Philosophy of Religion
Philosophy of religion is a field of study in religion that endeavors to answer questions pertaining to religion. This may include among others the existence and nature of God, religious experience, the relation of religion and science, vocabularies applied in religion among others. Many philosophers have tried to discuss philosophy of religion through debates and popular books, mainly looking at God’s existence as well as the problem of evil. There always arise difficulties in the discussion of religion as a topic owing to the many subjective claims that are always expressed.
This is in response to the philosophical position taken by McPherran when he states:
Among other things, it is my intent to preserve the Socratic insistence on the value of rational elenctic philosophy while also fully acknowledging how his commitment is crucially shaped by—and, reciprocally, also shapes—Socrates’ conception of himself as a divinely guided servant of the gods. (10)
Here, McPherran intends to outline the Socratic reformation including the methods and impacts. The basic argument being presented here is that in understanding Socrates, there is need of uncovering as well as analyzing all his views concerning religion, bearing in mind that all the religious and philosophical views by Socrates comprise of a seamless whole (Plato 5-8). It is from this perspective that McPherran offers close Socratic texts analysis including the religious commitments such as the immortal nature of the soul and nature of gods. McPherran acknowledges the Socrates as a first-rank rational philosopher who had a profound religious nature and the one who believed in existence of supernatural gods. Such gods were more powerful than ourselves and very wise. Socrates would share the traditional commitments of the people with some of his contemporaries. He is seen as both a rational reformer and a critic of his inherited religious tradition as well as of his newly-acquired and encountered cultic incursions. It therefore emerges that Socrates integrated his religious commitments with his withheld philosophical mission in his moral examination and utilized his rational convictions in reshaping the religious convictions of his time. Socrates therefore played a vital role in reforming the Greek religion. The importance of this study as well as the motivations emanating from the same should not be taken for granted, as is usually the case. Further, from our intellectual currents, it is necessary to give the topic an in-depth and critical analysis.
Notably, in the last few years, there has been a remarkable increase in Socratic scholarly studies. This provides an avenue for further research into the Socratic religion, which helps to identify and point out weaknesses in peoples’ understanding of the concept as well as assisting in the correction and improvement of the scholarly records. This has an effect of promoting our understanding of ourselves as well as of the ancient history. Today, Socrates plays the role of the paradigm in people’s intellectual and religious lives and is also incorporated and integrated in the popular culture. Socrates also features in movies, college catalogues, and is also applied as a stereotype of disillusioned professorial wisdom. It also makes popular cameo among graduating students in our society. It is particularly seen in historical intellectual courses whereby learners recognize Socrates as the undisputed and notorious author of the famous ‘Socratic method’ philosophy. This helps us to reflect and visualize productively about the way life ought to be as well as identify and examine the truth and reality about human thought, condition and morality.
Basing your argument from a constructive point of view, there are several practical implications that would follow from the maieutic conversation. To begin with, the conversation is not completed but rather reaches to a stalemate; therefore, the contradiction is not resolved. These Socratic dialogues are hence commonly termed as aporetic, which means perplexity. Apparently, the interlocutor finally becomes dumbfounded, a situation that forces him to admit ignorance. This scenario recurs repeatedly for many years, which consequently drives Socrates into believing and feeling assured about the Delphic oracle. This essentially means Socrates feels that he is the wisest person after establishing that the interlocutor does not know. This is an interesting claim of knowledge in the field of philosophy today. At a closer and critical perspective and analysis, the maieutic method would appear destructive in several ways. For instance, as the interlocutor is forced to admitting ignorance, then it is likely that even the true value and confidence in his beliefs are eroded. The case will also very likely lead to undermining of his reputation and even destroying his psychology because he is reduced to an object of being ridiculed every time and probably victimization.
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The conversation can also be viewed at a different constructive perspective where the author demonstrates both methodologically as well as practically the way in which learning occurs. It clearly emerges that Socrates himself exemples a progressive inquiry through the usage of a dialectical method. This has the effect of actualizing the interlocutor’s ability of philosophizing in a dialectical manner. Socrates’ practice mixes questions and dialectical assertions that emanates from ethical concerns upon the interlocutor. The conversation clearly plays the role of educating and exhibits the way in which one is ought to teach in a way that others can learn to be dialectic practitioners. This is what happens with Socrates when he applies his maieutic art in his encounter with the interlocutor. He is able to lead the interlocutor successfully into stating and in the reflection of the implications of those uncritical opinions that they are withholding. The real subject matter in most dialogues is reflexive and more educative.
Further, a tacit lesson or dialectic practice is likely to be remembered once a philosophical problem or an ostensible subject stops being debated. As an educative method, dialect is replicable and renewable, and it uses psychagogy in determination of individual needs of each student, which in turn assist in helping to guide them towards understanding. Dialogue as seen in this conversation between Socrates and the interlocutor has an effective communicative power used for teaching. In its inherent dynamism, the conversation manages to capture the three human judgment modes of saying, making and doing as is apparent in this conversation. It is also from this dynamism that there emerge some elements of openness, progressiveness, liveliness and revisionary nature. In his conversation with the interlocutor, for instance, Socrates engages the interlocutor in a series of questions and words of philosophical nature. He once asks him, “That is not what I mean, my dear sir. I am asking you to name the person whose first business is to know the laws.” The interlocutor responds by saying, “These gentlemen here, Socrates, the members of the jury.” Socrates further goes ahead to ask more questions commonly referred to as secondary Socratic questions (Hamilton and Cairns 6-10). This will in turn elicits more withheld beliefs by the interlocutor. The interlocutor has personal interests in justifying that he has the relevant knowledge upon each subject matter and therefore struggles to avoid contradicting himself. Socrates is able to prove to him that the definition of his original beliefs actually differs with his latter beliefs. Later, Socrates begins apologizing and defending himself against Meletus. He says, “Let us go back to the beginning and consider what the charges is that has made me as unpopular, and has encouraged Meletus to draw up this indicted” (Hamilton and Cairns 5).
There is Euthyphro’s dilemma in Plato’s dialogue with Euthyphro, whereby Socrates asks Euthyphro, “Is the pious loved by gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” (Hamilton and Cairns 10). This clearly demonstrates the philosophy of religion in this dialogue. This dilemma clearly points out to the philosophy of monotheistic religions. Socrates further asks Euthyphro, “Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?” Socrates and Euthyphro set themselves in discussion of the piety’s nature from Plato’s Euthyphro. Euthyphro assumes that pious is what the gods love. They both agree on the issue that indeed, the reason why God loves the pious is due to it being pious. On the second option, Socrates rejects the other option which assumes that the mere fact that something is loved by gods explain them being pious.
According to pious, the two options would have yield a vicious circle if both were true. The argument being put forward by Socrates here is that being pious is not necessarily being god-loved. What makes pious to be pious is something else, whereas what makes god-loved to be god-loved is because god loves it. The Euthyphro’s dilemma mainly focuses on distinguishing the elements of obligation and value. Obligation in religion pertains to rightness or wrongness, whereas value concerns badness and goodness. At one episode in their philosophical conversation, Euthyphro argues:
Well then, I say that the holy is what I am now doing, prosecuting the wrongdoer who commits a murder or a sacrilegious robbery, or sins in any point like that, whether it may be your father or your mother, or whoever it may be. And not to prosecute would be unholy. And Socrates, observe what a decisive proof I will give you that such is the law...(Hamilton and Cairns 175)
On the other hand, Socrates at one instance asks Euthyphro, “And you actually believe that the war occurred among the gods and there were dreadful hatreds, and all sorts of fearful things like that?” (Hamilton and Cairns 176)
All these episodes indicate philosophical religion in the Socrates dialogue. The conversation clearly provides an analysis of creation of an ordered universe, which is accomplished by a divine or supernatural power.