Maureen Junker-Kenny, "Self, Sociality and Sense: What Role for Religion in Concepts of Philosophical Ethics?"

May 7 2019

On Tuesday, May 7 2019, Maureen Junker-Kenny, who is professor at the Trinity College in Dublin and has made questions on Religion and Public space to one of the main topics of her work, gave a lecture entitled „Selbst, Sozialität und Sinn: Welcher Ort für Religion in Entwürfen der philosophischen Ethik?“ [engl. “Self, Sociality and Sense: What Role for Religion in Concepts of Philosophical Ethics?”]. The lecture was organised by the Department of Fundamental Theology and RaT and took place in course of the seminary for diploma and doctoral students of the Department.

The starting point of the lecture was the question how public space can be organised so that respectful and appreciative cohabitation are at least not made impossible. Prof. Junker-Kenny presented different concepts of social order and reflected on them also concerning the role religion can play within them. The first approach she talked about was the concept of an Aristotelian political order. This concept is based on ideas of natural justice and teleology – being zoon politikon, it lies in human’s nature to develop a legal order. In that context, the inner dimension of conscience is of major relevance. Here, also religious contexts can be integrated, but religion is not necessarily constitutive for this model of society.



As a second option, Prof. Junker-Kenny named concepts of contract theory. According to these, individuals enter a legal order due to rational reasons, for this order protects them and also offers a space of freedom, insofar as it is only necessary to behave according to the legal conditions and the individual’s inner attitude is not restricted by normative claims. In this concept, that comes up especially in modern age, religion has explicitly no relevance for the political sphere.

Subsequently, Prof. Junker-Kenny, taking into account considerations by Herta Nagl-Docekal, problematized this approach. If the inner conviction is of no relevance, one faces the danger of an erosion of the subject. Furtherly, the question of the influence of the individual’s religiosity on morality and behaviour stays underexposed. The problem that occurs is whether a mere logic of contract can hold society together.

The relevant question in this context is in how far public reason and religion can be related. Founding a society on contract theory, following the classical approach that is explicated in John Rawls “Theory of Justice”, means to abstract from one’s own cultural and religious background and to make impartial, rational and potentially universalised decisions starting from that. But in that course, not only the egoistic tendencies, that can come with the identification with a certain group, but also the resources that lay in the embedment in culture and religion, are suppressed.

To use these resources and, coming with that, not to reduce public reason to the search of a minimal consensus apart from all particularity could lead to a far higher commitment to common fundaments and goals compared to a mere rationally based agreement. For example, the justification of measures for climate protection does not have to lie in their utility for a society functional on the long run, but can take into account different motives – the responsibility for future generations as well as the preservation of god’s creation and the respect for the Indian goddess Pachamama. Condition for such an inclusion of particular motivations into universally valid legislation are, with Christina Traina and Jürgen Habermas, to preserve the freedom of interpretation and not to claim absolute primacy of the own religion and culture. Here, Prof. Junker-Kenny referred primarily to Paul Ricœur, who treats religions as cofounders of public space. In the end, the goal is to protect the individual’s inner freedom and subjectivity and to include them into the substantiation of a universal society.