Many people cite Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, or Stoics as alternative sources of wisdom for atheists. If you are a thinker, open to adoption of philosophical thought and living, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, or the Stoics appear to be good alternatives to organized religion. Scientific or philosophical thought it appears is exogenous to spirituality that is essence of religious organization, religious organization that at different times is anchored by good, not-so-good, or bad people.
Essence of a system of spirituality can be good, yet be domiciled within religious organizations anchored by not-so-good or bad people.
Quite the contrary to association of philosophical thoughts of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, or the Stoics with search for meaning outside of belief in God, Aristotle places theology at apex of the speculative sciences, with speculative sciences consisting of natural philosophy (biology etc.), mathematics, and theology. In the same vein, the Stoic Chrysippus asserts theology is fulfillment or objective of philosophy. It is important to note here that to Aristotle and other philosophers theology meant merely knowledge attained to which enables discernment of what exactly it is constitutes right living. Under assumptions of absence of cognitive dissonance, knowledge of right living was taken to imply adherence to right living.
Do we in this regard of reference to theology have any concurrence from Socrates and Plato or other notable Stoics?
In his work, the ‘Republic’, Plato asserts that the objective of contemplation of the order evident in the heavens must be arrival at an orderly and divine pattern of life.
In the ‘Apology’, Socrates asserts that philosophy is business of examining life with objective of moral reform of individuals within society.
For Seneca the Stoic, philosophy moulds and constructs the soul, guides our conduct, shows us what we should do and what we should leave undone.
In view of the foregoing, the only difference between spirituality and philosophy is the means to discovery of self and in the event He were to exist, the means to discovery of God. For the philosopher, the mind can progress from understanding of the physical world to understanding of what constitutes right living — theology. For the spiritualist, while the mind can understand the physical world, there is need for revelation from God for understanding of what exactly it is constitutes right living.
The only difference between the philosopher and the spiritualist is the means to discovery of what it means to live right. None of the notables of Greek philosophers believed in subjective morality. There always was right living (objective morality) to be discovered.
It is clearly evident that enterprise of Greek philosophy never was embarked on as a means for avoidance of right living. Rather, in face of superstition that in ancient times was associated with spirituality and religion (prior to advent of Christianity), philosophy was embarked upon as a rational alternative to religion with focus on discovery of what it means to live right. While ancient religion focused on appeasing gods and worship of gods, Greek philosophy focused on how best to organize affairs of life on earth via arrival at understanding of ‘right living’.
With its focus on right living, it is enervating to realize that Christianity conforms with the rationalist foundation or objective of Greek philosophy. Only Christianity and Islam are regarded as sufficiently philosophically grounded in quest for right living for facilitation of comparisons with Greek philosophy. In aggregate, Christianity, Islam, and Greek philosophy all aim for the same objective — discovery of what it means to live right.
We conclude then that philosophy is not about a search for excuses, or self imposition of the right to abdicate from contemplation of what it is exactly constitutes right living. In its purest form, philosophy can be characterized as spirituality grounded in the assumption that man can by searching find out meaning of life and were He to exist, essence of God. If God does exist, either of Christianity or Islam must trump philosophy in so far as arrival at full understanding of right living is concerned. Further, since Christianity and Islam differ in their definitions of right living, adherence to the philosopher’s creed requires admission both systems of spirituality cannot be fully or identically right.
If God does not exist, philosophy, which helps us discover right living, is all that matters. If God exists, much as is evident in contributions of natural philosophy (biology etc.) and mathematics (alongside other basic sciences) to understanding of the world in which we live, philosophical thought, which enhances our understanding of the physical and spiritual universe continues to have value for arrival at right living.
In final analyses, it is unambiguously clear that philosophy never has been excuse for arrival at subjective morality. Much the same as Christianity and Islam, philosophy always has been about search for objective morality. Philosophy and spirituality both are means to an end, means for discovery of what exactly it is constitutes right living in human society. Used in complementarity or independently, and regardless of any perversion by man, characterization of philosophy or spirituality as means to an end remains constant, remains the same over time, remains an immutable parameter of our common existence.
If you would like to find out more about essence of Greek philosophy, check out “The Territories of Science and Religion” by Peter Harrison. For a better understanding of essence of Christianity, check out “In Jesus Name” authored by my good self (Oghenovo Obrimah). Both books are available on Amazon.com.