Excursus (I): Generalizing Over Religion

In what follows I pick up a discussion that took place on Twitter (Feb. 11, 2015) about whether we can, or should, generalize over religion. Since some participants thought that we can’t, or shouldn’t, here are some brief remarks from a logical point of view, and a suggestion:

  1. From yesterday’s discussion: What does it take to generalize over religion?
  2. Generalization is a very common, if not necessary, procedure in logic & science.
  3. Without it we wouldn’t be able to make any viable statements at all.
  4. In logical formalism we distinguish between genus & species; see Seminar, §§ 6.8 ff.
  5. The term ‘religion’ itself is a generalization already. From here we can go ‘upward’ or ‘downward.’ (For Seminar purposes you may want to check Aristotle, Posterior Analytics, Bk I, ch. 20: “I mean by upwards, towards the more universal; and by downwards, towards the particular;” Oxford Translation).
  6. In the upward case, the term religion subsumes under still higher genera; under terms like ‘belief system,’ or something such.
  7. In the downward case, we subsume under the genus religion particular terms. ‘God,’ for example, seems to be a decisive concept in this sense.
  8. There are all kinds of gods. In polytheisms there are many gods; in monotheisms there is only one.
  9. Since polytheisms play no big role anymore, we should concentrate perhaps on monotheisms.
  10. Under monotheism we subsume the specific religions, Christianity, say, or Judaism, or Islam.
  11. But what do we subsume under Christianity, Judaism, Islam? And what criteria do we use for the resp. concretizations?
  12. What can we say about the adherents (believers) of these religions?
  13. Or about the policies they favor? Can, or ought we, say something about them at all?
  14. It’s perhaps more interesting to ponder over possible criteria for further subsumption than to just list further subsumable terms.
  15. Any ideas? Yesterday I learned that there is a field called ‘analytic theology,’ maybe that can help too; see Martin Montoya’s Twitter profile.
  16. In any event, I am firmly convinced that we can generalize over religion, as we can over any other term or concept.
  17. And since words do have meanings that influence our practical behavior, how about a Twitter discussion: #GeneralizingOverReligion?

Thanks to NousNougat for participating in yesterday’s discussion. She/he had valuable remarks on the distinction between religions & persons.

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Here are some Preliminary Results of the Discussion so far [added 2/17/2015]:

  1. I agree with Martin Montoya that criteria, of whatever sort, tend to lead into infinite regresses (we had this in the Seminar in re (logical) reductions, §§ 6.11 ff.). But is this necessarily a bad thing?
  2. I also agree with Martin Montoya and Cathy that one of the central standards, or criteria, for #GeneralizingOverReligions should be the respective religion’s fit into a secularized liberal democracy, and not the other way around.
  3. Furthermore, I believe (here I disagree partly with Martin Montoya, tweets of 2/16/2015) that we can generalize over a religion without being familiar with the doctrinal specifics of the particular religion in question. How so?
  4. Perhaps by what the American philosopher W.v.O. Quine called “Saving the Obvious;” cf. Philosophy of Logic, 2nd ed., 1986, 82 f., 96 f., 102; compare also his Mathematical Logic, rev. ed., 1981, 166.
  5. This move is already present in Aristotle, Prior Analytics, Bk I, chs. 1 & 4, on what Aristotle called perfect or complete deduction; see also Metaphysics Bk IV, chs. 7 f., on the Principles of Non-Contradiction & Excluded Middle.
  6. The idea is that, besides being tautological (we’ll come to this in the Seminar at a later stage), every logical truth is obvious.
  7. Following this idea we may pick some first principles of any religion’s doctrinal body and apply to it the standard logical operations (we get to these at a later stage too), plus the logical Principle of Non-Contradiction.
  8. On this foil then we can see how the respective religious principles logically relate to each other, that is, whether they internally cohere with, or contradict, each other.
  9. An interesting question in this regard (again brought up by Martin Montoya) is the role secularization played in the process of making, say, Christianity logically more coherent.
  10. As in every monotheistic religion there is, for example, the tension between the posit or moral imperative of universal love, on the one hand, and violence as a means of the religion’s proliferation, on the other.
  11. Today we may say that this obvious (!) contradiction was resolved by civilizing Christianity’s doctrinal corpus through the secularizing of its universality claim, and by institutionalizing the separation of church and state in democratic societies.
  12. It is perhaps a central question for the project of #GeneralizingOverReligion whether—and if so, in what respects—we can say this for the (practices of the) other monotheistic religions as well.

Martin Montoya (private communication) disagrees with §§ 10 & 11, and would rather see a sharper distinction made between historical and logical judgments. A similar point, if I understood her correctly, was made by Cathy in her contribution to the discussion on Twitter.