“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

What is Religion? (a YouTube discussion)

A string of videos pondering the essence of religion, beginning with suicideforcelluloid and anekantavad. Professoranton and I then exchanged a few responses (below).




9 responses to “What is Religion? (a YouTube discussion)”

  1. dmf Avatar

    MDS, see what you think of:

    1. dmf Avatar

      ps why start the genealogy with “myths” as opposed to animism/ghosts/luck/etc as these seem more likely early phenomenological experiences, no?

      1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

        Yeah, I lumped two early “structures of consciousness” (“magic” and “mythic” to use Gebser’s typology) into one. Sloppy but thats what happens in 10 minute extemporaneous YouTube vids.

  2. milliern Avatar

    Matt, do you intend to add Anton’s additional video response to you?

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      Thanks for the reminder, Milliern. Just added it.

  3. dmf Avatar

    “J.C.: No! I am not resurrecting the old comparative-religion thesis that there is an underlying transcendental form or essence or universal that we can cull from differing empirical religious beliefs, that can be approached only asymptotically by empirical cases. I am saying that the inherited religious traditions contain something deeper, which is why they are important. I don’t marginalize religious traditions; they are our indispensable inheritance. Without them, human experience would be impoverished, its horizon narrowed. We would be deprived of their resources, not know the name of Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, the startling notion of the “kingdom of God,” the idea of the messianic and so on. As a philosopher I am, of course, interested in what happens, but always in terms of what is going on in what happens. The particular religious traditions are what happen, and they are precious, but my interest lies in what is going on in these traditions, in the memory of Jesus, say. But different traditions contain different desires, promises, memories, dreams, futures, a different sense of time and space. Nothing says that underneath they are all the same.”

  4. milliern Avatar

    Thanks to you and Corey for another interesting dialogue.

    I just wanted to make a few remarks about what was said with regard to science. The first thing is that falsificationism —the idea that science proceeds on the basis of falsifying theories, part and parcel— is not a possible mode by which science can progress. Consider a collection of theoretical statements, the set ‘P’ constituted by n statements ‘p’, such that P = (p1, p2, p3,…), whereby the collection of statements (a theory) asserts some prediction, call it ‘Q’. Truth-functional logic states that, in the case of ‘¬Q’, modus tollens expresses the state of affairs as:
    P -> Q
    The problem is that, of the collection of statements in theory ‘P’, it is unclear which statement(s) is (are) false. The topic gets quite a bit more complicated, but this should clarify much. I should also say that this actually goes for single statements (such as protocol statements of Neurath and the logical empiricists), in the sense that individual statements are constituted by collections of assumptions.

    One reason I wanted to bring this up is that I know and meet many scientists who think that what they are doing is Popperian-style falsification, at which point I have to explain that’s not possible; and so I want to propagate this point to philosophers and the philosophically inclined, likewise.

    I have a lot to say about the statement “there’s something like a scientific method,” but all I will say is: no, historically, there doesn’t seem to be, and, if there is, no two areas in science agree on it (and no single science agrees on it for very long). Moreover, find two scientists, even in the same field, that agree upon what resides in such a method. (I have been to numerous conferences and workshops in which such matters continually being decided.) Much has been written on “styles of reasoning” that emerge from historical studies of science and, more generally, intellectual thought. My personal opinion is that the difference between empirical science (i.e., not theoretical science) and religion is just what James thought the difference was: empirical science has something to butt up against, i.e., reality, whereas religion does not, meaning that religion is not empirical, which is precisely why James said that our moral holiday is justified.

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      What you say reminds me of Feyerabend’s Against Method wherein he (in)famously says “anything goes.” I’m sympathetic to it. I plan on making another video soon about science to complement this video about religion. Certainly there is much left in the dark about how “Science” (if such a unified approach exists) operates in Popper’s falsificationist account. Popper doesn’t have much to say about how new theories are developed, other than to appeal to the spontaneous and imaginative leaps of creative genius. I think this begs the question as to the true relation between mind and nature.

      I would dispute the idea that James’ final say on religion is that it is not empirical. He spent a great deal of time thinking through religious experience. Maybe it is not empirical in the traditional sense of being based on raw sensory data; but certainly one can approach religion using the expanded “radical empiricism” articulated by James. Maybe James doesn’t go far enough in this direction as I’d like… Whitehead gets closer when he says “In its solitariness the spirit asks, What, in the way of value, is the attainment of life? And it can find no such value till it has merged its individual claim with that of the objective universe. Religion is world-loyalty” (Religion in the Making).

  5. milliern Avatar

    It doesn’t necessarily mean that anything goes, it just means that the covering law and falsificationism, i.e., most every major tenet of logical empiricism, isn’t descriptive of how science works.

    “Empirical in the traditional sense” is a good distinction to begin to draw. The sense datum that typifies empiricism empiricism doesn’t entail existential and similar types of sense, so that should be admitted to the discussion. I do think the pragmatists are on the verge of existentialism, especially in the way that Peirce talks about inquiry being driven by doubt, which is brought about by some intellectual agitation.

    I haven’t had the chance to read your thesis yet, but Peirce’s abduction might interest you, so far as imagination and theory creation goes. Norwood Russell Hanson talks about it in a number of places, aside from Peirce’s own writings. James talks about the ambulatory (as opposed to the saltatory) nature of hypothesis (as well as reasoning and cognition). Maybe you are already familiar.

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