Aesthetics is defined as:
1. the branch of philosophy dealing with such notions as the beautiful, the ugly, the sublime, the comic, etc., as applicable to the fine arts, with a view to establishing the meaning and validity of critical judgments concerning works of art, and the principles underlying or justifying such judgments. 2. the study of the mind and emotions in relation to the sense of beauty.23
definition, above, raises a key issue: emotions. There is a very strong
relationship between aesthetics and emotions. In Western Civilization,
we have tended to associate greatness in the arts with the power of
both the intellectual concepts and the emotional reactions which are
invoked by any given artistic expression. This concept applies equally
well regardless of the particular medium: music, drama, sculpture,
painting, or whatever.
Aesthetics is more than a matter of personal taste, since it includes an implied component of justification. The justification is expressed in philosophical terms, and thus there is established a close relationship between philosophical values and aesthetical values. When you criticize a person's taste in the arts, you are criticizing that person's personal philosophy, and to some degree, you call that person's entire character into question. It is for this reason that disputes over works of art have been known to lead to fist fights, duels, and other forms of violence.
There are those who assert that the state of a civilization's arts may be used to measure the state of advancement or decline in that civilization.24 Those people tend to decry "modern art" as symbolic mostly of the philosophical bankruptcy of our culture. The same sort of thing is said about the taste of the masses in music. It is the study of Aesthetics which gives (or removes) validity to judgments such at those.
But we must not forget that Aesthetics is only a part of Philosophy, and that there is a necessary relationship between our view of the arts and our own personal philosophy. For example, in the arenas of Ethics and Politics, we must decide if public support of the arts is desirable. But we must never forget the key role which our aesthetic values play in our total world view; which is to say in our Philosophy.
is no question that Religion is inextricably intertwined with the
questions of Metaphysics and Ethics. In most times and places, Religion
is an instrumentality of the state, in one form or another, and is thus
also intimately involved with Politics. Finally, many of the greatest
artistic triumphs of mankind were originally inspired by religious
themes, or even paid for by the products of the collection plate, so
Aesthetics obviously has a great debt to Religion. Religion and
Aesthetics both deal with inspiration and controlled emotional
reactions, so the relationship is even closer than you might otherwise
imagine. You could even say that Religion and Philosophy are
alternative views of the same thing, although the partisans of both
would be angered by that thought.
The downfall of Religion is Epistemology, "How do you know it?" For Christianity, the answer would appear to be: "Jesus told Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and Paul wrote it all down for us to read." Well, who told Jesus and Paul? God? You're kidding.
You see, the earliest known texts antedate Jesus by at least half a century, and it was really not until Saint Jerome came out with the "Standard" bible in roughly 400 a. d. that there was any real attempt at accurate preservation of content. These known facts do call into substantial question the accuracy of the Christian religious texts which we have today.
And even if the texts are absolutely accurate, who speaks for their truth? The true answer is clearly: Jesus, as interpreted by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Jesus did not see fit to write anything down on his own. This is an amazingly coincidental failure of virtually every really great figure in Religion. Neither Jesus, Mohammed, nor Buddha took the time to actually write anything down on their own. Each related an oral tradition which was committed to paper only many years after the original recitation. Anyone who has experience with the "circle game"25 knows of the possible inaccuracies of any oral history or similar method of transmitting knowledge. Any chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and thus every Christian depends on several decades of oral tradition, along with the supposed good judgment of Saint Jerome in reconstructing all of the key texts.
But the purpose of my insisting on retaining Religion as a branch of Philosophy is not to merely run it down, because Religion deserves better than that. We must actually deal with it. Clearly, there is a need for spirituality in all mankind. Otherwise, Religion would immediately die during any age of reason. This yearning for spiritually fulfilling experiences is clearly something which Philosophy must address, one way or another.
The mere definition of Religion displays both its relationship to, and its distinction from, Philosophy. Religion is:
1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs. 2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects . . . . 6. something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience . . . .26
In point of fact, Will Durant did not consider religion to be a proper part of Philosophy, but to instead be the "Great Enemy" of Philosophy. In the first chapter of The Mansions of Philosophy (1929), he wrote (on page 21):
"But then death too belongs to philosophy; and when all other debates are stilled, thought turns fearfully to consider the Great Enemy, and philosophy enters the portals of Religion. Theology is the study of supernatural beings, and their relationship with man; of these beings philosophy has nothing to say. But of man's relationship with the sum of life and the totality of things, of his origin on this earth and his final destiny, philosophy would speak, though with a modesty commensurate with human ignorance. It is concerned with the question of immortality as it is concerned with every vital issue; perhaps we might define philosophy as a matter of life and death. And finally, it is concerned with God. Not with the God of theology, conceived presumably as outside the realm of Nature; but with the God of philosophers, the law and the structure, the vitality and the will of the world. If there is any intelligence guiding this universe, philosophy wishes to know and understand it and to reverently work with it; if there is none, philosophy wishes to know that also, and to face it without fear."
Ayn Rand had
mostly bad things to say about Religion, mostly in the form of harsh
judgments of those philosophers and religious theorists who have, from
time to time, attempted to hijack Philosophy and make it serve the ends
of Religion. She characterized religion as a set of irrationally held
beliefs and philosophy as rationally held beliefs. But she seemingly
forgets that Philosophy includes all beliefs, whether they are rational
My own view is that Religion is properly a branch of Philosophy, with its assigned subject matter being that portion of knowledge which mankind will probably never know. This is, of course, an explicit expression of my own agnostic religious beliefs.
For anyone who has different religious beliefs, you cannot be true to both your religion and your philosophy if you do not integrate them into a whole. This conclusion is mandated by the extremely large overlap in subject matter between Philosophy and Religion. And in fact, the vast majority of respected philosophers were religious men who were attempting to integrate their theology into their scientific system.
As Ayn Rand clearly notes, your choice of religious beliefs explicitly determines your choice of Philosophy. While she attempts to ridicule Religion, by statements such as those demonstrating the epistemological choice between "a process of reason" or "sudden revelation from a supernatural power" as the answer to the "How do I know it?" question, she misses a key point by excluding Religion from her Philosophy. The key point is: Philosophy does not exclude wrong ideas; Philosophy is concerned with the examination and labeling of all possible human thoughts, and is thus absolutely inclusive of all wrong ideas. As Ayn Rand herself said:
"Now you may ask: If philosophy can be that evil, why should one study it? Particularly, why should one study the philosophical theories which are blatantly false, make no sense, and bear no relation to real life?
"My answer is: In self-protection - and in defense of truth, justice, freedom, and any value you ever held or may ever hold."
because the provinces of Philosophy and Religion so greatly overlap,
you simply cannot exclude a study of Religion from a study of
Philosophy. Just do yourself one favor and begin with the study of some
Religion about which you know absolutely nothing. Approach it with the philosopher's open mind, which Ayn Rand defines as the critically thinking active
mind, and laugh your head off. Work your way gradually back towards
your own religious beliefs. By the time that you have evaluated all of
the world's other major religions, and found fault with them on the
basis of sound philosophical principles, only then will you be ready to
challenge the belief system with which you were raised. However, you
must do so, sooner or later, for you cannot truly have your own
philosophy until such time as you have integrated all of the thought
patterns you were force fed as a child, plus all of the religious
experiences you claim as an adult, into a total philosophical structure
you can call your own. It is a great failure of our educational system
that we do not inspire our children to do this for themselves.
As noted above, Will Durant called Religion the Great Enemy of Philosophy, and it is fairly clear that Ayn Rand would agree. But, again as noted above, Philosophy and Religion are "joined at the hip" because they are really just two different labels for virtually the same thing: a metaphysical view of the universe, a system of epistemology, ethics and/or politics, and an inspiration toward Aesthetics.
If we return to our forest analogy, with Philosophy as the soil and the individual fields of knowledge as trees comprising a forest, Religion is a series of mythical trees around the edges. The parents of a child place each child at the base of one of these trees by teaching that child something fundamental about the place of that child in the universe as a whole. But any child who stops worshipping their particular tree long enough to look seriously at other fields of knowledge will eventually discover that an entire forest awaits their curiosity. Thus, Religion is the beginning of a path of exploration which will, in the end, lead to Philosophy (as so many religious intellectuals have discovered). It is my intent to motivate each of us to begin to explore that path, for the greater enrichment of each of our own lives.
23 Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition, 1993.
24 One principal proponent of this concept is Oswald Spengler.
25 A group of children sit in a circle. One person is selected to whisper a story into the ear of the person to their left (or right). The story is then passed around the circle and examined for accuracy when it returns to the original teller.
26 Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition, 1993.
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