Daniel Dennett Leads Symposium on Naturalism in Free Inquiry Magazine

In a special issue of Free Inquiry, world-renowned philosopher Daniel Dennett leads a remarkable group of secularist thinkers for a “symposium in print” on the importance of naturalism in philosophy and its centrality for the secular humanist worldview. Naturalism holds, very briefly, that the quest for meaning need not involve supernatural entities or that which is outside the purview of science.

“Something about this subject strikes a nerve,” write Free Inquiry editor Tom Flynn and Center for Inquiry Institute fellow Judy Walker in their introduction. “It is foundational in our quest as secular humanists to discover this-worldly answers to the greatest question of all: How ought we to live?”

Daniel Dennett begins this exploration with a concession that supernaturalism in some form will always be part of philosophy, but that naturalist thinkers can work to make sure there is minimal “leakage” of “excessively egregious” non-naturalistic musings into discourse that influences the public. Philosophy, says Dennett, is the Las Vegas of inquiry. “What happens in philosophy stays in philosophy, by and large, and a good thing it does, too.”

What then follows in these pages is a collection of rigorous and eloquent essays on naturalism’s meaning and implications for philosophical inquiry.

  • Australian philosopher and critic Russell Blackford shows why naturalism can “run on its record” versus supernaturalism when it comes to constructing a moral framework to live by.
  • Stephen Maitzen of Acadia University confidently tackles the “fundamental question” of “Why is there anything, rather than nothing at all?” without fear that naturalistic explanations may lead down a path with no end.
  • Barbara Forrest of Southeastern Louisiana University argues, “Supernaturalism has not proved its mettle,” that it cannot legitimize its metaphysical claims, and that only philosophical naturalism is “empirically grounded and logically coherent.”
  • Vanderbilt University philosophers Scott Aikin, Thomas Dabay, and Robert B. Talisse seek to find the “Goldilocks” zone of naturalistic inquiry, even as naturalism itself is under scrutiny.

This important feature on the future of naturalism in both academic philosophy and secular humanism will continue in the next two issues of Free Inquiry.

Also in the August-September issue of Free Inquiry: Ex-Muslim activist Sarah Haider criticizes what she says is progressives’ “moral confusion” about the unique challenge of Islam; Valerie Tarico laments the abuse of the language of “privilege” that she says “generates dysfunction and resentments”; Robyn Blumner, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, celebrates our growing understanding of religious belief as a social and psychological phenomenon, calling religion “the ultimate hitchhiker on human psychology”; and much more. Subscribe in print or on the web at secularhumanism.org/fi.

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Free Inquiry is a bimonthly magazine, published by the Center for Inquiry in association with the Council for Secular Humanism, featuring thoughtful and provocative commentary from such leading political and social commentators as Ophelia Benson, Greta Christina, Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, and Russell Blackford. Launched in 1980, Free Inquiry has a paid circulation of approximately 34,000 worldwide.

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at www.centerforinquiry.net.