What Makes RN Appealing to Me

by Riccardo Cravero

I think that what makes RN appealing to me is the fact that a naturalist worldview can account for pain, suffering and evil and explain them as part of our lives and equally real, instead of just considering them some kind of accidental defect of an otherwise perfect world, as many metaphysical and theological traditions do or to conceive them as an inherent feature of the world, as other more pessimistic metaphysical theories proposed.

For those traditions, this world can be either the “best of all possible” or the worst.

As a pragmatist and meliorist [the belief that the world can be made better by human effort], I think this world is far from being perfect, but I trust our ability as a species to exploit in a good and wise way our natural relationship with our environment (the world, broadly speaking) and to gradually shift the balance in the direction of a more acceptable and enjoyable situation.

To do so, we must know ourselves, our desires, impulses and drives and this is where the naturalistic worldview proves to be of great help, since it can illuminate many aspects of our condition as human beings.

The picture we get is not as enjoyable as many would like to think: we humans are sometimes “inhuman”, and that means that is our actions increase the effects of the ugly parts of our nature, affecting negatively that balance.

But we must account for the causes of evil dispositions, because they are just as natural as the ones we cherish the most. An act of kindness is natural for a social species like us, but the desire for power and domination through violence is also a strong motivating force in history, deeply ingrained in our psychology.

We can accept the fact that we are not naturally good or evil and begin to think of our nature as a series of sometimes divergent impulses, acknowledging that altruism and solidarity, empathy and kindness are just as human as all the violence in our history.

The possibility of explaining and accepting the evil part of humanity, and to effectively contrast it, is to me far more appealing than any proposal aimed at finding out the inherent goodness of it or to radically condemn it. 

Meliorism is all about going past fixed and absolute metaphysical moral evaluation of this world (the best possible? the worst? the only one possible, a necessary one?) and take a more creative, active and engaged stance. Even if we point out with insistence the many defects of the present world, we never take it as the only possible scenario.

My take on Religious Naturalism seems sometimes a bit too pessimistic, since I think that we humans are inherently prone to some of the evil dispositions we despise. But to me the conclusion we should draw from this premise is that we should acknowledge this and fight them, trusting in the fact that we are not wholly evil or destined to be like that.