I wanted to write a few words about what I see as the difference between philosophy and spirituality. I realize, naturally, that anything I say can only be some overly generalized distinction that may be helpful to some, but could never be definitive in any way. At the very least this distinction is something that I have been thinking about a great deal and I continue to feel compelled to think it through and to try to articulate what I come to over and over and over again. Like making a line of demarcation in wet mud with your finger, this distinction may help me see a difference for a moment, but inevitably it will fade, blur and ultimately disappear as time goes on. One last disclaimer is that, as I see it, philosophy and spirituality are opposing poles on a continuum. Some philosophies are more spiritual in nature and some spiritualities are more philosophical. So again I am trying to make a distinction that is clear and crisp where none probably exists.
In short I have been thinking about the fact that philosophies are theories that attempt to describe the nature of reality. In their most ambitious form they are “theories of everything” that attempt to explain what all of reality is made of and how it all works together to create the world as we experience it. So, again being ludicrously over simple, philosophy is composed of philosophical theories about reality. What philosophy doesn’t do is tell you how you should relate to all that. Philosophy might describe ethics in the sense of what is right and what is wrong, but it will generally veer away from directly telling you that you should do what is right. Maybe philosophers feel that is self-evident anyway. Spirituality on the other hand rushes straight into the challenge of telling you how to relate to reality. Spiritual teachings are direct instructions about how you should live. They are based on a philosophy, but usually their main emphasis is on changing the way human beings relate to reality rather than describing it.
A philosophy is describing a view of reality from the outside. Similar to science, it attempts to reveal the objective truth about the way things are. Spirituality, on the other hand, approaches reality from the inside out. It is a subjective view of reality that ultimately points to a way of being that we should adopt in the world. I believe that a spiritual teaching is, in the end, the description of a position that we should take in the world. It is a stand that we adopt and hold.
It is a relationship to the world, not a description of it.
Both are critical. One rests on the other, in fact. As a self-proclaimed romantic my tendencies take me toward spiritual teachings, but recently I have been reading about existential philosophy and I am finding that philosophy shares this emphasis on a stand in the world. I will be expanding more on that as this blog goes on.