The Philia Proposal continued

The second source is modern materialism, the philosophy that claims to explain everything by the laws of the material world. It held out the promise that, with the progress of science and technology, want, hunger, sickness and suffering would one day be eliminated.

With respect to inclusion, idealism undermined the 18th century humanist belief that Reason was the one determining criteria that set humanity apart from animals - and from those many humans that appeared not to fully have the use of reason, as a result of age, sex, status, race or malady, thereby justifying their exclusion from active citizenship. Materialism entirely rejected the humanist emphasis on reason and, if anything, stressed the similarities and the continuities between humans and animals. Reason, they thought, was just one of many species-specific features that appear as a result of material causes described, in this case, by the theory of natural selection. From a materialist standpoint, temporary or permanent incapacity to fully use reason does not cut off persons or groups from the rest of humanity: it is merely a “problem” for science and social engineering to manage or resolve.

Together, these two traditions create a powerful sense of moral responsibility for inclusion and care. Unfortunately, they provide little moral oxygen for persons acting on those moral demands. Idealism demands that we act from a moral resolve to do what we know is right. Materialism, consistent with the belief that behaviour is conditioned by material causes, suggests that individual responsibility is irrelevant and that society only needs to be engineered for the desired behaviour patterns to occur, thus further contributing to the contemporary loss of authentic spiritual sources of inspiration.  

This modern vision is a tale of two solitudes. On one side, there is the material world, governed by the blind and mechanical laws of matter, the stuff of science. On the other, the human realm, governed by personal responsibility, ideals and moral demands. The two were initially held together by the promise of science and technical progress to serve humanist ideals and to create a better world by the elimination of poverty, suffering and death. And, indeed, immense progress has been made in that direction. But suffering and death are still with us, inseparable from the human condition. And modern thought has failed to connect with a source of inspiration to deal with them on a daily basis. Instead it attempts to provide for motivation with formal obligations, set out in charters of rights that call for institutional solutions in terms of government services, programs and incentives. Material support and resources, as well as programs and services are of course important; but they are not sufficient. People and communities are not machines that react automatically to manipulation of their environment: they need to be moved, to be touched, to be inspired.

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