Review : The Spiritual Dimension : Religion, Philosophy and Human Value by John Cottingham

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John Cottingham rightly argues for room for a spiritual dimension in human life and understanding. Humanity is holistic, extending beyond the physical, rational, intellectual and ‘evidential’. Naturalism and physicalism are insufficient accounts. There is life beyond the ambit of science, although he doesn’t investigate the epistemology of science sufficiently critically. Religion should present as praxis rather than doctrine. He therefore dismisses the conservative evangelical doctrinal simplicities and Enlightenment rejection of theologians Tom Wright and John Caputo (p114). He is curiously and vaguely scathing of ‘contemporary moral philosophers’ (p142), whilst considering a spirituality defined to include sceptics and agnostics as ‘bought at too high a price’ (p161). Meanwhile, in some contradiction, he wants spirituality to relate to truth (p156), which he considers to reduce the potential for pluralism. He prefers an exogenous theist spirituality, rather than an endogenous prevenient human spirituality.

Cottingham is in fact presenting an apology for his own specific theism to which he jumps in his concluding pages with scant justification. He conflates religion and spirituality. He worries whether spirituality might achieve virtue (p128). An alternative account is that spirituality is itself virtue. An exploration of virtue might therefore offer a more compelling content of spirituality, rather than the mere argument to allow spirituality which Cottingham presents. And a prevenient endogenous human spirituality which embraced theism and atheism would be a more inclusive and therefore more effective call.

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