The Soul of the World, by Roger Scruton

Philosopher Thomas Nagel has pointed out that a complete scientific description of the world would identify all the objects, forces, and laws of motion but fail to address one important question: Where am I in that world? Roger Scruton cites Nagel with approval, and his point is the basic theme of The Soul of the World: “Science cannot tell who I am, let alone where, when, or how.”

The book is based on the Stanton Lectures that Scruton delivered to the faculty of divinity at the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge in 2011. The location is worth noting. Cambridge philosophy has been haunted for years by Ludwig Wittgen­stein, a specter not uncongenial to Scru­ton’s own style of philosophy: Scruton’s presentation is marked by allegiance to Wittgenstein’s espousal of “ordinary language.” Because lectures on divinity easily fall into insoluble profundities, this ordinary-language take on traditional issues is refreshing.

Nagel considers the question of how we use the words I and you. I address you, I implore you, I promise you: these are basic moves in any dialogue of moral responsibility. In the language of science, addressing, imploring, and promising are nonstarters. But I-you moral dialogue is not rooted in science.