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Is Philsophy good or bad?

Bryan L did a great post on why he has decided to devote a large amount of time to studying philosophy.  Five years ago or more, I used to be very opposed to philosophy.  My thought, if I remember correctly, was that philosophy is based in human reasoning.  It is too easy to go astray with human reasoning, so we must put our trust in divine revelation alone.  I have since had a change of heart concerning philosophy.  I think the turning point was when I realized that philosophy, or at least analytical philosophy, is really just a tool for coming to good conclusions based on your premises.  In other words, philosophy can’t tell you where to start, but it can tell you where you end up based on where you start.  I have come to think it is a powerful tool for working out our own beliefs as well as critiquing opposing beliefs.  Analytic philosophy is really nothing more than applying the laws of logic to our beliefs.  I had a theology professor who passed on the following quote (the source of which he was unable to remember): Logic is ethics applied to the intellect.  I like that.  Philsophy is not bad.  It helps you determine whether your thinking is internally consistent or not.  On that count, I agree with Bryan that philosophy is pretty cool.

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  1. steph
    November 26, 2008 at 4:54 am

    I agree – philosophy is cool. I enjoyed a splattering of undergraduate papers on philosophy – history of phil, phil of religions, philosophy and politics. However it is easy to rely to heavily on philosophy at the expense of reason … I’m am referring to ‘that debate’ of course and the question of assumptions – assumptions of a rational or supernatural cause. From how you frame it, it appears that that naturalistic assumptions pursue a rational line and supernatural assumptions pursue it philosophically. 🙂

  2. andrewbourne
    November 26, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    If you do not have a good grasp of thought it is easy to get side-tracked as most early heresies occurred with a lack of thought. Catholic seminarians which I was once have 3 years of philosophy before 3 years of theology. If all theologians did this I think there be a better theological understanding in all Churches

  3. steph
    November 26, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    Andrew is right. Philosophy is closely related to theology. I don’t do theology – I don’t think atheists or agnostics can. I do history – biblical texts and other texts too. Here perhaps other disciplines are an advantage – even the straight logic of maths and the hypotheses of science.

  4. December 1, 2008 at 12:54 am

    steph, you seem to pit philosophy against reason. In my mind this is something like pitting algebra against math. Philosophy in general, and analytical philosphy specifically, is the discipline where you test your assumptions rationally. That is, you draw out the implications of your assumptions to see if they lead to any logical (i.e. rational) contradictions. If so, you know at least one of your assumptions must be wrong.

    andrew, I have been told that most heresies have come up when people have tried to explain the mysteries of the faith. The early apologists and church fathers were trying to preserve the mystery by showing how heretical explanations did not take into account all the biblical data.

  5. steph
    December 1, 2008 at 1:18 am

    In biblical studies, I think its very effective against dogmatic atheists who believe that miracles, however defined, cannot happen, and that therefore no miracle stories or true, or they are false or mistaken accounts of non-miraculous events, but I have found the philosophers not very helpful when trying to decide what Jesus really said and did, because they usually do a shift from not-impossible -to plausible -to true. They set their own agenda, which is usually to refute arguments that things attributed to Jesus are impossible. So, for example, they define miracles as something like “an event of an extraordinary kind, brought about by a god and of religious significance” (Swinburne). Then they argue that probably God exists, so he could do them, then its plausible that he does them, and before you know where you are they have concluded that Gospel stories are true, without examining arguments like those of Roger Aus, or what healings are possible without direct divine intervention, or anything not strictly philosophical, and I don’t find this helpful in historical Jesus research.

  6. December 1, 2008 at 1:42 am

    Yes, now I see what you’re saying. But in fact you are implicitly constructing a philosophical counter-argument. Really though, it boils down to the fact that the rules for history are different (though not mutually exclusive) from the rules of philosophy. For this reason I find N.T. Wright’s historical reconstructions much more compelling (and challenging) than Swinburne’s arguments when dealing with history. In that light I take your earlier point. Philosophy has much greater “cash value” in theology than in New Testament studies.

  7. steph
    December 1, 2008 at 2:10 am

    Philosophical counter argument? Obviously. But neither are very helpful in historical Jesus research and such like. Yes, philosophy is much more useful in theology.

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