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Religion without God

Religion without God [Kindle Edition]

Ronald Dworkin
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Dworkin offers a way into discussions of science and human spiritual endeavor that is actually engaging and interesting, not combative and dogmatic...Dworkin is keen to show that--even for people who call themselves atheist--there remains a sense or a value to the world which bears so much in common with attitudes we call religious or spiritual...What Dworkin pursues is insight into the core of what makes us human and how it might be grounded in something other than an idea of God. --Adam Frank"NPR online" (05/21/2013)

This, his last book, is about value and religious experience... he address[es] questions about the meaning of life and the sublimity of nature, about the intoxicating experience of celestial and earthly beauty, and about our commitment to objective goods whose value transcends the preferences of those who keep faith with them." --Jeremy Waldron, The Guardian, 1 December 2013

Product Description

In his last book, Ronald Dworkin addresses timeless questions: What is religion and what is God's place in it? What are death and immortality? He joins a sense of cosmic mystery and beauty to the claim that value is objective, independent of mind, and immanent in the world. Belief in God is one manifestation of this view, but not the only one.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 508 KB
  • Print Length: 193 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0674726820
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1 edition (1 Oct 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00ESK52II
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #224,835 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Way to go? 8 Oct 2013
By Hande Z TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Ronald Dworkin was undoubtedly a brilliant thinker, but he was known to indulge in semantics in debates with his fellow intellectuals. `Religion without God' advances Dworkin's thesis that one can be an atheist and still have a religion. At times he appeared to be indulging in semantics in the parts where he discussed the definitions of God and religion. Thankfully, Dworkin, though not always right, is usually clear. Dworkin was firmly an atheist, a term he uses in the strict sense that it is a person who does not believe in a personal god or gods. But he believes that atheists may be of two sorts - those who while not believing in a specific supreme being, nonetheless, have a `numinous' sense of `something nonrational and emotionally deeply moving', and those who do not have such a sense. What Dworkin recognised was that some atheists have a sense of spiritualism which does not involve believing in a personal god that was directing the universe and their lives. That is hardly an original thought because spiritualism is recognised, though not always as that term, but as an extension of one's emotional self. In any case, this spiritualism does not involve what theists call `God'. What Dworkin was pushing in this book, was the right to recognise beliefs in atheistic spiritualism as a form of religion, and thus a right that is amenable to constitutional protection. It is a short, well-argued thesis.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ronald Dworkin's Last Book 25 Sep 2013
By Robin Friedman - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Over a lengthy career, the late Ronald Dworkin (1931 -- February 14, 2013) gradually expanded his philosophical scope from legal philosophy and a rejection of legal positivism to broad questions of ethics, metaphysics, and value. Thus, Dworkin's broadest statement of his philosophy is included in "Religion without God" (2013) which Dworkin submitted to his publisher shortly before his death. This short book is based upon lectures Dworkin gave in December 2011 at the University of Bern. Due to illness, he was unable to revise the book as fully as he had hoped.

"Religion without God" is a short pocket-sized book of 160 pages in four chapters. In many portions, Dworkin speaks from the heart as well as the mind. The book has intimacy and eloquence as well as thought. In its meditations on death in the final chapter, the book has a valedictory tone.

In addition to its intimacy, the book is striking in some of its strong philosophical assertions. This is not primarily in Dworkin's exposition of non-theological religion, a subject many writers have explored. It lies more in what appear to be Dworkin's strong claims for objectivity and realism in the realm of values and in his claims for philosophical rationalism, necessitarianism and intelligibilty. Many contemporary American philosophers would be hesitant when faced with such strong positions. Dworkin seems to me not to fully develop or support some of these difficult positions. He argues for some but not for all of them in his longer book of 2011, "Justice for Hedgehogs". Justice for Hedgehogs

I found the book departs in places from its theme of "Religion without God". In the third chapter titled "Religious Freedom", Dworkin moves from broader philosophical questions back to Dworkin's more usual focus on legal philosophy and political liberalism. The chapter examines religious freedom and personal liberty under the constitution and deals with matters such as gay rights, same sex marriage, abortion, conscientous objection, and the extent to which the use of illegal hallucinogenic drugs should be allowed to religious groups. Dworkin argues that the first amendment right to religious freedom is better viewed as a legal right to protection for decisions showing "ethical independence" or the freedom of individuals to choose for themselves the fundamental ways to live their lives as long as these ways do not impinge upon other people. The discussion is interesting but slightly off-focus for the book as a whole. In addition, I am unclear about whether Dworkin's claim for "ethical independence" is consistent fully for his claim for the objectivity of ethical values which he supports in the remaining sections of the book.

The remaining three chapters, particularly the first and last, do develop Dworkin's views on the relationship between religion and God. Broadly, Dworkin distinguishes between a religious outlook and a naturalistic outlook. The latter Dworkin argues is based solely on science and materialism and has no place for values or purpose. Dworkin's criticism of naturalism needs careful thought and development and may not fully convince those who hold to a broad naturalistic position. The religious outlook, for Dworkin, "accepts the full, independent reality of value" and makes two claims about objectivity. First the religious outlook involves a commitment to the objective meaning and importance of human life. The purpose of life, for Dworkin, is for each individual to make his life successful by living well, accepting responsibility for oneself and one's projects and acknowledging moral responsibilities to other people. Second, the religious outlook holds that nature in not simply a brute matter of fact to be studied by science "but is itself sublime: something of intrinsic value and wonder."

Dworkin argues that in the sense he has developed both theists and atheists may be religious. He maintains that religions have a fact or scientific component and a value component. Dworkin then argues at some length that value commitments and the objectivity of ethical claims do not depend upon facts of a natural or supernatural sort. In other words, the objectivity of value claims is a matter of the value claims themselves and does not depend on a God for validation. The existence of God would not be sufficient to validate the claims in any event. Hence a person can be religious, for Dworkin, without commitment to the existence of God, although Dworkin does not argue against theism per se in the book. Dworkin's arguments for the separation of God's existence from value are based upon Plato's dialogue the "Euthyphro" and on David Hume's argument that questions of value cannot be decided by questions of fact.

In the first and fourth and to some extent the third chapters of the book, Dworkin expands on the objectivity of value and on the nature of living well. The second chapter, "The Universe" consists of a lengthy, challenging excursus into physical science. Some religious individuals, theist or non-theist, might have qualms about the relevance of this chapter, which develops the strong character of some of Dworkin's philosophical views. Broadly, Dworkin considers modern physics and develops his view he maintains is part of the religious outlook, that the universe is beautiful objectively and in whole (rather than just in part to some human beings), and consistent and rational throughout rather than an assemblage of complex, unrelated facts. He concludes: "[f]or those of us who think beauty real, the scientific presumption that the universe is finally fully comprehensible is also the religious conviction that it shines with real beauty." Dworkin's position in this chapter, for me, approaches that of philosophical idealism and rationalism which most contemporary thinkers reject. That does not make the position mistaken. I was fascinated, if not entirely convinced, to read how close Dworkin comes to it.

This short book is a fitting testament to Dworkin and takes his work well beyond the scope of the legal philosophy for which he will be remembered. The book represents aspiration and vision more than completeness. I was glad to think with Dworkin about philosophy, value, and a meaningful life in this, his final book.

Robin Friedman
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Religion without Theism 3 Dec 2013
By Barry N. Bishop - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This short volume is engaging and easy to read, particularly if one is familiar with Ronald Dworkin's thinking in previous works, especially "Justice for Hedgehogs" (Belknap/Harvard, 2011). "Religion without God" continues the earlier volume's argument for the existence of an objective realm of values and therefore emphasizes the critical personal and social importance of ethics. Dworkin, in that respect, goes against the grain of relativism and subjectivism popular in discussions of values. The current volume, however, clarifies one of his roots in this regard: he explains that, in his view, it is possible to be "religious" by acknowledging the realm of value without necessarily believing in God or the gods. He argues in the first chapter for a "religious atheism", and he goes on to argue throughout the book that this religious atheism need not be in conflict with other religious orientations.

A second chapter examines "the universe" and modern physics' view of the universe for evidence of that realm of value. In particular the scientist finds beauty to be a key manifestation of the reality of value, as many of the rest of us do. Dworkin actually does an amazingly good job of unpacking a lot of pretty sophisticated scientific thinking, the kind of unpacking that happens all too seldom in college survey education in science not to mention secondary education. It is all the more remarkable that he is not a scientist himself.

The third chapter evokes Dworkin's background as a law professor in exploring "religious freedom", including the degree to which religious views and beliefs can be expressed publicly without infringing on the freedoms of others to be religious in their own ways or free from others' religiousity. He explores issues as diverse as public and school prayer and abortion.

Finally there is a short concluding chapter on "death and immortality". The chapter feels unfinished, but it does argue for an immortality that derives from "living well", from being the successful author of one's own life, another important theme in Dworkin's larger opus. And it is touching in that this was Professor Dworkin's last book, a book which apparently made several statements he thought to be very important in his end-of-life reflections.

The book is based on the Einstein Lectures delivered at the University of Bern in 2011. Dworkin apparently meant to expand what he left us here, and indeed the book seems incomplete both in scope and also in terms of a unifying theme. While his death regrettably cut short his project, what we have in "Religion without God" contributes significantly not only to discussions of ethics and law, not only to thinking about value, not only to a fuller understanding of this fascinating thinker, but also to possible discussions of what religion is. It is well known that religion does not necessarily need a god, as in Buddhism, but perhaps "atheism" is too loaded a word to be quite accurate or adequate for the purpose here. I would suggest a better title might have been "religion without theism".
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Spirituality Without God would be more Accurate 25 Feb 2014
By Herbert Gintis - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I remember when I was five or so, my father was telling my grandfather that he had to go to Newark, which was fifty miles away, and he could drive at a speed of 25 miles per hour, so it would take him two hours to get to Newark. I recall thinking: distance, speed, time---I know what they all are. But there is a relationship between the three---that is absolutely incredible. I had perhaps my first feeling of awe at the inscrutable unity of the world we live in.

I remember that one Saturday when I was about twelve, I went to the Philadelphia Public Library and took out a book called Analytical Geometry. I had no idea what this could mean, although I knew what geometry was, and looking at the equations I saw that "analytical" meant algebra, which I also knew (and loved). When I got the book home, I came to a picture of circle in the plane with a caption that said that the circle was the solution to the equation x-squared + y-squared = 1. When I figured out what that meant, I had overwhelmingly strong spiritual experience of awe and reverence. I still feel this awe and reference when I deal, either in my work or teaching, with mathematics that represents reality.

I recall when I first realized that the voluptuously gorgeous Orchid I gave my prom date was a member of a species that arose through evolution in dense forests where the only creature the flower had to attract was a flying arthropod. This idea took longer to sink in, but the resulting feeling of awe and reverence was all the deeper for it in my breast.

My life, like that of Ronald Dworkin, Albert Einstein (who appears to have inspired Dworkin to write this book), and many other scientists, is full of such mysteries of the universe. They bombard me virtually daily with feelings of awe and reverence. My very existence, and my poignant consciousness of my existence, continually bombard me with feelings of awe and reverence. And gratitude.

The point of all this is that I believe I feel exactly what Dworkin describes as "religion without God," except that, unlike Dworkin, I am not an atheist. I do not have an active belief in the non-existence of God, but rather doubt that the wonder of the universe, and our place in the universe, could be explicable unless we are the product of an intelligence of higher order than ourselves. One of Dworkin's most ingenious arguments is that the fact of God's existence has no moral implications, for the much the same reason as given by Hume for the fallacy of passing from fact to value.

What Dworkin calls "religion" I believe is better expressed as "spirituality," which is a human capacity, much as our physical, cognitive, aesthetic, and moral capacities. Moreover, when we think of spirituality as a dimension of human awareness that allows us to fell awe and reference in experiencing the universe, I believe the argument for the validity of our assessment that the spiritual world is a real realm of being becomes easier to state. Indeed, Dworkin makes exactly such an argument, and with great force. The argument is that spirituality is a human capacity as much as cognition (and aesthetic appreciation), so there is no more reason to question its reality than that of the product of our cognitions, and in particular, than the reality of the physical world around us. Of course we could be wrong on one or both counts, but it is a denial of our sense to deny the existence of the spiritual dimension of our lives. You can no more convince me that the spiritual world is imaginary than you can convince me that colors do not exist.

I have one problem with Dworkin's analysis. Dworkin considers morality to be a part of "religion" as he conceives it (I would call it spirituality), whereas I think morality is the product of human evolution. The capacity for moral conception is a distinctly human capacity and has nothing to do with our spiritual capacity. Many people are deeply spiritual (religious) but horribly and grotesquely immoral, and many deeply moral people virtually never operate on a spiritual plane. Some established religions have falsely claimed to have authority over moral judgments, but that appears to me to be just stupid. The idea that what I am allowed to eat as moral person is dictated by some God is pretty absurd and petty.

I confess I don't much like books about theology (just smoke and mirrors), but this book is pretty interesting and thought-provoking.
22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A profound meditation on secular humanism 17 Sep 2013
By spinoza - Published on
Inexplicably, Harvard University Press once again releases an important book without a Kindle version. [October 6 update: it appears that Harvard has now released the Kindle version a few weeks after the print.] Harvard has been painfully struggling with coming to grips with the digital world for years now, its management has been embarrassingly flip-flopping with various dysfunctional approaches for quite some time (as exemplified with its ridiculous decision to use the scribd platform initially, and more recently the equally bizarre De Gruyter platform). Regardless, Dworkin's book is actually based on his Einstein Lectures held at the University of Bern a couple of years ago, and the videos of the lectures are freely available at: , for those who do not wish to deal with having to order the paper copy. The video lectures are probably more interesting than the book for most people, anyway.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Balanced 2 Feb 2014
By James R. Lemcke - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It is nice to read a book with facts and opinions but one that balances valid points on all sides without pounding an agenda. It is a bit of a difficult read for anyone used to reading recreational novels but worth the time.
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