Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What is the difference?

Philosophy and religion have often been viewed in the same light despite their obvious differences.

How obvious? Well... lets find out. Perhaps they are not as obvious as one initially thinks.

First, lets turn to the definition of the words themselves. For that, let us turn to our old friend Merriam-Webster.

1 a (1): all learning exclusive of technical precepts and practical arts (2): the sciences and liberal arts exclusive of medicine, law, and theology philosophy> (3): the 4-year college course of a major seminary b (1)archaic : physical science (2): ethics c: a discipline comprising as its core logic, aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology2 a: pursuit of wisdom b: a search for a general understanding of values and reality by chiefly speculative rather than observational means c: an analysis of the grounds of and concepts expressing fundamental beliefs3 a: a system of philosophical concepts b: a theory underlying or regarding a sphere of activity or thought philosophy of war>4 a: the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group b: calmness of temper and judgment befitting a philosopher

Phew, what a mouthful. Oh well, we can pare that down in a moment into something more useful.

But first, religion

1 a: the state of a religious religion> b (1): the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2): commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance2: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices3archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness4: a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

Again, we can pair this down to something more useful.

After reading over both of these definitions, I think that a functional summary of philosophy would be contained in definition 1 a(1) and 2 a. For religion I think that 1b(1) and 4 will sum up the majority of what people think of when they think of religion.

Right off the bat philosophy and religion diverge in that religion focuses on belief and the supernatural, where as philosophy is focused more on the pursuit of knowledge in either a technical or empirical manner.

This makes sense when put into the context of the origins of the two. The early philosophers are what we base our education systems on. They made observations and then contested one another through jousts of logic until one philosopher conceded their point on the grounds that the other one had more proof. This is where we get the beginnings our the scientific method as well as a lot of our Western abstraction.

Religion, on the other hand, deals more with the intangible and the unprovable. It relies on faith for its explanations and less on the observable or testable.

So why do so many say they are interchangeable?

I think that it boils down to that both are a system of thought centered on acquiring explanations in regard to the world we live in. Each has steps and questions that can be asked.

But once again we come to a divide. One, religion, starts with the answer and then people ask questions of that and observe the outcomes. Philosophy, and by proxy it derivatives, start with the observations and then ask questions from that to see what answers they can come with to explain the original observations.

So, the next time you find yourself pondering this scenario or faced with it directly, hopefully my discussion of it will help in some way. If not, then by all means seek elsewhere, for this is an age where many answers and thoughts lay at the tips of your fingers.

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