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On the Humanitarian Ideal: The Promise of Neoclassical Metaphysics


May 26, 2016
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
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Board Room, Stanford Humanities Center

Workshop with Franklin I. Gamwell (University of Chicago). This workshop in the “Science, Religion, and Democracy” series is co-sponsored by the Department of Religious Studies, the Patrick Suppes Center for History and Philosophy of Science, and the Stanford Humanities Center.

Stanford faculty or students or other official Stanford affiliates may contact Michael Friedman or Brent Sockness to request a copy of the pre-circulated paper.

Abstract: In the contemporary context, the unique promise of neoclassical metaphysics includes its backing for an ideal that is humanitarian in two respects: it affirms the flourishing of all humans, and all humans have reason to affirm and act on it. This backing is, the essay argues, a metaphysical telos, and it defines a comprehensive purpose of which human existence as such is implicitly aware and by which a humanitarian ideal is morally authorized. The argument proceeds through conversation with two challenges to metaphysical ethics: (1) the Kantian challenge (formulated by, for instance, Alan Gewirth and Jürgen Habermas), which affirms universal principles of moral reason that are nonteleological and, thereby, purports to be independent of metaphysics; and (2) the post-Enlightenment challenge (formulated by, for instance, Alasdair MacIntyre and Jeffrey Stout), which circumscribes human understanding within the language or lifeworld specific to some historical location and, thereby, purports to be independent of both universal reason and metaphysics. The distinction between neoclassical and classical metaphysics; the divine ground for our comprehensive purpose; its indirect application in social practices, including pursuit of our maximal common humanity; and the prescription for democracy wherever possible are here programmatically discussed. The essay concludes with the need for explicit representation of the humanitarian ideal in spite of global religious and philosophical diversity and asserts that effective pursuit of our maximal common humanity is possible precisely because our comprehensive purpose is present in common human experience.

Franklin I. Gamwell is the Shailer Mathews Distinguished Service Professor of Religious Ethics, the Philosophy of Religions, and Theology in the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. He studies ethical and political theory in relation to Christian theology and to the philosophy of religions. His work is centered particularly on twentieth-century thinkers. His books include The Divine Good: Modern Moral Theory and the Necessity of God; The Meaning of Religious Freedom: Modern Politics and the Democratic Resolution; Democracy on Purpose: Justice and the Reality of GodPolitics as a Christian Vocation: Faith and Democracy Today; and Existence and the Good: Metaphysical Necessity in Morals and Politics.  His numerous articles and essays have appeared in the Journal of Law and Religion, the Journal of Religion, Process Studies, and The Christian Century, among other places.  Prof. Gamwell took his B.A from Yale, his B.D. from Union Theological Seminary, and his M.A. and Ph.D from the University of Chicago.  He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.