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Between Naturalism and Religion: Philosophical Essays Paperback – June 3, 2008

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Editorial Reviews


"A remarkable set of essays. The reader is again awed by the scope of Habermas' project, the wealth of his command over European and Anglo-American scholarship, and the systematic integrity of his conclusions."
International Journal for Philosophy of Religion

"[T]here is a rich material for reflection in these essays for those interested in a variety of topics, ranging from philosophy of mind, questions of determinism and free will, the history of modern philosophy, and problems of truth and meaning to the nature of democracy and the possibilities of a new world order. Habermas manages to integrate his discussion of these diverse problems in a way which is regrettably not common in English-speaking philosophy, and for this reason above all this is a book which is well worth reading."

"The volume will be of interest to all students of social, moral and political philosophy as well as philosophy of religion and philosophy of science."
Marx and Philosophy

"A major study by a prominent German philosopher reflecting on the tension between the spread of naturalistic worldviews and the revival of religious orthodoxies and their political influence ... the arguments elucidated are significant for our time."
Scientific and Medical Network

From the Back Cover

Two countervailing trends mark the intellectual tenor of our age – the spread of naturalistic worldviews and religious orthodoxies. Advances in biogenetics, brain research, and robotics are clearing the way for the penetration of an objective scientific self-understanding of persons into everyday life. For philosophy, this trend is associated with the challenge of scientific naturalism. At the same time, we are witnessing an unexpected revitalization of religious traditions and the politicization of religious communities across the world. From a philosophical perspective, this revival of religious energies poses the challenge of a fundamentalist critique of the principles underlying the modern Wests postmetaphysical understanding of itself.

The tension between naturalism and religion is the central theme of this major new book by Jürgen Habermas. On the one hand he argues for an appropriate naturalistic understanding of cultural evolution that does justice to the normative character of the human mind. On the other hand, he calls for an appropriate interpretation of the secularizing effects of a process of social and cultural rationalization increasingly denounced by the champions of religious orthodoxies as a historical development peculiar to the West. These reflections on the enduring importance of religion and the limits of secularism under conditions of postmetaphysical reason set the scene for an extended treatment the political significance of religious tolerance and for a fresh contribution to current debates on cosmopolitanism and a constitution for international society.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Polity; 1 edition (June 3, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0745638252
  • ISBN-13: 978-0745638256
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #718,955 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Nick Veltjens on April 20, 2009
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I was looking particularly for Habermas' views on religious tolerance, and found a thorough analysis of Immanuel Kant's political constitution (Perpetual Peace, and Other Essays on Politics, History, and Morals (HPC Classics Series)). He compares it with the success of the United nations in weathering attempts to marginalise it and proceeding with substantial reforms. He maintains that "we can still take a cue from Kant's cosmopolitan condition provided that we construe it in sufficiently abstract terms".
Then I discovered that Habermas enters into further discussions about the current trend of growing political influence of religious orthodoxies. He revisits his discussions with John Rawls' about his `veil of ignorance' in his formation of societies of peoples that had resulted in Rawls' Proviso (Political Liberalism (Columbia Classics in Philosophy)). Habermas could only respond to this after Rawl's death, and suggests in this book that secular citizens should accept the input of religious (and other) worldviews, provided they are translated from a religious language into generally accessible or even political language. This gives Rawls' proviso certain legitimacy.
The other aspect he discusses is the reappearance of naturalistic trends, that argue that human actions are predetermined by external causes. I thought this was left behind soon after Baruch de Spinoza's worldview had lost ground.
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Format: Paperback
This is a collection of several writings by Habermas on a variety of subjects related to, as the title says, naturalism and religion. The essays about religion are mostly about secularism and the role of religion in the public sphere, whilst the chapters on naturalism are mostly about supplying a quasi-rationalist challenge -as he has done in his more thorough "Knowledge and Human Interests" and "Truth and Justification"- to reductive scientism.

When it comes to secularism, Habermas is well known as a moderate "postsecularist." That is, he accepts that there is more of a legitimate role for religion in the public sphere than thinkers like Rawls or Audi, but does not go as far as someone like Charles Taylor, and nowhere near as far as a religious reactionary. For example, in chapter 4, he is eager -and I think quite right- to distinguish between the source(s) of democratic legitimacy, and legitimate reasons that can be offered in public deliberation. The former, which must be secular, is a condition of possibility for the latter, which can take both religious and secular forms. One very interesting idea of Habermas' in these debates is to allow an asymmetry between the reasons the state offers to its citizens and the reasons citizens offer to the state or to each other. The former must be completely secular, but the latter can be religious.

But for me, the most intriguing part of Habermas' discussion of secularization is his view on why the democratic state is to be secular. The usual reasoning, following Rawls, is that it is pluralism that mandates a secular state if we are to have democracy. If hypothetically we had a society with total religious agreement, there would be no need for secularism.
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Habermas reveals some of his most lucid arguments in favour of a neo Kantian inspired formal pragmatics in this extremely well structured text, which follows on the heels of his magnificent indictment of neoconservative ideology in The Divided West. Habermas has found the right balance both politically, ideologically and philosophically between the rocky political, religious and ideological extremes in our present global society, which is currently undergoing an extremely painful financial transformation.

If we had listened to some of Habermas' earlier warnings concerning certain aspects of unfettered capitalism (and the manipulative forms of communication it can engender) we might not have found ourselves in such a dire financial circumstance. Years ago Habermas warned of the ideology which was gaining momentum in philosophical circles (neoconservatism). Luckily many of his themes are starting to become practically possible in the American political environment in terms of a focus on communication and building consenus through international law. But we will have to see how America will resolve this current crisis, but the American political public (and those about to take office) would do well to heed his advice.
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