John Henry Newman on the Nature of the Mind: Reason in Religion, Science, and the Humanities

Natural Theology
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If God exists, God is the reason why there is a natural world and the reason for the existence of the causal processes of the natural world. In principle, therefore, a natural explanation can never preclude a theistic explanation. But what about the randomness that is a crucial part of the Darwinian story? The atheist might claim that because evolutionary theory posits that the process by which plants and animals have evolved in one that involves random genetic mutations, it cannot be guided, and thus God cannot have used evolutionary means to achieve his ends.

However, this argument fails. When scientists claim that genetic mutations are random, they do not mean that they are uncaused, or even that they are unpredictable from the point of view of biochemistry, but only that the mutations do not happen in response to the adaptational needs of the organism. It is entirely possible for a natural process to include randomness in that sense, even if the whole natural order is itself created and sustained by God.

A God who is responsible for the laws of nature and the initial conditions that shape the evolutionary process could certainly ensure that the process achieved certain ends. Ritchie presses a kind of dilemma on non-theistic accounts of morality. Subjectivist theories such as expressivism can certainly make sense of the fact that we make the ethical judgments we do, but they empty morality of its objective authority.

John Henry Newman: Real, Rational, Religion

Objectivist theories that take morality seriously, however, have difficulty explaining our capacity to make true moral judgments, unless the process by which humans came to hold these capacities is one that is controlled by a being such as God. The moral argument from knowledge will not be convincing to anyone who is committed to any form of expressivism or other non-objective metaethical theory, and clearly many philosophers find such views attractive.

And there will surely be many philosophers who will judge that if moral objectivism implies theism or requires theism to be plausible, this is a reductio of objectivist views. Furthermore, non-theistic moral philosophers, whether naturalists or non-naturalists, have stories to tell about how moral knowledge might be possible. Nevertheless, there are real questions about the plausibility of these stories, and thus, some of those convinced that moral realism is true may judge that moral knowledge provides some support for theistic belief.

Like subjectivists, constructivists want to see morality as a human creation. However, like moral realists constructivists want to see moral questions as having objective answers. Constructivism is an attempt to develop an objective morality that is free of the metaphysical commitments of moral realism. It is, however, controversial whether Kant himself was a constructivist in this sense. One reason to question whether this is the right way to read Kant follows from the fact that Kant himself did not see morality as free from metaphysical commitments.

For example, Kant thought that it would be impossible for someone who believed that mechanistic determinism was the literal truth about himself to believe that he was a moral agent, since morality requires an autonomy that is incompatible with determinism. When we do science we see ourselves as determined, but science tells us only how the world appears, not how it really is.

Humans can only have this kind of value if they are a particular kind of creature. Whether Kant himself was a moral realist or not, there are certainly elements in his philosophy that push in a realist direction. If the claim that human persons have a kind of intrinsic dignity or worth is a true objective principle and if it provides a key foundational principle of morality, it is well worth asking what kinds of metaphysical implications the claim might have.

This is the question that Mark Linville , — pursues in the second moral argument he develops. Clearly, some metaphysical positions do include a denial of the existence of human persons, such as forms of Absolute Monism which hold that only one Absolute Reality exists. Daniel Dennett, for example, holds that persons will not be part of the ultimately true scientific account of things.

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A naturalist may want to challenge premise 2 by finding some other strategy to explain human dignity. Michael Martin , for example, has tried to suggest that moral judgments can be analyzed as the feelings of approval or disapproval of a perfectly impartial and informed observer. Linville objects that it is not clear how the feelings of such an observer could constitute the intrinsic worth of a person, since one would think that intrinsic properties would be non-relational and mind-independent. Another strategy that is pursued by constructivists such as Korsgaard is to link the value ascribed to humans to the capacity for rational reflection.

John Henry Newman's Life-Changing Decision (Pivotal Players)

The idea is that insofar as I am committed to rational reflection, I must value myself as having this capacity, and consistently value others who have it as well. It is far from clear that human rationality provides an adequate ground for moral rights, however. Many people believe that young infants and people suffering from dementia still have this intrinsic dignity, but in both cases there is no capacity for rational reflection.

Wolterstorff in this work defends the claim that there are natural human rights, and that violating such rights is one way of acting unjustly towards a person. Why do humans have such rights? Wolterstorff says these rights are grounded in the basic worth or dignity that humans possess. When I seek to torture or kill an innocent human I am failing to respect this worth.

If one asks why we should think humans possess such worth, Wolterstorff argues that the belief that humans have this quality was not only historically produced by Jewish and Christian conceptions of the human person, but even now cannot be defended apart from such a conception. In particular, he argues that attempts to argue that our worth stems from some excellence we possess such as reason will not explain the worth of infants or those with severe brain injuries or dementia.

Does a theistic worldview fare better in explaining the special value of human dignity?

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In a theistic universe God is himself seen as the supreme good. Indeed, theistic Platonists usually identify God with the Good. If God is himself a person, then this seems to be a commitment to the idea that personhood itself is something that must be intrinsically good.

This argument will of course be found unconvincing to many. Some will deny premise 1 , either because they reject moral realism as a metaethical stance, or because they reject the normative claim that humans have any kind of special value or dignity. Others will find premise 2 suspect.

They may be inclined to agree that human persons have a special dignity, but hold that the source of that dignity can be found in such human qualities as rationality. With respect to the status of infants and those suffering from dementia, the critic might bite the bullet and just accept the fact that human dignity does not extend to them, or else argue that the fact that infants and those suffering mental breakdown are part of a species whose members typically possess rationality merits them a special respect, even if they lack this quality as individuals.

Others will find premise 2 doubtful because they find the theistic explanation of dignity unclear. Another alternative is to seek a Constructivist account of dignity, perhaps regarding the special status of humans as something we humans decide to extend to each other. Perhaps the strongest non-theistic alternative would be some form of ethical non-naturalism, in which one simply affirms that the claim that persons have a special dignity is an a priori truth requiring no explanation.

In effect this is a decision for a non-theistic form of Platonism. The proponent of the argument may well agree that claims about the special status of humans are true a priori, and thus also opt for some form of Platonism. However, the proponent of the argument will point out that some necessary truths can be explained by other necessary truths. The theist believes that these truths about the special status of humans tell us something about the kind of universe humans find themselves in. To say that humans are created by God is to say that personhood is not an ephemeral or accidental feature of the universe, because at bottom reality itself is personal Mavrodes As already noted, the most famous and perhaps most influential version of a moral argument for belief in God is found in Immanuel Kant Kant himself insisted that his argument was not a theoretical argument, but an argument grounded in practical reason.

Morality is grounded in pure practical reason, and the moral agent must act on the basis of maxims that can be rationally endorsed as universal principles. Moral actions are thus not determined by results or consequences but by the maxims on which they are based. However, all actions, including moral actions, necessarily aim at ends.

However, I must seek the highest good only by acting in accordance with morality; no shortcuts to happiness are permissible. This seems to require that I believe that acting in accordance with morality will be causally efficacious in achieving the highest good. However, it is reasonable to believe that moral actions will be causally efficacious in this way only if the laws of causality are set up in such a way that these laws are conducive to the efficacy of moral action. Certainly both parts of the highest good seem difficult to achieve.

We humans have weaknesses in our character that appear difficult if not impossible to overcome by our own efforts. Furthermore, as creatures we have subjective needs that must be satisfied if we are happy, but we have little empirical reason to think that these needs will be satisfied by moral actions even if we succeeded in becoming virtuous. If a person believes that the natural world is simply a non-moral machine with no moral purposiveness then that person would have no reason to believe that moral action could succeed because there is no a priori reason to think moral action will achieve the highest good and little empirical reason to believe this either.

John Henry Newman

Even if the Kantian highest good seems reasonable as an ideal, some will object that we have no obligation to achieve such a state, but merely to work towards realizing the closest approximation to such a state that is possible See Adams , Without divine assistance, perhaps perfect virtue is unachievable, but in that case we cannot be obliged to realize such a state if there is no God.

Perhaps we cannot hope that happiness will be properly proportioned to virtue in the actual world if God does not exist, but then our obligation can only be to realize as much happiness as can be attained through moral means. Kant would doubtless reject this criticism, since on his view the ends of morality are given directly to pure practical reason a priori, and we are not at liberty to adjust those ends on the basis of empirical beliefs.

Morality requires me to sacrifice my personal happiness if that is necessary to do what is right. Yet it is a psychological fact that humans necessarily desire their own happiness. Reason both requires humans to seek their own happiness and to sacrifice it. Sidgwick himself noted that only if there is a God can we hope that this dualism will be resolved, so that those who seek to act morally will in the long run also be acting so as to advance their own happiness and well-being. Interestingly, Sidgwick himself does not endorse this argument, but he clearly sees this problem as part of the appeal of theism.

A contemporary argument similar to this one has been developed by C. Stephen Layman The critic of this form of the Kantian argument may reply that Kantian morality sees duty as something that must be done regardless of the consequences, and thus a truly moral person cannot make his or her commitment to morality contingent on the achievement of happiness.

From a Kantian point of view, this reply seems right; Kant unequivocally affirms that moral actions must be done for the sake of duty and not from any desire for personal reward. Nevertheless, especially for any philosopher willing to endorse any form of eudaimonism, seeing myself as inevitably sacrificing what I cannot help but desire for the sake of duty does seem problematic.

The critic may reply to this by simply accepting the lamentable fact that there is something tragic or even absurd about the human condition. The world may not be the world we wish it was, but that does not give us any reason to believe it is different than it is. If there is a tension between the demands of morality and self-interest, then this may simply be a brute fact that must be faced.

This reply raises an issue that must be faced by all forms of practical or pragmatic arguments for belief. Many philosophers insist that rational belief must be grounded solely in theoretical evidence.

The fact that it would be better for me to believe p does not in itself give me any reason to believe p. This criticism is aimed not merely at Kant, but at other practical moral arguments. For example, Robert Adams argues that if humans believe there is no moral order to the universe, then they will become demoralized in their pursuit of morality, which is morally undesirable , The atheist might concede that atheism is somewhat demoralizing, but deny that this provides any reason to believe there is a moral order to the universe.

Similarly, Linda Zagzebski argues that morality will not be a rational enterprise unless good actions increase the amount of good in the world. However, given that moral actions often involve the sacrifice of happiness, there is no reason to believe moral action will increase the good unless there is a power transcendent of human activity working on the side of the good.

Here the atheist may claim that moral action does increase the good because such actions always increase good character. However, even if that reply fails the atheist may again simply admit that there may be something tragic or absurd about the human condition, and the fact that we may wish things were different is not a reason to believe that they are. So the problem must be faced: Are practical arguments merely rationalized wish-fulfillment? The theist might respond to this kind of worry in several ways.

The first thing to be said is that the fact that a naturalistic view of the universe implies that the universe must be tragic or absurd, if correct, would itself be an important and interesting conclusion. However, apart from this, it makes a great deal of difference how one construes what we might call the background epistemic situation.

If one believes that our theoretical evidence favors atheism, then it seems plausible to hold that one ought to maintain a naturalistic view, even if it is practically undesirable that the world have such a character. In that case a practical argument for religious belief could be judged a form of wish-fulfillment. However, this does not seem to be the way those who support such a practical argument see the situation. See also — Thus, if rational grounds for belief in God come from practical reason, theoretical reason will raise no objections. Human beings are not purely theoretical spectators of the universe, but agents.

It is not always rational or even possible to refrain from action, and yet action presupposes beliefs about the way things are For a good interpretation and defense of this view of Kant on the relation between action and belief, see Wood , 17— Thus, in some cases suspension of judgment is not possible. The critic may object that a person may act as if p were true without believing p. However, it is not clear that this advice to distinguish action on the basis of p and belief that p can always be followed.

For one thing, it seems empirically the case that one way of acquiring belief that p is simply to begin to act as if p were true. Hence, to begin to act as if p were true is at least to embark upon a course of action that makes belief in p more likely. This is obviously the case on pragmatist accounts of belief. But even those who reject a general pragmatic account of belief may well find something like this appealing with respect to religious belief.

Thus, a person who is willing to act on the basis of a religious conception, especially if those actions are risky or costly, is truly a religious believer, even if that person is filled with doubt and anxiety. Perhaps the right way to think of practical moral arguments is not to see them as justifying belief without evidence, but as shifting the amount of evidence seen as necessary.

Here is an example of pragmatic encroachment:. A plausible interpretation of this scenario is that ordinarily claims such as the one I made, based on memory, are justified, and count as knowledge. Pragmatic encroachment is controversial and the idea of such encroachment is rejected by some epistemologists. However, defenders hold that it is reasonable to consider the pragmatic stakes in considering evidence for a belief that underlies significant action see Fantl and McGrath If this is correct, then it seems reasonable to consider the pragmatic situation in determining how much evidence is sufficient to justify religious beliefs.

In theory the adjustment could go in either direction, depending on what costs are associated with a mistake and on which side those costs lie. In any case it is not clear that practical moral arguments can always be clearly distinguished from theoretical moral arguments. The reason this is so is that in many cases the practical situation described seems itself to be or involve a kind of evidence for the truth of the belief being justified.

In other words, the existence of human persons understood as moral beings can itself be understood as a piece of evidence about the character of the universe humans find themselves in. However, it is not clear that only those who already believe in God will find this premise attractive. The reason for this is that humans are themselves part of the natural universe, and it seems a desirable feature of a metaphysical view that it explain rather than explain away features of human existence that seem real and important.

It seems likely therefore that any appeal to a practical argument will include some theoretical component as well, even if that component is not always made explicit. Nevertheless, this does not mean that practical arguments do not have some important and distinctive features. For Kant it was important that religious beliefs stem from practical reason.

For any practical argument makes religious belief existential; the issue is not merely what I believe to be true about the universe but how I shall live my life in that universe. Each version contains premises that many reasonable thinkers reject. However, this does not mean the arguments have no force. Some philosophers will certainly be willing to pay the cost, and indeed have independent reasons for doing so.

However, it would certainly be interesting and important if one became convinced that atheism required one to reject moral realism altogether, or to embrace an implausible account of how moral knowledge is acquired. For those who think that some version or versions of the arguments have force, the cumulative case for theistic belief may be raised by such arguments.

Aquinas, Saint Thomas Darwinism Kant, Immanuel: and Hume on morality Kant, Immanuel: philosophy of religion Mackie, John Leslie metaethics Mill, John Stuart moral anti-realism moral epistemology moral non-naturalism moral realism naturalism: moral Nietzsche, Friedrich Platonism: in metaphysics pragmatic arguments and belief in God religious experience Sidgwick, Henry voluntarism, theological.

The author wishes to thank Trent Dougherty, Mark Linville, and David Baggett for reading a draft of this essay and making many useful suggestions. Matthew Wilson also deserves thanks for tracking many bibliographical references and page numbers. The Goals of Theistic Arguments 2.

Natural Theology | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Arguments from Moral Knowledge or Awareness 5. Arguments from Human Dignity or Worth 6. Practical Moral Arguments for Belief in God 7. God provides the best explanation of the existence of objective moral facts. Therefore, probably God exists. If there are objective moral obligations, there is a God who explains these obligations. There is a God. God provides the best explanation of the existence of moral obligations. Probably, God exists. Arguments from Moral Knowledge or Awareness A variety of arguments have been developed that God is necessary to explain human awareness of moral truth or moral knowledge, if one believes that this moral awareness amounts to knowledge.

Formal and Informal Reasoning

Humans possess objective moral knowledge. Probably, if God does not exist, humans would not possess objective moral knowledge. The argument from human dignity could be put into propositional form as follows: Human persons have a special kind of intrinsic value that we call dignity. Probably there is a supremely good God. Practical Moral Arguments for Belief in God As already noted, the most famous and perhaps most influential version of a moral argument for belief in God is found in Immanuel Kant Here is an example of pragmatic encroachment: You: I am about to replace the ceiling fan in the kitchen.

Spouse: Did you turn off the main electrical power to the house? You: Yes. Spouse: If you forgot you could electrocute yourself. You: I better go back and check. See McBrayer , Rizzieri Bibliography Adams, R. Aquinas, St. Baggett, D. Byrne, P. Zalta ed. Dennett, D. Enoch, D. Evans, C. Fantl, J. Arianism, Docetism , forcing her to further explain the seed of belief that has always been held by all everywhere. Newman argued that a consecutive continuity could be seen in the growth and changes of doctrines over the centuries.

This kind of growth and formulation were for Newman a sign of the Holy Spirit's continued presence within the Church, as well as the natural way the human mind encounters great ideas. What is initially apprehended, over time will be further comprehended. This suggests that a pope or church council could impart the right idea in a germinative way and still not foresee its future elaboration. Yet Newman also had to account for the opposite possibility, that of a corruption of the truth over progressive generations.

Eventually, Newman came to believe that this had happened in Protestantism, including in Anglicanism.

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Derivations, by contrast, distort essential element of belief, offer counter-principles, tend to need ever increasing adjustments to prop them up, appear irrational and disorderly in retrospect, violate earlier beliefs in fundamentally harmful ways, and can come-and-go quickly as some heretical fashions are wont to do. Therefore, the patristic period of Christianity 2nd-5th centuries were for Newman the central source for recovering what he saw as an authentic Christian belief and practice.

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He held that at its heart patristic Christianity was a religion of the Incarnation, that Christ came to "deify" temporal humanity with eternal existence and that the incarnation would have taken place even if the fall of humanity had not, though doubtlessly in a categorically different way. In the same way, the resurrection and ascension took on great importance as the promise of human nature being exalted to the heavenly state--Christ paving the way, as it were, to the direct apprehension of the glory of God.

Pentecost, then, becomes the personal presence of Jesus, via the Holy Spirit, in the individual Christian's life. This presence can only be entered into in a concrete, tangible way by a constant reception of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. The rhythm of the Church Year--with its move from Advent to Christmas to Lent to Holy Week to Easter teaches the believer the necessity of expectation and gift, the value of mourning for sin and meditating on Christ's sacrifice, and the joy of reflecting on his conquering death and sin.

Newman was particularly suspicious of a view of justification that stressed imputed righteousness rather than the imparted righteousness that comes with the slow work of sanctification and grace. Belief and practice, faith and works, must always be balanced in Newman's spirituality. The Scriptures as a source of belief and understanding were central to Newman's Christianity from an early-age, and even after his conversion to Roman Catholicism, he continued to stress the absolute importance of a faith shaped by biblical study and reflection.

A system of belief, however, that has not been truly grasped by a person in inward realization, as well as in an outward change, is not real faith in Newman's thinking. Therefore, he also stressed the transformative, yet ultimately mysterious power of the sacramental life. Newman was convinced that the work of the Holy Spirit was mostly through the indirect means of reason, emotions, and conscience. The hard work of obedience is a constant call to holiness, a refusal to glamorize sin in any way, or to try and please self without displeasing God. A holy life is a habitual one, one trained in the personal mortification of the spiritual disciplines.

It works out of dependence upon Jesus because it is at the weakest point of temptation that the true test lies for each person. This difficulty shouldn't, however, be a cause for despair. Consistency over time gives the heart a measure of assured faith and works as a buttress against doubt. Newman held that the leadership of the Church should consult the laity, not by deferring to them, but by listening to them and taking seriously their views and understanding. The laity, the faithful, are the voice of the living tradition of the Church. Certainly, popular treatises should not be expected to have the exactness of theological documents, but nonetheless they represent a real witness to the Church ' s piety.

The people function as kind of mirror for the leadership to see itself. In church history, a number of times the bishops were swayed by heresy, while the laity held to orthodoxy. This should serve as a warning to church leaders who would deny the laity any role in doctrinal formulation. The consent and consensus of the faithful act as both the voice of the Holy Spirit and as a kind of instinct in the mystical body of Christ.

Nonetheless, the laity need the study of church dogma to instruct them. Conscience is binding for Newman; it must be obeyed. As a Roman Catholic, he famously said that a person must obey conscience before Pope. He held this not because he denied the authority of the papacy, but because he saw in conscience a more basic principle at the heart of human action and understanding.

Conscience is what opens one to listen to authority at all. In his The Letter to the Duke of Norfolk , he called conscience, "the aboriginal vicar of Christ. The pure in heart have an innocence and peace about them because they follow the dictates of their conscience, while the hypocrite is always living in bad faith. A conscience consistently followed is, for Newman, a sign of a faithful child of the Church. Still, in no way did Newman consider conscience an airtight source of truth.

It could as easily deceive the person as spur on to good deeds. A conscience has to be formed with a true desire for the good and holy, not with self-justification and denial, else the conscience becomes warped and decidedly dangerous in its denials. Newman has been called a skeptic about skepticism. He rejected the position of Locke that belief is only warranted on the basis of either self-evident propositions or on logical or scientific demonstration.

He felt to do so would be to limit all knowledge to nothing but inference. Newman held that Truth is far larger and more multi-faceted than any single mind can comprehend. The human mind itself exists in a flow of knowledge that is constantly changing. All human science, theory, and language is inherently limited in what it can approximate. Human thought dwells within certain circles of understanding that always have an interpretive element to them. While the human mind needs discipline in its thinking, real thought works with a much larger palette than that of formal logic.

Chronological thinking, for example, is another way one can access aspects of the organization of truth. For Newman, systematic thinking that attempted synchronic thinking alone inevitably was lost to the evolving nature of human thought. Likewise, focusing on the part over against the whole can lead to intellectual blindness, just as a lack of humility leads to loss of truth. In Newman's view, faith and reason are not airtight categories of knowing separate from one another but two interdependent modes of understanding. They share much in common.

All reason has a measure of assumption, presumption, and prejudice. Indeed, thought cannot proceed without it. All knowledge, including that of faith, is personal knowledge. Unbelief is as much founded on presuppositions as is belief. Faith, on the other hand, is not a blind leap; it, too, is an act of the mind and has evidence derived from hope and desire. It begins with a trust and acceptance of things based on previously received grounds, much as one might believe that Alaska exists or that the newspaper is generally trustworthy in its reporting of events.

So much of what we believe, we believe without complete proof. We trust our senses, our memory, and our day-to-day sources of information until we have reason to do otherwise. The habit of faith arises out of a prolonged involvement with its object of trust. Preparation of heart is, then, necessary to judge and to receive truth. Faith is implicit reason that is guarded from error more by a devout worship than by simple mental acuity.

What, then, is the structure of reasoning and faith? We begin not by reasoning but by apprehending the object, which then gains our assent. We only later begin to unpack the implied details of what we have given our assent to. We often believe what we cannot understand and what we cannot exhaustively comprehend or prove.