Saturday, December 25, 2010

David N. Myers on history vs theology in German-Jewish thought

David N. Myers, The Problem of History in German-Jewish Thought: Observations on a Neglected Tradition (Cohen, Rosenzweig, and Breuer). The Samuel Braun Lecture in the History of the Jews of Prussia. Ramat-Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press. 2001.

While I'm finding Myers' work on the history of alternative Jewish nationalisms (with a focus on cultural Zionism) interesting, I'm finding myself irritated with this essay from the beginning. Myers ponders the opposition between self-authorizing, self-insulating theology and an historicism which undermines it.  Myers aims to show that this tension is not limited to Christianity or to Islam but has a substantial history in Jewish thought. Several instances are cited, for instance Baruch Kurzweil's war on the "Jerusalem School" for its unforgivable tendency "to lower Judaism from its absolute validity to a state of relativism." Moreover,
If the perverse fascination with mysticism went hand in hand with historicism, there was another partner in what Kurzweil considered the unholy trinity of secular modernity: nationalism. Where mysticism sought to subvert the normative tradition, nationalism aimed to "normalize" Judaism by removing its veil of uniqueness. In this regard, it was an ideal partner for historicism. Kurzweil was well aware that, in Europe, nationalism and historicism were close and mutually affirming allies from the early 19th century on. More often than not, historical scholarship had been called upon to tell the story of the nation. Nationalism, for its part, provided not only intellectual inspiration, but also an institutional home for historicism in the form of universities, learned societies, and large collaborative projects.
Myers finds this fascinating.
Making sense of Baruch Kurzweil's contentious battle with Jewish historicism is a fascinating challenge. One can readily point to a number of intersecting explanatory layers: his iconoclastic personality; his personal animosity and inferiority complex toward the Hebrew University (where he sought and failed to gain a professorial appointment); his ambivalence toward Zionism, and
particularly Zionist claims to intellectual or spiritual rejuvenation; his attention to the moral caesura occasioned by the Holocaust; and his uncommonly keen awareness, especially for a non-historian, that historicism was in the throes of crisis in postwar European intellectual culture.
While I too am drawn to solve historical-ideological puzzles, I am far from fascinated at the starting gate. Let's see where Myers takes us. He puts Kurzweil in abeyance while he takes us on a historical journey beginning in the 12th century. Judah Ha-Levi and Maimonides disdained history. But 18th century Enlightenment paved the way for 19th century historicism, which involves a new conception of mundane causality and context. This was bound to cause conflict between Jewish thinkers imbued with historicist prerogatives and traditional transcendentalists. But Myers is not so much interested in the fussy traditionalists as in "Jewish figures who, regardless of their adherence to traditional ritual, were deeply and unapologetically immersed in a secular intellectual world, had absorbed the impact of historicism, and sought to protest against it—from within." One example is Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch's opposition to Heinrich Graetz. Nietzsche, too, railed against historicism, and he was an influence on Jewish thinkers. Debate raged in Christian theological circles as well. And then there is the neo-Kantian movement. Hermann Cohen found historicism suspect, opposed Zionism, and argued against Emst Troeltsch.

The discussion of various figures continues until we come to a sustained discussion of Franz Rosenzweig, who was convinced he found an escape route from relativism, ultimately taking refuge in religious faith, with a great affinity to Christian theologians. He also chafed against Zionism, fearing the descent into time.
In this [1919] lecture on "The Spirit and Epochs of Jewish History," Rosenzweig declared that the Jewish people refused to succumb to time, indeed, refused to be reduced to a scheme of periodization. On the contrary, the "Jewish spirit breaks the shackles of (historical) epochs" and "walks undisturbed through history."
Myers moves on to Isaac Breuer, who sought to "overcome the emptiness of bourgeois life", but on an entirely different basis than, say, the Frankfurt School. To say the least: "Breuer's premise led him to conclude that the Jews, unlike other peoples, were not subordinate to the normal forces of nature or human will." Yet he believed in teaching history.

How Myers could sustain interest in this drivel is beyond me. Well, there's one obvious basis of interest:
Breuer was a steadfast believer in the existence of a Jewish nation and a fierce opponent of the idea of a secular Jewish state. Throughout his life he waged battle against Zionism, whose impious disregard for Torah rendered it "the most terrible enemy that has ever risen against the Jewish nation."
This does not mean that Breuer wanted to stay out of Palestine.

In his summation, Myers evinces a sense of regret and in some way sympathizes with the impetus to "resist the powerful pull of historicism" even while being irrevocably drawn toward it. But so what? None of this metaphysical folderol yields the slightest understanding of one's historical situation. Whatever Myers thinks is historicism is not historical materialism, which is excluded from consideration, and the resistance to secular historical consciousness is a denial of reality utterly opposed to any scientific, that is intellectually honest and non-delusional, comprehension of history and society. Ultimately, there is going to be a draw-down between Jewish thinkers who do not function within the confines of "Jewish thought", i.e. all the intellectual innovators who really matter, and a retreat into a specifically Jewish metaphysics, however permeated with the influence of Christianity and German philosophy. Myers is lost; he wants to say something, but he really has nothing to express other than regret over where he finds himself deposited in history.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Frederick Douglass home invasion

Frederick Douglass home, Anacostia, Washington DC, 14 January 2005

Here's my report written just after my visit on 14 January 2005:

Today I finally got around to a project I've had in mind for a few years: I visited Frederick Douglass' Cedar Hill home in Anacostia, now maintained by the National Park Service. My goal was to attempt to photograph certain objects in Fred's study, particularly busts of Ludwig Feuerbach and David Friedrich Strauss, both members of the Left Hegelian movement and pivotal figures in the history of German freethought. Strauss' 1835 Leben Jesu marked a turning point in the demythologization of the gospels. Strauss also divided the struggling factions following Hegel into Left, Right, and Center. Feuerbach is best known for his book The Essence of Christianity, translated into English early on (unlike most of other writings of the Young Hegelians, a good number of which remain untranslated to this day) by the novelist George Eliot. Feuerbach argues that religion reflects an inverted world and is a projection of the alienated human essence. This revolutionary concept had an enormous impact, so much so that Feuerbach himself is often forgotten. Feuerbach also had a revolutionary program for philosophy, which didn't get quite so far because of the limitations of his concepts. He considered philosophy (having reached its summit in Hegel), like religion, as a disguised form of theology, and hence requiring a materialist inversion as well. Feuerbach provided Marx with a nascent conception of ideology, and also lives on historically as a precursor to Marx, though he should in no way be limited to this role.

Unfortunately, the National Park Service's Douglass web site neglected to mention that, due to renovation, the entire contents of the house were removed, and so all there is left to look at inside is the wallpaper. Various old black-and-white photos of the missing objects were set up on easels so you could see what you were missing. The only upside is that this is the only opportunity visitors will get to walk through these rooms, which will be roped off once restoration is complete. So the only thing left for me to do was pose for a couple photos in front of Fred's empty bookcase. You can see the bookcase, as well as his study when Fred was using it, in a photo on my web page:

Letter to Ludwig Feuerbach from Ottilie Assing about Frederick Douglass

This brings us to Ottilie Assing. After leaving the house, we stopped in the Visitor's Center to see more artifacts and other items on display. I guess the Park Service wants to keep it clean for the kids, as no mention was made anywhere of one of the most important people in Fred's life, the German-Jewish immigrant Ottilie Assing (an intriguing gerund), Fred's unofficial main squeeze and intellectual influence. There is of course plenty of documentation on Fred's two wives and kids, but poor Ottilie is left out of account. I think she committed suicide after Fred married someone else. Ottilie was a fervent atheist, and claims in a letter to Feuerbach (see web page) that she converted Fred to atheism. Fred was of a skeptical temperament (evinced in remarks about racist churches and complaints about his people's absorption in lodges and mystical cults), but my guess is that she was exaggerating a bit. This is another obscure tidbit of intellectual history that reveals yet again the complex interweaving of human destinies and covert interconnections that bind us all together.

Black freethought explosion 2009-2010: from blogs to social networking

I have variously reported on the state of the black freethought movement in the USA and abroad. Key entries are dated: May 13, 2008; February 6, 2009; May 30, 2009; June 2, 2009; September 14, 2010. There are of course numerous specific reports interspersed throughout. But since I haven't been systematically updating my readers, I want to give a quick overview of progress over the past two years.

In my estimation, the watershed year for the burst of black freethought activity was 2009. I can't determine at the moment when I joined Facebook. I joined in 2008, and I was active by January 2009, but I am usually a late comer, so I was slow to join up and get involved. By that time I had found "Black Planet" to be subpar. (There were two groups at that time, one of which involved several people who don't know what "freethought" means.) When I joined up on Facebook, there were a few black freethought groups, some inactive or with low membership, a couple more active. The membership numbers and activity at that time were not impressive, as far as I can remember.

I had been aware of Reginald Finley's prodigious radio show The Infidel Guy. There was also a plethora of YouTube videos. Otherwise, I noted an upsurge in black freethought activity with the emergence of blogs. It did not seem that the various bloggers and commentators on them were generally aware of one another's existence. One of the first blogs I frequented was Zee Harrison's Black Woman Thinks...Religion, Politics, Race, Atheism and more!. Another was Wrath James White's first blog, Words of Wrath. (He subsequently initiated a second blog called Godless and Black.) I discussed the need for a new social networking group with someone I encountered on Wrath James White's blog, I think, but since I didn't see others taking the initiative, I went ahead and started my "Black Freethought" group on Atheist Nexus, which at that time had just become the social networking site for atheists in the English-speaking world. I started my "Black Freethought" group on February 6, 2009.

On June 1, 2009 my Black Freethought group attained its 100th member. At that moment, it was the leading social networking group of its kind. Spring 2009 also saw other major advances, such as Gary Booker's First Annual Conference of Black Nontheists in Atlanta, and Sikivu Hutchinson's public visibility. Since then, activity of all kinds has exploded, with conferences, organizations, blogs, Facebook groups, podcasts, and various other individual initiatives. (I have reported on various of these, but I will have to review my records and then list them all in one place. I see I will also have to update my web guide.)

It seems that Facebook is where everyone wants to be. I didn't care for it at first, and I still don't like the way it's organized, but I spend more time on Facebook than elsewhere now. My group on Atheist Nexus is no longer in the lead. At some point, the Facebook groups "Black Atheists" and "Black Atheist Alliance" pulled out way ahead of mine.

Here are some statistics as of this writing:

Atheist Nexus groups:
Black Freethought  -  318 members
African Atheists - 60 members
The Infidel Guy Show - 168 members

African/Black Atheists and Believers @ Think Atheist - 24 members

Facebook groups:
Black and Non-Religious - 97 members. (I joined at least as far back as February 2009, eventually became administrator.)
African American Atheists - 13 members - stillborn
African Americans for Humanism - 227 members
African Freethinkers - 385 members
Black Atheist Alliance - 455 members
Black Atheists (Mario Stanton) - 584 members
Black Freethinkers International - 17 members
The Infidel Guy Show - 447 members
Secular Students at Howard University - 58 members
Single Black Atheists Dating Pool - 134 members

There are four Facebook freethought groups specifically for South Africa. For all I know, there may be other groups, as I can't keep up with everything. Making generalizations about the content of all these communications will require a much more intensive effort.

I should also mention the pioneering network, which involves special interest groups organizing face-to-face meetings. I got involved with meetups as far back as 2004, including local atheist meetups. I have not investigated the activity of meetup groups nationwide, but there is a meetup group for the recently organized African Americans for Humanism DC (AAH DC).

I'll conclude with a reminder of my Web Guide to Black / African-American / African Atheism (which I see needs some updating) and my Working Bibliography on African American / Black Autodidacticism, Education, Intellectual Life.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Not by Genes Alone

This looks more promising than the fare offered by Richard Dawkins and E. O. Wilson:

Richerson, Peter J.; Boyd, Robert. Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005. Publisher description:
Humans are a striking anomaly in the natural world. While we are similar to other mammals in many ways, our behavior sets us apart. Our unparalleled ability to adapt has allowed us to occupy virtually every habitat on earth using an incredible variety of tools and subsistence techniques. Our societies are larger, more complex, and more cooperative than any other mammal's. In this stunning exploration of human adaptation, Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd argue that only a Darwinian theory of cultural evolution can explain these unique characteristics.

Not by Genes Alone offers a radical interpretation of human evolution, arguing that our ecological dominance and our singular social systems stem from a psychology uniquely adapted to create complex culture. Richerson and Boyd illustrate here that culture is neither superorganic nor the handmaiden of the genes. Rather, it is essential to human adaptation, as much a part of human biology as bipedal locomotion. Drawing on work in the fields of anthropology, political science, sociology, and economics—and building their case with such fascinating examples as kayaks, corporations, clever knots, and yams that require twelve men to carry them—Richerson and Boyd convincingly demonstrate that culture and biology are inextricably linked, and they show us how to think about their interaction in a way that yields a richer understanding of human nature.

In abandoning the nature-versus-nurture debate as fundamentally misconceived, Not by Genes Alone is a truly original and groundbreaking theory of the role of culture in evolution and a book to be reckoned with for generations to come.

Wisdom and Abstract Thought

In my previous post I expressed exasperation with Stephen S. Hall's new book Wisdom. There are a few references in his book that seem to be worth following up.

*     *     *

Wisdom: Its Nature, Origins, and Development, edited by Robert J. Sternberg. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Part I. Approaches to the Study of Wisdom:
1. Understanding wisdom R. J. Sternberg
Part II. Approaches Informed by Philosophical Conceptions of Wisdom:
2. Wisdom through the ages D. N. Robinson
3. The psychology of wisdom: an evolutionary interpretation M. Csikszentmihalyi and K. Rathunde
4. Wisdom as integrated thought: historical and developmental perspectives G. Labouvie-Vief
Part III. Approaches Informed by Folk Conceptions of Wisdom:
5. Toward a psychology of wisdom and its ontogenesis P. Baltes and J. Smith
6. Wisdom in a post-apocalyptic age M. J. Chandler and S. Holliday
7. Wisdom and its relations to intelligence and creativity R. J. Sternberg
8. Wisdom and the study of wise persons L. Orwoll and M. Parlmutter
Part IV. Approaches Informed by Psychodevelopmental Conceptions of Wisdom:
9. The loss of wisdom J. A. Meacham
10. Wisdom and reflective judgment: knowing in the face of uncertainty K. S. Kitchener and H. G. Brenner
11. Wisdom: the art of problem finding P. K. Arlin
12. An essay on wisdom: towards symbolic processes that make it possible J. Pascual-Leone
13. Conceptualising wisdom: the primacy of affect-cognition relations D. Kramer
Part V. Integration of Approaches and Viewpoints:
14. Integration J. E. Birren
Author index
Subject index.

"This authoritative volume represents the only complete collection of psychological views on wisdom currently available. Considered an elusive psychological construct until recently, wisdom is currently attracting interest as an independent field. The acclaimed psychologist Robert Sternberg perceived the need to document the progress made in the field, and to point the way for future theory and progress. The resulting book introduces the concept of wisdom, considers philosophical issues and developmental approaches, and covers folk conceptions of the topic. The final chapter presents an integration of the fascinating and comprehensive material."

*     *     *

Paul B. Baltes (1939–2006) appears to be the leading researcher on wisdom. See also the Paul B. Baltes Wisdom Page. And lest we forget, Wikipedia. And here is the book referenced by Hall, available online:

Wisdom as Orchestration of Mind and Virtue by Paul B. Baltes. Berlin: Max Planck Institute for Human Development, 2004.

*     *     * 

The Wisdom Page "is a website dedicated to helping us better understand wisdom — that vitally important but poorly understood pinnacle of human functioning." This site is chock full of resources on the subject.

*     *     *

In December 2003 I approached this question not from what is usually thought of as practical wisdom, but in its historical dimension, linked with the development of the human intellect along with society. See my essay Wisdom and Abstract Thought, which I wrote for discussion with a local philosophy group. Unsurprisingly, it fell on deaf ears.

My point of departure was an aspect of what I found salvageable in Soviet philosophy, namely a correlation of philosophical development with the evolution of the scientific-technological basis of society and social organization. This was a fundamental approach of specialized Soviet philosophy quite different from the way philosophy is taught in these parts, where the best we can do as an alternative to traditional teaching and the wasteland of analytical philosophy is this duplicitous ideological category misnamed "continental philosophy". Though I've cogitated about the relation between wisdom and abstract thinking for years, I decided to pursue the topic after chancing upon Theodore Oizerman's Problem of Wisdom as a Real Problem, a subchapter in Oizerman's Problems of the History of Philosophy. Oizerman is subject to criticism on other grounds, but here is a complement to the ahistorical approach of people like Hall.

Incidentally, the most influential Soviet Marxist developmental psychologist continues to be Lev Vygotsky. Attempts have been made to fold his socially oriented perspective into cognitive science (see my blog entry on this subject), notably:

Frawley, William. Vygotsky and Cognitive Science: Language and the Unification of the Social and Computational Mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.

Neuroscience as ideology: bourgeois wisdom at work

In re:

Hall, Stephen S. Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.

"A compelling investigation into one of the most coveted and cherished ideals, 'Wisdom' also chronicles the efforts of modern science to penetrate the mysterious nature of this timeless virtue."

PART ONE: Wisdom defined (sort of)
What is wisdom?;
The wisest man in the world: the philosophical roots of wisdom;
Heart and mind: the psychological roots of wisdom
PART TWO: Eight neural pillars of wisdom.
Emotional regulation: the art of coping;
Knowing what’s important: the neural mechanism of establishing value and making a judgment;
Moral reasoning: the biology of judging right from wrong;
Compassion: the biology of loving-kindness and empathy;
Humility: the gift of perspective;
Altruism: social justice, fairness, and the wisdom of punishment;
Patience: temptation, delayed gratification, and the biology of learning to wait for larger rewards;
Dealing with uncertainty : change, "meta-wisdom," and the vulcanization of the human brain
PART THREE: Becoming wise.
Youth, adversity, and resilience: the seeds of wisdom;
Older and wiser: the wisdom of aging;
Classroom, board room, bedroom, back room: everyday wisdom in our everyday world;
Dare to be wise: does wisdom have a future?

See also the web site of Stephen C. Hall.

*     *     *

"Wrong life cannot be lived rightly."
          — Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia, section 18

This aphorism does not appear in Stephen Hall's book, and Adorno does not appear to be part of the mental universe of Hall's attempt to scientize "timeless virtue". As bourgeois reason totters on its last legs, the latest fad of popular science purporting to explain social and in many cases political behavior is neurobiology. Like all bourgeois scientism, this line of inquiry is predicated on ideological amnesia, an erasure of real history, society, and politics. Granted that both neurobiology and evolutionary theory are essential to comprehension of the material basis of the organism, of everything it is capable of thinking and doing, the conceit here is that the biology of individual cognition in abstraction is proffered as an explanation of how we function in society, and this is why the spate of popular books on the subject is reactionary to the core.

Hall only questions his endeavor in the final chapter, pondering whether a focus on wise individuals only fosters a personality cult and hero worship, distracting from the thing itself. He also contemplates the future of wisdom given the state of consumer culture.

Otherwise, Hall trots out various culture heroes as possible examples of wisdom: Confucius, Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Oprah. Again, qualities of wisdom are abstracted out of total social situations, oblivious to the dimension of ideology critique that could be applied to any and all of his examples. 

Anyone who could quote David Brooks even in passing as a person to take seriously betrays a political cluelessness the contemptibility of which defies description.

Wrong life cannot be lived rightly

"Wrong life cannot be lived rightly."

          — Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia, section 18

Here are some of my thoughts on the subject, from 2009, slightly edited.

* * *

22 Jan 2009

Of late this aphorism keeps popping up in my head, as a spontaneous counterpoint to social/cultural input. I can't recall the contexts that spur these thoughts, but they may have something to do with the self-help industry, Oprah, Obamamania, the culture industry, American individualism, upper middle class liberalism . . . vs. the larger perspective that challenges the false immediacy of popular ideology. I also have in mind Adorno's notion of theory and practice, of his lectures on Kant's morality, on his obsession with Auschwitz. Otherwise, I am just considering this sentence in isolation from its context in Minima Moralia.

I keep coming back to this quote as a challenge to the veil of falsity that hangs over American life, which this insane fetishism of President Obama perpetuates. There should be a way of explaining accessibly what is at stake in Adorno's view, or in any intellectual's that does not join in with the crowd.

Now I am curious about who has written what on the ethical dimension of Adorno's thought, indeed, that lies behind Adorno's thought. I haven't read it, but the first thing that comes to mind is . . .

Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics by J. M. Bernstein
1. Wrong life cannot be lived rightly;
2. Disenchantment: the skepticism of enlightened reason;
3. The instrumentality of moral reason;
4. Mastered by nature: abstraction, independence, and the simple concept;
5. Interlude: three versions of modernity;
6. Disenchanting identity: the complex concept;
7. Toward an ethic of nonidentity;
8. After Auschwitz;
9. Ethical modernism.
You can also read some of the intro via

Also, there are two essays in The Cambridge Companion to Adorno.

23 Jan 2009

A few years back I objected to Adorno's notion that the good life could only be characterized negatively; that we couldn't say anything positive. This also dovetails with Adorno's animosity towards Erich Fromm, who, because of his generally affirmative posture, was called by one of the Frankfurters — maybe it was Marcuse — the Norman Vincent Peale of the left. And yes, I have found Adorno far too ascetic and austere. But when one feels that one's culture and society has been totally compromised, and one can see the long-range implications of negative social forces, taking this stance makes more sense.

But it's not mere elitism that drove Adorno, though it does relate to his lived experience as a product of high bourgeois culture. Adorno lived through the destruction of European culture as he knew it. His first book, on Kierkegaard, was published the day Hitler took power. The swallowing up of the individual personality — what was then called "modern man" — by the monstrous machine of society, was not the world of postwar prosperity in western nations as we knew it from approx. 1950-1970, which also involved a dehumanizing regimentation against which the '60s generation rebelled. Fascism meant that the individual life could be totally compromised, and there was no room to maneuver. Adorno may have also experienced survivor's guilt, not only in general, but in particular, in relation to his close friend Walter Benjamin.

However exaggerated Adorno might have depicted the iron cage in prosperous western democracies (but for only about the last two decades of his life), even with a more differentiated and refined analysis, Adorno's broad-brush picture nonetheless abstracts out broad social trends, ongoing processes rather than total faits accompli. As such, Adorno highlights decisive aspects of contemporary society that are ideologically repressed by the culture industry and the so-called ideological state apparatuses: that is, Adorno expresses broad contours of society against the enforced silence about how society is fundamentally constituted.

Hence Adorno doesn't address what the individual is going to do, or what social activists are going to do, but what can't be spoken in the mainstream media and cultural apparatus. And this is why I bring in the self-help industry, Oprah, Dr. Phil, Extreme Home Makeover, American Idol, and the rest. The largess bestowed by the wealthy and corporate America on a few lucky people is fine for the individuals who benefit, but it is predicated on the falsification of social reality and social misery, while fostering a groveling attitude to corporate America (or whatever country you live in).

So maybe we don't need to be depressed all the time, but the gap between the illusory notions on which society runs and the recognition of the gap between that and an understanding of what's really going on and the depth at which it has to be challenged, is likely to promote a much-needed negativity. Though I don't believe in being grumpy 24-7, I don't trust people who always want to think positively, for, when one examines their ideology, one always finds it predicated on falsehood. And when the people who espouse it belong to the privileged upper middle class (though not exclusive to them), I find their attitude insufferable.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Howard L. Parsons: East meets West (2): Naturalizing the religious impulse

I have uploaded three excerpts from this book I started to review in a previous post:

Parsons, Howard L. Man East and West: Essays in East-West Philosophy. Amsterdam: B. R. Grüner, 1975. xi, 211 pp. (Philosophical Currents; v. 8)

Howard L. Parsons on the Role of the Philosopher

This is Parsons' general prescription for the philosopher's task and not specifically tied to the theme of the book.

Howard L. Parsons on Naturalist vs. Supernationalist Perspectives on Value

Parsons is skeptical both of Barth's neo-orthodoxy and Tillich's liberal theological palaver about 'being'. We should seek the natural basis of human dependencies instead of railing against modern man and hyping his dependence on a transcendental source. Progress means that theology tends to become anthropology. Parsons seeks to preserve some of the traditional concerns, but with an updated, naturalistic world view. This is an example of how he typically expresses himself:
Yet a full anthropology, which sees man in society, history, and nature, in the full stretch of space and time, might bring modern humanism to affirm, in a new and qualified way, some of the assertions of ancient religion.
While I've seen much worse in my time, I find this sort of formulation conceptually muddled. Parsons also evinces an excessively deferential attitude toward sacred figures and what others call the great spiritual teachers. On the plus side, Parsons sees the human symbolizing capacity as having from the beginning taken a wrong turn into superstition. Parsons also criticizes Sartre's mournful nostalgia for the outmoded supernaturalist position.

Howard L. Parsons on Naturalism & Religion: Conclusion

Parsons sums up his position in the final pages of the book. Parsons is mostly on track, but I object to his characteristic formulations, e.g.:
Is it possible to combine the best of the religious perspective with the power of scientific knowledge and control now in our hands? It is not only possible; it is necessary, if we are to be saved from a science determined by men who do not understand or appreciate the evolutionary role of man in nature and his responsibility toward it, and from religions that do not understand and even repudiate science. The first would give us man divorced from nature and from values grounded in nature; the second, values divorced from man and nature. In both cases, values become arbitrary and, in the event of conflict, subject to settlement by capricious preference and arbitrary power.
 In his essay "Theories of Knowledge: A Dialectical, Historical Critique" Parsons evinces an awareness of the interplay between positivist and irrationalist tendencies in the ideological life of bourgeois society. However, he tries too hard to have it both ways, affirming modernity and criticizing tradition while fudging his analysis of the allegedly admirable facets and impulses of pre-modernity. There is both sophistication and epistemological repression going on here, which I suspect is related to his brand of Marxism with its lack of recognition of the ineluctable impossibility of socialism in rapidly modernizing peasant societies.