Philosophy 101: A Brief Outline

March 17, 2009 — Leave a comment

I probably should have posted this yesterday, but for this glorious spring break week, I am makeshifting my fiance’s Panera as an office space and they unfortunately shut off the Wi-Fi during the lunch rush (which is in 20mins). Due to time constraints (and the need for a bit more research) I’m just going to put forth what we will look at in the coming weeks to give you a bit of a head’s up of where this is going.

Basically, I’ll try to change the title to accommodate what we will be looking at so you can follow a bit more smoothly, so for instance these are the next few titles:

  • Metaphysics 101: Basic Reality
  • Metaphysics 101: Implications for Theology Proper
  • Metaphysics 101: Implications for Anthropology
  • Metaphysics 101: Implications for Epistemology

The last post here will help to transition to a look into Epistemology, which may look something like this:

  • Epistemology 101: The fabric of knowledge
  • Epistemology 101: Implications for Theology Proper
  • Epistemology 101: Implications for Psychology
  • Epistemology 101: Implications for Metaphysics

It may seem from the last sub-heading that we have closed a vicious cirlce (why can’t it be a virtuous circle?) but we will move on from here probably to looking at the topic of revelation both in its general and special sense.

  • Revelation 101: General Revelation
  • Revelation 101: Special Revelation
  • Revelation 101: Scripture

We will cap off our discussion of philosophy with a look what you could term either Theology Proper or Philosophical Theology, the former being more theologically driven and the latter, well you can probably figure it out on your own. But the discussion may look something like this:

  • Theology 101: The Incomprehensibility of God
  • Theology 101: Knowledge of God
  • Theology 101: Names of God
  • Theology 101: Incommunicable attributes of God
  • Theology 101: The Triunity of God
  • Theology 101: Communicable Attributes of God

From here, it’s hard to say where the discussion may go, but this will establish in very specific terms, the basics of a Christian philosophy of life, centering on the Bible as the authoritative source of information and guidance for our thinking on the matter. From this ground-work, if not dealt with directly, many theological topics can be addressed, many false teachers can be identified and hopefully many otherwise perplexing questions can be answered. This is all very optimistic, but I think if we proceed carefully enough from where we start and rely on those who have gone before us and thought clearly on these matters, we can’t go too far wrong.

In researching for this particular blog though, I am beginning to understand more and more why people tend to disdain philosophy. The basic reason I can see why this is so is that most of the history of philosophy is the product of truly brilliant men who were wholly ignorant (well not wholly, but we’ll come back to that point much later) of the most significant facts of reality. As a result, from a truly Christian point of view, most of what has been uttered is sheer nonsense. Sophisticated and technically verbose nonsense, but nonsense nonetheless. Esoteric notions uttered with the lucidity of white noise, which is another way of saying their intricate and lofty thoughts come out as clear as mud, and frankly are about as useful for the average person’s life as a screen door on a submarine.

Now that I have sympathized with you the reader a bit, I’d like to proceed in dealing with many of the same topics and ideas the philosophers have waded through, but as much as possible, simplify the vocabulary and also come at the topics from a Christian perspective. In asserting the above paragraph, I am assuming a definition of philosophy not covered in the clarifying terms essay, and this is one of “philosophy” as the thought content of the major philosophers from Plato (or even the pre-Socratics) onward. So for someone to not much like philosophy could in that sense mean they do not wish to delve into the topics and ideas of the major philosophers, which honestly, is understandable.

To refresh, here were our options in terms of what “philosophy” can refer to:

  • As a person’s overall worldview
  • As the formal cluster of academic disciplines (epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and more)
  • As a second order or higher level of study related to some first order activity like teaching (i.e. a philosophy of teaching, or philosophy of education)
  • As a commitment to clear analytical thinking on a subject.

In other words, many people do not like to discuss the formal cluster of academic disciplines (option #2) and the history of thought on those topics. However, as a Christian, we are committed to discussing our worldview (option #1) and should always commit to doing so in the sense of option #4 (as that is how our God thinks on all topics). Everyone implicitly engages in option #3 when offering their view on how a thing should be done, so I am just assuming that those who do not care for philosophy mean option #2 exclusively, which is fine, but

Spoiler alert: that is where we are going

Although hopefully, we will do so in a much more understandable manner than the history of academic philosophical thought has conducted itself; or at least in reference to the average reader, and especially to the Christian reader. The main reason for this is that in talking about theology, you are necessarily overlapping into the topics of the philosophical disciplines. One cannot engage in a discussion about systematic theology without either stating or assuming a particular metaphysical and epistemological stance. Most of the time it is the latter (assuming) and for this reason we are going to go to a good bit of effort to spell out what the appropriate metaphysical and epistemological stances are for the Christian and in doing so we are pretty much going to oppose every single major philosopher’s stance on those two issues. Of mention this includes:

  • Plato
  • Aristotle
  • Aquinas
  • Descartes
  • Locke
  • Leibniz
  • Berkeley
  • Hume
  • Kant
  • Hegel
  • Kierkegaard
  • Nietzsche

This is by no means exhaustive, but merely constitutes the bigger more monumental names in the history of philosophy that will all probably come up at one time or another. This also amounts to me asserting at this juncture that all of the above men were wrong in their essential metaphysical and epistemological positions. The main reason is that none of these men answered philosophical questions in a decidedly Christian manner (this may be surprising if you’re a fan of Aquinas or even Kierkegaard, but bear with me). I would not be so brash as to come up with this notion on my own, and really to be honest for most everything I will say in the following blogs, I am not contributing very much of my own original thought to the subject but am standing on the shoulders of others with more insight than I. As frequently as possible then I will cite my sources, but many ideas and concepts have been absorbed into my thinking on the matter that may not come out explicitly in citation form. This is unfortunate for whoever had the idea in the first place, but at least at the outset you can be aware that I merely synthesize others’ thoughts and then try to consistently appropriate and apply them.

With all of this in mind, let’s turn to the first topic of actually spelling out a coherent Christian philosophy (in the sense of options 1 & 2 by means of option 4 with some insights from option 3 for good measure); that of course is the question of existence and basic reality, to which we will now turn.

Nate

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I’m an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let’s connect!

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