Forms of Learning and Spiritual Activity: Philosophy, Religion and Science


Similarities between Philosophy and Religion

Philosophy and religion are similar in that they are not satisfied with the current state of things or data provided by common sense, everyday thinking or even individual sciences; they look for an explanation of the world and life, existence and consciousness that cannot be achieved through possible experience. Philosophy and religion are the oldest forms of human spiritual activity and social consciousness. Hitherto unresolved are eternal questions of human existence: death and immortality, meaning and purpose of human life, as well the origin of the world and mechanism of its coming into being. Both philosophy and religion have to do with an Absolute Beginning of life, the world and the truth. The difference is that religion looks at it as an image of God, a superhuman, absolute person, while philosophy treats it as a rational notion of perceivable truth.

Both philosophy and religion operate transcendental ideas and presumptions. Unlike science, they operate intuition data, i.e. contemplation data whose objects can include both reachable and unreachable things and relations. Also, unlike science, philosophy and religion necessarily contain judgment, values and morality rather than purely neutral knowledge. On the other hand, science propagates detached and unbiased attitude to any of its objects. Value consciousness would prevent science from reaching its goals.

While science involves human intelligence, experimental and practical experience, and, to some degree, creative intuition (understood as an ability to “locate” a priori the truth), philosophy and religion put in centre position a spiritual component of a human being engaged in the process of reaching and experiencing the truth.

Differences between Philosophy and Religion

The difference between philosophy and religion is that they treat the source of knowledge and the method of achieving it, differently. In religion it is the unlimited faith in God, prophesy, miracles and in general, maximally engaged emotionality and exaltation that define the sphere of intense mystical experience. Philosophy is dominated by logic that guides rational search for an Absolute. In this sense, philosophy is a rational way of learning about an Absolute in the form of truth. Philosophy tends to posit that truth is intelligible, however, critical assessment of a subject’s learning ability can limit access to the truth to a varying extent. For instance, Kant believed that we were able to know phenomena and the laws, which govern them, only on the basis of what we had learned from a prior examination of the knowing subject’s structure. Religion states that a believer’s ability to grasp God is unlimited while God reveals Himself to those deserving it in the way He chooses, be it theophany, prophesy, apparition, or mysterious “geometric” doctrines etc.).

Religion and Science

Science ends where religion starts (the most general statements about the origin of cosmos, matter, spirit, nature, and man, as well as their role and vocation in life and their interrelations). Religion starts where science leaves off. What is an axiom based on the immediate identifying something as obvious or on a revelation is an inference and conclusion in need of proof, the product of analytical effort, involving processing experimental data and hypothetical modelling for the latter. Science and religion can arrive at the same conclusions. In an inevitable, quite logical, necessary and non-contradictory manner, science can arrive at the truthfulness of religion’s intuitive statements.

Myth and religion give people what science cannot or does not want to provide: hope of eternal life, resolving the mystery of being and revealing the purpose of life, i.e., answers to questions that go beyond possible everyday and scientific experience.

Philosophical Nature of Religious Thinking

Religious consciousness does not need an external object; it contains the basis of productivity in itself. This basis is the soul. How rational can be the reasoning about the soul? To the extent, perhaps, that intuitive obviousness can provide the basis of rationality. Descartes philosophically interpreted God, the figure of an absolute beginning, as a principle of the reference frame of non-contradictory thinking, and, in this sense, as the foundation of any possible logic. Kant developed and Hegel gave the final form to these ideas.

Early philosophers understood that man was a transcendental, supernatural phenomenon, a spiritual being, and his or her consciousness included necessary extrasensory presumptions, because pre-experience forms and conditions are required for any experience to take shape. Humans are believers in their nature, mystical creatures, because they are free. The origins of people as social, rational and free beings, compared to animals programmed by instinct, are to be found in myth.

Nonetheless, we should not share a positivist illusion that mythological as mythogenic consciousness as well as the myth itself originate in superstitions, phantasms and imagination of our early ancestors, who were profoundly confused about the world and themselves, because their inexplicable naivet? precluded them from developing a scientific method. The primitivisation of mythogenesis is not only anti-scientific but it also leads to the primitivisation of anthropo-sociogenesis, which actually did happen within Darwinism and social Darwinism. Modern natural anthropology, ethology and even biology provide successful refutation of the trend. Mythogenesis could not originate in the imagination of an early man; positivists and Marxists exaggerate its abilities, although any fantasy needs some experience whose changed reflexion it could ultimately become. Just as any phantasm could be just a mere emanation of the subconscious, which in turn is the product of some experience, if unprocessed, but, nonetheless, lived through, individual or archetypical. Following myth, preceding it, are the processes, which scientists include in the evolution of consciousness and the subconscious, and events, which scientist either do not want to or fail to grasp and explain in the language of traditional science. These events are the object of study in the transcendental, near-scientific or extra-scientific forms of spiritual experience including esotericism, theosophy, and conspirology. Philosophy does not have unity here. It either honestly puts these events and processes outside logical reasonableness by calling them transcendental and presents them as higher principles and the ideas of reason (as with Kant’s programme). Or, not less honestly but, perhaps, more boldly, while accepting these higher principles and ideas, processes them to find logic in them akin to subject logic (as in the case with Plato and Plato’s “line” terminating in Hegel). Or there is the “Democritus line” with its sad consequences, which deserve a separate explanation.

What is important in this case is the assumption that there is a higher entity, whatever name people have given it throughout the history of thought, is a necessary condition of thinking itself – at least as we know it and perceive it within ourselves. It is also important to understand that philosophy has treated myth as the basis of analysis, because it may be said that without myth nature did not exist for our ancestors. There is evidence that first philosophical reasoning centered on myths, nature and man in terms of their origins and existence.

Published earlier: Barezhev K.B. Elements of Philosophy (in Russian). St Petersburg State Institute of Economics and Management Press: St Petersburg, 2012.