Lecture by Philip Kitcher (Columbia University). Part of a three-part series on Science, Religion, and Democracy. Co-sponsored by the Program in History and Philosophy of Science, the Department of Religious Studies, the Political Theory Workshop, and the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society.
Secular Humanism is a positive position, not merely the denial of anything transcendent. Secular Humanists face familiar challenges, some intellectual, some practical. Prominent among the former is the charge that secular humanism cannot provide any satisfactory account of values. Kitcher argues that this challenge can be satisfactorily resolved by understanding valuing as emerging from a permanently unfinished human project that responds to deep features of our condition. The harder task is to find ways of replicating some of the practical successes of the world’s major religions, specifically in their creation of fulfilling forms of community. He proposes that secular humanists do well to study the healthy forms of religious community, in the hope of eventually going beyond them.
Philip Kitcher is the John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. His academic specialty is in Pragmatism (especially John Dewey), Science and Social Issues, Naturalistic Ethics, and Philosophy in Literature. In Kitcher’s early career, he was primarily interested in philosophy of mathematics and general philosophy of science. During the late 1970s, he became very concerned with the philosophy of biology. That concern led him to investigate not only conceptual and methodological issues in biology, but also questions about the relations of biological research to society and politics. During the 1990s, his interests broadened further to embrace the role of scientific inquiry in democratic societies. Recent books include The Ethical Project (Harvard University Press, 2011), Science in a Democratic Society (Prometheus Books, 2011), Preludes to Pragmatism (Oxford University Press, 2012), Philosophy of Science: A New Introduction (with Gillian Barker) (Oxford University Press, 2013), and Deaths in Venice: The Cases of Gustav von Aschenbach (Columbia University Press, 2013.)