It could be argued that there are three great competing philosophies in the world right now. Democracy, Communism and Islam.

Now because one of these philosophies also includes the presumption of a supernatural power it is called a `religion'.

But is there really any difference?

I would say all these are philosophies as in a set of ideas, beliefs or principles: Democracy, Communism, Marxism, Science (or belief in the scientific method to determine truth), Christianity, Buddhism, Capitalism, Christianity, Atheism.

As such a human-being could subscribe to several different philosophies. e.g. one could say they are a scientist, a capitalist, an atheist and a democrat. Sometimes with conflicting principles.

Why would some philosophies be protected under law as "religions". As such we should be able to criticise any philosophy. (In fact the belief in free-speech is also a philosophy).

Therefor is there any real difference between a philosophy labelled as religion, one labelled as science, one as a political theory and one just as "philosophy"? Are they not all just a developed set of ideas, beliefs and principles one can subscribe to? (Are they all just "memes" in the sense of Dawkins or more than that?)

What's your view. Is religion just another philosophy? Is science just another philosophy?

Edit: Perhaps the word "philosophy" is not quite right. Maybe "philosophical theory" is better. (Or is there a better term?)

  • This seems very broad and I would not expect the answers to be more than opinions. If it gets closed, don't be discouraged. There may be similar, more focused questions that you have. Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 22:56
  • I see no reason not to adopt your plan. But (natural) science would have to omitted since it is a method, not a world-theory. It informs philosophy but is not a part of it except as one of its tools. Or this would be my view.
    – user20253
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 9:35
  • You say that philosophy is "a set of ideas, beliefs or principles". Do you think this classification may be too broad considering that the examples you have unified under this term encompass ideologies that differ greatly in their application, epistemologies, structure, and social customs? The second half of your question seems more like you want to change the legal definition of religion which is an entirely different matter.
    – syntonicC
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 16:39
  • I think, what I would like in general, is if all these "philosophies" could be seen on an equal footing as sets of ideas which may be true of false. And that there should be no distinction within the law that elevates any particular philosophy. Viewed in this manner it changes how we view other peoples ideas (or beliefs) and also our own. For example the opposing ideas that truth can be obtained through experimentation vs that truth can be obtained through divine intervention. If we viewed these as opposing philosophies in a subset of all philosophies it brings a different perspective to it?
    – zooby
    Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 0:56
  • 1
    @YechiamWeiss - Very much agree. The first sentence is utter nonsense. There's a good question here but buried under much misapprehension.
    – user20253
    Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 12:15

4 Answers 4


I think it is arguable that religions could be called philosophies. The difference is that each religion would call itself the only thing that can be true. It is not so much a theory that religious people believe could be incorrect but a belief that this way of thinking is ultimately the only way.

Therefore, although religions might possibly be viewed as philosophies, I don't think some theists would class their religions as such.

On the other hand, theologians might say that they are in pursuit of knowledge about the nature of God. Therefore, they could classify themselves as philosophers as they are inquiring about the nature of reality.

  • I edited you post. You are welcome to roll this back or further edit. Click on the "edited" link above my name to see the changes. I agree with your distinction, however, I wonder if you have sources you find most valuable that you could reference with your answer. Adding those sources would be a good reason for you to edit your answer further. This would give readers a place to go for more information. Welcome to this SE. Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 17:23

In the US, religion is not protected as specially as some people assert. Churches don't pay taxes, but neither do colleges, art institutions, and other non-profit organizations. Freedom of speech, constitutionally mandated in our 1st Amendment, guarantees that no particular set of ideas (religious or otherwise) enjoys privilege...excepting our constitution itself, of course, because of its situation in our country's history.

You might be interested to know that Christianity is fundamentally other than a philosophy: Christians acknowledge that everything written and said by Christians would be the worst kind of trash if it turned out to be false that Jesus said, did, and was what's claimed:

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15:19

  • Yet, you could say that Christianity is the philosophy as set out by Jesus (assuming what he said was true.) Was Jesus not a philosopher to all intents and purposes? And Christians just subscribe to the philosophy as set out by Jesus?
    – zooby
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 2:52
  • Well, he certainly said a lot of things that people took to be new ideas, as did his followers. But Christianity has specifically laid out that if all the philosophies of Jesus were written today exactly as they are, but if Jesus had not actually done what he is claimed to have done, then the philosophies would help about as much as a bag of poop. Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 2:55
  • @elliotsvensson I don't believe many Christians hold this view. I hope not since it undermines the entire edifice of Christianity. The truth of, say, the sermon on the mount does not depend on who was speaking. And, for example, when Jesus says 'I and my Father are One' he makes a vast philosophical point that may be examined without holding any belief in him even as an historical person. The truth, I suspect, is that many Christians do not explore the Bible as a philosophical text and so miss much of the message, becoming dependent on a belief in the details of the superficial story-line .
    – user20253
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 9:43
  • @PeterJ, I am giving a plain interpretation of Paul's single-liner there at 1 Corinthians 15:19. Of course the surrounding paragraphs provide more context for this, but I don't think I have it wrong at all. Christian writers have acknowledged and even asserted that Christian morality is not novel or unique---- the difference Christians may stand on is the historical claims about Jesus' death and resurrection, and what that means for folks today. Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 16:32
  • Interestingly we are more willing to call the teachings of Buddha or Confucius as "philosophies" simply because they have no supernatural higher power. But they are for all intents and purposes "religions" too.
    – zooby
    Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 0:58

Yes, there is a difference. According to e.g. Wikipedia:

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.

  • Democracy is not a study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.
  • Communism is not study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.
  • Islam is not study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.
  • Christianity is not...
  • Buddhism is not ...
  • Capitalism is not ...
  • Atheism is not ...

You get the idea.

Note that several if not all religions contain some philosophic elements, but a fundamental problem in philosophy is how to avoid arriving at false conclusions from false premises. And logic dictates that a single false premise in a large set of ideas leads to any number of false conclusions. So all religions fail to be philosophies by mere virtue of including unproven assumptions about gods, rebirth, life after death, soul traveling and so on.

As such, there is such a thing as "Buddhist philosophy", that is the tiny unpolluted parts of Buddhism that are independent of the spiritual garbage, whereas Buddhism as a whole is clearly a religion, not a philosophy. It is impossible to build a philosophy by starting with: "There is this magic creature living in heaven judging all our actions, and this creature will meet you after death, so rejoice." Even if this was actually true, a philosophy is not allowed to assert it until objectively proven, because it is a logical fallacy to assume unproven statements in the study of fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.

I would say all these are philosophies as in a set of ideas, beliefs or principles

That makes all of the things "ideas, beliefs or principles". It does not make them philosophies. You can easily create a set of ideas, beliefs or principles my taking one of each.

Here is an example:

  • idea: I could have a cheeseburger today
  • belief: The best chesseburgers are made in the Pentagon
  • Principle: Whenever I each a cheeseburger, I should also run a marathon

There you go, I have a solid set of "set of ideas, beliefs or principles". But it is not a philosophy. It is just trash. You blindly mix together trash, and you get trash.

Philosophies require more care, more reason, and more restraint. Just being famous does not help anything being a philosophy either.

  • Why is it not your personal cheeseburger philosophy? Yes, you could say democracy is the attempt at enacting democratic philosophical principles. Philosophy as a whole is general but there are particular philosophies (or maybe they should be called "philosophic theories"?). Thus you may say "The Philosophy of Descartes" or "The Philosophy of Russell" or the "Philosophy of Karl Marx" aka Maxism. Perhaps the words I am using are wrong?
    – zooby
    Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 5:08
  • My cheeseburger set of ideas is not a study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Also even if there was such a thing as "The Philosophy of Descartes", that does not mean everything that he ever said, wrote or thought is part of that philosophy. It would only be the philosophical stuff which he wrote. If he also wrote a cookbook, or a book on soccer rules, or a book on god, or a book on politics, or on hairstyles, those would not suddenly become part of a philosophy.
    – tkruse
    Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 8:06
  • I'd agree with your essential point but cannot upvote since the list is not right. Buddhism is exactly the study of your named topics. Even Islam may be the study of these topics for some practitioners. The rest of the list seems correct but Islam is a little hard done by and to put Buddhism on there is a demonstrable error. It offers us a complete descriptive global philosophical theory. I would say it is the only global philosophical theory that qualifies for the name. Otherwise your answer seems correct to me.
    – user20253
    Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 12:35
  • According to the given definition, psychology is a part of philosophy.
    – rus9384
    Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 19:11
  • @tkruse - What you say here betrays a lack of interest. The Perennial philosophy is called a philosophy because it is a philosophy. Is this not rather obvious? If you want to argue it is not a philosophy you're welcome but I feel you might do better to get to know your target beforehand. How anyone could conclude that Buddhism is not a philosophy is quite beyond me. Almost any book on the topic would put paid to this misunderstanding. I'd be happy to explain more in the chat room but there would be no point in arguing about it when the information is in the public domain.
    – user20253
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 11:07

No. Religion is ritual, community, and reverence. Science is observation, hypothesis, and peer review. Philosophy - and this translation has stood 2500+ years - is "love of wisdom" i.e. respect for obtaining knowledge, or the virtue of empirically verifying what is the case.

Colloquial use of philosophy to mean "a way of looking at things," "opinion," weltanschauung, et cetera is misnomer from the translation.

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