David Hume. David Hume was an empiricist. This means that he believed that certain knowledge can only be attained through sensory experience. So he set out to discover exactly what can the senses tell us about reality. We do not have sense experience of structure or unity. We categorize and organize our sense data by using principles such as causation and induction
Causation. We reason from cause to effect. When playing Pool, with but a swing of a stick we see a ball move, make contact with another ball, and then we see the other ball move. Immediately we interpret what we saw as one ball “causing” the other ball to move. Strictly speaking, what we actually saw was a succession of events. One thing happens and then another. Causation is a principle of organization that we intuitively use to make sense of what we saw, but causation, in and of itself, is not perceived by the senses. Why? Because causation is not a “thing” open to be tested by our five sense.
Induction. Not just science, but much of human knowledge relies on inductive reasoning. Besides what I mentioned before, induction relies on the belief that the past informs us of the future. The sun set yesterday at such and such time, so it will set tomorrow at such and such time. How do we know that? Nobody has ever had a sense experience of the future. I know what you are thinking, ‘We know this, because it has happened in the past’. But that is assuming that the past can tell you about the future. You would be assuming that which you are trying to prove, and that’s called begging the question, a logical no-no.
The is/Ought fallacy. The Is/Ought fallacy deals with morality. Can sense experience alone lead us to ethical judgments and values? How do we go from what is the case (the “is”) to what ought to be the case (a moral obligation)? We cannot derive moral obligation from mere observation. There has to be a law outside of us that we all are obligated to obey. If that is not the case, then moral values reduce to mere personal preference. “Murder is wrong” is becomes as morally significant as “I like chocolate.” The Marquis de Sade loved to torture women, I don’t. If sense experience is only way to truth, what makes him wrong, and I right? David pointed out this error in think, and it’s a great logical tool to keep in your back pocket.
The Enlightenment. Skipping now hundreds of years, we now turn to another revolutionary movement in the history of thought. Yet, in a strange way, this new movement that wasn’t too different from the old one, which lead to the birth of western philosophy. it was known as The Age of Reason; Man escapes from the darkness of submission to religious dogma and steps into the light of learning, studying, and experimentation according to the dictates of autonomous Reason (again, note the capital R). Autonomous reasoning is human reasoning that believes that it the ultimate standard of what is true and false, right and wrong, without having to consult an outside referent (such as God).
The Age of Reason is also referred to as the Enlightenment. Out of the intellectual darkness of the middle ages (which weren’t exactly dark at all, with such brilliant minds as Anselm, Boethius, and Ockham), these thinkers sought to break free from all authority structures such as: the Church, Tradition, and Nationalism. Autonomous reasoning, free from these controlling structures, must be its own Judge, its own Master. Followers of Enlightenment thinking believed that this autonomy of Reason could lead us unto perfect knowledge in not only the sciences, but in all areas of life. They applied the method of the physical science (biology, mathematics, etc)to the study of the social science (sociology, politics, religion, etc). In effect, whether they consciously meant to or not, they aspired to the knowledge of God himself.
Philosophical Modernism. In time, the Enlightenment ushered in what has come to be known as Modernism. We are not talking about architectural modernism, or literary
modernism, etc. We are discussing Modernism, the worldview. It is characterized by overconfidence in reason and science. It does not take religion and the idea of a supernatural realm seriously at all. Two subdivisions of Modernism are: Scientism and Naturalism. Scientism is view that only those things that can be tested by the methods of science and be proven by the methods of science are capable of being true. Now this very principle cannot be proven by the methods of science, so therefore according to its own standard it is not true. Science is dependant on induction. Induction is the principle that we can arrive at generalized conclusions from the observance of specific instances. A faulty example of induction is:
Repeated observation: all geese I’ve ever seen are white
Inductive [faulty] conclusion: all geese are white.
Here’s an example that we believe holds true:
Repeated observation: everything I throw up comes back down
Inductive conclusion: what goes up must come down. (for more on induction, click here)
Science also assumes that its findings have universal validity. That whatever it “proves” is true for all, not just for group B. These assumptions cannot be proven by science itself, but must be assumed for science to have any legitimacy. These necessary assumptions are the philosophical underpinnings of science, that which holds it together. These are held by faith.
Here I borrow Ronald Nash’s notion of a box to understand naturalism. Nature is the box and everything in it has to be explainable by something else in the box. This leads to determinism, the theory that all observable events have fixed natural causes. A consequence is that all of our emotions, hopes, desires, and thoughts would be completely explained by chemical and physiological causes. The boomerang effect of this is that it serves to sabotage the very reasoning that came up with this theory in the first place. According to determinism, I’m not a naturalist because I reasoned my way to this position, I actually had no choice. Chemical collisions in my brain made it so that I had to say this….and this….and this….
Aquinas. Thomas Aquinas held that faith and reason are separate and distinct, but that both have a place in leading us to knowledge. His position was that reason, apart from God’s word, could lead us to knowledge of God. Reason, unaided by faith, can prove, according to Thomas, the existence of God. This is called Natural Theology (NT). NT posits that there is much we can know about God by merely analyzing the world and nature. This is because nature is God’s creation and therefore would reveal some of his divine qualities. Aquinas does believe that there are things that NT cannot uncover, such as the Biblically teaching that God is a Trinity and creation out of nothing (ex nihilo), which means that the world was created out of nothing. These truths cannot be ascertained by what reasoning can discover from nature. These can only be believed by faith in Scripture.
Thus, on Aquinas’s view, in order to be considered “reasonable” one does not need to accept the teaching of the Bible (i.e. express faith in the Bible). Someone is perfectly okay within the realm of “reason” when is comes to “natural” (as opposed to “spiritual”) things. So, while Augustine believes that faith precedes understanding (giving faith the priority), Aquinas privileges Reason (note the capital R).
After the spread of Christianity, many thinkers debated on how God could be known. Exactly, how does man make contact with God? Is He known solely through faith or can man’s rationality lead us to knowledge of God?
Augustine, one of the most important and influential Christian thinkers in history, believed that faith was instrumental in finding truth. Only by first believing can one ever start to truly understand God and his creation. Both he and Anselm of Canterbury, (who though born 600 years after Augustine, was very much influenced by his thought), held that it is faith in God that makes understanding possible. Once illuminated by faith, reason can now correct misunderstandings, such as misinterpretations of scripture. We need Scripture to guide our reasoning, because man is inclined to rebel and deny his Creator. This inclination comes from sin. And sin affects every aspect of our reasoning. The ethical is set against the metaphysical. By “metaphysical” I mean ultimate reality. By rebelling and refusing to submit to the God of Scripture, we do not see the world and ourselves as we truly are: created by God.
Though it’s probably crazy to do this if we’re discussing the history of philosophy, for the purposes of keeping within boundaries of this presentation we’re going to skip over Socrates, who is an eminent figure in the history of philosophy, notwithstanding. We are going to go directly to two thinkers that understood what the Pre-Socratics were trying to do. These two philosophers took it up a notch: Plato, student of Socrates, and then Aristotle who was a student of Plato.
Plato. According to Plato, the underlying unity that is necessary to make sense of things is not found in the world, i.e. in the world of sensory experience, what we can feel, eye, touch, taste, and hear. Senses can deceive us. In effect Plato split reality into two worlds; the world of the “forms” and the world of sense experience. The forms are perfect and without flaw; immaterial, you can’t touch, smell, hear, or taste them. They can only be grasped by the mind. They are changeless, stable so therefore all can be understood by reference to them. They act as the eternal, unchanging blueprints or receipt for all thing in the material, whether physical (like trees or dogs), or abstract qualities (like goodness, justice, redness, etc.). When things are similar, it is because they derive from the same form. The perceptual world consists of imperfect copies of the forms. Imperfect, so that they are not exactly the same as one another, but the similarity is based on the form that they are defective copies of.
Here’s a quick example: According to Plato’s doctrine of the the “forms” there exists in the eternal world a form of “treeness.” This form possesses all the necessary qualities that make a tree a tree. Every single tree down here in the physical world is patterned after this form of treeness. Down here, all tree are but imperfect copies of the form, and that’s why no two trees are exactly alike here in our world. Things in the perceptual world are perishable, because of their imperfection and changeability.
Aristotle. Aristotle does away with the platonic idea of the Forms. They are too other worldly for him. Forms, for Aristotle, are not found in a separate world, it is rather an element of a thing in the world. The form is not “out there” but instead, the form is found “in the thing” itself. Now he sees things in the world, through the category of substance. A substance is an individual thing, a person, chair, etc. These things, these substances, are a combination of form and matter. Form is what a thing is, the whatness of a thing. Matter, is what it is made of, the thisness, that which makes it this particular thing. Brad Pitt and I share the same form, the form of man. Matter is what makes him that particular man (a much better looking man).
According to Aristotle, only the unmoved mover (Aristotle’s deistic god) is pure form without matter. It is the one exception to his rule. The unmoved mover is not influenced by anything in the world, yet it is what causes all motion, all change. The unmoved mover is the final answer to that ever so popular question, with not only kids but also with adults, “what caused this to happen?” A is explained by B, B by C, you eventually get to the unmoved mover and nothing caused it to happen. Unmoved mover is an abstract entity not a person; it does not have personality characteristics.
We begin our little survey by going back to ancient Greece where the start of western philosophy began. Western philosophy places a great emphasis on rationality, coherence and makes a strident effort to abide by the laws of logic. It claims to frown on beliefs based on feelings alone. Some of the laws of logic would be:
A) The law of non-contradiction- Something cannot be both A and non-A (it’s negation) at the same time and in the same respect.
B) The law of identity- A is A
C) The Law of the excluded middle: A is either A or it is not A, it cannot be both.
Approx. 600 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, a movement arose whose purpose was to develop an understanding of the world that didn’t depend on the ancient pagan religions. The members of this movement sought to interpret what was around them without reference to a Mind that was above and beyond them. They were called “philosophers”; that’s Greek for ‘Lovers of Wisdom’. The early Greek philosophers were quite diverse and held various views but there were common features to their thought. Those features are:
1) The supremacy of human reason (rationality). The human intellect is fully able, under perfect conditions, to construct a true-to-life system that properly interprets and explains all of life (i.e. an all encompassing and fully developed worldview). The chief failing of humankind is not moral (i.e. sin, or something like that), but epistemological and metaphysical (i.e. we’re finite and ignorant)
2) The acceptance of nothing on the sole basis of tradition. This develops are the first point above. Since humans are fit within themselves to understand reality, revelation or tradition isn’t needed in telling us where we came from or where we’re going. Stories can be true or false, but the facts of reality, so it was believed, are just that, facts.