Yale lectures offer defense of secular humanism

In the Dwight H. Terry lectures to be delivered at Yale March 26–April 4, Philip Kitcher, a preeminent scholar of the philosophy of science, will defend secular humanism against common criticism and explore its positive benefits.

Philip Kitcher
Philip Kitcher

Titled “Secular Humanism,” the four lectures are free and open to the public. Dates are March 26, March 28, April 2, and April 4. All lectures are at 4:15 p.m. in Rm. 102 of Linsly-Chittenden Hall, 63 High St.

Brief descriptions of the lectures follow:

Tuesday, March 26

In the first lecture, titled “Beyond Doubt,” Kitcher will review major doctrines of faith — such as the belief that the deity has a covenant with a particular people or the literal truth of resurrection — that can make non-believers skeptical, and he will address objections to humanism raised by believers, such as: Can it provide any basis for objective values? Can it allow for the meaningfulness of human life and offer consolation in the face of death? Does it inevitably reduce the depth of human existence or overlook the darkness at the core of human nature?

Thursday, March 28

In “Ethics as a Human Project,” Kitcher will look at humanism as the foundation for objective values. Citing such historical movements as the abolition of slavery, he will discuss how ethics — which he views as a human invention developed to overcome our limited responsiveness to others — is a human project evolving over time.

Tuesday, April 2

In “Mortality and Meaning,” Kitcher will argue that a worthwhile life is attainable without religion’s promise of an afterlife or posthumous reward for meaningful achievement. He will examine why a fundamental challenge for secular humanism is the absence of community-building institutions that are inherent to most religions.

Thursday, April 4

In “Depth and Depravity,” Kitcher will aim to counter the charge frequently made by believers that secular lives lack depth or that in the absence of religious discipline, the human condition is one of depravity. “I use two major works of literature (from Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky) to elaborate the charge that secular humanism assumes an over-optimistic view of human nature,” writes Kitcher. He will conclude with an argument for a continuation of the “human ethical project … in dialogue with the deepest visions of the human predicament, including those descending from great art as well as those offered by religious traditions.”

Visit the Terry Lectures website for additional information.

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