Academic journal article South African Journal of Philosophy

How to Do Philosophy of Religion: Towards a Possible Speaking about the Impossible

Academic journal article South African Journal of Philosophy

How to Do Philosophy of Religion: Towards a Possible Speaking about the Impossible

Article excerpt


It is postulated from different philosophical traditions, and explicitly in recent literature, that there is no further need for doing philosophy of religion - it has become an impossible task. I argue, however, that there remains a philosophical space for this practice and that this space determines greatly how philosophy of religion can be done. The starting point of my argument is the current discussion in the SAJP between De Wet and Giddy and the significance of my article is that it puts this debate within the broader international philosophical context by engaging the work of Trakakis and Desmond to resolve some of the apparently intractable issues raised. Trakakis discusses the divide between the analytic and continental philosophical traditions in which De Wet and Giddy's work is further contextualized and clarified. Desmond's work is seminal in its search for a metaxology wherein he advocates a new 'in between' position for doing philosophy of religion. I take this view of Desmond further by applying it to the current debate in South Africa and also using it to indicate some possibilities of speaking about the impossible.

1. Introduction

In his article 'Special Divine Action and How to do Philosophy of Religion' (2011), Patrick Giddy specifically engages with the position taken by Brenda de Wet in her article 'Particular Divine Action: A Challenge to Intellectual Integrity in a Post-Christian Age' (2008). While De Wet questioned the 'intellectual integrity' of the Christian notion of particular divine action, Giddy propagated a new notion of how to do philosophy of religion and tried in this way to answer De Wet's intellectual and moral objection to the Christian notion of special divine action. Giddy thus questioned the whole way of doing philosophy of religion, but his solution to this problem is not without its own problems. He has however put a more fundamental question on the table, namely how should philosophy of religion be done, and of course if it is possible at all.

In the first section of this article I summarize the debate between De Wet and Giddy, indicating the shortcomings of both of their positions. In the next section I attempt to further this discussion by introducing the work and ideas of the Australian philosopher of religion, Nick Trakakis, which are helpful in that they clarify how philosophy of religion is practised within the two main Western philosophical traditions, the analytic and the continental. Trakakis warns for example of 'the end of philosophy of religion' (the title of his 2008 book) as it is being done within the analytic tradition and chooses a continental approach. The continental approach is however not without problems and it seems, on the one hand, not to be able to take the analytic tradition (and philosophical values of clarity and rigour) seriously and, on the other hand, tends to transform transcendence into immanence. The end of philosophy of religion thus still looms, in spite of Trakakis's intentions. Therefore, in the third section of this article, I engage in the thoughts of the Irish philosopher, William Desmond,1 who proposed a 'metaxologicaF way of doing philosophy (in general) that opens up new possibilities of doing philosophy of religion especially. Desmond's metaxological 'system' is open2 and does not pretend to give final answers, but it does offer valuable alternatives.

My own contribution to this conversation is to examine the literature further to see which, and where, problems occur in this debate of how to do philosophy of religion. By linking different perspectives and synthesizing them I attempt to open up a further dimension in the debate and thereby develop and present a case for continuing to do philosophy of religion with its implication of how it should be done. In the final part of this article I explore one specific possibility of this continuation by indicating the importance of Desmond's thoughts for finding the 'between' position of doing philosophy of religion. …

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