Friday, 21 March 2014

Faith and Philosophy: A Case for Happy Marriage

Can Philosophy be summoned in the court of Religion?
The thesis that philosophy and religion are antithetical is historically wrong, conceptually flawed and religiously unacceptable and philosophically a dogmatic assertion that forecloses open ended nature of rational inquiry. It implies that all great philosophers that include almost any great name you think from Phythaogoras  to Wittgenstein rejected religion in the name of philosophy, Muslim philosophers including Ibn Sina, Suharwardi, Mulla Sadra, Ibn Rushd and Iqbal were hypocrites when they affirmed faith, there is no such thing as Prophetic philosophy and great works of people like Corbin are rubbish, theology is not a rational discourse, Sufism that has been a bridge between philosophy and religion doesn’t exist and such people as Ibn Arabi were building castles in the air. We have to refute arguments of such giants as Augustine, Aquinas, Farabi and Ibn Rushd to assert the thesis of antithesis. Leaving alone ancients from all climes – India to Greece – who never separated religion and philosophy, even none of the great modern philosophers including Descartes, Locke, Kant, Hegel, Bradley, Whitehead, William James, Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Levinas and Derrida could be characterized as antithetical to religion/spirituality in the name of philosophy. We have to reduce countless volumes explicating symbolic or analogic or anagogic interpretations of scriptures to nothing and go to hell with the literalists. Intellectual content of Sufism is hardly distinguishable from traditional philosophy. In fact Sufism is metaphysics and needs to be distinguished from purely speculative/rational attempts to conceptualize the supra-phenomenal. Etymologically philosophy is not wisdom but love of wisdom and Prophets claim to bring wisdom. So philosophy is a method for achieving what the prophets achieve directly. And philosophers have, generally speaking ( a few exceptions only prove the rule), acknowledged prophets in their own ways. This is true of even Nietzsche who called himself AntiChrist but paid such a glowing tribute to the Christ and invoked Zarathustra, a prophet according to one reading, to be his mouthpiece to expound his own philosophy.
Leaving other arguments I focus today on the understanding of the term philosophy in ancient or classical and medieval times to argue that the thesis of antithesis is subscribed to by only a few modern thinkers who are mostly on the margins. Humanity has traditionally celebrated happy marriage of religion and philosophy and its greatest thinkers have been both religionists/theologians/ mystics and philosophers simultaneously. There is antithesis between rationalism and religion, not rationality and religion and rationalism is a modern heresy of philosophy based on colossal ignorance of intellect that traditionally grounds reason. For perennialists philosophy in the primordial sense of the term prepares one for death and assimilation to God as Plato said and is not a rational logical abstract discipline only and is allied to gnosis, a way of life or realization of the good. It is not a prerogative of ratio or mental faculty of reason but of nous, the supraindividual universal faculty of intellect. It is not a mere theoretical rational inquiry but a realization, intellection or noetic vision that transcends subject-object duality and demands something like ethical discipline that Plato argued for. Logos of which Plato, Neoplatonism and the perennialists speak is not renderable exclusively as reason or discursive reasoning (dianoia). “It could mean divine speech as well as noetic apprehension of the first indemonstrable and sacred principles, archetypes.” Philosophy in the traditional Orphic-Pythagorean sense is wisdom and love combined in a moral and intellectual purification in order to reach the “likeness to god.” It is contemplation of Beauty and Good. This is attainable by gnosis. The Greek word nous covers, as Uzdavinys, the editor of The Golden Chain, has noted, both spirit and intellect (intellectus, ‘aql) of Medieval Christian and Islamic lexicon. Platonic philosophy, understood as a spiritual and contemplative way of life leading to illumination or enlightenment. For Chinese “The purpose of philosophy is to enable a man, as a man, to be a man, not some particular kind of man.” Chinese ethics is meant to fashion this man and this ideal man is one “with sageliness within and kingliness without.” This is argued to be what Plato called the philosopher-king. Islam envisages the Prophet as teacher of wisdom (hikmah). Certain Muslim philosophers are traditionally referred to as sages and all Muslim philosophers were pious believers at least.  Ghazali’s inveighing against the philosophers not withstanding (didn’t reject, however, logic and legitimate rational enquiry) who unwarrantedly wishes to reserve for the Sufis the monopoly of spiritual knowledge as if, as Schuon observes, “faith and piety, in combination with intellectual gifts and with grace – didn’t provide a sufficient basis for pure intellection.” It is to the credit of Muslim philosophers – as has been noted by many scholars – that the great Greeks Plato, Aristotle and Plotinus could be integrated. Indian view of the philosopher hardly needs to be reiterated. It is axiomatic that only sages are philosophers. Tolumin has also observed in his Philosophers: East and West that only sage can be a philosopher in oriental civilizations and in modern Western philosophy this is not a required qualification and even ideally it is a hindrance. Schuon suggests to reserve the name of philosophers for sages and to describe rationalists for profane thinkers. Philosophy, according to the best of the Greeks, is, as Uzdavinys puts it,  to express, by means of reason certainties “seen” or “lived” by the immanent Intellect. Plato has maintained that the philosophers should think independently of received opinion. But, as Schuon notes, he refers to Intellection and not to logic alone. This is in sharp contrast to Descartes who reached such a conclusion from the starting point of systematic doubt and thus for him philosophy is synonymous only with rationalism and scepticism. This is, according to Schuon a first suicide of intelligence inaugurated by Pyrrho and others. Perennialists reject the belief of modernists that philosophy is an abstract philosophical discourse based on rationalistic scientific method and its methodically obtained “truths.” 
Contrary to the prevalent view of modern historians of science and philosophy, the ancient Hellenes (whom modern considers their forefathers, considered themselves to be students of much older Oriental civilizations. “Plato paraphrased Orpheus everywhere” as Olympiodorus asserted. Platonists believed in the revelation given to the ancient sages and theologians, i.e., to divinely inspired poets and hierophants. The primordial revelation was viewed as unchangeable; there could be nothing “new” regarding metaphysics and divine truths. According to Celsus, Plato never claimed to have discovered anything new. Plotinus also didn’t claim (Uzdavinys xviii). Not only Pythagoras, Archytas, Socrates and Plato, but also later philosophers such as Ammonius, Saccas, Plotinus, Porphry, Iamblicus and Syrians … belonged to the revelatory and soteriological tradition of philosophy”( Uzdavinys xxvi). 
The relation between religion and traditional metaphysics is largely forgotten today in departments of philosophy as is the truth that theology is autology (science of Self). Doesn’t philosophy treat the the question of the Self? According to perennialists there is no ground whatever upon which all men can be in absolute agreement, excepting that of metaphysics. And this metaphysics is the basis and the norm of all religious formulations according to them. However even though the perennialists emphasize ultimate identity of religion and metaphysics they are acutely aware of the respective differences both at doctrinal and practical level as A. K. Coomaraswamy in his great essay “On the Pertinence of Philosophy” (a must reading for those who confound philosophy with rationalist scepticism and religion with dogmatic belief system or fairy tale account) has explicated: 
Broadly speaking, the distinction is that of Christianity from Gnosticism, Sunni from Shia doctrine, Ramanuja from Samkara, of the will from the intellect, participation (bhjakti) from gnosis (jnana), or knowledge of (avidya) from knowledge-as (vidya). As regards the Way, the distinction is one of consecration from initiation, and of passive from active integration; and as regards the End, of assimilation (tadakarata) from identification (tadbhabva). 
According to Coomaraswamy the task of philosophy today is to understand comparative religion! So who says they are antithetical? To maintain antithesis thesis one needs to refute the best of Greeks, Indians, Chinese, Muslims, medieval scholastics, mystical philosophers and major modern  philosophers and the sophisticated band of perennialist metaphysicians.  There is a case against dogmatic rationalism from religious belief but not against philosophy and philosophy can’t be identified with rationalism. It is literalist religion that fears philosophy and it is modern rationalist or empiricist epistemology that hates religion.  
All things must finally be judged in the court of philosophy. In the darkness of life we are confronted with our only light source that helps to find our way is right use of reason or philosophy. Philosophy may counsel us to use the lamp of faith to move further forward.

No comments:

Post a Comment