A Philosophical Attitude


Like Einstein I disassociate myself from the atheist tag, partly because I prefer an “attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.” But also to distance myself completely from the fundamental atheists (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens et al.) who declaim their untestable (on both sides) hypothesis at very opportunity.

During the Middle Ages everything changes, because philosophy is no longer merely religion’s servant. As soon as philosophy frees itself from a theology, it becomes a critique, either purifying or destroying, of religion. Philosophers-Spinoza no less than Kant, for example-have always had a tendency to purify the idea of God and detach it from properly religious representations. It seems to me that what has been called natural religion is merely a theistic philosophy. As such, it lacks what is essential in religion: rites. Now, I recognise that by defining religion in this way, I oppose a rather general use of the word, namely, to speak of God, transcendence, or mystery. I have observed the fact in Thomas Mann, who in a letter remarks, “We live and we die in mystery, and one can, if one wishes, qualify the consciousness we have of it as religious.” Similarly, Einstein spoke of the scientific religiosity and the cosmic religion of his own position, which he expresses by reporting, “I have the strongest emotion in front of the mystery of life,” while refusing a God who rewards and punishes. In his inaugural lecture, Merleau-Ponty said roughly the same thing as Thomas Mann and Einstein, but was careful to specify that this is a philosophical attitude: “Philosophy awakens us to what is problematic in itself in the existence of the world and our own existence, to the point that we are never healed from searching, as Bergson would say, for a solution ‘in the master’s book.” This is a philosophical attitude that Merleau-Ponty refuses to qualify as atheist, because it merely consists of displacing the sacred or defining it in another way.

Pierre Hadot
The Present Alone is Our Happiness

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