The Limits of Reason 1: The Council of Orange

Religion and philosophy

The border between religion and philosophy is often blurry. The philosopher Socrates claimed to be addressed by an inner daemon and to do its bidding. Socrates’ inner ‘daemon’ is both the voice of his conscience and an internal inspiration. Socrates’ philosophical mission came from a Delphic oracle, which told him to ‘know thyself’. There are lots of poetry and made-up stories about the gods in Plato, as if he were trying to invent a new religion. So the earliest Western philosophy sometimes invades what we might think is the territory of religion. In the East, Confucius speaks about the directions of ‘Heaven’ in a way that shows he believed he received divine revelation.

On the other side, some religions present themselves almost as if they were philosophies. For instance, Buddhism claims it is not a religion, because it is not dependent upon any revelation. Buddhism claims it is grounded on assertions which can be tested out in everyday life without recourse to revelation. You do not have to have faith to believe it; you simply need logic and the daily practice of Buddhism to be convinced of its rightness. Even some religions which claim to be based on a supernatural revelation, like Islam, simultaneously claim that one can be convinced of the truth of this religion by the evidence and by rational argument. Within Islam, ‘faith’ means absolute submission to the will of God. It does not refer to dependence on God’s own actions to be able to know the saving truth about God.

So, throughout the world, philosophy crosses over into religion, and religions commonly present themselves as ‘true philosophies’, albeit philosophies backed up by a divine revelation. It may be that religions are just philosophy ‘as a way of life’. Most philosophies begin and end as religions of some sort, and most religions are ‘life philosophies’ which sometimes add that they are backed up by divine revelation.

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