What is Philosophy?
Most people know what religion is. For those who don’t go to church with their family, religion is an organized way of helping people to grow spiritually; that means mainly to help the good stay good, to help people improve – especially morally, and in terms of their awareness, and to help people to help each other better. Religion is usually also associated with beliefs: beliefs and methods.
Philosophy addresses many of the same core questions that religion does, and that science also does. Due to that, sometimes philosophy can be understood as being part of religion and part of science but other times it isn’t. For example: what is knowledge? and Is God real? If so, what is God like? are all normal philosophical questions.
Sometimes philosophy is viewed as conflicting with religion or with science. How do we know that scientific research methods are as good as or better than religious writings like The Bible? Are both just as good? Are social science case studies and legal witness testimonies any better, worse or as good as testimonies about God’s activities in The Bible and elsewhere? Are they scientific evidence? If so, then why do scientists sometimes complain about religious people or claim they are unscientific and superstitious?
There are also famous or infamous atheist philosophers, including David Hume and Friederich Nietzsche, and Bertrand Russell. They were able to write and to publish without being burned at the stake by other people and they were not struck down by God for not being believers. However, David Hume did not dare publish while he was alive because the Church was so powerful in his day and he was terrified of them.
Many theologians also study philosophy, and those who do not fear and hate it, in contrast refer to it as ‘the handmaiden of theology’.
Ethics is the philosophical term for morality when people try to talk about it as if it is not religion. Many theologians and others are comfortable dealing with morality as ethics. The types of problems that ethicists (moralists) deal with are often political; they require thinking about both the small and the large scales in life.
Here are a few examples:
1) At what point can a physician remove life support from an unconscious patient and not be breaking their Hippocratic Oath to protect and preserve life?
This one is clearly a medical question. Hence, hospitals are one place where ethicists often work, but as there are standards for the large scale, agreements about such matters turn into laws, regulations and public policies. As such, they are also political.
2) How many refugees can the country take in, in an emergency? To what extent does a nation’s right to protect itself and it’s own welfare override a moral obligation to help those in need – such as refugees? This is more obviously political, but is just as personal as the previous one. Clearly, this is not medical ethics.
Both of these questions can be looked at from a definitely religious perspective but may have to be faced by people who do not consider themselves to be religious or to even have a religion. Neither question has a quick, easy cut and dried answer.
People who consistently address these questions from a religious perspective are still doing moral philosophy or ethics. It is just that, this is also philosophy to those who take any other kind of approach to seeking good answers to the same kinds of problems.
When it is not
Philosophy is not always religion, and not everything in religion is philosophy.
When Socrates asked the young men at Plato’s parties if they knew what “justice” is, he was not trying to practice religion. When Aristotle chose to catalog animals while working for Alexander the Great he was not doing it as religion. Both were activities of philosophy.
Many religious activities are caused by the God-based philosophy (also known as theology), but the ritual of each religion is not philosophy itself. Many of the good works done, such as building schools and hospitals and feeding the hungry are likewise based in theology but are not philosophy itself.
Many businesses put together a paragraph or two about their company’s philosophy for employees and other customers. That is normally not considered to be religion.
Together and Separate
Philosophy and religion can be found together or treated separately. Real life is holistic of course, so there may be times when a categorical separation seems artificial but that’s okay. If you are used to one, but not the other rest assured that you can know both quite intimately. The better you know them, the less you will get confused about which is which.
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