Human Nature and the Transcendent - John Cottingham (University of Reading)

March 13, 2012 - 17:30 - 19:30
Zrinyi u. 14
Event type: 
Event audience: 
    John Cottingham is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Reading and an Honorary Fellow of St John's College

A B S T R A C T 

This paper starts from the familiar Augustinian and Pascalian thought that human beings have “transcendent” urges — they have a certain resistance to resting content with existence defined within a given set of parameters, and have a hunger to glimpse a deeper reality than is disclosed in our ordinary mundane experience of the world. I look at three aspects of the apparent human reaching after the transcendent, namely the cosmological, the aesthetic, and the moral. Cosmologically, we recoil from the idea of brute facticity — the idea that the cosmos is in Bertrand Russell’s words. “just there”. Aesthetically, in Wordsworthian moments of rapture at the beauty of the natural world, and morally, in our recognition of the normativity of values that command our allegiance whether we like it or not, we seem to glimpse an enduring objective reality that transcends the flux of contingency. The general thrust of my argument will be that the demands of integrity, being sincere and true to the character of our own lived human experience, require us to reject deflationary or reductionist strategies for explaining away our transcendent urges; and as a result, that the field is very considerably narrowed, when it comes to understanding their significance.