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01/31/2015

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Mark Z

Elisa,
Great post! I think that people should in general do their best to get out of their comfort zone and test their hypotheses against non-mainstream thought in various ways, including the ways you mention. But here is a concern I have. Let's say that one thinks (as I quite strongly do) that religious worldviews (philosophies/theologies/etc) when they are deeply held, are incommensurate with one another. They do not share a conceptual scheme. They are simply not universal, whatever they aim at. It makes little sense then (by definition) to test one against another.
One reason that so much philosophy of religion looks like Christian apologetics (I'm shooting from the hip here) might be that Christians are operating within a worldview that makes it difficult for them to see how secular philosophy of religion or non-Christian philosophy of religion even makes sense as philosophy of religion.
This is not a swipe against Christian philosophers of religion claiming that they are too enclosed in a bubble to be of interest to anyone or to be able to attempt to engage with other religions, but it does reflect profound scepticism on my part about their universality.

Elisa Freschi

@Mark, thanks for raising the issue. I agree that many Christian philosophers of religion might have no interest at all in testing their views outside the precinct of the religion they share. I am not sure that this is due to the fact that religions are incommensurate, I would rather think that it is only a display of lack of interest for anything outside one's own "nest". In this sense, I do not think philosophers of religion are different than, say, epistemologists who do not want to have to do with feminist philosophy, or logicians who refute to take into account anything before Russell. Incommensurability would, by contrast, itself need to be positively proved and in this sense tests outside one's "zone of confort" would be meaningful. Suppose, for instance, that one is convinced that eternal punishment makes sense in Christian theology (against what Origenes claimed). Would not one want to put the question in a more general way, to check whether it is a necessity or just a historical accident?

Elisa Freschi

Interested readers might read a few further insightful comments (including suggestions for a syllabus on non-Western philosophy of religion) here: http://indianphilosophyblog.org/2015/01/31/why-should-one-engage-in-non-western-philosophical-ideas-two-examples/#comment-101892

Tim

The implied accusation that most (or many) philosophers of religion are engaged in little more than a disguised form of Christian apologetics is utterly bogus and can easily be disproved by a cursory perusal of the literature.

Moreover, it's also perfectly obvious that many of the issues frequently discussed in the PoR (Philosophy of Religion) literature are relevant to a fairly broad range of religious perspectives (e.g., I don't think there's anything all that sectarian about the ongoing discussion concerning the problem of evil, or the cosmological argument, or the epistemological issues surrounding religious belief).

Elisa Freschi

Thanks for your comment, Tim. I agree that the problems you mention (and many more, I have for instance argued myself in favour of the fact that the problem of free will vs. divine omnipotence is not proper to Christian theology only: http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2015/01/free-will-in-r%C4%81m%C4%81nuja.html) are not linked to Christian apologetics only. However, I do not think that research needs to be non-interested in order to be valuable, as long as it is ready to discuss its own presuppositions.
On this topic, you might enjoy some of the comments of a version of this post published on the Indian Philosophy Blog: http://indianphilosophyblog.org/2015/01/31/why-should-one-engage-in-non-western-philosophical-ideas-two-examples/#comment-102307.

Tim

Dear Elisa,

In my opinion, this whole discussion misses the real interesting sociological tidbit -- which is that the theist/atheist split among professional contemporary analytic philosophers who DO NOT specialize in philosophy of religion is greater than 73/15 (probably more like 80/10, or possibly 85/5).

What I find interesting is that there seems to be something like an atheistic consensus among those professional contemporary analytic philosophers who are almost certainly NOT well-read in the PoR literature. Whatever is driving their atheism, it is probably not the sorts of arguments (problem of evil, divine hiddenness, etc.) frequently discussed in the PoR literature. But if this group's atheism is not driven by some widely held intuition -- if it is then why doesn't the general population also have this intuition? -- or expert knowledge (such as found in the PoR literature) then what sociological factors, I wonder, might be driving it?

Suppose, for example, the prevailing atheism among professional contemporary analytic philosophers is explained by a very strong anti-theistic cultural bias, which might even be socially reinforced in various ways (hiring practices, tenure, friendship, etc.). If that were true then all the qualitative considerations mentioned in Mannino's original post (which are mostly drawn from Helen's survey) need to be sociologically interpreted against the backdrop of an academic discipline that is positively hostile to theistic belief. In any case, I think that this is the sort of conversation that we should be having, since the truth of the matter is unclear (at least to me), and not over something that is obviously false (such as whether the discipline of PoR is a disguised form of Christian apologetics).

Elisa Freschi

Dear Tim,

the overwhelming number of atheists/agnostics among scholars of philosophy is indeed an interesting topic. I have no statistical data I can rely on, but I would guess that ---leaving aside the reasons you mention, which I will discuss later--- there is also an independent reason for that, namely the philosophical emphasis on free investigation, which leads one to question one's presuppositions, including the religious ones. "Free thought" thus often becomes a synonym of "non-religious thought". This is because most intellectuals (not just philosophers) think of religion as a relic of the past, a fetter to one's autonomous thinking. Personally speaking, I think that this is also the result of the emphasis, typical of some trends of Christian thought, on the fact that there are things which have to be *believed, not understood*. I am *not* saying that any theological authority ever said it, but I can safely assert that I frequently heard it (e.g., as an answer to a difficult question about the identity-difference of God-Christ). Accordingly, I frequently heard that faith should be "lived" and I did not hear with comparable frequency among lay believers that one's understanding of faith should be continuously deepened (also) on an intellectual level. Long story short, these two tendencies on the part of Christian common sense and of philosophical common sense coalesce in the outcome of many atheist philosophers in the Western academia. Then, it is only easy to imagine that a majority of atheists is more likely to attract similar students or to orient their students in this direction. A few years ago, Ambrose raised a similar point regarding the absence of right-wing scholars in philosophy departments, suggesting that this diminishes the manifoldness in political philosophy. Would you support a campaign favouring the inclusion of more theists/religiously oriented scholars at conferences and so on?:-)


Post scriptum for non-religious readers: I am NOT saying that their atheism (or non-religiousness, if one wants to include atheist religions) is only the result of the Christian common sense emphasis on "love" over "intellectual engagement" in one's relationship to faith. But I am also not convinced that non-religiousness is per se the most mature answer to some theological problems. There are surely intelligent atheists/non-religious people and intelligent religious people and I would not be able that one category is overall more advanced. (Personally, I would add that the last decision is perhaps extra philosophical, but this is a different point.)

Mangal Dosh Nivaran

In my opinion believe in God is nothing greater and important than other thing

Elisa Freschi

This is obviously fine, Mangal, and I can see how for some atheists speaking about God is as non-interesting as speaking about the fictional characters of a Disney-movie. Nonetheless, and apart from its socio-political significance, the belief in God has some epistemological features which make it a challenging topic, such as the fact that ---should God exist--- our belief in Him/Her could have been caused by Him/Her (we would have an innate predisposition towards believing in Him/Her, as maintained by Reid and, with some variants, in the account of śraddhā 'faith' of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas). Should S/He not exist, by contrast, the belief that S/He does not exist would be as difficult to justify as the belief that S/He does exist (since neither would have an external source).

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