- Introduction to a Symposium on Robert C. Neville’s Metaphysics of Goodness
in november of 2019, the Charles S. Peirce Society convened a session at the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting in San Diego, California. That session involved the presentation of papers by four panelists, each supplying comments on Robert Neville’s recently published (2019) book on the Metaphysics of Goodness, as well as Neville’s response. The papers collected in this issue of The Pluralist are all edited versions of the remarks presented in San Diego—in the case of Neville’s comments, significantly expanded and revised. Taken together, they represent what was—as affirmed by numerous persons who attended the session—an extraordinary conversation. I was responsible for organizing and convening the panel last year and am now delighted to be able to help bring this material to publication and to a wider audience, as well as to supply this introduction.
For colleagues and students who assumed that the completion of Neville’s three-volume magnum opus on Philosophical Theology, published between 2013 and 2015, represented the culmination and capstone of a long and distinguished career, the appearance of his Metaphysics of Goodness may have been something of a surprise. Since Neville recently retired from his position at Boston University, where he was a teacher and also an administrator for more than three decades, one might have expected a memoir, or the collections of sermons that have appeared in recent years, perhaps even a scholarly work intended to fine-tune some of the arguments that Neville has been developing systematically in thirty books and more than three hundred articles produced during the last half-century. But this book is something completely different, a significant extension and development of those arguments, and one of Neville’s more important contributions both to axiology and to metaphysical inquiry. [End Page 1]
I will make only the most modest attempt here to summarize the nature and purpose of the book. Before turning to its contents, however, I feel compelled to say something about its style. Neville’s writing is always rigorously clear, but this is not to suggest that one should characterize it as readily “accessible.” He has never shrunk from attacking the most serious metaphysical and theological questions about how the world was created, its most basic features, and how best to evaluate their significance. This book is no different from the rest in that respect. It is somewhat different, however, in terms of how its prose addresses the reader: its congenial, almost conversational tone. This is no accident, but intentional on Neville’s part, as he announces in the preface (Neville xxii) that he will abandon the third-person mode of discourse more typical of academic writing and of his previous publications.
The conversation that results is one in which Neville engages not only with his reader but also with himself. All meditation, Charles Peirce once suggested, consists in such conversation with oneself. At the risk of oversimplification (a terrifying risk, if taken in response to any book written by Neville!), the Metaphysics of Goodness can be described as an extended meditation on what occurs or might occur when family and friends gather together on a patio to watch a sunset. That meditation is guided by a specific goal, in this instance, the goal of determining what sort of goodness might be embodied in such a situation. As the readers of Neville’s other books have long come to expect, his wife Beth’s artwork graces the cover of this volume as it has in so many previous instances. Quite appropriately, the cover design is a lovely oil painting of a sunset as it might be viewed (and has been on many occasions) from the patio of their home in Milton, Massachusetts.
The sunset is beautiful as the painting portrays it, but beauty is just one kind of goodness to which Neville will give extended consideration as his argument unfolds. In advancing that argument, he will draw upon a diversity of intellectual resources: as always, American pragmatism (especially Peirce and Dewey), ancient classics from very different traditions (like Plato and Confucius), and the process thought of...