Sunday 1 March 2020

Reconnecting Philosophy and Theology (2020)

From The Philosopher, Volume CVIII No. 1 Spring 2020

Edward Munch, The Scream (Lithograph, 1895)

Reconnecting Philosophy and Theology
By Mel Thompson

Why has a caricature of God been allowed to dominate much modern Philosophy of Religion? asks Mel Thomson. The answer, he believes, reveals a crucial blind spot of the Enlightenment.

Back in 1959, the American theologian and Christian existentialist thinker, Paul Tillich, published a book of essays entitled Theology of Culture, in which he explored a question that would be anathema to many philosophers today. He argued that the question of the nature of being (ontology) should be related to existential questions about life, asked most often within the discussion of religion and culture. He suggested that the questions with which theology deals – the nature of reality (‘being-itself’) and that which is of the most profound existential concern (‘ultimate concern’) – are raised from within art, literature, drama, religion and other cultural products.

Should the same apply to philosophy? Should it see itself as a vehicle for engaging directly with intuitions about value and meaning raised within culture? Should its primary focus shift from the linguistic and analytic towards the existential?

Some philosophers would dismiss religious claims, assuming them to be fundamentally linked to a view of the supernatural that is out of step with modern thought and science, preferring to attend to the analysis of argument rather than intuitions of meaning. That, of course, is not the whole story of philosophy today, since Continental and existentialist philosophy thrive, and at the popular level there are philosophies of everything including, on my bookshelf, coffee. But philosophy has, in general, kept its distance from theology, and theological discussion has frequently been reduced to ‘The Philosophy of Religion’, where religious concepts and propositions have been examined, and generally found wanting, from within parameters set by philosophy.

If religion is seen primarily as a set of literal claims about the supernatural, it is easily dismissed as non-rational. But my reading of Tillich is that he believes that theology – and specifically the idea of ‘God’ – is not about some external, possible world, but about the depth and unconditional within human experience. This shift in the perception of religion sets an entirely new agenda for the relationship between theology and philosophy, simply because they are then dealing with the same world and nourished by the same experience.

Tillich sees the question of ‘Being’ as the central one for philosophy, in a tradition that goes back to Aristotle (for whom the study of being, or what it means to say that something exists, was described as ‘first philosophy’) and was emphasised again by Heidegger, in whose shadow the young Tillich lectured in Marburg in the 1920s. Tillich argues that ‘Man is by nature a philosopher, because he inescapably asks the question of being. He does it in myth and epic, in drama and poetry, in the structure and the vocabulary of any language.’ A philosopher may therefore explore religion and culture with a view to extracting their intuitions about life.

However, philosophy and theology have generally failed to nourish one another. Why has this come about? Is it intellectually healthy? And might Tillich’s approach provide a mutually beneficial reconciliation?

The Enlightenment’s blind spot?

Modern philosophy owes much to the period of the Enlightenment and the rise of science, and I have neither the expertise nor scope to give an adequate outline of its legacy. Nevertheless, it is broadly true that the effect of the Enlightenment was to caricature earlier religious thought as superstitious and sustained by religious authority rather than reason.

Whether one looks at Hume’s argument that there is never sufficient evidence to prove a miracle, or at Kant’s dismissal of the traditional arguments for the existence of God, the method used was to set out a theological claim as a literal proposition – for example that there exists an omnipotent God – and then proceed to examine that proposition from the standpoint of reason and evidence. And, of course, by those standards it is generally found wanting.

This is particularly true of the traditional ‘problem of evil’, which was explored in my book Through Mud and Barbed Wire (reviewed here). The obvious incompatibility of the existence of innocent suffering with an all-loving and omnipotent God is presented as a major challenge to theism. But, as so often happens with apparently insoluble problems, the fault lies not with the answer but with the question and its presuppositions.

The problem is that such issues – in the form of ‘The Philosophy of Religion’ – have typically presented religion as a set of propositional beliefs, susceptible to the normal process of analysis and evidential testing. The issue I have with this (illustrated in Paul Tillich’s philosophy and theology) is that religious language, and particularly the idea of ‘God’ is misused if it is set out as a literal proposition to be accepted or rejected.

This was not a twentieth century innovation. One has only to unpack the sophisticated arguments of Anselm or Aquinas, or the subtle blending of Greek and Hebrew thought in the Early Fathers of the church, to realise that the concept of ‘God’ is not to be taken literally, in the sense that God is not to be thought of as a separate entity alongside others. The sort of ‘God’ against whom the new atheists protest, is not one that would be recognised by many of the great theologians of the past. Tillich clarifies this by saying:
‘The God who is a being is transcended by the God who is Being itself, the ground and abyss of every being. And the God who is a person is transcended by the God who is the Personal-Itself, the ground and abyss of every person. In statements like these, religion and ontology meet. Without philosophies in which the ontological question we have raised appears, Christian theology would have been unable to interpret the nature of the being of God to those who wanted to know in what sense one can say that God is.’
Yet why has a caricature of God been allowed to dominate much modern Philosophy of Religion? The answer lies, I believe, in a major blind spot for the Enlightenment. The rise of science and its immense achievements, along with the perceived futility of many religious disputes, suggested that the modern, eighteenth century person, should be guided primarily by reason and evidence. It was always allowed that literature, drama and music could continue to point to a reality that was not so narrowly evidenced – as we see in the wealth of culture developed at that time. What failed to be grasped, however, was that the existential implication of removing the subtlety of religious ideas, is to leave them merely as a shell of propositions to be debated.

Hence we find within nineteenth century debates about evolution, a sad dichotomy between those who see design primarily as evidence of an external designer, and those who see the wonder of nature as displayed in its inherent powers of development and self-design. The same is true today, when Richard Dawkins can extol the wonders of natural creativity, in words that are almost mystical or religious, while at the same time dismissing language about God in terms taken straight from the eighteenth century debates.

Although you have examples in the nineteenth century of those who sought an integration of religious insights with contemporary culture and philosophy (for example, the German theologian, Friedrich Schleiermacher’s Speeches on Religion to its Cultural Despisers), it is clearly true that, within the broad sweep of ‘modern’ philosophy, religious concepts have been marginalised and relegated to a siding entitled: ‘Philosophy of Religion’ that has frequently examined arguments without adequately appreciating the reality to which religious concepts were intended to point.

Hence the chasm between philosophy and theology: the former being (in theory, if not in practice) open, literal and rational; the latter, explored within a closed circle of believers, circumscribed by an already accepted set of doctrines. A radical theology is trapped by a double duty: on the one hand to explore the religious depths of life, and on the other to express its explorations in terms that are compatible with conventional religious doctrine.

Fundamentalism and the shrinking of theology

In parallel with the exclusion of theological subtlety from philosophical debate, there has been the equally sad emphasis on a literalist approach to tradition and scripture. It seems to me that the rise of fundamentalism in the twentieth century was a reaction to philosophical criticism. It sought to define and defend a limited number of doctrines as the essence of religion, and to interpret them literally. This played directly into the hands of the narrowing philosophical view of religious claims – particularly by the logical positivists – so that both sides of the argument accepted definitions of ‘miracle’ or ‘God’ that would have been anathema to a Mediaeval theologian such as Aquinas, for whom ‘God’ was not of the order of existing beings and should not be treated as such. Thus, for example, Aquinas, drawing on Aristotle’s philosophy, sees God as the ‘uncaused cause’ lying behind the whole sequence of physical causes, rather than as one cause alongside others, a category into which a literal, interventionist God so easily falls.

Hence the dilemma for would-be radical theologians in modern times. On the one hand, they are attacked from some philosophical quarters for entertaining ideas that are beyond matters that can be decided by the application of reason and evidence. On the other, they may be attacked from the standpoint of the fundamentalist religious believer, for whom any attempt to import subtlety into religious doctrine is seen as a capitulation to philosophical fashion.

It is because of the apparent conflict between Biblical religion and ontology that Tillich is led to conclude that:
‘It is understandable that some reject Biblical religion completely because they are called in the depths of their being, or their intellectual and moral conscience, to ask the radical question – the question of being and nonbeing. They become heretics or pagans rather than bow to a religion which prohibits the ontological question.’
By detaching religion from universal human experience, fundamentalism makes it irrelevant to the secular. But then secular culture is in danger of becoming rootless, deprived of any sense of an ultimate truth to be explored. In a world of ‘fake news’, any view is equal to any other, without reference to factual reality. Equally, political and social issues may be discussed without key terms such as ‘growth’, ‘profit’ or ‘efficiency’ being challenged as to whether they are genuinely foundational.

In this situation, both philosophy and theology miss out on the benefits of mutual exploration. Theology narrows to a set of propositions to be defended, while philosophy devotes itself to logical precision, even when dealing with matters that require a broader conceptual basis. Between the two sits the broad span of culture, which continues to explore the reality that is intuited in an awareness of life’s finitude or ethical challenges, without relating it to either philosophy or theology, probably regarding the first as dry and the second as irrelevant.

Yet the present climate crisis and the scale of human self-inflicted suffering through war, suggest that there is a fundamental need to explore that which is foundational, basic to the nature of human experience and conducive to human flourishing. A postmodernist acceptance of alternative and conflicting perceptions would seem inadequate when it comes to the major global issues with which we are confronted.

The confrontation

Here lies the origin of the confrontation between Biblical religion and philosophy, however, for Tillich:
‘… a confrontation would be impossible if philosophy were logical analysis and epistemological enquiry only, however important may be the development of these tools for philosophical thought. Yet philosophy, “love of wisdom” means much more than this. It seems to me that the oldest definition given to philosophy is, at the same time, the newest and that which always was and always will be valid: Philosophy is that cognitive endeavour in which the question of being is asked.’
He goes on to add that it was in accordance with this definition that Aristotle summarised the development of Greek philosophy, anticipating the consequent periods up to the Renaissance and preparing the modern ways of asking the same question. This is because:
‘The question of being is not the question of any special being, its existence and nature, but it is the question of what it means to be. It is the simplest, most profound, and absolutely inexhaustible question – the question of what it means to say that something is.’
Aristotle originally referred to ontology as ‘first philosophy’, and it is unfortunate that it has instead been stuck with the name ‘metaphysics’, simply because it followed the books on physics in the collection of his writings. The frustration with that term is that it has been taken to refer to realities that are beyond the empirical, in ‘a world behind the world, existing only in speculative imagination.’

Notice, therefore, the way in which theology and philosophy have been set up against one another in modern thought. The misunderstanding of metaphysics as being external to the empirical world has suggested that it is concerned with the supernatural and uncertain, to be contrasted with the experienced world of solid matter and facts. What is lost is the sense that metaphysics can be about the reality of that solid matter, its meaning and its significance for us.

In any such confrontation, theology is deprived of its physical and experiential base, and philosophy is deprived of its existential significance and breadth of meaning. Their failure to connect impoverishes both. How, then might they be reconciled?

Two Key Terms

Well, given that Tillich is writing theology, it is appropriate to start to answer this question by asking what he means by ‘God’. Tillich uses two terms to give the context for the use of the word ‘God’ and to focus on what is distinctive in theology: ‘Being-itself’ and ‘Ultimate concern’.

is distinguished from the individual beings that are the objects of our everyday experience. Springing from such fundamental questions as ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ it expresses the intuition that, beneath the diversity of experience, there is some basic level of reality that underpins and sustains the world. It very definitely is not about a hypothetical entity, some ‘Being-itself’, but is a general term for a reality to which, because of the limitations of our sense experience, we do not have direct access. In this, Tillich follows Kant in his esoteric distinction between the phenomenal and noumenal realms. ‘Being itself’, it seems, is not part of the phenomenal world, nor is it experienced directly, far less does it sit alongside other beings. Rather, it is the term for what we intuit as the sense of reality within which everything participates.

As for Tillich's notion of ‘Ultimate concern’, this describes the situation of someone who, above all contingent considerations, is grasped by a sense of what is of significance, importance or finality. It may take the form of an unqualified ethical demand, or a sense of purpose, or a drive to achieve something worthwhile. It contrasts with limited ambitions and inclinations. It is the stuff of legend, of the best drama, of the spine-tingling moments in music. It speaks of a direction, purpose and goal.

In his theology, Tillich uses both terms of ‘God’. God is described as ‘Being-itself’ rather than an individual being. He is not something that might exist ‘out there’ in any sense. To affirm the existence of an objective ‘God’ is as atheistic as to deny it. Tillich insists that God is not that sort of thing, and the trivialisation of much Philosophy of Religion follows from the failure to understand the correct use of the term ‘God’.

Equally, for him, the religious dimension is about an ultimate concern, not a partial one. This might  suggest that many great works of literature are also works of theology.

Tillich argues that truth is presupposed in every philosophical argument, and that it is impossible to deny truth, because that can only be done in the name of truth. He sees that quest as fundamental, quoting Augustine:
‘Where I have found the truth, there I have found my God, the truth itself.’
If this approach is taken, it is clear then that, in Tillich’s words ‘God can never be reached if he is the object of a question, and not its basis.’ This is not to import God into secular debates, but instead to recognise that the term ‘God’ points to the quest for the foundational truth that underpins philosophy.

Yet, the question remains as to how these rather generalised concepts relate to what most people would recognise as religion. How, in particular, do they relate to religious experience?

Symbols – the mechanism of insight

It seems that if metaphysics is to be reinstated in its relationship to physics, there needs to be a mechanism by which our experience of the physical world can convey metaphysical concepts. It is this that Tillich explores in terms of symbols, arguing that the difference between a sign and a symbol is that the former merely points, while the latter participates in the power to which it points. In other words, the symbol conveys to us a sense of reality, meaning and significance.

Much more could be said about Tillich’s theory of the symbol, but suffice here to note that his theory conforms to the way in which a sense of meaning and value is conveyed within any cultural creation. An event happens on stage, a crescendo to the power of the full orchestra sends a tingle down the spine, a poignant moment in a novel reveals a truth about the situation depicted, we are grasped by the power of the art image. In all these situations, what is conveyed is quite beyond the empirical description of the object, and yet there is no empirical data other than that which we see or hear, whether in book or stage, gallery or concert hall. The cultural creations become self-transcending, they reveal levels of meaning that are beyond scientific analysis. They evoke response, they offer insight. And this, Tillich argues, is the way in which our ultimate concern is both understood and expressed.

Nietzsche asks, recognising the enormity of the death of God:
‘Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Where is it moving now? Where are we moving?... Is there still an ‘above’ and ‘below’? Are we not wandering through an endless nothingness? Does not the emptiness of space breath at us?’
And for Nietzsche, the legacy of the Enlightenment and the sense that God is no longer a socially acceptable idea, leads him to recognise the terrible emptiness in a world without a foundational concept. It is cold, directionless and valueless.

There may be (indeed, should be) no way to re-insert God into that situation. But recognising the emptiness might just lead philosophy to start to explore what it is that, through secular culture, gives a sense of direction, meaning, and hope. And so one finds in culture. Could you describe Munch’s Scream, or a Shakespeare play as merely ‘interesting’? They are nothing unless you feel grasped by them, confronted by a reality with which you can in some way identify.

Philosophy and culture

My real aim with this paper is not to try to smuggle theology into the secular philosophical agenda, but rather to recognise that there is a single quest that motivates both philosophy and theology, and that this can be pursued in an entirely secular context – once the secular is seen as embracing foundational questions of meaning and reality. By appreciating the symbolic nature of experience, and being prepared to explore what is genuinely foundational in our understanding of reality, philosophy and theology both address the intuitions and moral sentiments displayed so often within culture.

Indeed, for me, personally, the discovery of Tillich’s theology was liberating. I no longer felt obliged to accept the truth of supernatural beliefs in order to explore fundamental, existential questions or to appreciate the insights of religious art, music and ritual. My own move away from formal religion was not by way of a lack of belief, but a rediscovery of those intuitions to which the beliefs had pointed.

It seems to me that, just as fundamentalism did a disservice to religion, in putting its focus outside the world of human experience, so philosophy fails to do itself justice if it wantonly restricts its field of concern to the examination of reason and evidence and by its willingness always to defer to science. As important as science is in the human world, its methods are not necessarily going to yield the answer to all human questions. The most profound questions deserve to be explored in the context of secular philosophy: hence the possibility of a genuine philosophy of culture. One that keeps open the freshness and intuitive richness of raw experience, while examining its presuppositions and foundational assumptions.

About the author:
Mel Thompson is a popular writer who specialises in religion, philosophy and ethics. His many publications include Teach Yourself books on Ethics, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, Eastern Philosophy, Philosophy of Mind and Philosophy of Science and textbooks for Religious Studies, including Ethical Theory, Religion and Science and An Introduction to Philosophy and Ethics.

More information about his books, along with notes for students, are available on his website:


  1. I thought this was a pretty good essay. Thanks! I'm no expert in philosophy, but my comments are:

    1. If I understand you correctly, it sounds like Medieval theologists were more interested in the fundamental nature of being than in God as some being that created the universe and is outside of it. That is, they thought of God in a more naturalistic way just as whatever it is that is the fundamental basis of reality? If that's correct, I could totally agree with that.

    2. When you said:

    "Some philosophers...preferring to attend to the analysis of argument rather than intuitions of meaning."

    I agree with this, too. It seems from my outside perspective that academic philosophers are more interested in talking about the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" in terms of history and whether or not it makes sense, rather than in answering it.

    3. When you say

    "It seems that if metaphysics is to be reinstated in its relationship to physics, there needs to be a mechanism by which our experience of the physical world can convey metaphysical concepts."

    I also agree with this, although, possibly for different reasons. My view is that

    1. If metaphysics is the study of being.
    2. The physical universe exists or "be"s.
    3. Physics is the study of the universe, which exists.
    4. Then, the laws of physics can theoretically be derived from metaphysical thoughts about the nature of being and properties of existent entities.

    I take this a little further and think that if one can come up with some reasons why things exist and the nature of the most fundamental of existent entities, one can take this metaphysical thinking, use it to build a model of the universe and someday see if this model resembles reality and can make testable predictions about the universe. I call this a metaphysics-to-physics approach and think it might be a way for metaphysics to make actual contributions to science.

    4. In regard to the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?", I think your comment that

    "But, as so often happens with apparently insoluble problems, the fault lies not with the answer but with the question and its presuppositions."

    really applies to this question, I think. I posted some thoughts a couple of years ago in a comment to a "Philosophical Investigations" blog article, but think that our problems in thinking about this question come from assuming that "something" and "nothing" are necessarily total opposites. My view is that the thing we often think of as “nothing” (the lack of all matter, energy, space/volume, time, abstract concepts, laws of physics/math/logic, “possibilities” and the lack of all minds to consider this supposed lack of all) is, when thought of from another angle, a “something”. That is, asking how you go from “nothing” to “something” in the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” is like saying that you start with a 0 (e.g., “nothing”) and end up with a 1 (e.g., “something”). Because there’s no mechanism in 0 to change it to a 1, the only way you can do this is if the 0 is really a 1 in disguise, and it just looks like a 0 from the one perspective we’ve always looked at it from.

    If you're interested, there's more detail about how this could be at my website at:


  2. Dear Roger,
    I totally agree with your first two points. On the 3rd, my hesitation is that physics works within a set of intellectual principles that are not those of metaphysics, but depend on, for example, universal causality. My intuition here is that metaphysics supplies the general sense of value and interest, while physics goes for analysis and causality. I think the first should be foundation for the second, but not causally connected to it. Your 4th point is interesting, particularly because it points to our conceptual limitations with regard to 'nothing'.
    I'll take a look at your website as soon as I get a chance. Many thanks for responding to the paper.
    With all good wishes, Mel

  3. Yes, I actually took a look at your article on the website, Roger and I don't quite see why you say (with relation to Russell's paradox) that the set only exists after all the members are defined. We can presumably have a set such as "Roger's household gadgets" and have no problem assigning members to it as circumstances change!

    On the other hand, I competely agree with you that 'something' and 'nothing' may not be the opposites we are accustomed to treating them as. Indeed, that is also a point argued by Jim Danaher elsewhere on the site:

    Surely it is a thought that still needs more exploration. And I would say, that Mel's book, as well as this article, is a valued part of that.

    1. Dear Martin and Roger,
      There is a huge tangle of issues here, which I cannot start to address, but which has always haunted Western Philosophy. The problem is that thinking requires concepts, which are themselves abstracted from sense experience but which attempt to go beyond individual experiences. Thus the concept 'nothing' short-circuits our normal mental apparatus, because it denies its own foundation. The observation of finitude leads to the awareness that one day one will no longer 'be', but this is literally inconceivable, just as a nothingness before the appearance of the universe is inconceivable. My hunch is that the only way forward is linked to ideas that span Heidegger and the Buddha, namely that we need to be sensitive to intuitions that get beyond the conventional subject/object polarity that has dominated Western thought since Kant. Hence, for example, the Zen insight that comes only after the shedding of logic.

  4. The philosopher Milton Munitz writes, ‘Language is languages.' This is the problem of philosophy today. We have descriptions of our world, but no single description. It is fascinating to contemplate how metaphysics (by which I mean, an all-encompassing philosophy) may be reintegrated.

    In the context of this paper, philosophy and theology have spoken different languages. Yet we ought rather to see, writes Mel Thompson, that there is a single quest that motivates both philosophy and theology. Presumably, therefore, theology and philosophy may be cast in the same language.

    I had a professor named Francis Schaeffer, who wrote a famous book. He commented on Tillich as follows:

    'To the new theology, the usefulness of a symbol is in direct proportion to its obscurity. There is connotation, as in the word god, but there is no definition. The secret to the strength of neo-orthdoxy is that these religious symbols with a connotation of personality give an illusion of meaning, and as a consequence it appears to be more optimistic than secular existentialism. You could not find a clearer example of this than Tillich's phrase "God behind God".'

    I do not agree with my once professor, because I do not think that Tillich gives an illusion of meaning. I think he seeks to reconceive God in such a way that God is set free from common abuse and misconceptions of the term.

    Yet if we should redeem Tillich from Schaeffer's misgiving, I feel some hesitancy whether we can Mel Thompson. This is a question, seeking clarity. Is Mel Thompson describing a reconciliation, or an illusion of reconciliation?

    Of course, there always will be those who lie beyond all attempts at reconciliation.

    1. I agree entirely with your criticism of Schaeffer's interpretation of Tillich. The 'God beyond God' of Tillich reflects the traditional Buddhist claim that 'If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.' Neo-orthodoxy gives an illusion of meaning and thereby distracts from the reality that is beyond conventional concepts. The key question:- Is there space within philosophy for a 'hint' or an 'intuition' in matters that are beyond logical definition or experiential verification. Culture would suggest the such space has been removed from Western philosophy to its own detriment.

  5. I propose that ‘being-itself’ is wholly indescribable. Language fails us in this effort; language wasn’t built to take account of the unconditional elusiveness of ‘being-itself’. Indeed, no conceivable language could take account of ‘being-itself’. Even the expression ‘being-itself’ fails, because ‘itself’ evokes something possible of experience or imagination. But anything that’s fundamental to reality — being-itself — is outside of experience. Indescribably outside of experience, even though we attach the term ‘being-itself’ to it for convenience of conversation.

    Words that we falteringly turn to — like ‘it’, ‘thing’, ‘transcendence’, ‘essence’, ‘fundamental’, ‘phenomenal’, ‘noumenal’, ‘underpin’, ‘term’, ‘entity’, ‘intuit’, ‘reality’, and ‘abstraction’ — fail. ‘Being-itself’ is, furthermore, beyond the imagination. Since imagination depends on language and images (real or surreal), even any imagined ‘being-itself’ fails. By virtue of the indescribability of ‘being-itself’, all the words in my paragraph in turn necessarily fail. It’s not ‘the sense of reality within which everything participates’. Being-itself is, I contend, unrealisable.

    1. I absolutely agree with almost everything you say; it get's to the heart of the matter with admirable brevity. My hesitation is with your last two sentences. The last is certainly the case, but only if being 'realised' implies being conceptualised. My problem is Wittgenstein's at the end of Tractatus - whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent. How do you describe the indescribable? And yet... I sense that we all do actually intuit 'the sense of reality within which everything participates' although unable to specify, describe or define it. It is where we go when we fall asleep, or the impossibility of thinking of ourselves before our birth, or the imaginative experience of letting go in death. Is it possible for language (or music?) to contribute by hinting at this without being able to describe it?

  6. I fail to see why a world ‘without a foundational concept [ought to be] cold, directionless and valueless’. Millennia have been consumed by a brooding sense of insufficiency in the dreaded absence of transcendent purpose. Millennia consumed by the pursuit to fill imagined ‘emptiness’ — to seek, whether through theological or philosophically secular means, ‘direction, meaning, and hope’.

    Why isn’t it enough simply to be? Isn’t ‘to be’ fulfilling — sufficient? If not, why? What’s so compelling about seeking more — maybe unattainably more? The ‘anthropic principle’, which proposes the finely tunely world may be designed for us, is seductive. It can lead to exceptionalism — which stands to fill that ‘emptiness’.

    Perhaps ‘to be’ is, to borrow your words, the very ‘reality with which you can in some way [satisfyingly] identify’. Perhaps ‘to be’ is the end point of ‘exploring what is genuinely foundational in our understanding of reality’. That end point being contentedness in the sufficiency of ‘being’, without the adornment of why.

    I’m not sure how to regard the urge to wend through ‘fundamental, existential questions’ if the purpose of doing so is only to find purpose (vice understanding) and to quell fretting over meaninglessness. Perhaps ‘fundamental, existential questions’ ought to target what it means ‘to be’ — which is describable and embraceable — not the why of ‘to be’ — which arguably isn’t.

    1. I agree! The end of our philosophical wanderings is to return home and see it afresh. I absolutely accept that the end point is simply 'to be'. The clearing away of existential questions and striving after foundational meanings is simply a rather conventional means to that end, in which neither matter or make any sense.

  7. I love this. The paragraph where you describe the moment of revelation in a novel, a performance, art, is a feeling that I've tried to encapsulate so many times before but have never come up with a good description. Brilliant, well done.

    I'm starting to study philosophy at university later this year, and one of my main interests is the divide and the relationship between religion/theology and philosophy, and whether religious or theological thought still has a place in a world where the external appearance would suggest that its prime has passed.

    Do you have recommendations for resources to read that explore this topic in more detail?


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