2015/01/12

Empress Theology and Queen Philosophy

The commendable Tom Simon writes about the contempt which late Moderns have been conditioned to hold for theology and philosophy:
Only the philosophers and theologians, nowadays, try to concern themselves with the entirety of any question, from first principles down to final answers. And we have taught the humans to regard both philosophy and theology as useless and even stupid pursuits, and thereby cut them off from any possibility of meaningful knowledge.
Mr. Simon has his finger firmly planted on the most colossal intellectual deception of our age. Passing over mangled quotes about a lie's believability being proportional to its bigness, the propaganda campaign against speculative reason has had very real and detrimental effects on Western civilization.

The reason is simple. If you limit your thinking to matters of immediate utility, you remain ignorant of the reasoning behind your actions and the ultimate ends you're laboring toward. Things still get done under such a scheme, but we're increasingly prone to forget that the why of something is as important as--if not more important than--the how.

Professor Stephen Hawking's famous report of philosophy's demise shows how even the most brilliant among us are so pre-rationally biased against speculative reason that they unironically make philosophical statements declaring philosophy dead.

For anyone who's sympathetic to late Modern pragmatic utilitarianism, I've got bad news. Philosophy and her big sister theology are both quite alive--and even worse, from your viewpoint, relevant.

Philosophy sets forth the criteria whereby we can know whether or not our ideas conform to reality. All other disciplines depend on this sole prerogative of the Queen of Sciences. Contort your thinking all you like, her writ is inescapable short of forsaking rational thought altogether.

You can rightly object that, by philosophy's own rules, reliance on reason can't justify itself by itself. What cause, then, have the West's philosophers to trust human reason?

The first principles of logical thought rest on axioms--propositions that can't be proven logically, but which have the character of universal laws that must be true for rational thought to take place. A further objection arises: why not deny the axioms? Why put faith in rational thought?

This is the point where Queen Philosophy must yield precedence to her fellow and elder sovereign Empress Theology, who answers that faith is precisely how we know that the conclusions of human reason are trustworthy.

We do well here to consider that, besides love, few words have been as mangled at the hands of modernity as faith. The old saw that faith is persistent belief in the face of contrary evidence is as insipid as it is misleading. Faith isn't cockeyed optimism. It's not wishful thinking, and it's not self-deception. It is a transcendently gifted way of knowing with certainty. Ultimately, faith is what allows us to examine evidence and accept conclusions drawn from it.

For those of utilitarian bent, it's difficult to name anything more useful to the development of Western civilization than faith. It was faith in divinely imaged human reason that gave rise to the great universities. It's no accident that initially more advanced cultures, steeped in voluntarism and occasionalism, stagnated intellectually while the foundations of the scientific revolution were being laid in the West.

Why the relentless assault on speculative reason? Listing the specific historical-intellectual developments would fill volumes. I suspect that the ultimate motive for denigrating the sovereign sciences is simple human selfishness. The true object of philosophy is the Good Life, which is attained through practice of virtues that draw us out of ourselves and orient our thoughts and acts toward others. Philosophy is the love of wisdom, and love is always selfless.

The same goes double for theology, whose Subject (for a person can never be an object) is none less than love Himself. And this love is divine Wisdom. No rivalry exists between the royal sisters. The decrees of the elder confirm and uphold the younger's judgments.

I advise rebels against these great monarchs to recant their treason and seek the wisdom--offered freely at the city gate--that promises freedom from your errors. Theology and philosophy reign whether you acknowledge their authority or not. By casting aspersions on them, you only demean yourself.

2 comments:

  1. Great stuff. Nice description of faith. I once argued with a roommate that of course God's existence could be proven, that the problem isn't with the concept of God, but with the idea of a proof, which vanishes without faith. It needn't be faith in God, but only faith in reason. To decide to believe nothing you can't prove - that way lies madness.

    Unfortunately, people who encounter philosophy at a typical university are likely to meet an analytic philosopher or some other atheist/materialist dude and come away convinced of either nihilism or, what is really healthier, that philosophy is a load of bunk. The chances of the people who need it most running into any philosophy that will do them any good is slim in this current culture.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the compliment. Your anecdote calls to mind nearly every atheist I've debated, who with the reliability of Stella Polaris would glibly assert the lack of evidence for God's existence (presuming, of course, an a priori reduction of "evidence" to "physical evidence"). I confess to deeply enjoying the mental acrobatics put on display when I ask for evidence that physical evidence is the only acceptable kind of evidence.

    You're spot on in saying that students are better off rejecting contemporary philosophy altogether rather than embracing nihilism. I had similar thoughts while reading Edward Feser's refutation of eliminative materialism. http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2015/01/post-intentional-depression.html

    Mr. Wright's observation once again rings true: any philosophy that would eliminate the philosopher is by necessity false.

    ReplyDelete