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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

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Hello, Bill. Very interesting post!

“There is nothing unphilosophical in questioning the reach of reason.* Note that this questioning remains within philosophy: from within philosophy one can question philosophy and raise the possibility that philosophy can be and perhaps must be supplemented ab extra. “

It seems to me your point is consistent with Socrates’ conception of philosophy. Arguably, the founder of Western philosophy questioned philosophy from within and was open to divine revelation.

By the way, I also like your “The Philosopher and the Christian.” Regarding the question of Jesus and philosophy, the philosopher Douglas Groothuis disagrees with you. (See his article "Jesus: Philosopher and Apologist" at http://www.equip.org/article/jesus-philosopher-and-apologist/)

Groothuis also wrote a book entitled “On Jesus” for the Wadsworth Philosophers Series (https://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Wadsworth-Philosophers-Douglas-Groothuis/dp/0534583946 ) On page 1, he agrees that Bush “dropped the ball” in calling Jesus a philosopher. But Groothuis proceeds to argue that Jesus was a philosopher even though Bush was unprepared to say why.

Part of the problem is to define ‘philosophy’ and ‘philosopher.’ If lack of wisdom is a necessary condition for being a philosopher, then as you note, Jesus is not a philosopher, since as a divine person “Jesus Christ lacks nothing; he is the fullness of wisdom ...” It is worth noting, however, that in his human nature as a 12 year-old boy, Jesus “grew in wisdom” (Luke 2:52). This development occurred even after he reasoned with the teachers in the Temple and amazed them with his understanding. Sounds like a description of an intellectually gifted child with an exceptionally high IQ taking a class in theology or philosophy at the university.

Anyway, according to Groothuis in the article: “Jesus reasoned carefully about the things that matter most — a handy definition of philosophy.”

And in the book: “I propose that the necessary and sufficient conditions for being a philosopher (whether good or bad, major or minor, employed or unemployed) are a strong and lived-out inclination to pursue truth about philosophical matters through the rigorous use of human reasoning, and to do so with some intellectual facility.” (p. 5)

Elliot,

Thanks for the excellent and stimulating comments.

We agree about Socrates. I'll have to see what Groothuis has to say. Thank your for the links! Just now it occurs to me that Dallas Willard, a philosopher I respect, says something similar.

As you know, the nature of philosophy is itself a philosophical problem.

The philosopher seeks plenary wisdom, which is not to say that he has no wisdom at all.

If the boy Jesus grew in wisdom, then that will be a problem for those who maintain the God-Man identity theory. Clearly, God cannot grow in wisdom. So if Jesus is God, then he cannot grow in wisdom either.

>>Anyway, according to Groothuis in the article: “Jesus reasoned carefully about the things that matter most — a handy definition of philosophy.”<<

It doesn't follow that Jesus was a philosopher. Surely God is not a philosopher. He has no need of philosophy. So if Jesus is God, then he is not a philosopher.

Note also that theologians reason carefully about the things that matter most, but theologians are not philosophers. (You understand that I am not talking about philosophical theologians.) Why not? Because they presuppose the data of revelation. That is something that a philosopher qua philosopher cannot do.

Isn't that obvious? Suppose I am discussing with a philosopher whether God is everlasting, hence in time, or eternal, hence outside of time, and I say that the Church teaches us that God is eternal. That is not a kosher move in philosophy.

Of course, one and the same person can be both a philosopher and a theologian -- but they are different 'hats' if you catch my drift.

>>“I propose that the necessary and sufficient conditions for being a philosopher (whether good or bad, major or minor, employed or unemployed) are a strong and lived-out inclination to pursue truth about philosophical matters through the rigorous use of human reasoning, and to do so with some intellectual facility.” (p. 5)

That's pretty good, except that it is circular in that Groothuis is defining 'philosopher' in terms of 'philosophical matters.' But we can fix that. Substitute 'ultimate matters.'

Unfortunately, the second definition does not jibe with the first. Jesus does not pursue truth. He is the truth. "I am the way, the truth, and the life."

I would be interested in your response. Surely you agree!?

Hi Bill,
Thank you for your two comprehensive, profound, and intellectually challenging responses to my email. As I have said in the past, I enter these discussions as a philosophic amateur, but I will venture to make one or two points, since your two posts that appeared on Monday have preoccupied me, since I read them. Specifically, I would like to comment on what I take to be the core of your response:

Vito will grant me that it is reasonable to believe that God exists. If so, it is reasonable to believe that there is a transcendent Person capable of revealing himself to man. I would argue that the possibility of revelation is built into the concept of God. Our concept of God is a concept of a personal being who could, if he so desired, reveal himself to his creatures in specific ways, via prophets who leave written records, or even by revealing himself in person in a special man who somehow is an, or rather the, incarnation of God. Our possession of such a concept of God is of course no guarantee that there is such a God. But without straying from the precincts of philosophy one can articulate such a concept.
This implies that it is reasonable to be open to the possibility of receiving 'information' of the highest importance to us and our ultimate well-being from a transcendent Source lying beyond the human horizon. This possibility is one that we can validate from within our own resources and thus without appeal to divine revelation.

As a theist who accepts the classical conception of God, I obviously do not deny the logic of what you argue here. Revelation is certainly within God’s powers and, if it occurs, may well provide us with information that is hidden from the human intellect. My problem arises from the gap that, I hold, normally separates an intellectual assent to the revelation of such information from the firm conviction of its truth. I do not say that such a gap exists for all persons, such as perhaps those few blessed by divine grace; but because of the nature of the objects and states of affairs that transcend human cognition and reason that are supposedly transmitted through revelation, the gap exists for most of us. This is one of the tragic consequences, perhaps the most tragic, of our ignorance, that what we affirm by faith is almost never strictly believed. These objects and states of affairs, ordinarily shrouded in deep mystery, remain at best obscure and problematic when revealed. With the best of intentions and the sincerest desire, most of us, immersed in the materiality of life, fail to overcome the human disposition to doubt them, even when they are privately or publically affirmed. With just a little more light, we would do better, but we lack this light. This is why discussions of faith often revolve around love, trust, and hope, notions that reveal the infirmity of the information divulged by revelation. These notions are brought forward in an effort to push back against our natural incredulity; they inevitably fail to do so, and are, in fact, confirmation of its existence. Moreover, the more extravagant the revelation, the wider is the gap: thus, the moral teachings of prophets, which often conform to our natural instincts, inspire more confidence than their mighty deeds. I may well wrong about all of this, but it explains why I have come to feel that certain “objects and states of affairs are best left alone.” I do not like this conclusion, which is provisional and which I would like to discard, but I prefer it to a tenuous faith in the content of supposed revelations that is the apparent fate of humanity.

Vito

Hi Bill, thanks for your post. I wanted to suggest a different definition of reason. If reason is the laws of thought then it is that by which we understand anything. By reason we distinguish “a” and “non-a”. This is true for naturalistic beliefs and articles of faith. In a revealed truth we distinguish the Trinity from the non-Trinity. So while revealed truths may not be deductible from general revelation it is by reason that we understand both general and special revelation. It is often because we cannot deduce such truths that people say they are beyond reason. They are not able to show that these beliefs are true apart from an appeal to special revelation. However, I’d also like so suggest that the more basic use of reason is not in deducing truth but in apprehending meaning. Before we can know if a doctrine is true, whatever it’s skirce, we would need to know what it means. This can also help us understand why we need special revelation as redemptive and not merely as a source of more information.

Owen,

You lost me right at the outset. Reason cannot be identified with the laws of thought because reason is a faculty or power that we possess while the laws of thought are presumably the laws of logic which hold whether or not rational animals like us exist.

Vito writes,

>>My problem arises from the gap that, I hold, normally separates an intellectual assent to the revelation of such information from the firm conviction of its truth.<<

I agree that there is this gap.

>> This is one of the tragic consequences, perhaps the most tragic, of our ignorance, that what we affirm by faith is almost never strictly believed.<<

This raises the question of what it is to believe something. Do I really believe that this vast material cosmos is kept in being by a spiritual being transcendent of it? Do I really believe that I am more than just a complex physical system and that at the base of my ordinary awareness there is a spiritual principle that is the real me? Well, I do in the sense that I spend hours every day in prayer, meditation, and philosophical study. Belief is connected with action and is attested by action.

To give a mundane example: if you want a beer and say that there is beer in the reefer, but head out the door to the liquor store instead of heading for the reefer, then it is clear that what you say you believe you do not really believe.

Now take a really specific Christian dogma, namely, that Jesus Christ after his Resurrection ascended BODY and soul into heaven. Do I believe THAT? Holy moly, that's hard to swallow. He didn't just de-materialize, he brought his BODY (suitably transfigured no doubt but still material) into the purely spiritual and immaterial Godhead. So the Second Person of the Trinityknow has a material adjunct that it did not have before? That would seem to involve several explicit logical contradictions.

So, Vito, wrt this example, I am sympathetic to the notion that this is a dogma at best verbally affirmed but not really believed. Of course, your average Catholic doesn't even know the verbal formula.

>> These objects and states of affairs, ordinarily shrouded in deep mystery, remain at best obscure and problematic when revealed. With the best of intentions and the sincerest desire, most of us, immersed in the materiality of life, fail to overcome the human disposition to doubt them, even when they are privately or publically [publicly] affirmed. With just a little more light, we would do better, but we lack this light. This is why discussions of faith often revolve around love, trust, and hope, notions that reveal the infirmity of the information divulged by revelation.<<

It is not the infirmity of the information divulged, but the infirmity of the critters to whom it is divulged.

But yes, trust and faith are needed. Here below we see through a glass darkly. Think of an old-fashioned coke bottle, besmudged.

And then there is the problem of what exactly I am believing when the proposition believed appears to me to entail logical contradictions. In a case like that, is there a definite proposition before my mind at all?

>> These notions are brought forward in an effort to push back against our natural incredulity; they inevitably fail to do so, and are, in fact, confirmation of its existence. Moreover, the more extravagant the revelation, the wider is the gap: thus, the moral teachings of prophets, which often conform to our natural instincts, inspire more confidence than their mighty deeds. I may well wrong about all of this, but it explains why I have come to feel that certain “objects and states of affairs are best left alone.” I do not like this conclusion, which is provisional and which I would like to discard, but I prefer it to a tenuous faith in the content of supposed revelations that is the apparent fate of humanity.<<

You are not obviously wrong, and what you say is reasonable.

Let me add the following.

When I meditate I sometimes grab a rosary and say a few Ave Marias. Fingering the beads and saying the prayers almost always brings mental focus in its train. I especially dwell on the magnificent second half:

Sancte Maria, mater dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus. Nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae.

Sometimes the philosopher in me protests: "Now come on, man, you don't really believe that God literally had a mother, that this girl was always a virgin conceived without original sin and that upon her death she was assumed BODY and soul into heaven!" There you have four, count 'em four, theological dogmas piled on top of each other. Do I believe that they are literally true?

For the sake of nondiscursive/transdiscursive meditation I set these formulations aside and I enter, or try to enter, the Silence. Or perhaps I take them as Christian koans. Or as "necessary makeshifts" (Bradley) for getting on with the ascent to a truth that cannot be discursively expressed.

Bill, you’re welcome for the links!

About my response to you: first, these topics are very difficult, and I certainly don’t have it all figured out!

Having said that, here are a few responses.

>>Just now it occurs to me that Dallas Willard, a philosopher I respect, says something similar.<<

I’ve read much of Willard’s work in philosophy and in spiritual formation. In works such as The Divine Conspiracy and Jesus the Logician, Willard wrote that Jesus was the most intelligent person in history, and a master logician. But I don’t recall if Willard wrote anything about Jesus as a philosopher.

>>The philosopher seeks plenary wisdom, which is not to say that he has no wisdom at all.<<

I agree.

>>If the boy Jesus grew in wisdom, then that will be a problem for those who maintain the God-Man identity theory.<<

I suppose one could try to handle this problem by appealing to the doctrine of the hypostatic union and to the method of reduplicative predication.

>>Clearly, God cannot grow in wisdom. So if Jesus is God, then he cannot grow in wisdom either.<<

Perhaps it depends on what “growing in wisdom” means. I agree that God cannot move from a state of ignorance to one of knowledge. But does omniscience require that each item of divine knowledge be forever occurrent in God’s mind? Does omnipotence enable God to choose to move some of his knowledge from active consciousness to subconsciousness (assuming God, the Second Person of the Trinity, has a subconscious) for the sake of the Incarnation? Moreland and Craig suggest something like this in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (610-612)

If this makes sense, perhaps one can say that for Jesus, growing in wisdom does not mean moving from a state of ignorance to one of knowledge. Rather, it means recollecting what one already knows but at one point chose to not think about and later chose to think about. Maybe something like Plato’s doctrine of anamnesis applies to Jesus during the Incarnation, except that Jesus did not recollect via discursive reasoning. Rather, he simply chose when and when not to recollect.

What do you think?

Elliot,

Appealing to the dispositional-occurrent distinction may provide a way out. I have many true beliefs that I have never thought about. Perhaps Jesus during his earthly sojourn has all true beliefs dispositionally but only some occurrently with the number of occurrent beliefs increasing as he matures from childhood to boyhood to manhood.

But what I really wanted to know is whether you think I refuted Groothuis. Seems to me I did.

A few more replies:

>>Note also that theologians reason carefully about the things that matter most, but theologians are not philosophers. (You understand that I am not talking about philosophical theologians.)<<

I agree. For example, when one does systematic theology, one is not doing philosophy, although the systematic theologian may use methods of philosophy.

>>Of course, one and the same person can be both a philosopher and a theologian -- but they are different 'hats' if you catch my drift.<<

I catch it, and agree.

>>Unfortunately, the second definition does not jibe with the first. Jesus does not pursue truth.<<

I agree. Even if during the Incarnation Jesus recollected knowledge from his omniscient consciousness, he wasn’t pursuing truth or knowledge, nor was he acquiring these things in the normal sense. He claimed to have truth and to be it.

>>He is the truth. "I am the way, the truth, and the life."<<

Right. Although I wonder what sense of ‘is’ is used here. It doesn’t make sense to say that Jesus is identical to truth, especially if truth is a relation between a proposition and the reality which that proposition is about. It makes more sense to say this verse means that Jesus has the truth, or that he is truthful, or that he is the truth-maker about relevant propositions about God, the Messiah, the King, the Savior, etc.

>>But what I really wanted to know is whether you think I refuted Groothuis. Seems to me I did.<<

I think you pose a strong challenge to Groothuis. It depends on what a philosopher is. If “pursuing truth” is necessary for being a philosopher, and “pursue” means “seek to obtain,” then on the Christian view Jesus was not a philosopher. He is someone who has what philosophers seek.

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