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Book: Theorizing Religion in Antiquity

Chapter: 5. Philosophical Reflections on the Presocratics: A Contribution to the Scientific Study of Religion

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.27965


Implicit in the thought of the pre-Socratic cosmologists from the Milesians to the Atomists lies a new understanding of 'knowledge' in which beliefs are open to rational criticism and assessment. This kind of knowledge about the world and states of affairs in the world simply amounts to the espousal of beliefs about an objectively existing reality that have found rational and evidential support. This 'knowledge as rationally justifiable beliefs' stands in radical contrast to knowledge as metaphysical 'Truths' regarding indisputable realities such as the gods and the meaning of life vouchsafed to people either by way of revelation, intuition, or imagination. It is the emergence of this new conception of knowledge as entirely reliant on autonomous reason that constitutes a 'critical episode' in the development of human thought essential to the eventual emergence of science (and of the scientific study of religion) as we understand it today.

Chapter Contributors

  • Donald Wiebe ( - donwiebe) 'University of Toronto'