An examination and critique of John MacMurray's concept of community from the perspective of Christian ethics
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John Macmurray was a Scottish moral philosopher who wrote during the middle part of the twentieth century and was influenced but not dominated by many schools of philosophy such as personalism and empiricism. The main task of this study is to examine critically, Macmurray's concept of community and its importance for his understanding of religion, the self and Christian ethics. John Macmurray presented three modes of apperception, which are variously labelled, but are most commonly called the scientific, artistic and religious modes. Macmurray considered the first two modes to be negative or inadequate and the third mode, i.e. the religious mode, to be the only positive or adequate mode. The focal point of the mode of religions is the personal relations within the context of community. Macmurray substituted ‘I do’ from Descartes’ ‘I Think’ which introduced the assumption that action is primary and reflection is secondary. Macmurray argued that immediate experience is broken by reflection, but relection is necessary since it makes it possible to examine actions without ‘changing the world’. Macmurray held that the relation between the self an dthe orther within the community is seminal to all other activities and modes of relection. The relationships motivated by love an din terms of the other, i.e. personal relations, are the basic constituent of community as opposed to society which is motivated by fear and is based upon impersonal relationships. Macmurray asserted that the religious mode of apperception, i.e. the communal, is central to all human activity and reflection. MacMurray drew the well founded conclusion that man’s whole life is rooted in religious mode. This places religion in the sphere of every day experience, while dismissing the assumption that religion is confined to rare, subjective and particular experiences. Macmurray also pointed out that religion is beneficial to the community on the practical level, since it contributes to the community’s self-aware-approach to ethics, i.e. the scientific and artistic modes, as a basis for ethics and argued that the communal mode of apperception was the only adequate perception of ethics. The concept of community and its concomitant conceptions of fellowship and the personal ‘I-Thou’ relation are the foundation upon which Macmurray based his explanation and examination of the self, religion and ethics. Macmurray has placed the concept of community at the very centre of his definition and thinking about religion, the self and Christian ethics. However, I have argued that a completely communal or relational view does not represent adequately or explore fully the concepts of the self, religion and Christian ethics. I have argued that Macmurray's dependence upon the idea of community and his utilisation of the concept of community is threatened by a serious internal contradication within the concept of community, i.e. there are two opposing and irreconcilable elements, which are the exclusiveness of the 'I-Thou' relation as opposed to the all inclusive nature of the fellowship within the community. In my view the idea of community by itself is inadequate when used to explain completely and to define the self. Macmurray rejected the idea of the 'isolated-I' and only considered the self in terms of the 'I-Thou', i.e. in terms of its communal elements. However, the rejection of the 'isolated-I' means that only the instrumental valuation will be applicable, while the intrinsic, unique value of the individual, upon which the instrumental valuation is predicated, is overlooked. I would argue that Macmurray's emphasis upon the community implies that the community is the primary phenomenon, while reducing the individual to an epiphenomenon. I have argued that Macmurray's approach threatens to reduce religion to nothing more than a constituent of society, by overlooking the solitary aspects of religion, i.e. the individual straggle and quest. I have argued that a heterocentric, i.e. mainly communal, view of ethics is over-simplified and will lead to questionable conclusions. Heterocentrism presents problems since it threatens to become nothing more than altruism which may lead people to make incompatible and different decisions. Since the basic element in the communal mode of morality is the harmony of the community, one might only apply what may be described as the minimal interpretation of morality. I have argued that Macmurray's idea of community, when applied to ethics and in particular to Christian ethics, threatens to reduce Jesus' teachings about ethics to simply an anthropological study. There is an inherent danger in trying to understand God in anthropological terms, since one cannot fully understand the eternal in terms of the temporary. Macmurray has over-emphasised the love between neighbours and not given God's love its central mediating and modifying place in human relations. The theocentric approach cannot be totally defined heterocentrically. Macmurray's thought contained valuable insights and it should be carefully studied and' utilised. However, there is a danger in viewing things only in terms of community, since the community may well become the principle phenomenon to be investigated. One might say that Christian ethics and the Christian religion is not merely a matter of community, but that the community is an integral part of our understanding of both Christian ethics and the Christian religion.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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