I wrote an entry on the main sorts of motive that might lead one who takes religion seriously to take up the study of philosophy. I distinguished five main motives: the apologetic, the critical, the debunking, the transcensive, and the substitutional. But there is also the move away from philosophy to religion and its motives. One motive is the suspicion that philosophy is a snare and a delusion, a blind alley; there is the sense that it cannot be what its noble name suggests, namely, the love of wisdom, and that he who seeks wisdom must forsake Athens for Jerusalem. There is the sense that philosophy is, in truth, misosophy, the hatred of wisdom. An ancient theme, that of the irreconcilable antagonism between religion and philosophy, one traceable back to Tertullian at least. (See Étienne Gilson, Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages, Charles Scribners, 1938, Chapter One.)
Anthony Flood has been an off-and-on correspondent of mine since the early days of the blogosphere: I believe we first made contact in 2004. I admire him because he "studies everything" as per my masthead motto. As far as I can judge from my eremitic outpost, Tony is a genuine truth-seeker, a restless quester who has canvassed many, many positions with an open mind and a willingness to admit errors. (The man was at one time a research assistant for Herbert Aptheker!) Better a perpetual seeker than a premature finder. Here below we are ever on the way: in statu viae. Tony's views have changed over the years I have known him and it is his present attitude toward philosophy that I wish to examine here. In particular, I will evaluate his claim that philosophy is misosophy. Is this right? Or is it rather the case that religion when opposed to philosophy is misology, the hatred of reason? Is philosophy misosophy or is religion misology? That is a stark, if somewhat inaccurate, was of defining the problematic. I will quote liberally from Tony's position statement and then comment.
The position I've come to has been percolating in my mind for years. It intruded upon my thinking intermittently, but until recently I was unable to remove certain obstacles to my assent. [. . .] The critique of philosophy worked out by Gregory L. Bahnsen . . . however, has at last won my allegiance . . .
[. . .]
The gist of Bahnsen’s critique is that philosophy as it has been practiced is virtually at enmity with Christ, who is the Wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24). To the degree that it is op-posed to Christ, to that degree it is misosophy, the hatred rather than the love of wisdom. For the Christian, wisdom is not an abstract virtue, but a divine person. To pretend indifference to Christ is pretend indifference to the only Wisdom worth having; to hate Christ is to hate wisdom, that is, to hate him in whom all the treasures of wisdom are hid (Col 2:3); and to hate wisdom is to love death (Prov 8:36). Christians may continue to use “philosophy” and its cognates, but they reserve the right to qualify that usage. Between the philosopher and the misosopher, covenant keeper and covenant breaker, there is antithesis.
Tony hasn't given us the "gist" of Bahnsen's critique but the conclusion at which he arrives; the gist of the critique would have to contain a summary of the reasons for the conclusion. Setting that quibble aside, I move to a substantive point. While it is true that for a Christian Christ is the source of all wisdom and therefore, in a sense, wisdom itself, saying this is consistent with maintaining that philosophy is the love of wisdom. The philosopher qua philosopher seeks wisdom using his unaided reason, unaided, that is, by the data of revelation. It is not that the philosopher qua philosopher rejects the data of revelation or the very idea that there could be such a thing as divine revelation; it is rather that he makes no use of it qua philosopher. (To save keystrokes I won't keep repeating the qualification 'qua philosopher' but it remains in force.) To borrow a term from Husserl, the philosopher 'brackets' revelation. I see nothing in the nature of philosophy to prevent a philosopher from arriving at the conclusion that wisdom is ultimately a person. So my first question to Tony would be: Why must philosophy be opposed to wisdom when wisdom is taken to be a divine person?
Admittedly, philosophy cannot bring us to Wisdom in its fullness, especially if wisdom is a divine person, but it hardly follows that it cannot serve as a propadeutic to a participation in this Wisdom. Here is a crude analogy. The menu is not the meal. But the menu is not opposed to the meal. The menu provides access to the meal via verbal description, the very same meal that one goes on to eat. It is not as if there are two meals, the meal of the menu writer and the meal of the eater. There is exactly one meal accessed in two ways, the first obviously inferior to the second. If you don't get the analogy, forget it.
There is an important point of terminology that we need to discuss. Tony claims that Christians have the right to use 'philosophy' in their way as meaning the love of Christ. (After all, if wisdom is Christ, then the love of wisdom is the love of Christ.) I deny this right. 'Philosophy' means what it means and that is to be discerned from the practice of the great philosophers beginning with the ancient Greeks. To know what philosophy is one reads Plato, for starters, and not just for starters. Philosophy is what is done in those dialogues and what has arisen by way of commentary on and critique of what was done in those famous discussions. "Philosophy is Plato and Plato philosophy." (Emerson) I characterize philosophy here. The characterization begins with this sentence: "Philosophy is not fundamentally a set of views but an activity whereby a questing individual, driven by a need to know the truth, applies discursive reason to the data of life in an attempt to arrive at the ultimate truth about them."
The Christian, therefore, is not free to use 'philosophy' and cognates in an idiosyncratic way. Or rather he is free to do so but if he does he causes confusion and makes communication difficult if not impossible. 'Philosophy' does not and cannot mean 'love of Christ.' This is not to say that one cannot move beyond philosophy to Christian faith. One can, and perhaps one should. But nothing is to be gained by tampering with the established sense of 'philosophy.'
Tony writes, "Between the philosopher and the misosopher, covenant keeper and covenant breaker, there is antithesis." I object to this sentence because of the misuse of the word 'philosopher.' Tony has decided that the philosopher, in his sense, is a lover of Christ, and that a philosopher (in the proper sense) is a misosopher and thus a hater of Christ. But he has no right to hijack the terminology, nor, as regards the substantive question, has he shown that philosophy is opposed to Christian wisdom.
Autonomy versus Heteronomy/Theonomy
We now come to the crux of the matter: the tension between the autonomy of finite reason and the heteronomy of obedient faith. This is, in essence, the tension between Athens and Jerusalem. Whether this tension is an opposition or contradiction, as Tertullian thought, and as Tony seems to think, remains to be seen, and cannot be assumed at the outset. (I set aside the tension between Athens and Benares, the discussion of which does not belong here, even though that too is a tension between philosophy and a kind of religion.) Finite reason, reason as we find it within ourselves, presumes to judge heaven and earth and everything in between; it would play "the spectator of all time and existence," to borrow a beautiful line from Plato's Republic. But it must be admitted that the results have been meager. Has even one substantive philosophical question been resolved to the satisfaction of all competent practioners in two and one half mllennia? No. What we have instead are endless controversies and the strife of systems. Magnificent in aspiration, philosophy is miserable in execution. Philosophy has proven impotent to provide us with the knowledge we seek, the knowledge of ultimates, and in particular salvific knowledge, knowledge that caters not merely to our theoretical needs but to our deepest existential ones as well, knowledge that does not merely inform us, but transforms us.
To make up for the infirmity of finite reason we must look elsewhere to a source of succor lying beyond the human horizon. And so reason, while remaining within the sphere of immanence and autonomy, raises the question of the possibility of revelation, the possibility of an irruption into the sphere of immanence from beyond the human-all-too-human. The possibility is entertained that the true nomos is theonomos, and that what at first appears as heteronomy is in reality theonomy. The possibility is entertained that the prideful intellect must fall silent and humbly submit to God's Word.
But at this juncture we encounter what Josiah Royce calls the religious paradox or
The Paradox of Revelation. Suppose someone claims to have received a divine communication regarding the divine will, the divine plan, the need for salvation, the way to salvation, or any related matter. This person can be asked, "By what marks do you personally distinguish a divine revelation from any other sort of report?" (Josiah Royce, The Sources of Religious Insight, 22-23) How is a putative revelation authenticated? By what marks or criteria do we recognize it as genuine? The identifying marks must be in the believer's mind prior to his acceptance of the revelation as valid. For it is by testing the putative revelation against these marks that the believer determines that it is genuine. One needs "a prior acquaintance with the nature and marks and, so to speak, signature of the divine will." (p. 25) But how can a creature who needs saving lay claim to this prior acquaintance with the marks of genuine revelation?The paradox in a nutshell is that it seems that only revelation could provide one with what one needs to be able to authenticate a report as revelation. Royce:Faith, and the passive and mysterious intuitions of the devout, seem to depend on first admitting that we are naturally blind and helpless and ignorant, and worthless to know, of ourselves, any saving truth; and upon nevertheless insisting that we are quite capable of one very lofty type of knowledge -- that we are capable, namely, of knowing God's voice when we hear it, of distinguishing a divine revelation from all other reports, of being sure, despite all our worthless ignorance, that the divine higher life which seems to speak to us in our moments of intuition is what it declares itself to be. If, then, there is a pride of intellect, does there not seem to be an equal pride of faith, an equal pretentiousness involved in undertaking to judge that certain of our least articulate intuitions are infallible?Surely here is a genuine problem, and it is a problem for the reason. (103)
Is it a genuine problem or not? Can the church's teaching authority be invoked to solve the problem? Suppose a point of doctrine regarding salvation and the means thereto is being articulated at a church council. The fathers in attendance debate among themselves, arrive at a result, and claim that it is inspired and certified by the Holy Spirit. But by what marks do they authenticate a putative deliverance of the Holy Spirit as a genuine deliverance? How do they know that the Holy Spirit is inspiring them and not something else such as their own subconscious desire for a certain result? This is exactly Royce's problem.
The problem, then, is this. Reason is weak and philosophy, whose engine is unaided reason, cannot deliver the goods. The salvific wisdom we seek it cannot supply. It remains an interminable and inconclusive seeking, but never a finding; it remains forever the (erothetic) love of wisdom, not its possession. So we look beyond philosophy to the data of revelation. But how do we authenticate such data? How do we distinguish pseudo-revelation from the genuine article? By what marks is it known? We are thrown back upon our infirm reasoning powers to sort this out.
So, while confessing in all humility the infirmity of reason, we have no option but to rely on it as we do when, by its means, we come to admit the infirmity of reason. Though weak, reason is strong enough to acquire a genuine insight into its own weakness and limitations and the need for supplementation ab extra. But this supplementation by revelation cannot go untested. Tony may be right that we need to "repent" and submit our wills to God's, but what that will is has to be discerned, and there is no way around the fact that it is up to us to do the discerning using the God-given equipment we possess, as infirm as it may be.
But let's hear what Flood has to say:
From 1969, when I first began to read philosophy (as it is commonly called), I had very rarely questioned the presumption of autonomy exhibited by my models in that field, whereby the human mind posits itself as the final judge of what is real, true, and good. I did not question that presumptive stance even when the provisional conclusions I arrived at were professedly Christian-theistic and therefore incompatible with it. The way I approached “God” did not ethically comport with wanting God. I played it safe, hedged my bets, looking for nothing more than a piece of metaphysical furniture to complete the interior design of my latest philosophical mansion. The irony of this discrepancy was lost on me, at least until recently.
What Tony seems to be saying here is that when we approach God via philosophy, i.e., via finite discursive reason, relying only on those evidences that can be validated from within the sphere of immanence, eschewing any such exogenic input as the data of revelation, what we arrive at is not the true God, but 'God,' a mere furnishing in the mansion of immanence, a mansion that is perhaps better compared to a doghouse. Tony thus seems to be sounding a very old theme, that of the opposition of the God of the philosophers to the the God of Sbraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I myself do not accept this opposition for reasons I supply in Pascal and Buber on the God of the Philosophers.
To revert to the crude analogy presented above, there are not two meals, the meal of the menu-writer and the meal of the eater. One and the same meal is 'accessed' in two different ways, via description and via 'ingestion.' What the menu-writer describes, assuming the accuracy of the description, is not something that exists only in his mind, a bit of mental furniture, but something that exists in reality. Similarly, when the philosopher speaks of God , he is not speaking of something that exists only in his mind, but of something that exists in reality. But let's hear some more from Tony:
As I now see it, that loss was not innocent and my present insight is wholly of grace. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10), however, not something tacked on at the end of one’s system. (Part V of Whitehead’s Process and Reality comes to mind. So does Chapter XIX of Lonergan’s Insight.)
Human beings, Christian and non-Christian alike, do know things. They do reason. They do calculate, induct, deduce, plan, accuse, exonerate, interpret. They do write histories, novels, and plays. They do compose symphonies and conduct experiments. They do creatively improvise on canvas, in the sculpture studio, and on the band stand. But their attempts to account for these facts apart from their dependence upon God have been marvelous failures, for they cannot secure the experience-transcending universal claims on which they rely when they engage in any of those activities. They ought to acknowledge the laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, moral absolutes as gifts of God. Unless God grants them the spirit of repentance, however, this they will not do, for it is offensive to their posture of autonomy. But they pay a price for this posture in the coin of rank foolishness.
Ironically, such a critique of philosophy is what one would predict professing Christian philosophers to produce, informed as they are by their awareness of the covenantal relationship they bear to God. Historically, however, what comes under the label “Christian philosophy” is compromised. Christian philosophers have generally given their blessing to pretenses of neutrality and autonomy, content to conjecture how far the human mind can go under its own steam before grabbing the supernatural rope to take them the rest of the way.
They can give that blessing, however, only by suppressing awareness (that they otherwise happily acknowledge) that the human being is a created, covenant-bound bearer of the image of God. That is, Christian philosophers join their enemies in “testing” the hypothesis that Christian theism is at least as “reasonable” as anything else on offer in the marketplace of ideas. As though any inference at all could be reasonable if Christian theism were not antecedently true. As though an impersonal matrix of possibility were Lord of all. I understand why Christianity’s opponents “load” the argument against Christian theism. But why do Christians follow them?
In this last paragraph, Tony raises a couple of fascinating questions. One is whether (to put it in my own way) the necessary truth of the laws of logic presupposes the existence of God. There are those who have argued such a thing, but, if Tony is right, why bother? If Jerusalem supplies all the needs of man, who needs Athens? If reason cannot be relied upon to bring us to any truth at all, then it cannot be relied upon to show that logic presupposes God. The other question concerns the relation between the modal framework, standardly artculated in terms of 'possible worlds,' and God. Analytic theists standardly maintain that God exists in all possible worlds. Does such talk subject God to the modal framework, thereby compromising the divine sovereignty? Is God lord of all, including the modal framework, or is God subject to the modal framework? Or neither?
These questions cannot be pursued here, but one comment is in order, and an obvious one it is: Tony seems merely to beg the question against his opponents. For example, he just assumes that Athens and Jerusalem are irreconcilably anatagonistic and that the whole truth resides in Jerusalem. He is free to make these assumptions of course. No one is compelled to remain within philosphy's smoky rooms. The door is unlocked and one is free to pass throught it. But then one should not attempt to explain or justify one's exit. For any such attempt will entangle on in the very thing one is trying to get away from.
There is of course more to be said -- in subsequent posts.