Stanley Fish on the Distinction Between Religion and Philosophy

Stanley Fish, professor of law and humanities at Florida International University in Miami, and contributor to, has posted a follow-up piece to his article, Does Philosophy Matter?.  In it, Fish argues that philosophical and religious belief are fundamentally distinguishable.  Both, he reflects, may be momentous—say, killing is always wrong.  But one may arrive at philosophical belief from many sources—one’s mother, a good book.  And though one may state philosophical belief in absolute terms, it is subject to the challenges and standards of philosophical reasoning.

On the other hand, he says, religious belief arises from commands—moral imperatives not subject to an umbrella system of reasoning or logic.  And, unlike a philosophical belief, which can be a passing intellectual exercise, one observes religious belief always: at temple, home, and work.  (Fish contextualizes this dichotomy in part by reference to Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702 (1997)—the Due Process challenge to Washington State’s prohibition of assisted suicide—and the so-called Philosopher’s Brief, the amicus curiae by Ronald Dworkin and five other moral and political philosophers opposed to the law.)

Is religious belief so absolute or unquestioning as Fish claims?   Read more