Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

God and Philosophy

In general, I hesitate to make a reader's comment the subject of a post, for fear of seeming to abuse the inherent power of being the blog post. But since the comment I was writing on the post below about philosophy and moral reasoning was reaching post-like proportions (and because I've been short of time to write good meaty posts lately) I thought I'd make and exception.

Kip said:
I love Plato too, but it's just an amusement though isn't it? He has some nice lessons on logic, but was also able to prove some ludicrous things, purely by the power of his intellect and sheer audacity. I'm not sure he's a good candidate for philosophical veracity. But I guess the epsitles of St Paul are largely philosophical, as indeed are the writings of other great early Christians. Likewise, the wise teachings of the Confucists and Buddhists. So evidently some philosophy can illuminate what is deeply true. But it's such a small proportion! And in every case is founded on something deeper than the philosophy itself. As for all muck that I dabbled in as a youth (not that my reading was all that deep or broad; Neitzsche, Marx, that existential rubbish, plus bits and pieces of this and that from here and there), it's beautiful and seductive, but monstrous -- and lies, all lies! Corrupters of the young, indeed. Bring out the hemlock!

Like any powerful tool, logic can be mis-used in the wrong hands. Logic is, after all, the way of determining consistency, not truth. Thus, the veracity of anything 'logically proven' is dependent not only on the quality of the logical analysis, but also on the accuracy of the premises which the argument accepts. Garbage in, garbage out.

As for Plato in particular -- of those outside the Judeo-Christian tradition, I think in some ways he got closest to understanding God. Which is no small feat. I don't think it should be diminished.

There is certainly some odd stuff that he has the participants in his dialogues suggest, or even agree on. However, I think it would very much be a mistake to take all of this at face value. Despite the readable style, Plato has some rather subtle things going on, and I don't think that everything which his characters agree on is actually something Plato would support in an unqualified fashion.

There's a tendency within certain strains of Christianity (I tend to see it as a more Protestant impulse these days, but that's not to say that it isn't present in some of the Fathers as well) to overly denigrate all human endeavor (whether intellectual or moral) in comparison to the goodness of the divine.

Of course, it's hardly a fair comparison. If God is infinitely good, then we all far quite short by comparison. And yet, we are made in the likeness of God, and Christ enjoined us to "be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect." That command hardly seems compatible with a "snow on a dunghill" approach to grace and salvation.

The traditional Christian understanding of man has been that he stands halfway between the animal and the divine. With the beasts, we share all too mortal bodies and the bodily needs and desire that go with them. And yet we are rational animals, sharing in the divine reason which gives order to the universe in which we live, and thus able to understand our world in a way that animals cannot.

In our sin, we sometimes try to make ourselves as gods, and yet we are at our most godlike when, rather than setting ourselves up a rivals to God, we join with him in the use of our reason and of our creative powers. In the field of human endeavor (as opposed to prayer and contemplation, though which we experience the divine more directly), there are three disciplines which bring humanity into the closest imitation of God:

-The creative arts, in which the artist mirrors God's creative love
-Reason: philosophy, logic, mathematics, by which man seeks to understand the divine order of the mind of God
-Science, by which man seeks to understand the workings of God's creation

While none of these are salvific in their own right, I don't think we should ever minimize their place in allowing man to mirror his creator.

1 comment:

Kip said...

(by the way, I'm honoured that you entertained my opinionated blatherings with a Blog post. That's real Christian charity!)

I agree with you about science and and mathematics, I think God really does reveal Himself through His creation. And there is a strong element of philosophy within both these disciplines, but that's not the philosophy we're talking about here.

And I do enjoy philosophy, I just genuinely don't think it can teach us very much, in particular as it has been understood and practiced for many centuries now. It's like circus entertainment!

I was reminded of when Prez Bush was asked who his favourite philosopher was, and he said 'Christ'. The cognoscenti could barely contain their chuckles, but *of course*, Christ is the greatest philosopher, being one who loves and promotes the truth. It's obvious.

And the fact that they found the President's response so amusing shows that even to its supporters philosophy is now nothing but a parlour game, a bit of fashionable twittering with prizes for the most acrobatic twit. Good for a laugh, but don't let's make the mistake of actually using it to make decisions!

An example of this being in politics. Old fashioned conservatism, the only sensible political faction, lacks a strict philosophical framework. Basically a mish mash of ancient moral principles, with a little bit of small 'l' libertarianism (not too much please), a large amount of pragmatism, a healthy respect for the institutions that have served us well and some popularist respect for the wishes of the voters.

Indeed, some gullible conservatives are often embarrassed by how philosophically lightweight their side of politics is. Yet the strict political philosophies are all notable for dangerously stupid policies. For example in the case of (big-el) Libertarianism (let's ignore Socialism, it's much too easy a target), the legalisation of hard drugs, pornography and prostitution -- only a philosopher could come up with such an absurd prescription!