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It is in the prosecution of some single object, and in striving to reach its accomplishment by the combined application of his moral and physical energies, that the true happiness of man, in his full vigour and development, consists. Possession, it is true, crowns exertion with repose; but it is only in the illusions of fancy that it has power to charm our eyes. If we consider the position of man in the universe,—if we remember the constant tendency of his energies towards some definite activity, and recognize the influence of surrounding nature, which is ever provoking him to exertion, we shall be ready to acknowledge that repose and possession do not indeed exist but in imagination. - Wilhelm von Humboldt, The Sphere and Duties of Government (The Limits of State Action) (1854 ed.)

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Letter on Reinhard's: The Moral Landscape of 'Juno'

David Reinhard just can not understand why anyone does good:

Oh, the characters generally do the right, life-affirming thing in the end. But I'm not sure they -- or anyone else in "Juno" -- could tell you why. There are no moral or ethical structures to guide them. There's no overarching belief system. The characters are at the mercy of their feelings.
. . .
An actual belief system provides a sturdier moral foundation, though I'll admit it might not go over big in a hip movie about teenage pregnancy. It might smack too much of morality and, egads, religion.

Here was my letter:

I have read all the "New Atheists" books (Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, and Hitchens) but I must say David Reinhard's piece ('Random acts of kindness, senseless acts of beauty?', Jan. 6) almost has me convinced as to the benefit of religion. He says that without an "actual belief system", eg. religion, good deeds are inexplicable. The "New Atheists" assert that, basically, our moral intuitions come to us via evolution. But I am beginning to wonder. Thank goodness for religion! Undoubtedly, without it Reinhard would be raping and killing as desired.

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