Wednesday, January 17, 2007

When is Philosophy Religious?

Is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy? Philosophers tend to search for the philosophical elements in religious traditions: the religious heritage is more potential philosophy text. Religion is philosophical when it addresses metaphysical and epistemological issues about the universe, the soul, ethics, and all of the other applied topics. But when is philosophy religious? Why might a seeker of religious wisdom search the philosophical lierature? Eastern traditions (thinking this morning of Buddhism and also Confucius) provide a good example. Confucius is interested in comportment; he doesn't want so much to tackle conceptual issues as he wants to help people cultivate a daily discipline that is forward and healthy. That, I think, is the essence of what makes a tradition a spiritual tradition (and the religious tradition is a subset of the spiritual tradition). Buddhism, too, presents its greatest challenge as a potential way of living, one that not everyone is able to acheive. Wisdom as a kind of behavior, rather than as formal "mental content." Classical Greek Platonism and Stoicism, also modern Existentialism, are examples of philosophy with this quality of exhortation to living in a certain way, also Spinoza: all philosophers with religion in them.

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