Sunday, February 16, 2014

Michael Rosen on Dworkin on Religion

In "The Nation" (March 3, 2014) Professor Michael Rosen reviews "Religion Without God" by the late Ronald Dworkin:

"Beyond Naturalism: On Ronald Dworkin"


If morality were just a matter of God’s will, then presumably whatever God willed would be good for that reason and no more. But if God is indeed just, it must be possible for human beings to recognize independently why his commands are good. Of course, goodness is essential to God, so he could not conceivably will anything that was not good—but, still, it is not his willing something that makes it good. As Seneca once wrote, “I do not obey God; I agree with him.” So, Dworkin argues, any reasonable religion must acknowledge the priority of value over the will of the Deity. But in that case, the supernatural narrative of creation, revelation and prophecy that surrounds the moral teachings of religion is dispensable.

Dworkin still wants to call his attitude “religious” because, although he does not believe in the existence of God, he “accepts the full, independent reality of value” and hence rejects the naturalistic view that nothing is real except what is revealed by the natural sciences or psychology.

Yet if values exist as “fully independent,” how can we have access to them? As Dworkin admits, there are no experiments we can conduct to confirm their existence. Dignity—the “God particle” that sustains the existence of human rights—will not be detected by any scientist. On the contrary, the realm of value is “self-certifying,” so the only evidence for the existence of values is the truth of the things that we say about them. And the evidence for that truth is what, exactly—that we agree about values? But disagreement about values is where we came in. Even if we accept that we carry within ourselves an inner kernel of transcendental value, would it give us a way of telling where the claims of the collective end and the prerogatives of the individual begin?

See my post on Ronald Dworkin's book here (with links to reviews by Jeremy Waldron, Stanley Fish and others).

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