Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Julian Huxley revisited

Many years ago (decades, most likely) I read two of Julian Huxley's books: Religion without Revelation and Knowledge, Morality, and Destiny (formerly titled New Bottles for New Wine*). I remember mostly some remarks from the latter, in the essay "A Re-definition of Progress", that contradicted the reactionary mysticism of Julian's brother Aldous (p. 20, 34-5).

Aldous reviled "the religion of Inevitable Progress" and replaced that ideal with "unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground of being". Aldous stressed self-development rather than social transformation, characterizing self-development as a transcendental dissolution of self in the eternal Divine Ground (per Aldous' notion of The Perennial Philosophy). Julian did not go for this. Years earlier, as a teenager, I admired Aldous Huxley but later found his mysticism too repellent to accommodate. Hence I noted his brother's dissent. (Years later I wrote a rather crude critique of reactionary utopianism: Screed on the Politics of Utopianism.)

Otherwise, though my philosophy in my teenage years was pretty much congruent with Julian's liberal humanism, by the time I read his work I found it philosophically and politically behind the curve, however appreciative I was of the repudiation (albeit diplomatic) of his brother. Skipping ahead: I perused one or both of these books again four years ago, and Knowledge, Morality, and Destiny within the past two weeks, whereupon I noted Julian's philosophical laxity in defining his humanism as a religion, coupled with his repudiation of materialism. I will have more to say about this in a future post.

Some essays by Julian Huxley online:

Transhumanism” (1957)

"The New Divinity"

"The Coming New Religion of Humanism"

And see:

Julian Huxley - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

* This latter work was published in 1957. My copy was published under the new title: New York: Mentor Books, 1960.

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