Morality and the Human Condition, #10–Religion and Morality.

Mr Nemo
4 min readMar 5, 2020


By Robert Hanna

“The Human Condition,” by Thomas Whitaker


Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. The Standard Conception of Morality

II.1 The Moral Question and The Meaning Question

II.2 How Ethics Relates to Morality

II.3 How Morality Relates to Rationality

II.4 Six Famously Hard Cases

III. Three Classical Challenges to the Standard Conception of Morality

III.1 Moral Relativism

III.2 Eight Logical Principles of Human Rationality

III.3 Moral Skepticism

III.4 Psychological and Moral Egoism

IV. Morality and Religion

IV.1 God and The Divine Command Theory

IV.2 Does an Essentially Rational God Exist?

IV.3 Religion and Morality

V. Three Classical Moral Theories

V.1 Aristotelian Virtue Ethics

V.1.1 Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, books 1–3: A Brief Exposition

V.1.2 Four Worries about Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics

V.1.3 Contemporary Virtue Ethics

V.2 Millian Utilitarianism

V.2.1 Not-So-Happy Little Campers: Ten Big Problems for Millian Utilitarianism

V.3 Kant’s Ethics of Persons and Principles

V.3.1 Ten Basic Ideas

V.3.2 Three Classical Worries about Kant’s Ethics

V.4 All-Things-Considered Conclusion of This Section

VI. Pascal’s Optimism and Schopenhauer’s Pessimism

VI.1 Pascal’s Optimism About the Meaning of Life

VI.2 Schopenhauer’s Pessimism About the Meaning of Life

VI.3 Pascal or Schopenhauer? Optimism or Pessimism?

VII. Existentialism, the Absurd, and Affirmation

VII.1 Two Kinds of Existentialism

VII.2 Nagel and the Absurd

VII.3 Camus and Affirmation

VIII. The Ethics of Authenticity

VIII.1 Existential Ethics and the Concept of Authenticity

VIII.1.1 What is Authenticity?

VIII.1.2 Authenticity and Radical Freedom

VIII.1.3 Inauthenticity, Freedom-Refusers, and Freedom Deniers

VIII.2 Two Important Problems for Existential Ethics

VIII.3 Sartre on Principled Authenticity

IX. The Nature of Death

IX.1 The Ambiguity of “Death”

IX.2 The Nature of Our Own Death

IX.2.1 Nagel On the Nature of Our Own Death

IX.2.2 Suits Against the “Deprivation” Account of the Badness of Death

IX.2.3 Some Critical Worries About What Nagel and Suits are Saying About the Nature of Our Own Death

X. The (Im)Possibility of Human Immortality

X.1 Williams on the Tedium of Immortality

X.2 Fischer on How Human Immortality Could Be a Good Thing

X.3 Some Worries About What Williams and Fischer are Saying About Human Immortality

X.4 Human Life Without Immortality


This installment contains section IV.3.

But you can also read or download a .pdf version of the complete short course HERE.


IV.3 Religion and Morality

By “religion,” I mean any set of human feelings, beliefs, social practices, and social institutions directly concerned with God (or gods, or the divine or holy more generally) and faith in God (or gods, or the divine or holy more generally).

We can distinguish here between

(i) organized religion, and

(ii) personal religion (sometimes also called “spirituality”), which can occur either inside or outside organized religion.

Either organized religion or personal religion/spirituality will count as bona fide religion for the purposes of our discussion.

The critical question I then want to raise is:

Should morality obtain independently of religion, or not?

To make that question more precise, let’s call the cluster of claims which say

either (i) that morality should be kept entirely distinct from religion and fully protected from the influence of religion,

or (ii) that religion should eradicated altogether in order to make morality really possible,

or, at the very least, (ii) that morality should fully control and restrict the scope of religion because otherwise, religion is actually or potentially highly harmful to morality,

Hard Secularism.

Let’s call the directly opposing and contrary claim to Hard Secularism, which says

that religion should fully control and determine morality,


By contrast, let’s call the intermediate claim between Hard Secularism and Fundamentalism, which says

that although morality and religion are distinct sorts of enterprises, nevertheless not only are they mutually compatible, but they’re also necessarily complementary and mutually supportive,

Moderate Secularism.

And by another contrast to Hard Secularism, Fundamentalism, and Moderate Secularism alike, let’s call the weakest claim of all in this connection, which says

that morality and religion are distinct sorts of enterprises, and they’re mutually compatible only in the sense that they can co-exist in their separate spheres,

Soft Secularism.

So the precisified version of the question I want to raise is,

Which, if any, is correct: Hard Secularism, Fundamentalism, Moderate Secularism, or Soft Secularism?

This is another amazingly hard question.

In the interests of full philosophical disclosure, however, I should say that I did recently write and publish a book[i] in which I argued

(i) for radical agnosticism about the question of a 3-O God’s existence or non-existence,

(ii) for a Kantian-ethics-inspired and Existentalism-inflected version of personal religion or spirituality as against organized religion, and

(iii) for a corresponding version of Moderate Secularism.

So I do have some prior commitments here.

Hence aside from referring you to that book, I’ll again turn it over to you as “a task for the reader” to think and talk with others more about these issues and try to answer this amazingly hard question.


[i] R. Hanna, Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism: A Theological-Political Treatise (New York: Nova Science, 2018) (THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 4), also available online in preview, HERE.


Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Thursday 5 March 2020

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Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.