Religion, Philosophy of
RELIGION, PHILOSOPHY OF
The title of courses taught mainly in non-Catholic colleges and universities, dealing with a variety of topics ranging from the history, sociology, and psychology of religion to problems in epistemology and metaphysics; also, in modern schools of philosophy since the time of Kant, commonly regarded as a branch of philosophy concerned with a critical evaluation and analysis of religion. This article presents a historical survey of the thought of modern philosophers on the subject of religion, and then gives a systematic analysis of the meaning of "philosophy of religion" when used to designate a category of knowledge.
Immanuel kant (1724–1804), influenced by the enlightenment and by D. hume, rejected traditional metaphysics and natural theology as transcending the proper limits of human reason. For traditional metaphysics Kant substituted a metaphysics based on the moral law that exists in the minds of all people. Man's awareness of the moral law and his duties under it enable him to postulate the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. Thus religion is based on an autonomous ethics; religious faith is a trust in the promises of the moral law. Kant was more or less indifferent to other aspects of religion, e.g., religious practices and dogmas, except as they could be brought within the limits of practical reason and subordinated to ethics. Mysticism received little sympathy, since for him the divine presence exists only in man's awareness of his freedom and obligations under the moral law.
Post-Kantian Idealism. Following Kant, J. G. fich te (1762–1814) also associated religion closely with ethics. Religious faith is faith in a moral order and obedience to the moral law. In The Vocation of Man (1800), Fichte identified the moral world order with the Absolute as infinite will and reason. The religious man is aware that the divine life exists within him; his true and moral vocation is a love for the divine rather than for the finite and sensible. As infinite, God lacks personality—for personality implies finitude. Traditional theism is rejected for a kind of ambiguous pantheism. The more significant contribution of Fichte is his ethical idealism.
F. schelling (1775–1854), although a disciple of Fichte, argued in his Philosophy and Religion (1804) for a personal God revealed to the individual consciousness. Creation was regarded as a kind of cosmic fall away from the Absolute. The end of creation is the historical triumph of good over evil. In history Schelling found an empirical confirmation of a religious philosophy. God reveals himself to man in the history and development of the religious consciousness. Christianity is the culmination of historical religion and mythology, for the truth and aim of mythology is revelation, especially as known through Christ.
F. D. E. schleiermacher (1768–1834), a Protestant clergyman and theologian, separated religion radically from ethics and metaphysics. He held that the essence of religion and the basis of faith lies in a feeling of dependence. The intellectual element is not entirely excluded, for it is the function of philosophical theology to conceptualize the religious side of self-consciousness. God transcends human concepts, however, and religion remains fundamentally a matter of the heart rather than of the understanding. As a liberal theologian, Schleiermacher considered theology to be more symbolical than doctrinal.
G. W. F. hegel (1770–1831) set forth his basic religious ideas in the Phenomenology (1807) and the Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion (1832). God, the Absolute, is identified with Spirit or Reason. Religion is one form of knowing the Absolute, and in the dialectic it passes through three principal stages: natural religion, artistic religion, and revealed or spiritual religion. To these correspond the religions of the Orient, of Greece and Rome, and of Christianity. Although it is the highest form of religion, Christianity is not absolute truth. Philosophy is a higher manifestation than religion in the dialectical development of the Absolute. Religion is thus subordinated to philosophy. Both philosophy and religion are concerned with God, but the concern is expressed differently—philosophy is a manifestation of reason, whereas religion is a manifestation of the religious consciousness through faith and love.
Later Development. Later idealism is represented principally by John Caird (1820–98), a British philosopher, and Josiah royce (1885–1916), an American philosopher. Caird declared that the primary concern of religion is with objects of devotion and spiritual enjoyment, while philosophy's aim is intellectual knowledge. Religious knowledge is concerned with revelation and authority; beyond the competence of reason it is identified with feeling and faith. In The Religious Aspect of Philosophy (1885) Royce distinguishes between the theological and the ethical. The former is a theory of faith that requires a critical and even a skeptical approach. The latter has for its objective a morality of harmony that requires only the Biblical precept "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." The justification of religion as an ethical idealism led Royce to develop a system of absolute idealism in which the partial finite self finds the fulfillment of its experience in an Absolute Experience, identified with God as Absolute Person and Infinite Self. The impact of idealism on American philosophies of religion is apparent also in the work of such men as W. E. Hocking (1873–1966) and W. M. Urban (1873–1952).
Personalism. The personalist movement represents a modification of absolute idealism. Originating with G.H. Howison (1834–1916), it has been represented by such philosophers as Borden P. Bowne (1847–1910), E.S. brightman (1884–1953), and Ralph Flewelling (1871–1960). Its principal characteristics are a spiritual pluralism, an emphasis upon God and finite individuals as persons, and the notion of a finite theology and its implications for the problem of evil (see personalism).
Materialism. L. A. feuerbach (1804–72), a materialist and leader of left-wing hegelianism, argued in the Essence of Christianity (1841) that religion is an illusion, a dream of the human mind. God is no more than the attributes man finds in himself and hence the proper worship of man is man. This form of religious humanism had considerable influence on Karl marx.
Positivism. Auguste comte (1798–1857), the founder of positivism, held that human knowledge passes through three stages: the theological, the metaphysical, and the scientific or positive. Truth and certitude are attained only in the last stage, where the religion of humanity is conceived as replacing the worship of God in the first stage. Humanity is the sum total of all dead, living or future beings who in one way or another have worked for the progress and happiness of man. Positivist dogmas, religious rites, and even a religious calendar were worked out by Comte for this worship of humanity.
Phenomenology. phenomenology is largely a method for describing the experiences or data of con sciousness. It was employed in philosophy by Edmund husserl, and its expression in the philosophy of religion has been well represented by Rudolph otto (1869–1937), and Max scheler (1874–1928). In the Idea of the Holy (1917), Otto argues in Kantian fashion that the holy is an a priori category. It is impressed upon the religious consciousness and makes possible a religious interpretation of experience. Such an experience is characterized by a numinous feeling, an emotional state leading to an intuition of the manifestations of eternity. The numinous also signifies the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, the Wholly Other, the feeling of awe and fear contributing the promise of an exaltation similar to the experiences of the mystics.
Scheler's phenomenology is directed to the affective life of man, to the a priori structure of feelings. As the basis of feelings, values are arranged hierarchically from the sensible, vital, and spiritual to the religious values that include the holy and the unholy. The notion of religious value is further developed in On the Eternal in Man (1921), where it is brought out that man as a person transcends nature and his religious experience is perfected in God as the source of love. Moral values constitute, for Scheler as for St. Augustine, the ordering of human love to the highest values.
Existentialism. S. A. kierkegaard (1813–55), the father of modern existentialism, sought to replace the Absolute of Hegel with the existential reality of the individual. Existence is prior to essence; truth is subjective and to be achieved in the inner experience of the individual rather than by reason and objective knowledge. Faith is the encounter of the existing individual with God. Faith is a venture and a risk for the individual rather than a doctrine. The truth of Christianity is not to be found in theoretical knowledge or in argumentation, but is something to be appropriated in the passionate inwardness of the individual.
Martin Buber (1878–1965) argues in his Eclipse of God (1953) that religion is based on the "I-Thou" relationship whereas philosophy is based on the "I-It" relationship. Religious faith begins with the "fear of God," with the dread uncertainty man has of his existence. Through faith man establishes an existential relationship with God, an "I-Thou" relationship in which he can meet with God as a Person. The philosophical relationship is wholly objective and can result only in the eclipse of God.
Pragmatism. William james (1842–1910) rejected any intellectual approach to religion. The truth of religious beliefs rests for him upon the values they contribute to humanity's concrete everyday experience. Religious ideas are true if they make human lives more meaningful. In The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), James held that there is an empirical confirmation of religious experience and ideas. He himself believed that deity is finite and can only be considered as a "something" greater than man.
Henri bergson (1859–1941) has been termed an "intuitional pragmatist." He claimed that God is a creative life force that one may intuit within his experience. In Two Sources of Morality and Religion (1932), he declared there is a closed religion, that of myth and ritual, which is static and defensive; contrasted to it is the open or dynamic religion, the religion of the mystic whose religious genius leads him to an intuitive grasp of God and effects the union of the soul with God.
Maurice blondel (1861–1949), although associated with modernism, remained a loyal Catholic. In his philosophy of action he developed a dialectic that necessitated the supernatural. God is both immanent and transcendent, but man can bridge the gap between the natural and the supernatural through God's grace and His action toward man. Only in action that is not mere will but the whole of man's activity can God be affirmed and attained by the individual. It is action that gives reality to the intellectual arguments for God's existence and to any understanding of God.
American Naturalism. George santayana (1863–1952) maintained that the supernatural is merely an extension of the natural. Nature is materialistic and mechanistic and religion is merely "human experience interpreted by human imagination." Religious beliefs are not to be taken literally; they belong to the sphere of poetry and their function is to express human moral ideals in mythical and poetical images. God is only a symbol for human ideals.
A. N. whitehead (1861–1947), an "idealistic naturalist," maintained that God has both a primordial and a consequent nature. By the former He knows the eternal objects that serve to mediate between Himself and the world. God is neither infinite nor omnipotent; He is the final but not efficient cause of all things. In his consequent nature, God is immanent in, and develops with, the world. God as a principle of concretion overcomes the Platonic dualism in the metaphysics of Whitehead; involved in becoming and the struggle to overcome evil, God is "the great companion, the fellow sufferer who understands."
John Dewey (1859–1952) rejected the supernatural completely and was extremely critical of traditional religion. His book, A Common Faith (1934), is essentially a plea for a divine reality as a symbol representative of all human ideals. The function of religious faith is that of unifying men in the pursuit of the highest ideals.
Charles hartshorne (1897–2000) was both a disciple of Whitehead and an original thinker. He rejected any conception of "Other-Worldliness" and claimed that God must be found within the world process; here He realizes and perfects His unchanging essence within the context of a developing experience. This relationship of God with the world is described as a panentheism. Religious humanism is rejected; Hartshorne argued that a true humanism must be based on a recognition of God and an awareness of God's love and His total involvement with His creatures.
What kind of knowledge the "philosophy of religion" may be depends in part upon the meaning of "philosophy of." Through analysis, possible meanings are here considered in order to discover whether the philosophy of religion can be identified with one of them.
Possible Meanings. In the "philosophy of X " the reference may be to X as a kind of being. It is in this sense that one speaks of the philosophy of nature or the philosophy of history. In this case there is a kind of knowledge that is a synthesis of two other kinds of knowledge, one of which is an ontological discipline, e.g., metaphysics or theology based upon revelation. If the reasoning by which a proposition of the philosophy of nature is obtained may be thought of as the conclusion of a syllogism, then the minor premise would be a proposition of the natural sciences and the major premise would be a philosophical (or metaphysical) proposition. Evidently the philosophy of religion is not this kind of knowledge, for the term religion refers to neither being nor existence.
The "philosophy of X " may refer to knowledge about a kind of knowledge. Reference may be to a group of philosophical disciplines, the group being defined in terms of the relevance of philosophical principles to some other kind of knowledge. An instance of this would be the "philosophy of science." In this case the X refers to the kind of knowledge known as positive science. The term philosophy refers to the logical, epistemological, and metaphysical principles that are implied by, or presupposed to, the positive sciences. It is evident that the philosophy of religion cannot be identified with this meaning.
In the "philosophy of X " the X may refer to a kind of human activity, and philosophy then has reference to the philosophical principles that function normatively or regulatively for this kind of activity. The "philosophy of education" would be an example of this kind of meaning. Education is not a kind of knowledge, but rather a kind of human activity. The philosophy of religion can hardly be identified with this meaning, for what usually goes under that name pretends to be at least concerned with the existential. Furthermore, religion is not to be associated with human activity in the sense that education is.
Natural Theology. The conclusion thus far would seem to be that the philosophy of religion must be, and yet cannot be, identified with any one of the three aforementioned meanings. A solution might be suggested by reconsidering the first meaning, in which case the X is existential. If so, then the philosophy of religion becomes identical with the "philosophy of God," which in turn means what has been called "natural theology." However, certain difficulties attend this interpretation. A systematic analysis of the meaning of the philosophy of religion can neither be arbitrary nor completely nonhistorical. Depending upon the possible relations of faith and reason to each other, there have been three interpretations of the meaning of natural theology.
(1) After the Reformation some Protestants considered natural theology to be the kind of knowledge about the finite, natural world that could be secured as the result of a deduction from the teachings of revelation. In this case natural theology was neither an autonomous subject nor one that was a synthesis of other kinds of knowledge. It was really a name for an aspect of the theology of revelation. The philosophy of religion can hardly be identified with this movement of thought.
(2) Stemming from the realistic theism of St. thomas aquinas is the view of natural theology as a relatively autonomous discipline on the level of reason, but presupposing revelation and open to suggestions from it (see the ology, natural; christian philosophy). In this view natural theology is the completion of metaphysics, yet in content dependent wholly upon human reason. Natural theology, in this meaning of the phrase, is a kind of knowledge about being, namely, God. If the philosophy of religion is identified with this meaning, then it becomes merely a synonym. However, it would be at least historically inaccurate to make the philosophy of religion synonymous with natural theology. Moreover, it would be an easy way of escaping the problem at hand.
(3) Natural theology may also be considered not only to be autonomous, but also to be a substitute for theology based upon revelation. Such it was for deism, sometimes called the "religion of reason." However, this product of the Enlightenment was itself ambiguous and took two forms, the one Kantian and the other pre-Kantian. In the pre-Kantian form the argument was not from a metaphysical analysis of finite things to God, but rather from a false analogical view of the physical world to God. This view of the religion of reason tended to be unstable and negative. Its chief value seems to have been that of a weapon against the Church, a kind of anticlericalism.
Religion of Reason. In the Kantian form the religion of reason became a kind of agnosticism and skepticism. Certainly the religion of reason in terms of Kant's Die Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der blossen Vernunft is not a kind of knowledge. In fact, neither of these forms of the religion of reason is compatible with the notion of natural theology. This was later demonstrated in the development of religious thought, although one could have known on rational grounds alone that the denial of a theology based upon revelation would ultimately lead to a denial of any kind of theology at all.
The conclusion would now seem to be that the philosophy of religion cannot be identified with any movement of thought before Kant, nor even with kantianism itself. Even the expression "philosophy of religion" itself came into being after the age of Kant, and hence can be understood only in terms of the kind of idealism that is based upon the philosophy of Kant.
There were two main constituents in the Kantian revolution. In the first place, there was a blurring over of the distinction between making and knowing. A real world was still assumed by Kant, but it cannot be known. The phenomenal world can be known—but only because, in the process of knowing it, man helps to make it. In the second place, metaphysics in any realistic sense was eliminated once and for all as impossible. In terms of strict Kantianism there could be no place for the philosophy of religion, which is not possible unless acceptance of metaphysics is possible. The same can be said for all of the post-Kantian movements of a positivistic nature that were current throughout the 19th century.
However, the matter was somewhat different with the development of post-Kantian idealism of the Hegelian kind. No longer was reason considered to be "pure," because in a sense it helps to fashion its own content; in fact, it helps to make the world. In the second place, one has a clear view of the meaning of the priority of reason over faith—a clear view in the sense that there was a consistency in the Hegelian thesis that enabled it to avoid the instability of the pre-Kantian position. Also, one can find a clear meaning of the philosophy of religion. For Hegel the philosophy of religion investigates the process of the Absolute. If so, the question may now be asked whether the philosophy of religion is a kind of knowledge. The language remains the same, but the concepts were radically changed. Two instances may be cited.
(1) If reason helps to make the world, rather than to discover truths about it, then the meaning of revelation, as the object of faith, could hardly find a place in the new idealistic system. And equally incompatible would be the traditional theistic conception of God.
(2) Implicit, and often explicit, in the new idealism was the notion of man and God cooperating in making the world. Because of the use of the word "idealism," it is sometimes forgotten that this idea was essentially new. The philosophy of leibniz is called "idealistic," but this label is accurate only as regards the "stuff" of reality. Leibniz did not break down the distinction between making and knowing. The same can be said for the old idealisms in the Orient. Even classical Hinduism was relatively realistic. With respect to being, knowing, and making, Oriental idealism can accurately be called a "religious philosophy," but not "a philosophy of religion" in the Hegelian sense.
An Ideological Substitute. The conclusion must be drawn that, insofar as the expression "philosophy of religion" is to have any reference at all, it is as the post-Kantian idealistic substitute for natural theology in pre-Kantian realism. If this is what the philosophy of religion is, then it is not a kind of knowledge—unless one is prepared, in the name of Hegelian idealism, to repudiate all past philosophy. This may seem to be an exaggeration. However, Hegelianism, just as much as the later philosophy of Feuerbach and Marx, was the ultimate philosophy to deny philosophy. Philosophy is unique among all the disciplines in that only it can deny itself. Nevertheless a "metaphysics" that denies the possibility of metaphysics cannot, without pure equivocation, be called by the same name. Hence, it is not the case that the Judaic-Christian God and the Absolute are merely different conceptions of the same referent. Rather, they are radically different in conception because they do not refer to the same "thing."
The Kantian revolution, however, requires a similar inversion in the meaning of other terms, e.g., reason, revelation, philosophy, theology, logic, nature, essence, and existence. Hence, it is not at all an arbitrary act to designate the philosophy of the 19th century by some new term, as Henry Aiken has done when he calls the 19th century the "Age of Ideology." A more accurate statement, then, as to what the philosophy of religion is would be to say that it is an ideological substitute for a natural theology—understanding, of course, the universe of discourse which is that of idealistic Weltanschauungen. The "philosophy of religion," then, became an expression reflecting a contradiction: it was presumably a category in the order of knowing, and yet it did not refer to any kind of systematic knowledge. A kind of knowledge is open-ended and developing, and is that to which various thinkers make contributions. Idealistic Weltanschauungen, on the contrary, are closed and final and confined to the individual "systems" of the thinkers. As such, ideologies can be compared only by way of similarities, or studied developmentally by ways of showing, in a literary fashion, the various personal influences. In this case the history of philosophy becomes the "history of ideas."
Curricular Category. With the decline of Hegelian idealism and realistic Protestant theologies, and with the concomitant rise of liberal Protestantism, secularism, and government-owned schools, the expression "philosophy of religion" has taken on a quite different meaning in the 20th century. It has often become a category of "the order of teaching and learning." All curricular categories are of this order. They are institutional categories, and as such they may or may not refer to any kind of knowledge.
See Also: religion; religion, sociology of.
Bibliography: f. c. copleston, History of Philosophy v.6, Wolff to Kant (Westminster, Md. 1960); v.7, Fichte to Nietzsche (Westminster, Md. 1963). g. graneris, Enciclopedia filosofica (Venice-Rome 1957) 4:43–59. j. b. metz, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, (2d new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 8:1190–93. n. h. so/e and w. trillhaas, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (3d ed. Tübingen 1957–65) 5:1010–21. j. a. mourant, ed., Readings in the Philosophy of Religion (New York 1954). w. o. martin, The Order and Integration of Knowledge (Ann Arbor 1957); Metaphysics and Ideology (Milwaukee 1959). j. macquarrie, Twentieth Century Religious Thought (New York 1963).
[w. o. martin]
"Religion, Philosophy of." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 12, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/religion-philosophy
"Religion, Philosophy of." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 12, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/religion-philosophy
Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).
Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.
Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
- Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
- In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.