Sunday, February 26, 2017



D. R. Khashaba

The concepts of religion, philosophy, and science overlap and in many accounts fade off into each other. A widely held positivist view sees a simple linear relationship between the three: religion is primitive superstition; philosophy is a step forward in the progress of thought, leading to the victory of reason and rationality in science. This is not only simplistic but is unfortunate since it obscures the radical differences between distinct areas of human activity.

It is true that at the beginning of reflective thinking we find the tender shoots of religion, science, and philosophy, together with poetry and art, all striking root in the common soil of human experience under the wide canopy of religion, for religion is not one thing and never was one thing but is many things in one.

When human beings first acquired the faculty of reflective thinking, they found themselves plunged in a strange world, as frightful and intimidating as it was bountiful and pleasant. They invented myths and fashioned gods to account for the wonders surrounding them; with prayers and sacrifices they sought to appease the Powers that bring merciful rain and devastating thunderbolts, and with song and dance to cajole them; they took note of the regularities of nature and of the properties of things; the more thoughtful among them, filled with awe and wonder, mused within themselves.

The myths survive in extant world religions as dogmatic creeds. The prayers and sacrifices and song and dance survive in the rites and rituals of established religions.

The observation of the regularities of natural happenings and of the properties of things initiated science. When humans noted that day follows night, that the seasons recur, that two stones struck together produce a spark of fire, that water heated evaporates, they were laying the foundations of science: Relativity and quantum mechanics and IT are nothing but a development of that primitive science.

Those lonely musers, struck with awe and wonder, were philosophers. They not only anticipated Kant but improved on him: to them the mystery of ‘the moral sense within’ was more profound and more awe-inspiring than ‘the starry heavens above’. Philosophy has nothing to do with the world outside but only with the inexhaustible and ineffable mysteries of our mind and our soul. Heraclitus said, “I searched myself”, and Plato knew that to have an intimation of reality the philosophic mind has “to collect and gather itself within itself, and trust to nothing other than itself, when it itself by itself considers what is in itself” (Phaedo 83a-b).

Philosophy is not primitive science nor is it a stage on the way to science. Philosophy is the ceaseless and endless quest to probe our inner being. It does not give us knowledge, neither knowledge about the world nor even about ourselves. It gives us insights and intimations expressed in myth and symbol that help us understand ourselves and have a glimpse of our inner reality. Even philosophers who mistakenly thought they were providing factual knowledge about the world or demonstrable certainties of reason were inadvertently serving the true purpose of philosophy inasmuch as their visions were intimations of our inner reality.

D. R. Khashaba

February 26, 2017

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