Conequences of Naturalism


Here’s a great bit of dialogue from HBO’s new drama, True Detective, that aired this past weekend.   The principals, two Louisiana CID detectives, drive through a rundown Louisiana neighbourhood.

Reacting to the setting, Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) mutters, “There’s all kinds of ghettos in the world.”    (View video. Warning: there is some strong language)

His partner, Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) replies, “It’s all one ghetto, man, a giant gutter in outer space”  When pressed, he explains his philosophical perspective:

I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution.  We became too self-aware.  Nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself.  We are creatures that should not exist by natural law. . . .  We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self.  A secretion of sensory experience and feeling programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody.  When in fact, everybody is nobody. . . . I think the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming–stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction one last midnight, brothers and sisters, opting out of a raw deal.

Philosophical Pessimism

Cohle describes this worldview as philosophical pessimism.   It starts with naturalism, the belief that all is material and material is all there is.  According to naturalism, there is no God, nor anything one could call spirit.  There are also no transcendent ideals like The Good, The True and The Beautiful.  If you carry it a little further, there is no natural basis for identity, purpose or meaning.

Denial of God, need not be as bleak as this–one can still believe in friends and family.  One can still enjoy art and believe in the power of reason.  And fight for freedom and equality, and against poverty and oppression.  But I think Cohle would say that people who maintain this sort of optimism are avoiding the logical consequences of their naturalism.

Cohle does not smuggle Christian conceptions of human dignity and equality into his view of humanity, nor does he wrap his view of life in the warm blanket of meaning and purpose.  He accepts that without the transcendent, life is a tragic accident, it has no purpose or meaning and identity is an illusion.

I look forward to how this philosophy runs up against Hart’s very nominal Christianity as they investigate the actions of a serial killer.


  1. Dave Langbroek

    I have just come upon your blog web site and have spent a least a few hours yesterday afternoon reading most of your short but insightful narratives addressing a wide variety of social, moral and ethical issues.
    I sent texts to both my son and my daughter with your web address and told them to check it out. We have met before, although more in passing, when I was visiting Rob & Brenda.
    You may have taught my son in Grade 11 before we moved to Lacombe (Graham Langbroek). Well, keep your blogs coming Trent. I truly enjoy them.

    • Trent

      Hi Dave, Yes I recall meeting you in some context, and do hear about you from Rob and Brenda. I don’t think I taught Graham, but we may have crossed paths when I was teaching the lower grades and he was in grade 11. It’s very nice to hear that someone is reading, let alone enjoying my little musings. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Trent

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