Category Archives: Philosophy

In defense of Scholasticism

In confronting the “new atheists,” Dr. Edward Feser offers Scholasticism (or “new scholasticism”) as the proper answer. I like his ideas. I have my own ideas of the role and place of apologetics, and often I struggle with its importance in comparison to other forms of witness, but it’s still important.

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Gregory Wolfe on Christian Humanism

always worth hearing Greg Wolfe’s thoughts…

References:
Gregory Wolfe
Image Journal

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Filed under Art, Beauty, Language, Philosophy, Politics, Video, World View

Just War Theory – an overview

This is a great overview, in six short videos, of the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Just Defense (formerly Just War) Theory or Doctrine. It is also a critique of where that theory stands today in light of modern ‘total” war, and ultimately advocates for the original Christian position of pacifism, or peace making.

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Filed under Catholic Church, Ethics, Gospel, Kingdom of God, Pacifism, Philosophy, Politics, The Early Church, Theology, Tradition, War

C. S. Peirce on God

cgs

Charles S. Peirce wrote the following in the late 1890’s:

I have often occasion to walk at night, for about a mile, over an entirely untravelled road, much of it between open fields without a house in sight. The circumstances are not favorable to severe study, but are so to calm meditation. If the sky is clear, I look at the stars in the silence, thinking how each successive increase in the aperture of a telescope makes many more of them visible than all that had been visible before. The fact that the heavens do not show a sheet of light proves that there are vastly more dark bodies, say planets, than there are suns. They must be inhabited, and most likely millions of them with beings much more intelligent than we are. For on the whole, the solar system seems one of the simplest; and presumably under more complicated phenomena greater intellectual power will be developed. What must be the social phenomena of such a world! How extraordinary are the minds even of the lower animals. We cannot appreciate our own powers any more than a writer can appreciate his own style, or a thinker the peculiar quality of his own thought. I don’t mean that a Dante did not know that he expressed himself with fewer words than other men do, but he could not admire himself as we admire him; nor can we wonder at human intelligence as we do at that of wasps. Let a man drink in such thoughts as come to him in contemplating the physico-psychical universe without any special purpose of his own; especially the universe of mind which coincides with the universe of matter. The idea of there being a God over it all of course will be often suggested; and the more he considers it, the more he will be enwrapt with Love of this idea. He will ask himself whether or not there really is a God. If he allows instinct to speak, and searches his own heart, he will at length find that he cannot help believing it.

Pierce is often called the father of pragmatism. Interesting.

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Faith comes from what is heard

There can be a tension between the movement of faith and the desire to grasp with the mind the essence of faith. God gave us our minds and our rationality. We bear the image of God, in part, because we are rational. And we must keep in mind that rationality is not something cold. There is no such thing as cold rationality; there is cold logic, but rationality is, if anything, a hot, passionate, totality of the person kind of thing. Thus our rationality includes our passions, our intuitions, and our logic. We often misuse our rationality for sinful purposes. One of those sins is the desire to circumscribe the essence of faith in such a way as to turn it from something given and believed to something controlled and, perhaps, created by the individual. Theology should be the study of God (to state simply) but too often it becomes an attempt to control God, to demarcate and proscribe God so that one can handle God rather than be handled by God. So it often is with studies of faith. The result is something that looks like faith but becomes, instead, a “system” of faith, or an artifact of the individual to which the individual then, naturally, claims as his own. With this in mind consider these words from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI):

“Faith comes from what is heard”, says St. Paul (Rom 10:17). This might seem like a very transient factor, which can change; one might be tempted to see in it purely and simply the result of one particular sociological situation, so that one day it would be right to say instead, “Faith comes from reading” or “from reflection”. In reality it must be stated that we have here much more than the reflection of a historical period now past. The assertion “faith comes from what is heard” contains an abiding structural truth about what happens here.  It illuminates the fundamental differences between faith and mere philosophy, a difference that does not prevent faith, in its core, from setting the philosophical search for truth in motion again. One could say epigrammatically that faith does in fact come from “hearing”, not—like philosophy—from “reflection”. Its nature lies in the fact that it is not the thinking out of something that can be thought out and that at the end of the process is then at my disposal as a result of my thought. On the contrary, it is characteristic of faith that it comes from hearing, that it is the reception of something that I have not thought out, so that in the last analysis thinking in the context of faith is always a thinking over of something previously heard and received. (Ratzinger, p. 91)

The use of our minds to comprehend the Gospel is important. But the Gospel comes to us from without, unlike philosophy which emerges from within. We hear the Gospel. It is something about which we have to make a choice—do we believe it or do we reject it? Could it be, however, that in our modern world Christians have become, in a manner of speaking, “pro-choice” in all things (except abortion, which many Christians unfortunately accept as well)? Being “pro-choice” in all things is to take a smorgasbord approach to faith where any and every “Christian” option is open, any denomination or system of thought, any so-called Christian “life style” option is open, and we can all call ourselves Christians just as long as we play the game of “let’s not think about it”. In other words, as long as we consider truth as a vague, warm confidence in our general rightness surrounded by Christian-sounding language, and a love for Jesus, then all is fair game. And if all is fair game, then we can march ahead. We are a “pro-choice” culture, and Christians have helped create, and continue to support, this culture. But the Gospel comes from without. We don’t make it up. We don’t change it. We don’t merely add a little bit of it to what we already have and stir it in to make something of our own creation. Perhaps that is the sin of denominationalism, where men became too confident in their (ever so slightly reductionist) systems and began to separate themselves from each other based on those systems. Many see the problem with denominationalsim, and yet vague, warm “christiany” feelings are not the antidote. The Gospel, which comes from outside, is the antidote. And that Gospel proclaims Christ. Ratzinger continues:

[I]n faith the word takes precedence over the thought, a precedence that differentiates it structurally from the architecture of philosophy. In philosophy the thought precedes the word; it is after all a product of the reflection that one then tries to put into words; the words always remain secondary to the thought and thus in the last resort can always be replaced by other words. Faith, on the other hand, comes to man from outside, and this very fact is fundamental to it. It is—let me repeat—not something thought up by myself; it is something said to me, which hits me as something that has not been thought out and could not be thought out and lays an obligation on me. This double structure of “Do you believe?—I do believe!”, this form of the call from outside and the reply to it, is fundamental to it. It is therefore not at all abnormal if, with very few exceptions, we have to say: I did not come to believe through the private search for truth but through a process of reception that had, so to speak, already forestalled me. Faith cannot and should be a mere product of reflection. The idea that faith really ought to arise through our thinking it up for ourselves and finding it in the process of a purely private search for truth is basically the expression of a definite ideal, an attitude of mind that fails to recognize the intrinsic quality of belief, which consists precisely in being the reception of what cannot be thought out—responsible reception, it is true, in which what is heard never becomes entirely my own property, and the lead held by what is received can never be completely wiped out, but in which the goal must be to make what is received more and more my own, by handing myself over to it as the greater. (Ratzinger, pp. 91-91)

The movement of the faithful, in terms of understanding, is to hear the truth, receive it, and make it one’s own—except never entirely one’s own, for it remains outside as it dwells within. The action between the Gospel and the individual is not an interplay, it is not a synthesis where both are changed. Only the individual is changed. What appears to be change within the Gospel is, and can only be, discovery. The Gospel does not change, but one can spend time, forever perhaps, in plumbing its depths and scaling its peaks. New territories discovered only yield more beauty of what is already there. The heart and mind of faith is not unlike that of the scientist. To study the Gospel is to study the creation, what God has made and made available to all who would submit to its unequaled riches.


Work cited:
Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. Introduction to Christianity. Trans. J. R. Foster. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004. (Note: First published in German in 1968)

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novel reality: authorship and free will

Should Raskolnikov have murdered Alyona Ivanovna?

This should sound like a strange question. And it does sound strange. Of course Raskolnikov should not have committed murder. But wait, does Raskolnikov exist? This is a crucial question in light of the question of transcendence. If Raskolnikov exists at one level of reality (as a character in a story) then Dostoyevsky must exist at a higher, more substantial, more transcendent level of existence. Which leads us to another question: Is Raskolnikov free of Dostoyevsky, that is, does Raskolnikov have free will, did he freely choose to kill Alyona Ivanovna? If not, should Dostoyevsky have been arrested for murder?

What strange questions. And yet they help us triangulate toward an understanding of our relationship to God. We think of God as being the author of creation. If so, then we can think of ourselves as being players in the story He is authoring−History. Raskolnikov is a real character within the world of the work we call the novel Crime and Punishment. Raskolnikov is real, but Dostoyevsky is more real. Raskolnikov’s existence, including his every choice, and even his thoughts, are contingent on his author, on Dostoyevsky. We are also contingent. We are real but God is more real. Or to put it another, more difficult to swallow way, if God is real (the standard of reality) then we are not real.

Of course, in a very critical and important sense, we cannot say we are not real, for “not real” is not the category of existence that God has given us in terms of our experience and in terms of our moral choices. We are real, for that is what we know. God may be more real, or so much more real that in comparison we seem merely like characters in a novel, but the reality we live is very real to us. Our reality is a gift of God’s creative act. We are real and we must come to terms with it. But we also must come to terms with God being more real, being our author, our creator. Or perhaps we do not “come to terms” with God, for that is a kind of negotiation. Instead we bow the knee, lie prostrate, tremble before God, who is both loving and terrifying.

God is sovereign, thus in an important sense we are not free from God, for we cannot be free from God and continue to exist. And yet, it is clear that it is God’s will that we are free to make choices, especially moral choices. Raskolnikov is not free from Dostoyevsky, and yet Raskolnikov’s choices (willed by the creative act of Dostoyevsky’s mind extending onto the page) are free and thus can be judged. He is not a puppet of his master, rather he does what he himself wills, and we read it that way even though we know an author is behind it all. We know we have free will because we experience free will. We know God is thoroughly sovereign because nothing can exist apart from God, and nothing can be counted on−including God’s promises−unless God is sovereign. But we cannot live fatalistically nor can we blame God, for we do what we will−and we know it. If we are held accountable for our free choices then we have met justice.

So, should Raskolnikov have murdered Alyona Ivanovna? At the level of the world of the work, at the level of the story, the answer is no, and Raskolnikov should have to pay for his crime. And yet, at the level of the author, at the level of reality in which Dostoyevsky lived, the answer is yes, for it was the will of the author that it should be. This is the prerogative of all authors, and if we call God the author of creation and of our existence, then we must understand the prerogatives that are properly assigned to God, our creator, our author.

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Is Anything Really Right or Wrong? Peter Kreeft on Moral Relativism

This is an amazing talk (with question & answer at the end) on the modern blight and philosophical vapor of moral relativism. This is also a great example of how to construct an argument.

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