The Soul of the World – Sir Roger Scruton

Princeton University Press 2014, 205 pp., $xx, p/b. This beautifully written book, based on the Stanton Lectures delivered in Cambridge, asks what is left of our spiritual and aesthetic aspirations in the light of scientific naturalism. The author defends the reality of the sacred and the transcendent that cannot be understood through the lens of science. In this respect, he puts forward what he calls a cognitive dualism where we as humans live in two worlds: the naturalistic world of science (Welt) and the inner Lebenswelt, which allows us access to an interpersonal form of reality that is irreducible. For Scruton, religion is not simply about ritual and doctrine, but rather a sense of real and lived presence. This is also the area of the covenant as opposed to the functional and impersonal contract.

Drawing easily on a wide range of sources, he argues that ‘the overreaching intentionality of interpersonal responses presents us with meanings that transcend the domain of any natural science.’ His argument is at its most poignant when he discusses our experience of music. Music takes place in the space, with its own intentionality and language, which illustrates from Beethoven, Bach and Rachmaninov. Given the subtlety of his mind, I was surprised to read his assertion that we have no evidence of survival of consciousness beyond death (p. 186). Here, he could have applied his own cognitive dualism by admitting on the one hand that death is the dissolution of the physical body, while on the other that some form of inner life might continue; even so, he does hint at such a possibility that in surrendering the gift of life, we may find ourselves in transition ‘to the place whence we emerged’ and might hope to be welcomed there.


The soul of the world