Abstract: Martin Hägglund’s This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom (Knopf, 2019) is an important and insightful treatise on metaphysics, philosophical anthropology, and political economy. It is also a trenchant critique of a religious orientation to the world. In this paper I will reflect on Hägglund’s account of value and our finitude, paying special attention to his criticism of one of his targets, the political theology of Martin Luther King, Jr. According to Hägglund, King’s appeal to God when elaborating the need for justice would better be replaced by an appeal to our own communal norms. To defer to God is at best, a colourful way of depicting our own commitments, and at worst, God’s providence acts as an empty signifier that threatens to absolve us of the hard work of making justice in the here and now.
I will show that while Hägglund’s account is a salutary corrective to a pervasive kind of bad faith, this criticism goes only so far. Any identification of God’s justice with communal norms, or of truth with our best theory, is to mischaracterise these concepts. They function as ideals that direct our attention outside ourselves and beyond our own conceptions, in the same way that love orients us toward a beloved. Hägglund is right that our communal norms of justice must both be accessible to us and stir us to action—since as they are our norms—but insofar as they are norms of justice, they may point to ends beyond our immediate grasp.
I’m Greg Restall, and this is my personal website. ¶ I am the Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, and the Director of the Arché Philosophical Research Centre for Logic, Language, Metaphysics and Epistemology ¶ I like thinking about – and helping other people think about – logic and philosophy and the many different ways they can inform each other.