Paul Kurtz On Why Eupraxsophy Matters
[In the wake of the death of Paul Kurtz I’m republishing this review I wrote of his last book, first published on 6/2/12].
Eupraxsophy (pronounced yoo-PRAX-so-fee) is a term Paul Kurtz introduced in 1988 to characterize a non-religious approach to life, which literally means “good practice and wisdom.” In a newly released collection of Paul Kurtz’s essays, Meaning and Value in a Secular Age: Why Eupraxsophy Matters,edited by Nathan Bupp, we read Kurtz at his best. To read up on Kurtz’s many accomplishments see his Wikipedia page. Kurtz is presently the Chairman of The Institute for Science and Human Values. So you can imagine how I felt when my blurb for this book by a giant of a man was placed on the back cover, which reads:
With his pioneering spirit and relentless efforts Paul Kurtz has done more to advance a positive image for a secular society devoid of religion than any other person in our generation, and perhaps in history. In an era like ours of angry atheists he is a breath of fresh air. Eupraxsophy does matter if we want to change our world. This may be his most lasting contribution, so it’s wonderful to have all of these essays spanning his career together in one volume.
The key point of eupraxsophy “is the centrality of praxis or conduct; not philosophy, not the love of wisdom, but the practice of wisdom.” (pp. 351-52) Distancing himself from ethical emotivists like A.J. Ayer, atheist existentialists like Sartre, and postmodernists like Rorty, and sounding a great deal like Sam Harris in The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Valuesand Richard Carrier in The End of Christianitybefore them, Kurtz maintains “we can and should bring the best philosophical and ethical wisdom and scientific knowledge to deal with problems of practice,” (p. 340) that is, with living a meaningful and valuable life. Distancing himself from analytic philosophers he argues with Marx that the goal of philosophy is not just to understand the world but to also change it. And he says he has “devoted the lion’s share of my intellectual life to the application of philosophical analysis to concrete moral and social questions.” (p. 341) He describes himself as a “practitioner of pragmatism,” a “pragmatist’s pragmatist, testing pragmatism itself in pragmatic terms” as an “eupraxsopher.” (pp. 349-350) For as he argues, “It is simply not enough, and surely destructive, to destroy ancient beliefs and customs by negative criticisms…Because even if the existing beliefs are false or nonsensical, we surely need to fill the vacuum and to assuage the hunger for meaning, truth, and value: and we need to test new departures in ideals and practices not simply cognitively, but in terms of human needs, attitudes, and emotions. We need always to ask, what will take its place, and will this be experimentally viable,” (p. 350) and he does so in these fine essays.
Although my own goals have been destructive in debunking Christianity, Kurtz provides an essential component to what we need to do as atheists. And although I can be angry as an atheist from time to time, reading Kurtz is like a breath of fresh air that reminds me what is needed for the future atheist society I want to help build.
This book is a good read. Very highly recommended.