When is a question about religion philosophical?

Tamooo asked:

I was wondering, do you only answer questions about philosophy? or can anyone submit some questions about religion as well.

Answer by Shaun Williamson

You can submit questions about anything. The people who answer questions here have qualifications in philosophy, they may not be religious or have any interest in religion. However philosophers often have wide ranging interests in other subjects. It all depends upon the question. If no-one feels qualified to answer your question then you won’t get an answer.


Answer by Geoffrey Klempner

Questions about anything under the sun can also be questions about philosophy. It depends on how you pose the question. Questions about physics, art, sport, the media, politics have all appeared in these pages. As have many questions about religion.

But when is a question about religion philosophical? It’s not enough to say that some question about religion has aspects which could be debated by philosophers. Most do, in some way or other. But that doesn’t make them philosophical. A question can have a religious or philosophical interest or point. I maintain that this point or interest can never really coincide in the case of religion and philosophy.

I don’t care for religion. As an atheist, I am expressing a personal taste. But there are plenty of religious people (including some who contribute to these pages) who are gripped by philosophy, sufficiently to ask questions in a philosophical rather than a religious spirit. About religion, we can agree to disagree, while finding plenty to discuss concerning the mind-body problem, or the nature of truth, or the basis of ethics, or the nature of knowledge, etc.

To ask a religious question, or to ask a question in a religious spirit, is always something more than merely seeking the truth. Contemporary theologians will argue that they have got past the ‘naive’ literal belief in a Heaven or Hell, but there remains an interest in eschatology in the widest sense. By conducting certain practices, or living your life in a particular way, or holding certain beliefs, there is the chance, the hope, of ‘salvation’.

You will find this religious element in other areas too, like psychology (e.g. Freudian psychoanalysis) or political thought (e.g. revolutionary Marxism).

Philosophers don’t seek salvation. There is no reward for knowing the truth, other than the pleasure of a successful hunt. Curiosity and wonder are the motivations of the true philosopher. And as the story of the deceased cat reminds us, there is no telling where curiosity will lead.


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