Humanism, Antitheodicism, and the Critique of Meaning in Pragmatist Philosophy of Religion develops a distinctive approach to pragmatist philosophy of religion, and more generally to pragmatist investigations of the human search for meaning, by emphasizing what may be considered two closely interrelated main features of this tradition: humanism and antitheodicism. Humanism here emphasizes the need to focus on religion as a human practice within human concerns of meaningfulness and significance, as distinguished from any metaphysical search for cosmic meaning. Antitheodicism, in turn, stands for the refusal to accept any justification, divine or secular, for the experiences of meaninglessness that individuals undergoing horrendous suffering may have. Developing a critical form of pragmatism emphasizing these ideas, Sami Pihlström explores the relations between pragmatism and analytic philosophy in the philosophy of religion, especially regarding the question of religious meaning, as well as the significance of literature for philosophy of religion, with particular emphasis on William James's pragmatism.
Sami Pihlström is professor of philosophy of religion at the University of Helsinki.
Chapter 1: A Pragmatist Perspective on the Philosophy of Religion
Chapter 2: Meaning, Metaphysics, and Humanism: Between Pragmatism and Analytic Philosophy of Religion
Chapter 3: The Plurality of Pluralisms in William James
Chapter 4: A Poetic Pragmatism? Some Literary Voices in (and after) James’s Humanistic Philosophy of Religion
Chapter 5: The Problem of Suffering, (Secular) Theodicies, and Humanistic Antitheodicism
Chapter 6: Natural and Transcendental Illusions in Kantian-Pragmatist Philosophical Anthropology
Chapter 7: Losing (One’s) Religion?
Conclusion: Our Tragic Search for Meaning
In this highly original approach to the limits and scope of our search for meaning, Pihlström combines pragmatism, humanism, a Kantian outlook, and what he calls “antitheodicism.” The result is a carefully crafted line of argument culminating in a pragmatic critique of meaning as it is available for humans. His focus on human practices and concerns, foremost on human suffering, as opposed to a metaphysical search for some alleged cosmic meaning from a God’s eye view, helps to reinvigorate many deadlocked debates in philosophical anthropology and the philosophy of religion.
Sami Pihlström sketches a fascinating and convincing picture of how pragmatism affords us leading lives midst suffering and evil without appealing to forces higher than human, thus pushing humanism in moral and religious matters to its philosophical limits. The labor and art of infusing practices with meaning, especially when surrounded with crises natural and otherwise which put the very idea of moral intelligibility under distress, is according to Pihlström best performed as an effort in antitheodicism, where our deepest energies are unleashed through an exercise (and mixture) of transcendental reflection and embracing of that very contingency which features our tentative yet incessant worldmaking. The quest for meaningfulness and its limits then sets the very boundaries for a pragmatist-informed critique of the unboundedness of the cognitive which would lead neither to nihilism nor to cynicism. By rearranging insights from the classical pragmatists - Peirce and James more prominently - and contemporary trends in analytic philosophy, the author provides us with a novel understanding of the very shape a philosophical approach to the religious life might look like past metaphysics and doctrinal truths. The take-home point is equally empowering and despairing: face helplessness, and possibly overcoming it indeed, we must.
This highly impressive book is nothing less than a philosophical exploration of the intricate relations between two dimensions of meaning: linguistic meaning and the meaning (significance) of our lives. Pihlström proceeds, more specifically, by investigating the deep connection between two kinds of critique of “meaning-making” in the philosophy of religion: criticism of cognitivist readings of religious language and critique of theodicies attributing significance to senseless suffering. In this context, he addresses with great subtlety the potential tension between the pragmatist linking of linguistic meaning and the significance of our lives, on the one hand, and the antitheodicist recognition of the meaninglessness of evil and ill, on the other hand. One of the many striking facets of Pihlström’s complex approach is his understanding of theodicies as transcendental illusions— ethically as well as conceptually speaking. Another important aspect is his defense of a Jamesian humanism that stresses the importance of employing not only theoretical arguments but also literary tools in the critique of meaning and meaning-making.
According to Pihlström, we humans are by transcendental necessity engaged in a tragic search for meaning. His work is one of the most philosophically profound and humane attempts to come to terms with that.