by Theodore Plantinga

This book was published by Inheritance Publications of Neerlandia, Alberta, in 1991. It is being reproduced here with the permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

NOTE: Page numbers in brackets refer to the printed edition of the book. The HTM version retains the page breaks.

Preface [page 7]
1. The Term "Christian" [page 9]
2. Philosophy in the Bible? [page 15]
3. Philosophy and Culture [page 21]
4. Philosophy and Society [page 27]
5. Philosophy and Worldview [page 33]
6. Philosophy and Metaphysics [page 41]
7. Philosophy and Language [page 47]
8. The Use of the Bible in Philosophy [page 54]
9. Constructive Philosophy [page 61]
10. Critical Philosophy [page 67]
11 Philosophy and Common Grace [page 71]
12. Participation, Appropriation and Commentary [page 78]
Appendix: Seeing, Hearing and Saying [page 89]
Index [page 113]

[PAGE 7]


Although philosophy is not primarily and originally a Christian enterprise, Reformed Christian colleges do assign it a prominent place in their curriculum and emphasize that it is to be taught along Christian lines. Therefore the content of an introductory course in philosophy includes a considerable amount of reflection on the relation between philosophy and Biblical revelation, against the background of the more general question of the relationship between Christianity and culture.

What appears in this short book is some of what I have been teaching students at Redeemer College (Ancaster, Ontario) about these matters in recent years. My concern in the chapters below is not to spell out the content of Christian philosophy as much as to indicate how the enterprise called philosophy relates to other sectors and dimensions of life, including language, society, and culture in general. The course I teach does include a presentation of the ideas of some major thinkers and philosophical schools, but that material has not been included in this book. Reasonably apt summaries of the ideas of the great philosophers are easier to come by than statements of how Reformed Christianity relates to the philosophical enterprise. It is especially in the latter area that I hope to make a contribution by circulating the ideas expressed in this book to a wider public.

I have included a substantial appendix which readers may find a bit more difficult than the chapters preceding it. The appendix is a journey into epistemology or theory of knowledge; more specifically, it is an attempt to spell out some philosophical consequences of the Biblical emphasis on the Word of God as fundamental to the believer's life of obedience and service, which of course must include what he claims to know. Many

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Christian thinkers have pointed to the Biblical preference for the auditory (the Word is heard rather than seen) and have mused over the possible broader implications of the prohibition of "images" in the second commandment; yet few of those thinkers have ventured to develop these themes further as part of a Christian understanding of knowledge. The appendix represents my statement on this matter as presented to students working on an introductory level.

Although the course I teach includes numerous references to sources and possible further readings, I have included nothing of this sort in the book. Moreover, the book has no footnotes. This is not to say that my thinking has no sources -- far from it. To avoid any such impression, I would like to acknowledge my living sources, in particular, by thanking the many teachers from whom I have learned, the colleagues with whom I have exchanged philosophical ideas over the years, and especially the hundreds of Christian students at Calvin College and Redeemer College who have listened patiently to my lectures in introductory philosophy courses and who, by their probing questions, have helped give shape to the ideas presented in this book.

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Chapter 1
The Term "Christian"

The term "Christian philosophy" contains a degree of ambiguity -- perhaps even some tension. Can the words "Christian" and "philosophy" properly be linked? Or do they exclude one another?

Some thinkers and traditions refuse to speak of "Christian philosophy" because they regard this term as an unjustifiable overstatement; they fear that it leads to triumphalism and arrogance. Yet other thinkers and traditions use the term freely to apply to certain kinds of contemporary thinking undertaken by Christians; they also use it in reference to some past ideas, e.g. certain views of thinkers in the Middle Ages, many of whom were both theologians and philosophers.

To determine whether -- and to what extent -- we can properly speak of Christian philosophy, it will be helpful to distinguish three ways in which the adjective "Christian" might conceivably be applied to philosophical thought. In the first of these, we might call philosophical ideas Christian if we agree with them. (I am assuming, of course, that "we," the participants in this discussion, are Christians.) Christian philosophy is then correct philosophy.

The reason this conception generally does not win much favor is that it forces us to accept a curious conclusion, namely, that we must regard as Christian certain ideas that may have won wide acceptance but clearly are not of Christian origin or inspiration. If we grant that it is possible for non-Christians to formulate some valid ideas which we would be willing to recognize as philosophical truths (i.e. truths in the operative

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sense: we work with them, and they work for us), this first conception will turn out to be too generous. We will wind up with "Christian philosophy" issuing from thinkers who are not committed to Christianity in any sense -- and perhaps are even hostile toward it.

The popular saying "All truth is God's truth," which plays a mischievous role in some accounts of Christian education, can best be read as a statement of an expansive view of Christian philosophy along the line suggested above. Yet people who are fond of this saying generally do not cling to such a position when questioned carefully. Whatever Christian philosophy is, then, it should be something a bit more restrictive than this conception allows.

A consideration of "humble facts" or everyday pieces of information (e.g. telephone numbers) should also lead us to wonder whether it is philosophically wise to assert that "all truth is God's truth." The telephone directory ("white pages") for the city of Toronto is a massive book full of humble facts: it lists the people, companies and organizations within Toronto wishing to make their telephone numbers a matter of public record. (I am leaving the "yellow pages" out of this example because it contains advertising, which, on most definitions, strays beyond the bounds of truth.) Let us suppose that the "white pages" for Toronto is a book has been put together by the telephone company in a conscientious manner and that it is completely accurate in what it reports at the time it comes out. (I recognize that any publication so large is bound to contain some errors and discrepancies, but for the sake of discussion I am postulating that it has come out error-free on one occasion, as a shorter listing of telephone numbers surely could, and often does.) Would its error-free condition somehow make it into a Christian book? Would we say that it is full of "God's truth"? Or would we simply regard it as a handy reference book that can be relied on? How about a book made up of mortgage amortization tables? Would we hail it as a fountain of "God's truth"?

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Before we consider the second and third senses in which philosophy might be called Christian, it may be helpful to back up and see how the term "Christian" is applied to other entities within our society and culture. We certainly use the term freely in relation to churches -- perhaps too freely. From the way people talk, one would get the impression that (many) churches are Christian virtually by definition. (But not all: Mormon congregations also call themselves churches and even use the name of Christ as part of their official name, i.e. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.) There are also schools that call themselves Christian. As in the case of philosophy, some people question the wisdom and validity of such self-descriptions, since many schools slowly abandon their Christian identity and purpose, making it hard to pinpoint the exact time when the label "Christian" ceased to be applicable. Yet such objections do not seem to carry much weight; we tend to use the term "Christian" in a simple historical sense when it comes to schools, just as we do when we talk about nations. ("France is a Christian nation, but Japan is not.")

A more interesting example is a Christian marriage and family. To "marry in the Lord" is to marry a believer, with the intention, presumably, of establishing a Christian home. A man and woman joined in marriage can speak of their marriage as Christian if they are Christians themselves and are both committed to conducting their relationship in a Christian spirit, which involves following the Biblical teachings regarding marriage and family life.

People who accept such an analysis of the term "Christian" in relation to marriage will probably agree that there are genuine marriages which cannot be described as Christian. Now, not every quasi-marital relationship ought to be recognized as a marriage (especially when no formal, life-long commitment is made), but surely there are many genuine marriages complete with legal documents in which neither party is Christian. We would advise a man and a woman who were not Christians but wanted to live their lives together to get married officially

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and legally; thereby we would be recognizing their marriage as genuine. And if they later became believers and joined our congregation, we would not ask them to go through the marriage ceremony again, although we would surely draw their attention to Christian and Biblical teachings concerning marriage and might well expect some changes in their home life.

The upshot, then, is that "Christian marriage" does not simply mean "genuine marriage." And if this is so, perhaps we can go back to our first definition of Christian philosophy and declare that genuine philosophical thought is not the same thing as Christian philosophy: a correct conclusion is not necessarily a Christian idea.

The element of commitment and intention that is inseparable from the notion of a Christian marriage brings to mind the second possible sense of "Christian philosophy" to be considered here, namely, philosophy that is developed and propagated by someone who aims to be faithful to what Scripture appears to teach about reality and knowledge and man's situation in this world. Just as a Christian marriage has to be understood in specific terms as a marriage grounded in the integrity and goals of human persons who are Christians, Christian philosophy should be understood as a concrete activity of human persons who are Christians, rather than as an abstraction. Philosophy is (among other things) thought that is carried on within human heads, and also the result of that thinking process as it is transferred to paper and to other media which render it open to consideration and criticism by the larger human community.

On such a conception, it is the commitment of the philosopher as a person that allows us to call his thought

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Christian. But notice that this approach is a fairly free and liberal one (as compared to the first definition). Why? Because in certain cases it forces us to call philosophical ideas Christian even though we disagree strongly with them. If we are prepared to respect the spiritual integrity of the philosopher who calls himself a Christian, we are then forced to call his thought Christian, however much we may disagree with it on philosophical or other grounds. And that there will indeed be disagreement is beyond reasonable dispute: it is a simple matter of fact that there is tremendous diversity in opinion among philosophers who, to the best of my knowledge, are genuine and sincere Christians. One simply cannot agree with the philosophical views of all of these people.

Perhaps this element of weakness in the second definition can nudge us toward a third, which is best regarded as an expansion of the second. We might say that Christian philosophy is philosophy that arises out of Christian cultural and intellectual traditions and sources (the most important of which is Scripture itself). On this view the emphasis does not fall so heavily on the intentions and integrity of the person doing the philosophizing. Such a shift in focus makes it possible for us to judge a body of philosophical ideas as non-Christian (or perhaps not fully and ideally Christian) without thereby casting the Christian commitment of their author or developer into doubt. One might argue with respect to thinker X (a Christian): "He is heavily influenced by such-and-such a secular or non-Christian philosophical school or tradition, to the point that the Scriptural and theological underpinnings of his thought do not get an opportunity to come into play properly. I believe he is trying to philosophize as a Christian, but I would judge that he has not been successful."

Such a statement, of course, involves evaluation. And however harsh such a conclusion might seem to the person whose thought is being assessed, critical judgment is necessary at times in the world of philosophy. Whether a given thinker's work is truly Christian is not a matter of fact but of interpretation. When the Bible instructs us to test the spirits, it does not mean to exempt philosophy -- not even philosophy that calls itself Christian. Because spirits alien to Christ and the Scriptures insinuate themselves everywhere in our cultural life, the Christian life is a life of discernment. Therefore Paul writes: "Hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil" (I

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Thessalonians 5:21-22; Bible translations are taken from the Revised Standard Version).

Note that we also offer such judgments with regard to other cultural activities undertaken by Christians. We might read a novel written by someone we know to be a Christian and say, "Although the author is a Christian, I just don't see anything Christian about the novel. I would never have realized that the author is a Christian if I didn't know it in advance. Someone who is not a Christian could just have well have written this novel." In other cases we make a judgment that is not spiritual in the same sense but more strictly cultural, or perhaps aesthetic. We might say of someone's writings: "I know he wants to be a poet, but as for that doggerel he puts out -- I just can't bring myself to call it poetry!"

We may not shy away from making such judgments in relation to philosophy. Let us suppose that a person whom we recognize as a sincere Christian has put some ideas down on paper and offered them to us as "Christian philosophy." We may conclude sadly that he is mixed up, and perhaps unschooled. It may be our considered judgment that he has failed in his effort to think and write in the mode of thought we normally call philosophy. Now, any such judgment could conceivably be disputed, for it is an evaluation, and not a simple ascertaining of facts, but judgments of this sort do have to be made on occasion.

We even make them in relation to marriage. Let's suppose that two people whom we regard as Christians get married, telling us that they intend to establish a "Christian home." Now, it is a sad possibility that other Christians who know them well and watch them as they raise children will ultimately conclude that what they have established is not a Christian home at all. We must be careful not to use the term "Christian" too freely.

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Chapter 2
Philosophy in the Bible?

What does the Bible say about philosophy, either directly or indirectly? And what is the relationship of philosophy to what the Bible teaches? These questions -- and others like them -- are often brought together under the heading "Christianity and culture."

We use this phrase to refer to the interaction between (1) cultural developments that arose in communities and traditions which were not favored by direct and continuing Scriptural revelation, and (2) the people to whom the books known as the Bible were originally given, namely, the Hebrews of the Old Testament and their spiritual successors in the New Testament era. The interaction between Hebrew believers and non-Hebrew culture and ideas already began before the birth of Christ; we see something of the result in the famous translation of the Old Testament (into Greek) known as the Septuagint.

The contact between "Christianity and culture" (to use these terms anachronistically in an Old Testament setting) was also a factor in the difficulty faced by Ezra and Nehemiah in getting the Jews to go back to their homeland once permission for a return was granted by the Persian king. We could also read the book of Daniel in the light of the "Christianity and culture" question: in this book it is made clear that one cannot stand with one foot planted in each camp, as so many believers throughout the ages have tried to do. Daniel and his friends believed they had to make a radical choice: they managed to avoid eating the choice foods provided for them from the king's own table (see Daniel 1), thereby keeping themselves

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undefiled in a way that is not required of New Testament believers. (Think of Peter's vision regarding "unclean animals" in Acts 10:9-16.)

In the New Testament, the encounter between Christianity and philosophy became even more concrete. Indeed, there are a couple of specific references to philosophy. The most famous is Paul's comment in Colossians 2:8, where we read: "See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ." Most of the academic disciplines taught as subjects in colleges and universities today are not as much as mentioned in the Bible (and are, to that limited extent, not "Biblical"): philosophy forms a significant exception to the general pattern. Yet this reference is far from favorable. The context of Paul's comment in Colossians lends a clear "Choose ye this day" (see Joshua 24) flavor to his remark.

The other encounter with philosophy is somewhat more mild. It takes place in Athens, that great citadel of philosophy. (Jerusalem and Athens are often contrasted as symbols of Christianity and human culture respectively, or of the church and the world). In Acts 17 we read that Paul visited Athens on one of his missionary journeys. We know that when he arrived in a city, he generally made his way to the local synagogue to inform the Jews in the area that the Old Testament promises and prophecies had been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, but on this occasion he also went to the central city square to speak to those who gathered there. The crowd included philosophers, with at least two schools of thought represented -- the Stoics and the Epicureans. And since Athens was an intellectual and cultural center, we may take it that not all the people in town during Paul's visit were natives of the city: foreigners were also attracted to Athenian cultural and intellectual life and were no doubt present when Paul spoke.

The apostle did not "talk philosophy" to the crowd but gave them the gospel, even though he did not use his standard

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synagogue speech, with its Old Testament references. (Of course such references would not have been understood by non-Jewish people living in Athens unless they had had some contact with Jews and their beliefs.) Although Paul leaned a long way in the direction of the Greeks on this occasion, even quoting their own poets, the account we read in the book of Acts indicates that the speech he gave that day was not one of his major successes. It does not appear that a host of new believers was added to the church on this occasion.

The people who gathered in the city square of Athens liked to hear something new; preachers of foreign gods represented entertainment for them. Thus they listened with a degree of interest, but when Paul got to the part about Jesus being raised from the dead, it was too much for them. Some laughed and jeered openly, while others said, more politely: "We'll come back some other time and hear a bit more from you." The reception Paul received in Athens makes it clear that there is a degree of opposition -- even antagonism, or antithesis -- between philosophy and Biblical revelation.

The people who took on leading roles during the time described for us in the historical sections of the Bible, that is, the ones who instructed the people and sometimes brought them special messages on God's behalf, did not speak as philosophers, even if certain of them did have some awareness of philosophy as a cultural and intellectual tradition. Neither are the writers of the books of the Bible to be regarded as philosophers. Therefore we can say simply that philosophy is not to be found in the Bible in the same straightforward sense in which we find it in many books in our libraries today.

It is sometimes argued that the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament represents an exception to this conclusion. Ecclesiastes certainly has a philosophical flavor; one gets the impression that its author would have been right at home reading the type of literature that later came to be called philosophical. Yet the book of Ecclesiastes is not generally recognized as a philosophical treatise. Because it forms part of the Bible

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and is not to be understood as an isolated text, scholars and Bible-believers have read it as continuous in terms of its content with the rest of the Bible; that is to say, they have used the other Bible books to help form a context for the proper understanding of Ecclesiastes. Perhaps we can best conclude that this book is philosophical more in its style (it raises many questions) than in its content. In the final chapter we are told: "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth ..." and "Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man" (12:1, 13).

As for the book of Proverbs, which is written in form of aphorisms, it lacks the conceptual precision that is required in philosophical writings; it makes its thought-provoking points in a manner that lies closer to poetry than to philosophy. Now, there are some philosophers who have also written in aphorisms (at least some of the time), but there is still considerable conceptual precision and specificity coming through in their writings, even if that precision derives largely from the writings and ideas of other philosophers which they are commenting on and criticizing. Thus the definitions needed in philosophy are present in such philosophical texts implicitly; they are presupposed. Philosophy is to be defined more in terms of its content (concepts, abstract terms) than in terms of its writing style.

But this is not to say that the Christian philosopher should pay no attention to the Bible's wisdom literature. It is indeed relevant to his work, but not in any exclusive way that would elevate it about all the other parts of the Bible, such as the epistles of Paul. (I will have more to say about this matter in Chapter 8.)

What about theology -- is it to be found in the Bible? Some scholars have answered this question with a no, but it could well be argued that some parts of the Bible (especially the letters of Paul) represent complicated, organized, scholarly reasoning about topics that most informed people would call theological. The writers of the Bible committed themselves to fairly distinct positions on certain theological issues; they gave

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attention especially to the process or circumstances by which it is possible for man to be made right with God once again. As a result of their specificity on such questions, many ecclesiastical traditions within Christianity (including Calvinism) maintain that the Bible speaks clearly about major theological issues. Those traditions ground their creeds and confessions directly in the Bible and do not allow much latitude in doctrinal questions. If the Bible has spoken to an issue, that ought to settle the matter for us.

But philosophy is not present in the Bible in the same sense in which theology or Christian doctrine is to be found there. Some branches of Christianity have nevertheless become heavily involved in philosophy (especially Calvinism and Roman Catholicism); others have not. Yet a Calvinistic enthusiasm for the potential value and cultural significance of philosophy should not lead us to overlook the fact that the nature of the connection between the Bible, on the one hand, and Christian philosophical ideas, on the other, has long been debated. Within a community of believers we typically find much greater philosophical diversity than theological or creedal diversity; moreover, Christian thinkers who share roughly the same theological or doctrinal convictions may well hold markedly different positions in philosophy.

The question of the proper use of the Bible in the course of philosophical reflection and argumentation will be taken up later at greater length; for the present it suffices to observe that the Bible (together with the set of ethical and theological ideas that arises from it) does indeed serve to close off certain types of philosophical speculation as illegitimate. For example, materialism is a type of philosophy that denies the reality and power of non-material aspects of reality. Its view of knowledge and science is that all legitimate forms of inquiry must be grounded in the type of knowledge and thought which we usually associate with the natural sciences. Its more extreme defenders even maintain that we should limit inquiry to the so-called physical sciences. (Various academic disciplines taught

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in colleges and universities today are essentially worthless, on this view.) Such a philosophical position has been held by many thinkers throughout the ages and is still a fairly popular option today. But no one who is committed to the Christian tradition and the validity and authority of the Bible can be a materialist in his thinking. And so we can say that materialism is ruled out by the Bible, even though no such term is actually mentioned.

By way of a preliminary conclusion, we can at least affirm that the philosophical ideas we develop, ideas which we offer as specimens of Christian philosophy, must be compatible with the Bible. Yet, stating this norm is not the same as applying it. Judgment, evaluation and interpretation are still needed. There may well be disagreements on whether specific philosophical ideas really are compatible with what the Bible teaches. And even if they seem compatible insofar as no direct contradiction is perceived, we can still go on to ask whether they will serve in the long run to undergird and deepen the Christian understanding of man's plight. Will they prove serviceable to communities of believers seeking to live their lives in accordance with God's will? The testimony of history must be taken into account as we answer such questions.

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Chapter 3
Philosophy and Culture

The discussion in the preceding chapter may strike many readers as somewhat unreal and abstract, for its topic is rather distant from our lives in the twentieth century, namely, the relationship of philosophy to the Bible itself and to the milieu in the ancient world in which the Bible was written. To understand how philosophy breathes and grows as a living presence in our society, in today's world, we must instead give our attention to its current cultural setting. Philosophy is a part of human culture, grows out of culture, and in turn helps to build and extend culture.

A persistent misconception regarding philosophy is that its finest practitioners are people who possess little formal education but have a great deal of insight into life, which they have acquired through experience rather than formal study. Informal "philosophers" who would fit such a description are certainly to be found, and they do possess wisdom and are worth listening to, but their observations have little to do with philosophy properly understood. Philosophy and wisdom need to be distinguished here: philosophy is academic and is grounded in formal study, scholarship and research, whereas wisdom is not. Philosophical knowledge or insight is acquired by direct study; wisdom is not.

It is important to realize that what the Western world calls philosophy has never been an activity carried on in isolation but has always interacted extensively with other sectors of human culture, including the various forms of inquiry and endeavor known as the sciences, politics, literature, the

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arts, historiography, medicine, technology, and even commerce. Among the many figures in Western civilization who have established a reputation as philosophers, some were known for accomplishments in these other fields as well; indeed, certain of them were known mainly for other accomplishments.

Philosophy is also to be found in ancient Indian civilization, among both Hindus and Buddhists, but Indian philosophy has less of a unitary understanding of itself than Western philosophy; the "histories of Indian philosophy" one finds in our academic libraries must be read within a Western framework of reference when it comes to their subject matter. In other words, philosophy has led more of an independent life in European civilization than in India. In Chinese civilization, philosophy is still harder to disentangle from the rest of culture, for it is bound up especially with questions of government and administration. In neither China nor India do we find a single term that covers the same domain of meaning as our word "philosophy," which stems from Greek and is to be found in all major European languages.

Today's philosophers are more specialized -- or perhaps limited. Philosophy is a persistent critic of the various sectors of culture with which it interacts, but it should not be forgotten that it is also regularly nourished by them. Significant changes in culture will eventually result in changes and new developments in philosophy. In the last decade or two, for example, the rise to prominence of computers has made quite an impact on philosophy.

Once we attain a proper understanding of the many connections between philosophy and other sectors of culture, we begin to realize why philosophy is unavoidably an academic enterprise for which considerable education is needed -- not just training in philosophy itself but general education. While it is well-nigh impossible to spell out an ideal course of study for someone wishing to devote himself to philosophy, it can certainly be said that a broad knowledge of human culture and achievements is extremely valuable. Recorded knowledge

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is now far too vast for any human being to be able to claim a wide acquaintance with it; even so, the broader one's outlook and knowledge base, the better one is equipped for philosophical reflection.

This recognition should enable us to expand our understanding of what Christian philosophy might be. It is not enough to talk about relating the Bible to philosophy, and then to rule out certain philosophical ideas as incompatible with what the Bible teaches. Christian philosophy -- if such a thing is ever to be possible, as opposed to remaining a distant goal, a mere dream -- must emerge from a wide-ranging Christian cultural and intellectual tradition; indeed, it presupposes a more substantial participation in the various facets of life than Christians in our time have managed. In other words, to the extent that they have been marginalized, Christians find it impossible to philosophize on a grand scale, for philosophy is rooted in social and cultural participation.

This realization can help us understand why the Middle Ages are still widely regarded as the golden age of Christian philosophy. During this era, virtually all the leading cultural figures in Europe were affiliated with the Christian tradition and claimed to accept major Christian doctrines. Thus, everything underway in Europe in terms of culture, science and intellect could draw on and feed into the Christian philosophical tradition.

In the centuries since the Middle Ages, Christians have slowly but surely been driven into a minority position. They are active in certain sectors of culture and are well represented in some walks of life (like the Jews of the Middle Ages, they tend to specialize in certain occupations), but they do not form full communities on their own. Indeed, those Christians who live in relatively closed communities, like the Amish, leave many sectors of human culture and endeavor untouched or undeveloped. The strategy of most Christians has been to live among non-Christians and to engage in most -- but not all -- of the economic and cultural pursuits as non-Christians engage.

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Yet we should not despair of this cultural strategy or declare that we have made a historical error: it was Christ's own command that his followers were to go out into all the world, preaching the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20). In the book of Acts, we see believers responding to this missionary mandate. The famous parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) is also part of the justification cited by Christians in defense of the strategy of scattering themselves across the entire globe, as opposed to banding together in some holy land where they might be able to develop a totally Christian culture in isolation.

Because Christians and non-Christians live side by side in the Western world, we speak quite freely of Christian churches and schools and families, but not quite so readily of a Christian society. We might point to a small business enterprise as Christian (perhaps all of its employees are believers), but a large corporation of the sort that today dominates the world of commerce could hardly be called Christian, even if it was founded by Christians. A large corporation draws on so many people for expertise in various technical and specialized functions that it would be well-nigh impossible to staff it entirely with people of one religious persuasion. Christian society as it seems to have existed during the Middle Ages is a thing of the past and does not seem likely to return.

In many circles it is still an open question whether there is any such thing as a Christian philosophy in our time. To declare simply that there is not is to be rather uncharitable in one's estimation of the work being done today by Christians who are philosophers. Yet there is some reason for caution here: Christian philosophy does have something to apologize for. When we investigate what has been achieved and explore its inadequacies, we cannot help but regard it as somewhat fragmentary.

Philosophy may appear to be a solitary endeavor in that the deep thoughts must always, at the outset, be formulated within the head of some individual thinker. Yet much of what

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philosophy offers is a reflection and product of a wider culture. A Christian individual who lives in a degree of tension with his culture and society -- precisely because he is Christian and the society is largely secular -- can hardly be expected to produce an intellectual account of that society parallel to what Hegel (1770-1831) was able to articulate in and for his time. (Hegel downplayed his own genius and individuality in presenting his philosophical ideas; he liked to think of himself as a spokesman or mouthpiece for what "the World Spirit," the real subject of the historical process in its many aspects, had managed to achieve in his time.)

When we catch sight of the relationship between the thinking of the individual philosopher, on the one hand, and the cultural content and substance of his time and society, on the other, we see why so many philosophers (including Christians) take a broad -- almost latitudinarian -- interest in the numerous and diverse aspects of culture and the arts. The great philosophers of the past had considerable cultural accomplishment behind them on which they would draw for inspiration and material. One could make the same point by declaring that a nation's pioneers and explorers were not the ones who did the substantial work in philosophy; rather, the study of history reveals that the great treatises were written in comparatively old, settled and accomplished communities.

The Christian who is at work in philosophy today is still something of an explorer. He may hanker after the Middle Ages, but he also realizes that there is no going back in history. Whether a fuller Christian engagement with the world will emerge in our time, with the result that a broader Christian understanding of man's vocation becomes possible on a philosophical level, remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: the individual Christian who devotes himself to philosophy cannot bring all of this about on his own.

At this point what we are bumping up against the question to what extent philosophy is a critical activity as opposed to being a constructive activity. In the long run, philosophy

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must be both; yet much recent Christian philosophy has been more critical than constructive. In this chapter I have tried to point out some of the reasons for the critical bent; in Chapters 9 and 10, I will spell out some further conclusions regarding philosophy's critical and constructive responsibilities.

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Chapter 4
Philosophy and Society

The second possible definition of Christian philosophy offered in Chapter 1 was that it is the philosophy of a Christian person. I expanded that definition to put greater emphasis on philosophy's rooting in culture, that is, in traditions that are not of the philosopher's own making. Now I will return to the personal and social dimension of the philosopher's life and his role in society.

That a philosopher may encounter difficulties in his relationship to his own community should be evident from a glance at the life of Socrates (fourth century B.C.), who was one of the first major philosophers and is a widely recognized symbol for philosophy as such. The story of Socrates, in brief, is that he aroused the ire of his fellow Athenians by his critical questioning. He was put on trial for disturbing the social, cultural and religious peace, so to speak. The trial resulted in a conviction and a death penalty, although it should be noted that the Athenians would have been just as happy to see Socrates escape confinement and go live in exile.

The story of Socrates illustrates the truth of a sober remark once made by the Canadian philosopher George Grant (1918-88): "Philosophy is always and everywhere the enemy of the opinions of any society, however much philosophers may have to conceal that enmity." At the very least, we see from this observation that the philosopher needs to cast a wary glance over his shoulder from time to time as he goes about his work. Indeed, many philosophers have felt they did not have enough freedom in their own community to go about their

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work. Descartes (1596-1650) spent most of his career away from his native land of France: he went to live in the Netherlands, where he believed he would have a bit more freedom from interference. Spinoza (1632-77) once declined a professorship because he was convinced he would not be allowed the freedom to work out his ideas. In the twentieth century Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was better known for controversial opinions expressed in popular books than for his work in more narrowly philosophical writings: those popular opinions led to considerable harassment and even notoriety.

Are there still such examples of ill treatment to be found today? Are philosophers in the Western world under pressure from society and government to conform to widely prevailing ideas and opinions? (That philosophers did not enjoy much freedom in communist countries goes without saying; some of them, including Marxists, migrated to the West to pursue their work!) It seems that today's philosophers have, by and large, made their peace with society. The contemporary American philosopher Richard Rorty (born 1931) was once asked, after a public lecture, what the role of the philosopher is today. He responded casually that the philosopher has become a sort of public relations man for the modern university. Socrates, presumably, would not think much of such a role, but a survey of what philosophers actually do nowadays does lend some support to Rorty's claim.

It must be borne in mind that the university is an very expensive undertaking: its costs greatly exceed the funds available through private philanthropy. (Much research and scholarship in the past was made possible by the generosity of aristocrats who either undertook the work themselves or supported people of lesser financial means who devoted their time to science and scholarship.) Today the universities are an enormous drain on government resources. And while they have a valid claim to society's support in virtue of their teaching role, much of the money they take in is actually used to fund research and inquiries of various sorts. Why does a society need universities

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and research? When one examines the broad range of research projects and enterprises that are actually underway in these institutions, it becomes clear that while some are beneficial to society, others are trivial, if not entirely useless. Rorty's point is that it now tends to fall to philosophers to explain what the university is doing and why such work deserves public support.

But what about the role of the philosopher as caustic critic who embarrasses the leaders of society in much the same way that Socrates, in ancient Athens, demonstrated to the young men, as they followed him around, that society's leaders do not know nearly as much as they claim to know? Throughout history there have been philosophers in the ranks of both the scientists and the critics of the sciences. Must philosophers now give up their critical role?

They certainly have not surrendered it altogether, but it does appear that they have been domesticated to quite an extent. Informed people expect that a contemporary philosopher must be a professor at some institution or other -- and indeed, most of them are. But it was not always so. Not until about the time of Kant (1724-1804) did it become common for the philosopher to hold a university professorship in which his main function was to teach philosophy -- or perhaps teach about it (in history of philosophy courses). Earlier philosophers had made their living in all sorts of ways, and some of them possessed independent means that enabled them to forego gainful employment. Today a young thinker without an independent financial base must seek a professorship if he is to have the time and day-to-day working conditions that are needed to stimulate philosophical reflection and productivity. And even if he should possess sufficient wealth to live and work independently, he will have trouble getting the recognition and attention that are needed to make progress in philosophy.

In Christian circles the same dynamics are operative, but it should be noted that Christians (or at least certain communities and traditions within Christendom) have a high view of education that works to the philosopher's benefit. The Christian

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philosopher, more than his secular counterpart today, conceives of himself as a teacher, and therefore as one who serves society in general, and his supporting community in particular. The Christian understanding of knowledge (especially non-trivial knowledge, or knowledge with deeper existential significance) is that it has certain moral and spiritual prerequisites. Like many a Hindu thinker, the Christian philosopher maintains that the ability to apprehend truth has something to do with keeping oneself pure. And so the Christian philosopher is a bit like Socrates in that he not only pursues truth but also wants to make people better -- beginning with his own students. When Socrates tells his followers to care for their souls, the Christian philosopher (who is also a teacher) agrees, even if he understands the term "soul" somewhat differently.

Traditional philosophy was well aware that there is a connection between philosophy and education. (Of late, secular thought has tended to search for expertise regarding education in the ranks of the social scientists; psychologists, in particular, are widely thought to possess it.) Philosophy, it was assumed, concerned itself with the structure and transmission of bodies of knowledge. The notion that knowledge and science are "neutral," that is, that they have no implications for the moral and spiritual dimensions of human existence, is a relatively recent doctrine -- one which classical philosophers would simply have rejected.

Christian philosophy sides with the classical thinkers, then, in connecting knowledge with the good. Genuine knowledge, insight, wisdom, and science must, in principle, make it possible for us to live better lives and to make this world a better place. Or, to formulate the same point in more explicitly Christian language, knowledge must be able to contribute to the coming of the kingdom of God. Therefore education is to be regarded as part of the Christian's vocation. And if the philosopher is the one with insight into education as a process affecting not just individuals but an entire community, he must have an honored place in Christian society.

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The term "philosophy of education," which is still widely used in our society, helps us see what is at issue here. This term suggests that the intellectual tradition known as philosophy has unique insights to offer regarding education. In Christian liberal arts colleges, a course in (Christian) philosophy of education is usually required of students who wish to enter the teaching profession. In secular institutions, philosophy of education is generally available as well, but often not required. There is less of a recognition that knowledge (or a body of knowledge) has a certain structure that must be taken into account during the teaching process, and that part of its structure is its grounding in human moral and spiritual concerns; indeed, in many secular institutions this notion is rejected altogether, for science and knowledge are supposed to be morally and religiously neutral. Thus the Christian philosopher, working in a Christian post-secondary educational institution, not only has a mandate to make his students morally and spiritually better though his teaching of philosophy in general; he is also supposed to provide insight into the nature of the Christian educational enterprise as a whole and the rationale for continuing to maintain it, even though it is very costly in terms of time and money.

He can do this in either a critical or a constructive vein. My book Rationale for a Christian College (Paideia Press, 1980) was largely constructive in nature: it aimed to spell out (in a non-controversial way) what Christian higher education was trying to accomplish, and its writing and publication was one of the steps that led to the establishment of Redeemer College. My later book Public Knowledge and Christian Education (Edwin Mellen Press, 1988) is essentially a critical treatise intended to sound a warning about dangerous trends in Christian education (especially in relation to the place of science instruction in our elementary and secondary schools). The second book is a reminder that the philosopher's critical function can never be fully given up -- not even after a network of Christian schools has been established. If this is indeed so, the philosopher must

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realize that he will always remain something of an outsider in his own community, someone who is never quite satisfied with the way things are done.

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Chapter 5
Philosophy and Worldview

Some people, in an effort to bring philosophy closer to the layman, declare that everyone has a philosophy. The difference between philosophers and non-philosophers, on this view, is simply that the former are more articulate about the philosophical views they hold than the latter. People with such a view of philosophy often use the term "worldview" as a synonym for philosophy: in effect, philosophy is a fancy word for worldview. After all, doesn't everyone, of necessity, have some sort of worldview?

The definition of philosophy in terms of worldview will not help us, for what we call philosophy is not a universal phenomenon in human culture. Rather, philosophy is a type of intellectual activity we find in some parts of the world, in some societies -- but not in others.

The continuing tradition of critical discussion which we refer to as philosophy originated among Greeks who lived long before the birth of Christ. The Greeks had settlements outside the territory we now call Greece, and their cultural influence was widespread in the ancient world. What the relationship of their philosophical ideas was to the mythology and religious traditions of the time is not a question that admits of a neat or simple answer; yet it is safe to say that philosophy came to be recognized as a rival to traditional ways of thinking and patterns of ordering society. And from the Greeks, philosophy spread to the Romans, and then to various other peoples (in Europe especially) which were influenced by these two founding nations, drawing on their vocabulary and body of philosophical

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concepts as they developed philosophical ideas of their own.

As we noted earlier, something essentially akin to philosophy is also to be found among the ancient Indians, who were adherents of the religious tradition which we today call Hinduism. In both Hinduism and Buddhism (which originated in about the sixth century B.C. as a rebellion against Hinduism and eventually spread far beyond India's boundaries even though it lost influence and disappeared for a while within India itself), there is a tradition of speculative thought about the ultimate nature of reality and the proper interpretation of human experience. The themes we encounter in such thought are essentially the same as the ones we find in Greek philosophy. And while the word "philosophy" (which comes to us from the Greek language) was not used in ancient India, scholars recognize that philosophy was indeed present there in substance.

Through the spread and influence of Buddhism, in particular, philosophy flourished in China and some other Asian countries, where it interacted with native intellectual traditions which also embodied recognizably philosophical elements. Thus we can also speak of philosophy in the Far East. But unless we adopt a rather liberal and unusual definition of the term "philosophy," we must conclude that we do not find philosophy among the world's other major civilizations prior to their contact with Europe. Just as not every person has a philosophy, not every society in history has engaged in what we call philosophy.

Many of the major philosophers have stressed that however we may choose to define philosophy, there must be more to it than mere opinion. A philosopher's ideas should not be arrived at arbitrarily or in a haphazard manner.

Perhaps we could say that philosophy is an effort to answer certain kinds of difficult and intriguing questions by means of disciplined inquiry. (What the proper "method" is for philosophical thought is itself a question on which philosophers disagree.) We then realize that the sorts of questions that give rise to genuine philosophical reflection do not come up to the

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same extent in everyone's mind: even in a society where philosophy is prominent, the degree of interest in it differs markedly from person to person. Many individuals who have great intellectual accomplishments to their name think along strictly conventional lines and have the greatest difficulty understanding why certain questions posed by philosophers could count as genuine and perplexing problems.

It is very hard to get going in philosophy without a teacher, or -- at the very least -- an organized program of reading in the works of the great philosophers. The challenge is not just to think out the major ideas of philosophy on one's own but to come to an appreciation of what the great questions of philosophy are, that is, what they mean, why anyone would take them to be genuine problems worth spending time on.

What sets philosophers off from other people is first of all the questions they ask. (Indeed, some philosophers seem to think that asking questions of the right sort is more important than ever being able to come up with answers.) When beginning students have difficulty with philosophy, they are puzzled not just by philosophical answers but also by the kinds of questions philosophers ask: perhaps it has never occurred to them to wonder about the things Socrates, Plato and Aristotle spent much time thinking and talking about. (There are also some students, however, who have come to certain of these questions on their own; such students are pleased to discover, when they take a philosophy course, that others have posed these questions before them -- and even offered some answers.)

There is also a version of the "philosophy as worldview" thesis that is used to explain what Christian philosophy is. We are then told that since philosophy is basically a refinement of worldview (which everyone possesses), Christian philosophy is a statement of the Christian (or perhaps Biblical) worldview, which has been held in common by believers throughout the ages, from Abraham to Billy Graham, from Esther to Mother Teresa. The Christian philosopher's job is then to help ordinary believers express more clearly and fully what they already

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believe on a wide range of philosophical issues.

There are three basic reasons why the "philosophy as worldview" thesis will not help us grasp what Christian philosophy is and does. The first is that it makes far too much of what all believers have in common when it comes to their knowledge (understood broadly) of reality, their operative conception of what sorts of things exist and how they relate to one another. It simply is not the case that believers in all ages have understood reality in the same way; in this regard they have been deeply influenced by local conditions and circumstances.

Christians throughout history have disagreed with one another on all sorts of matters: their unity has not been a oneness of opinion but a unity given them by their Lord. To the extent that they managed to be one, it was because they possessed one revelation, one Lord, one hope (which was expressed in a variety of ways). In other words, Christian unity is not something we simply find ourselves possessing; it is something we must work toward, on the basis of what God has first given us. Christian unity when it comes to our understanding of reality is surely something to be desired, but we should not simply assume that we possess it when in fact we do not.

The truth of the matter is that there are enormous differences in thinking and perception between Christians of different ages and genders, and between Christians who have lived in different times and places. The academic discipline known as sociology of knowledge has made us keenly aware of the enormous differences between people are when it comes to their perception and understanding of reality. It has also taught us what a barrier to communication those differences can be. People often lack sufficient initial understanding of one another to communicate effectively. Just as people in a large country must work hard to maintain some uniformity of language in order to enhance communication (which is why bilingualism is always a contentious issue), Christians must work hard if they wish to enjoy genuine unity with one another. God has made us different from one another in many ways (including the ways

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we cognize reality), and the experiences we undergo (e.g. in our daily work) serve to heighten some of those differences.

The second reason why the "Christian philosophy as Christian worldview" approach will not work for us lies in the term "worldview" itself. The world is not the sort of entity which we can ever be said to view. It is more the object of our thought (in which imagination plays a major role) than of any act of vision or sensory apprehension. In other words, the term "worldview" claims too much. We do not, in fact, enjoy a view of the world; indeed, by its very physical constitution, planet earth (to say nothing of all that lies beyond our planet) is such that no human being can see it in its totality at once, not even from a spacecraft: all we can see is surfaces and contours. We cannot even see a golf ball all at once, although it is small enough to hold in our hand.

To some this might seem a trivial point, but it is not. We must draw some philosophical consequences from our recognition that (1) reality is vast -- utterly beyond our human imagining, to say nothing of direct perception -- and that (2) our knowledge of it is limited and finite. This is a theme which some philosophers have stressed greatly, whereas others all but deny it. (I will come back to this matter in Chapter 6.)

Oddly enough, some proponents of the "Christian philosophy as Christian worldview" approach also love to make much of "perspective" language. Christian thinking is then described as "having a Christian perspective" on this and that. They do not seem to realize that these two ways of talking are in conflict with one another.

Perspective language makes much of the physical limitations built into seeing: from a given vantage point, some items can be viewed while others are literally "out of sight." The assumption then seems to be that there is a privileged vantage point that is available to Christians but not to non-Christians.

Yet to speak of "worldview" is to deny these physical limits ("out of sight") on what we see; it is to suggest that we can attain a total and simultaneous vision or awareness of the whole

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or of "the world," i.e. all there is. Our experience in viewing a large painting all of which is visually available to us from one vantage point already indicates that we can look carefully at only one part of it at a time. In short, perspective language claims too little, while worldview language claims too much.

The third reason why Christian philosophy should not be understood as "the Christian worldview" is that this approach makes too much of vision as a mode of gaining knowledge of reality. One of the points Christian philosophy tries to make is that Western philosophy, on the whole, has placed far too much emphasis on vision as a way for human beings to orient themselves to reality. For the ancient Greeks, knowledge is basically sight, as we see from the etymology of some of the Greek words in our philosophical vocabulary: hence John Dewey (1859-1952) complained about what he called "the spectator conception of knowledge." A "theory" is basically an unobstructed vision of some aspect of reality; the word "idea" is also etymologically grounded in vision.

The contemporary notion of neutrality and objectivity derives largely from this conception of knowledge as vision. (Neutrality and objectivity are said to be possible to the maximal extent in science, and science is then held up as an ideal to strive toward in other sectors of culture.) We should bear in mind that vision requires some distance between the knower's sensory organ and the object of his interest: we cannot see things that are placed directly against our eyes. But there are also sense organs that require full proximity -- taste and touch.

Christian philosophy wishes to suggest that knowledge is more dependent on relationships and commitments than the mainline tradition in the Western world has been willing to recognize. It also maintains that it is no accident that the Bible uses the word "know" in connection with sexual intercourse: "Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain" (Genesis 4:1). According to Christian philosophy, our knowledge of reality is not nearly so neutral and detached as many Western philosophers seemed to suppose when they

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glorified vision as the highest and purest of all the human possibilities for cognizing reality.

The overestimation of vision also has the effect of causing us to neglect the Biblical emphasis on hearing (which is etymologically connected to obeying, as we see especially from the German and Dutch words for hearing and obeying). The "worldview" approach to Christian philosophy has the effect of discouraging us from exploring the auditory emphasis in the Bible. God wishes to be heard -- not seen. Opportunities for seeing God are reserved for the life to come, when our present impurity will no longer stand in the way.

The orientation in the Bible, which deals with life in the present and addresses itself to man's current sinful state, is very much toward the auditory -- to the point that there is even a prohibition in the second commandment against "images" (which are seen, but not heard). Just what the second commandment requires and forbids when it comes to everyday life and the fine arts is a matter of debate among Christians: some take it to mean that music, as an art form, is more amenable to Christian use and development than the various visual arts, with their "images." If this is the case, music would presumably make a greater contribution toward our worship services than dance and the visual arts.

Yet there is value in what we might call the "worldview tradition." What it has brought home to many people is that science and other aspects of culture are grounded in what I would call moral and spiritual concerns and commitments. The worldview emphasis has reminded Christians that when we study science and culture, we are dealing with the works of living, breathing human beings who have either served God or denied Him by what they have fought for and produced.

Such an emphasis is part of what we mean by taking a Christian approach to history: we judge the makers of history and culture in religious and spiritual terms. What takes place in human history bears a direct relation to the battle between belief and unbelief about which the Bible instructs us. There is

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no neutrality when it comes to science or any other dimension of human culture.

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