Thursday, August 21, 2008

Michel Onfray reviewed again

I've blogged about Michel Onfray, his Atheist Manifesto, and his hero Jean Meslier a number of times. I just have a few notes to add now. First of all, note this detailed review of Onfray's book published last year:

Layton, David. "A Fresh Look at Atheism and the Enlightenment," Free Inquiry, vol. 27, no.4, June/July 2007, pp.64-65.

In addition to highlighting Onfray's key points, Layton calls attention to specifically French aspects of Onfray's writing. While skeptical of some of Onfray's assertions and arguments, Layton enumerates three objections at the end: (1) Onfray takes too many shortcuts, especially in his treatment of history; (2) Onfray tends toward rhetorical sloppiness; (3) in propounding a manifesto, Onfray projects a post-Christian future sans evidence to back himself up.

My reaction to Onfray's manifesto inclcuded its specifically French undertone and characteristic pretentiousness. Perhaps prevailing French mores are still so bourgeois that its atheists perserve respectable Christian morality even after dumping God, but I wonder whether that's true or just a conceit? The call to reject moralism and embrace physical existence doesn't sound awfully revolutionary in our time. I'm beginning to wonder whether Michel Onfray's Atheist Manifesto attacks only monotheism because Onfray was influenced by Nietzsche. Perhaps Nietzsche's approbation of the sickening Laws of Manu were responsible for Onfray's omission of Hinduism from his catalogue of religious horrors?

I was prompted to think about this after perusing Brian Leiter's Nietzsche blog, particularly this entry of 6 Dec. 2007:
"the most revolutionary political proposition ever advanced"

That is how Mitt Romney, a Mormon who is one of the contenders for the Republican nomination to be U.S. President, described this idea: "The conviction of the inherent and inalienable worth of every life." Admittedly, in the American context, this is partly code language for opposition to abortion, but putting the parochial peculiarities of American politics to one side, Romney is surely right that the "inherent and inalienable worth of every life" is, indeed, "the most revolutionary political proposition" of modernity (perhaps ever). It is equally clear that the basis he offers for it--namely that "every single human being is a child of God"--is (viewed as a cognitive, rather than an emotive, proposition) false.

But when Nietzsche mocks the "free thinkers" who "oppose the Church but not its poison" (GM I:9) is he not thinking precisely of those who reject the false cognitive proposition but still accept that "most revolutionary political proposition," precisely the one discovered by those Nietzsche calls the "slaves" at the birth of Christianity?
Here is my reaction of 10 July 2008:
Not terribly insightful on anyone's part. But now I think I understand Michel Onfray's Atheist Manifesto better. He cut and pasted some Nietzsche . . . To analyze Nietzsche's assertion, though, requires a bit more. One item on the agenda is to examine what the German socialists had to say about Christianity. Was the moral poison the moralistic illusions about Christianity, or the egalitarianism so hated by Nietzsche?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Spinoza's language & alleged atheism

The blessed Baruch Spinoza has been interpreted in various ways, one of them as a covert atheist by opponents and fans alike. Traditionally, anyone not a standard theist, or extremely heterodox, even if not an avowed (or even tacit) atheist, could be labelled an atheist. In the past century or more, materialists and atheists have been tempted to view Spinoza as one of their forerunners. However one wishes to interpret Spinoza, a key entry point into this conundrum is Spinoza's transmutation of inherited metaphysical concepts and hence of accepted philosophical terminology. See this entry on another of my blogs:

Spinoza’s Semantics

You will find further links there, including these:

Spinoza & Marxism: Selected Bibliography (with Basic Spinoza Web Guide)

My Yiddishe Spinoza (entry in old blog)

Leibniz (entry in old blog)