Should we include the study of religions in the discipline of philosophy?

Someone said yes and this was her reason:

mythology
astrology and humanity’s spiritual relationship to the stars
the soul and God’s judgement on the soul
reincarnation
supernatural beings such as angels and demons
Plato wrote about all of those things.

Plato is particularly one of the worst examples one could have come up with to justify a position against my stance. If by that example she means that we have to study poetry, astrology, music, mathematics, mythology, reincarnation, demonology, the judgement day and the like because Plato has done so, then that’s not reasonable.

Also Plato is not a good role model either. Telling lies to keep people in line? I don’t think so.

As much as Plato is a giant in philosophy, he is not the measure of philosophy either if that’s what she had in mind. This is an argument from authority.

I asked her:

Certainly you are not suggesting, on the same grounds, that because Heidegger endorsed Nazism we must do the same, do you?

And that’s the essence of my argument against her objection.

The number and the position of the people who endorsed an idea do not make that idea true if it is not true. This shouldn’t be so difficult a notion to grasp.

The exclusion of studying religions in the philosophy discipline is not a pretext for limiting the freedom of expression. For example, there are many subjects that we ought not to teach our children in their schools. Not because we want to eliminate the freedom of expression or inquiry.

“The spirit of philosophy requires us to study absolutely everything,” I heard someone saying. That’s right. The “if” is not what I am arguing against; the “where” is. There are departments and there are departments. Certain sciences are not studied in the same departments that they used to be studied in. For example, we cannot go to a mathematics department and make them teach their students twenty credit-hours of chemistry and biology. Are mathematicians oppressing their opponents or students? I am sure that you find this notion less than satisfactory when you see it from this perspective (if not laughable).

As I said before, all kinds of discussions must be allowed to be had. But not everywhere. There is a community and there is a community. For the purpose of religious discussions, there are large communities out there with vibrant member-bases. For evangelism there are countless communities just on the Internet. For studying the philosophy of religion there are devoted communities. There are yet many other communities to study the history of religion. They are all great and they must be there. I am a member of a few of them too. But, it’s not quite clear to me if all communities need to discuss all discussable matters.

Someone suggested that religion has co-evolved with us and now is a part of our thoughts. This can be understood as a completely secular point of view and I also believe in it (not only because it’s secular, of course). However, there are many other things that have evolved with us (or in us) at the same time but we are not discussing them in a philosophy community. For example, we remove those commercial advertisements that some people post to our online forums or communities. Why do we do that? Isn’t it a fact that the behaviour of showing off yourself and your goods to get the attention of others to get benefit from that attention (i.e. advertising) something that co-evolved with humans? Yes it is. But we do not like them in most forums. How about someone who keeps posting things about sports in a food recipe forum? The same thing. Then, are we suppressing ideas or oppressing people? This notion sounds quite absurd to me.

By excluding wasteful and pointless religious discussions from a philosophy department or a philosophy forum no one wants to limit anyone’s ability to express themselves. Each department should do its own job.

I do not deny the enormous effect (usually negative and hindering) that religions and religious thoughts and reasoning have had on the evolution of our thoughts. We all have read The History of Philosophy course-books and some of us even taught it in colleges and schools.

Religion have been given enough stage time and talking opportunities to express itself. The problem is that it always wants more.

The name of the period of time in human history when we allowed religions to run the show is “Dark Ages.” We have given it its fair share of time and attention to say what it meant and how it meant to say it. Now, it’s not as relevant any more.

On the one hand, had our concerned been focused on the anthropology discipline, we could have argued that we are observing the behaviour of the past and the present humans to learn about them and one part of what they do is they become religious for whatever reason. Then, the challenge was not going to be determining if the religions that attach themselves to humans have any true or false foundations. At least it was not going to be our primary concern. But the main point would have been to get as good a snapshot of the human ecosystems as possible. And religions could and would enter the picture then.

Philosophy, on the other hand, does not necessarily concern itself with what appears to most people to be the true god. It does not care about what will happen if it turns out that the term “god” is not even properly defined. When it discovers that such a term has not been successfully defined in a coherent and consistent manner yet, and when it discovers that such notions attached to such hypothetical, undefined entities are logically contradictory, then the whole file is closed. It’s not that we suddenly know everything about everything. It’s that we suddenly know that we have never known anything about a vague, undefined, and undefinable notions that is usually referred to as “god.” We suddenly discover that when that term, that’s suggested by many to mean something, is defined in clear terms, it becomes contradictory, and when it’s not contradictory, it becomes an empty place-holder. That’s an admission to ignorance not to knowledge.

Some readers might overlook this big discovery and might not actually pay the due attention to its implications. That’s completely fine and legitimate. There is no one to blame in here. However, the burden of education (i.e. realizing this ignorance) is on them, not on those who have already discovered the ignorance.

The same is true with those who still believe in the evil-spirit theory of diseases. We have moved on since that time. We have learned a lot since the last time we used to believe in that hypothesis. That’s not taught in our schools any more. Not because anyone wants to oppress his or her opponents. It just happened that such a hypothesis is discovered to be false and not worthy of the time and attention of medical students.

It is true that the evil-spirit theory of diseases was once a popular hypothesis. Not any more. We are all free to talk about it, to adore it, to advocate it, to learn it, to raise monuments to it and to think of it as a sacred notion. But not in a medical school. At least not for long.

 

Please cite this article as: Bright, Eric. (2013) Should we include the study of religions in the discipline of philosophy?. BlogSophy. http://sophy.ca/blog/2013/11/should-we-include-the-study-of-religions-in-the-discipline-of-philosophy/
Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...