From Religion to Philosophy: A Study in the Origins of Western Speculation

From Religion to Philosophy: A Study in the Origins of Western Speculation

From Religion to Philosophy: A Study in the Origins of Western Speculation

From Religion to Philosophy: A Study in the Origins of Western Speculation

Excerpt

The words, Religion and Philosophy, perhaps suggest to most people two distinct provinces of thought, between which, if (like the Greeks) we include Science under Philosophy, there is commonly held to be some sort of border warfare. It is, however, also possible to think of them as two successive phases, or modes, of the expression of man's feelings and beliefs about the world; and the title of this book implies that our attention will be fixed on that period, in the history of the western mind, which marks the passage from the one to the other. It is generally agreed that the decisive step was taken by the Greeks about six centuries before our era. At that moment, a new spirit of rational inquiry asserted its claim to pronounce upon ultimate things which had hitherto been objects of traditional belief. What I wish to prove, however, is that the advent of this spirit did not mean a sudden and complete breach with the older ways of thought.

There is a real continuity between the earliest rational speculation and the religious representation that lay behind it; and this is no mere matter of superficial analogies, such as the allegorical equation of the elements with the Gods of popular belief. Philosophy inherited from religion certain great conceptions -- for instance, the ideas of 'God,' 'Soul,' 'Destiny,' 'Law' -- which continued to circumscribe the movements of rational thought and to determine their main directions. Religion expresses itself in poetical symbols and in terms of mythical personalities; Philosophy prefers the language of dry abstraction, and speaks of substance, cause, matter, and so forth. But the outward difference only disguises an inward and substantial affinity between these two successive products of the same consciousness. The modes of thought that attain to clear definition and explicit statement in philosophy were already implicit in the unreasoned intuitions of mythology.

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