada.” Tablets of the Divine Plan. Haifa, Palestine.

Abdu’l-Baha. “The Divine Plan: The Cause of Baháu’lláh.” Baha’i World Faith.

Diogenes Laertius. 4th BC. “Diogenes the Cynic.” >> Classical and Hellenistic Greece: Essays on Greek history and culture and the later Byzantine empire. Encyclopaedia Romana and Greece. University of Chicago.


Grout, James. 1997-2007. Classical and Hellenistic Greece: Essays on Greek history and culture and the later Byzantine empire. Encyclopaedia Romana and Greece. University of Chicago.

Hierocles.
1st 2nd CE.Conduct towards Relatives.” >> completepythagoras.net

Nussbaum, Martha. 1994. Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism.” Boston Review. 19:5.

 

Rorty, Richard. 1994. The New York Times. 13 February. The New York Times (13 February 1994), philosopher Richard Rorty urges Americans, especially the American left, not to disdain patriotism as

 

Taylor, Charles. 1994. “Why Democracy Needs Patriotism.” Boston Review.

Taylor, Charles. 2007. Theories of Ethics: Course Abstract. School of Law, Northwestern University

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Ethics and Morality at the Interstice between Patriotism and the Cosmopolitical Point of View.” >> Speechless

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Ethics and Morality at the Interstice between Patriotism and the Cosmopolitical Point of View.” >> Google docs

http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddp3qxmz_229c7dfpj