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Philosophy of Religion

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Philosophy of religion has grown considerably since the 1970s to become one of the largest fields within the arena of philosophy. Philosophy of religion explores philosophical issues that arise from reflection on the nature and truth of religious belief and the meaning of religious practices. If the field is defined broadly enough, the history of philosophy of science is as old as philosophy as branch of study itself. This fact is sufficient enough to illustrate the importance that philosophy of religion has commanded in sphere of philosophy. The field includes philosophical arguments for and against belief in a creator of the cosmos, accounts of the meaning of religious language and faith, comparative treatments of the Divine, the ethical implications of religious commitments, the relation between faith, reason, experience and tradition, concepts of the miracles, the afterlife, the sacred revelation, mysticism, prayer, salvation and various other religious concerns.

Analyzing the previous work by philosophers on religion one can easily find integral relation of philosophy of religion to epistemology metaphysics, ethics, the philosophy of mind and to other areas. The popularity of the philosophy of religion with various scholars, academicians, researchers and philosophers can be in attributed part to increased awareness of the diversity of religious traditions and communities. It is therefore quite natural for many to employ the tools of philosophy in their investigation and assessment of different religious and secular values. Another reason for growing interest in the field recently is the retreat of a restrictive, empirical theory of meaning and evidence called logical positivism (sometimes referred to as ‘verificationism’).

Logical positivists held a belief that much of traditional metaphysics, including the belief about the existence of God, is incapable of evidential testing and therefore meaningless. Empiricist principle that for a propositional claim to be meaningful it must either be about the visible formal relations between ideas such as those enshrined in mathematics and analytic definitions ,or there must in principle be perceptual experience providing evidence of whether the claim is true or false. Therefore, metaphysical claims like ‘The Absolute is outside of time’ and ‘There are Platonic properties’ are thereby deemed as nonsense by them. In line with this form of logical positivism, A. J. Ayer and other philosophers claimed that religious beliefs were meaningless. According to empiricist, the idea of god held by believers as Gardener of world, is not just invisible but who cannot be detected by any sensory faculty hence the notion of God seemed nonsense for them.

The term ‘evidence’ which is base for most of the claims of empiricist is derived from the Latin ex videre meaning ‘from seeing’ and, according to some philosophers today, it is less than obvious that a secular way of seeing reality should receive any prior evidential privilege over a religious way of seeing reality. This more free-wheeling, contextualized treatment of evidence has led some philosophers to do their work from within different religious traditions.

However, the charge that positivism is itself meaningless has been supported by some philosophers on the grounds that the empiricist criterion of meaning itself does not seem to involve the formal relation between ideas as with tautologies, nor does it appear to be empirically verifiable for example physical strata of the cosmos cannot be observed directly or indirectly but only inferred as part of an overriding scientific theory, mental states of other persons, which can be reliably judged, but which are underdetermined by external, public observation etc. Therefore, if the principle of positivism and constructivism is tightened up too far, it seems to threaten various propositions that appear to be highly respectable, such as scientific claims about physical processes and events that are not publicly perceptible. Hence, this fact gives strength to the argument of religious believers for whom talk of ‘God’ is at the center stage of meaningful discourse and for them the use of the principle of empirical verification will seem arbitrary and question-begging.

The rigid empiricist account of meaning can be charged as meaningless on the grounds that there is no coherent, clear, basic level of experience with which to test propositional claims. The experiential ‘given’ is simply too malleable, often reflecting prior conceptual judgements and, once one appreciates the open-textured character of experience, it may be proposed that virtually any experience can verify or provide some evidence for anything. A mystic might well claim to experience the unity of a timeless spirit everywhere present.

As the principle and foundation of verifications was questioned, the philosophy of religion revived once again and came to include highly speculative accounts of God’s nature, power, knowledge and goodness. In addition, it also paved way to interpret the cross-cultural philosophy of religion (comparing religious conceptions of the self, the afterlife, the experience of the Divine and Nirvana) in ways that would have seemed entirely unworthy of attention earlier. Another factor shaping contemporary philosophy of religion and also contributing to its growth has been the belief that philosophy need not be practiced in a strictly uniform fashion, with common starting assumptions and methodology.

Religious Beliefs and Religious Forms of Life

One of the way to begin the philosophical exploration of religion can be to outline the various metaphysical claims about the cosmos and God, to check the claims with reference to standard moves in metaphysics and then to examine the claims in terms of epistemology and ethics. Theism, is the view that the cosmos is created and kept in existence byan omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, supremely good being. Some self-described ‘theists’ claim that God is almighty and very powerful without being omnipotent. Pantheism is the viewthat all is God, while Panentheism occupies a position midway between theism and pantheism. For panentheists, it is not strictly true that everything is God, yet everything is lodged or embedded within God, making the two interdependent. Thus, metaphysical approach to religion allows for the relatively neat division between various forms of belief in the Divine as distinct from atheism and agnosticism by allowing us to interpret the beliefs as it is.

However, there are three difficulties when analyzing religion from philosophical perspective. Firstly, the term ‘religion’ is not easy to define and so the boundaries of the philosophy of religion are very difficult to lay out with precision. The way philosophers usually handle the problem of defining religion is by noting the majortraditions recognized today as ‘religions’ and casting the field of philosophy of religion as enquiry into those specific religions and the traditions and practices resembling them. A second concern is that the systematic categorizing of religions by taking into account their metaphysical commitments will invariably depreciate the enormous diversity within any given religious tradition. There is also considerable cross-referencing today in which religious practitioners will describe themselves as Buddhist Christians and the likeThe only solution to this is exercising caution, being thoughtful about one’s description of the different religious traditions as one works at close range on religious figures and movements. A third obstacle to emerges largely from the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein. He launched an attack on what has been called the picture theory ofmeaning, according to which statements may be judged true or false depending upon whether reality matches the picture represented by the belief. This understanding of truth and beliefs – essentially the correspondence theory of truth in which the statement ‘God exists’ is true if and only if God exists – seemed to Wittgenstein to be misguided. According to Wittgenstein, itt gives rise to philosophical problems and it misses the pointof having beliefs, which is that their meaning is to be found in the life in which they are used. By shifting attention from the referential meaning of words to their use, Wittgenstein promoted the idea that we should attend to what he called ‘forms of life’. It may be considered non-realist in the sense that it does not treat religious beliefs as straightforward metaphysical claims that can be adjudicated in a realist manner as either true or false. The traditional metaphysics of theism came under attack inthe mid-twentieth century by radical empiricists and under the earlier philosophical attacks in the eighteenth century by David Hume because the conventional, cognitive outlook profoundly misconstrued what it supposed to be religious. w of life and history. Several arguments can be made on behalf of twentieth-century non-realism. Firstly, it has some credibility based on the sociology of religion. In the practice of religion itself it is seen that we have something more than ‘mere’ metaphysical theorizing. Religion also manifest into how we live. Phillips has looked at different religious practices such as prayer and the beliefin an afterlife, concluding that both are intelligible and that the motives behind each can be held intact without any of the metaphysical baggage traditionally linked with them.

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