Friday, February 14, 2014

What is Philosophy of Religion?

There are so many “philosophies-of-disciplines” that my wife, who does not share my love of philosophy, sarcastically asks if “there is a philosophy of toenail clipping.” However, philosophy of religion has been a stalwart and respectable sub-discipline of philosophy. There are philosophers who disagree—A. J. Ayer once replied to a philosopher who mentioned philosophy of religion, “Oh. . .I didn’t know there was any such thing.” Other than positivists such as Ayer, philosophers of all stripes, including atheists, agree that philosophy of religion is a legitimate field.
To answer the question of “What is philosophy of religion?” a person must have some definition of “philosophy” and “religion.” Now the definition of philosophy is itself a philosophical issue. Over the course of the history of philosophy some philosophers have focused on:
  • Philosophy as a way of life (Socrates, most of the ancient Greek philosophers)
  • Philosophy as developing a systematic view of reality as a whole (Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Whitehead)
  • Philosophy as developing an ideal language (the early Russell, the logical positivists)
  • Philosophy as focusing on ordinary language (the later Wittgenstein, Austin, Strawson)
  • Philosophy as a description of experience as a whole while “bracketing” issues of the reality behind that experience (Husserl)
  • Philosophy that focuses on the existing individual searching for meaning (Kierkegaard, Sartre, Camus, Marcel)
And I am sure the wise readers of this blog can think of many more. My own bias is toward the second view, that philosophy is the attempt, using reason and experience, to develop a metaphysics, a model of reality as a whole, of “being qua being.” It is interesting how philosophy, including analytic philosophy, returns to this view of philosophy as philosophers tire of debates over “What is a sentence?” “Is there a God?” is far more interesting.
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