Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Illativity again

A conversation with a friend sent me back to thoughts on Newman's Grammar of Assent (about which I had previously blogged, here). On balance, I think the 'Black Adam', in that post, was a cheap shot (right, but cheap), and I've been thinking again about why I find Newman's 'Illative sense' so wrongheaded -- even I have to concede that it is a heartfelt and genuine attempt by a man of deep faith to square the circle of one of the 19th-century's Big Problems: the increasing chasm between scientific truths and the revealed truths of religion. Thinking again, I've come to the conclusion that my disagreement with Newman has to do with the sense that the Illative sense necessarily plays-into that with which we are familiar and that with which we are comfortable. If it's something we're used to, we're more likely 'Illatively' to feel it to be right. It's not just that I mistrust that, personally (although I do); it's that it seems to me radically the contradict the whole point of Christianity -- which before it is anything else is a faith of 'Everything is Different Now', concerning which I have also blogged.

To pick a not-uncontentious example: homosexuality. Many people feel sure, 'illatively', that this is wrong, a sin, an affront to God. They don't actively persecute homosexuals, and they can't justify their animadversion rationally; but they don't need to -- the Illative sense closes the gap between the way the world is and their 'assent' in the prevalent, longstanding discourses of homophobia. Those people are incorrect; but so long as the feedback loop of 'this is what I'm used to' - 'this is what I'm comfortable with' powers their Illative instincts on this matter, they're not going to realise they're wrong, and a great injustice, and enormous human misery, will continue to be propagated.

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