Philosophy – in defense thereof

Philosophy has to be the longest running human study to have completely failed to date.  Charged with finding the answers to a handful of important questions over two millennia ago.  Those questions remain open and unresolved.

I am far from an expert in this field.  Basically I just finished the equivalent of a year-long introduction course.  These questions have always been of interest to me.  Not generally because of a deep need to understand them myself, but to aid in understanding how others view the world.  Immediately before I took this course, I took another in argumentation.  That course covered to roots of argumentation and how it developed from philosophy.  I was concerned with the emphasis in the course on how to frame arguments and structure arguments as opposed to those arguments being correct.   Wanting to look more into what the standards of truth are was my direct impetus for taking the philosophy course.

What are the big questions I refer to?  What is existence?  What is Truth and Good?  What is knowledge and how do we acquire it?  I’d submit that none of these questions have been answered satisfactorily through philosophy to date. But… here’s my thesis.  Our attempts to discover the answers to these questions have contributed as much or more to the world than any other study.  It is shameful that this study is held in such low esteem in present culture.  ( A thesis for another day might be that philosophy, theology, the arts and science should all be proceeding together in their examinations of these questions, but are currently seen to be in opposition and conflict.)

Why is philosophy not respected by the average person?  I think there are a number of misconceptions.

First, that philosophy cannot provide us useful answers to the questions it poses.  An echo of my opening statement.  While I do not believe there is universal agreement on the answers, it cannot be said that philosophy has not provided answers and that those answers have not proved useful and critical.  One of the truly interesting aspects of philosophy is that it spawns other fields of study.  All questions start off as philosophy questions.  Philosophy births and nurtures them and once they become mature enough sets them out on their own.  Physics, politics, psychology and social sciences all started within the realms of philosophy.  Regardless of whether it ever finds answers to the ultimate questions it asks, I am confident will continue to be the spawning ground for new disciplines.

A second apprehension is that philosophy can only be comprehended by the truly erudite.  See what I did there?  Used a big word. 🙂  It can certainly be argued that many philosopher’s were geniuses, that philosophy has commonly been the playground of scholarly types and that there are some really tricky technical details.  But the same is true for math and science and we figure that we can start teaching those disciplines to kids before kindergarten.

The biggest problem is not that it is complicated, but that we’ve never been formally introduced to the basic precepts.  Our general engagement with philosophy is picking it up by cultural osmosis out of the zeitgeist.  (Sorry – I just like that sentence.  It works against my point though.  We only pick up philosophy through its application in the culture surrounding us.)  Or take theology – we can start kids off with easy concepts like faith, hope and charity (by easy I mean accessible not lacking in complexity) and practical elements like prayer.  You can move on to the nature of the incarnation and trinity for instance as you grow because you have that foundation.

A third objection would be against the practicality of philosophy.  That the knowledge gained does not provide a benefit of itself.  I’m not sure I have a counter-argument as the line of reasoning is too foreign to me.  I guess I am a fan of knowledge for its own sake regardless of its practicality.  But I also think that the knowledge of philosophy provides valuable insights into, I dunno, how people think?  How a culture matures?  What motivates a person beyond a need for security, shelter and food?  I think that is immediately useful as i live with people in a culture.

Some might be disinclined to approach philosophy because it has set itself up as opposed to science and/or religion.  🙂  First off, that is not accurate.  Although there is certainly such a trend in many of the philosopher’s associated with modernity or post-modernity, it certainly does not apply to the entirety or majority of philosophical thought.  Secondly, as a study it might be most useful when used to contrast and challenge our own beliefs and mores.

Finally, I think there might be a preconception that philosophy has disappeared up its own butt in the 20th century.  Logical Positivism, Existentialism, Structuralism and Deconstructionism might be what people think of when they encounter philosophy even if they do not know what these movements actually are.  Philosophically speaking the last 100 or so is but a moment in philosophical thought.  Some of these trends may have held prominence during that period, but it is impossible to see how they will carry with us into the future.  And for each of these theories there are also those that held ideas which I consider more in line with reality as I perceive it.  Furthermore, these movements themselves are instructive just through understanding what they say about our culture or what they were created to reflect about our culture.

I think philosophy also has some distinguishing features that are not apparent in other fields of study.  The greatest of these is its agility and adaptability.  You see, I believe that although philosophy has not necessarily discovered ultimate truths it has certainly been successful of expressing the attitudes of the ages in which it is used.  It can, like art, provide a portrayal of what people living in the times it was developed believed and fought for.  And as those cultures change, as new technology is discovered, as political ideologies come in and out of fashion the philosophy comes up with ideas that reflect those changes.  And more, it also provides a framework that envelops and guides those changes.

Religion and its study can not quite do the same since a true study of the same can not just break with its own past.  And science if based on an accumulation of knowledge and, although it may have leapfrogs and spurts and revolutions, cannot simply just try on a brand new method.  I am not trying to disparage either science or religion.  These characteristics are essential and provide a needed contrast to philosophy.  But in philosophy you can have true radicalism and complete shifts.  Most of these will likely be garbage, but sometimes they will indeed discover a new and worthwhile idea.  That is very neat.

Another aspect that I think makes it attractive is that it provides an alternative to science.  Um, this is a thought that will require some foundation.  It seems to me that science if often treated with a sort of fundamentalist awe.  A faith that if pursued long enough that all answers will be revealed.  But science, properly pursued never produces facts, it produces hypotheses that have yet to be disproved.  And while not vocalized this ultimate faith in science is also juxtaposed with a disbelief in its products.  Statistics are all lies, special effects may be responsible for man’s walk on the moon.  That dissatisfaction has spread to be general distrust of many aspects of modern life.  Science is pretty nifty – I think the scientific method is awesome and is likely the best way we have discovered to accumulate data.  But the skepticism necessary to advance science is at odds with folks need for truth.  Additionally science has sometimes just tossed away concepts that it cannot pursue – like morality – and these concepts are crucial to our existence.

Philosophy is another lens through which to study the world that can coexist as a hand-maid to science.  I think that is something that is powerful and commonly overlooked.  (I’d also argue that religion can provide the same coexistence.  There is nothing wrong with having multiple alternatives and some folks also seem to have a more knee-jerk reaction to or for religious knowledge.)

In summary, philosophy is perhaps the most successful field of study to ever be portrayed as a failure and to have not yet achieved its earliest stated goals.  That is pretty awesome.

The next philosophical post will likely deal with my own response to some philosophical theories and thus what I myself hold True.  Hopefully it will be shorter.  I’m a pretty simple fellow after all.

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18 thoughts on “Philosophy – in defense thereof

  1. Dano says:

    Looks like I’m going to be typing a lot tomorrow 🙂 I may have found the posts on IT stuff interesting, but you’ve landed in my ballpark now and this is more than interesting. This is compelling to my entire being. Expect a great deal of posts. I am so happy.

    For today I just want to say . . . I disagree . . . with everything 🙂

  2. Dano says:

    No worries man, I smiled through your whole post and will continue to do so as I type. I am disagreeing in a friendly happy sort of way. 🙂

    The first thing I want to do is comment on the reality of the course you took, and the state of modern philosophy.

    I am sure the course was good, however, it is good in the sense that it was prepared by a modern philosopher and thus not very good at all.

    Modern philosophy is in the toilet. Since the dawn of philosophy some 2500 years ago there has only been one period (the decline of the Western World following the fall of Rome) where philosophy has been at a lower state than it is today. There are a lot of causes for this, which I won’t go into, such as the modern academic system, the so-called enlightenment, television and the change in thought formation, post-modernism, media and propaganda saturation, weak journalism, and many more. If necessary, I may discuss some of these in more detail later. The point is that anything coming from modern philosophy needs to be tempered by the fact that modern philosophy isn’t particularily good philosophy. (This coming from a modern philosopher).

    I think most of us live under the illusion that humanity is always progressing, always learning more and advancing in our knowledge and the truths we posess. This is understandable. In the singular field of science, which dominates our lives, this has been the case for the last couple of hundred years. However, outside of science, and even in science outside of modern history, this has not been the case. The reality is that we go up and down, and this is true in no place like it is in philosophy. It rises and falls in great degrees from age to age. Right now we are in the depths of a fall. Currently, philosophical thought stinks. The good news is that it seems to be turning around. The evidence is pointing to a gradual ascent. It seems unlikely that we will hit rock bottom. Hoorah.

    The importance of this, is that when we moderns study the history of philosophy (or prepare a survey of philosophy) we do so as people living in darkness, who have only really only experienced darkness, looking back at moments of brilliant light. Sometimes we just don’t get it and therefore assume that the light never existed and those who went before us were just mistaken in saying that it did. (This is combined with a sort of ‘temporal arrogance’: we think “they couldn’t possibly have known as much as we do.”)

    I think this is the case with many of the “failures” of philosophy; these, open and unresolved issues that philosophy has yet to answer. The reality is that many of these are not unresolved. In fact, a great many of them have been definitively resolved beyond a question of doubt, were closed and remained closed for centuries. Only, due to the weakness of modern philosopy, they have been re-opened and labelled unresolved. Essentially the answer was too big, too grand, too brilliant for us to understand so we threw it out.

    Combined with this we have the modern tendency to misplace tolerance and equaltiy. Instead of placing these ideals on their rightful object, the person, we place them on ideas. We mistakenly think that all ideas are equal, all ideas deserve respect, all ideas must be tolerated. This, of course, is nonsense. All people are equal, all people deserve respect; some ideas are just stupid. However, this has led the modern philospher to look back and see that Phil said A and Sophia said B and they disagree so the issue is unresolved; when the reality is that A was just wrong and B was just right, and it isn’t unresolved at all.

    Worse still, due to the transference from rational thought formation to emotional thought formation that we have seen in the last century, many definitively resolved issues have been declared open simply because we don’t like the answer. Much like a 3 year old child whining that it’s not fair that they can’t eat a dozen cookies for supper, so modern philosophy responds to many of the conclusions of traditional philosophy. Clearly, this reality is most prevalent in the field of Ethics, but is also present in other disciplines as well; metaphysics probably being second.

    This all said, I propose that far from being the longest study of humanity to result in failure, philosophy is, in fact, a shining jewel of human success. We just don’t realise it. The discussion of the success vs. seeming failure of philosophy will be the subject of my next post (which I must promise myself to be at minimum 4 hours from now).

    And, with that post I have brought my $40000 degree in philosophy down to below $1000 a use – yes!

    • I’m willing to grant your argument. But not your conclusion. To wit, there may have been resolved answers to these questions and we might be at a nadir in philosophical thought, but it those current assumptions (which I think we both have issue with) that shape our political structure, our legislative goals, our judicial verdicts and our various branches of professional ethics. Not to mention our views on community, family, etc.

      So while it is possible that these discussions should be closed, I believe they remain open. And until such a time as those thoughts are reintroduced and are reflective in our civic and social structures, I’d say they remain so.

      In your metaphor, we’ve let the 3 year old run things. It is done. Now where do we go from here?

      And, while I’m not the biggest fan of philosophy since the enlightenment either, I found in pretty much every philosopher ‘studied’ in my course at least one thought worth pursuing. I think that the endeavor to match philosophical learning to scientific learning was worthwhile, for example, if only to show that it isn’t a framework that works very well.

      For instance, the Frankfurt school of philosopher’s raised the potential impacts of media and propaganda quite effectively and Habermas, from that School originally also propounded on the requirement for a strong public sphere for debate which would include effective journalism. Right? So there are some 20th century ideas that reflect ideas i agree with. Of course both of these examples also had a significant amount I disagreed with in other areas.

      I choose an intentionally aggressive introduction to the essay, but I think my main point – that philosophy doesn’t get its due respect and (although it only showed up briefly) that there should be a requirement to provide a stronger philosophical background as part of learning – still is debatable. I think we likely might even agree on that main point (even if not on any of my claims supporting it. 🙂 ).

      After all, you should be able to get more use out of that degree!

  3. Dano says:

    Agreed. I do not pretend that the issues are not open, even if they are open unnecessarily. I only protest the idea that philosophy is a failure. I protest that it has not produced any answers, for I believe it has. As a parallel, there are some people in the world who insist that the Earth is at the center of the universe. There are still geocentrists among us, and they most certainly claim to be scientists. This fact does, in no way, undermine the truth that science has succeeded in understanding the nature of our solar system. The truth has been learned and science has succeeded. It would be hideously unfair to level a charge of “complete failure” against science based upon these . . . fools. It would be ridiculous to say that “[this] question has not been answered satisfactorily through science to date.” (Both of these being statements you made about philosophy).

    I also object to the notion that philososphy has been give a handful of questions and failed to answer them. This is grossly unfair. It lumps enormous issues into a single question, sees the question as unresolved and calls philosophy a failure. For again we can parallel science here. We could accuse science, having been charged with the question of completely understanding the biology of life, with failure. This, however, is nonsense. It has succeeded greatly. The reality is that the question is the cumulation of tens of thousands of smaller questions. Huge numbers of these having been solved, and many more being currently worked on. Of course, what happens is that every time they find an answer they discover that there are more questions. So it is true with philosophy. There are indeed grand questions that have yet to have complete answers. However, within these grand realities are thousands of smaller questions that have been answered completely; and answering them raised new questions. The fact that philosophy is still asking new questions is proof enough of its success.

    I also agree with your perspective on the modern world. Yup, it has issues. Many of which are philosophical issues to be sure. However, let us properly assign blame here. If Ethics (a branch of philosophy) concludes that is is wrong to torture children but Bob disagrees and proceeds to torture children it is hardly philosophy’s failure. The failure is with Bob. The problems we both have with our society and culture lie not in philosophy, but in our society and culture. Indeed, the solution lies in philosophy. Which I think in the end you agree with, for you said nearly as much.

    Of course, I agree completely with your sentiment that philosophy does not get its due respect and that there should be a stonger requirement to teach it in learning. This is why, dispite my constant jokes about the uselessness of my Liberal Arts degree, I wouldn’t exchange it for the world.

    However, I would come at this from a different direction. Instead defending it, as you did (which by the way I appreciate greatly), I would claim that it needs no defense and demonstrate the manner in which it has so often succeeded. I would show forth all the beauty and wonder of the truths that philosophy has imparted upon us.

    So that is what I will do for my next post. Well, actually, I will do a hybrid. I will do what I said I would do for my second post. I will discuss how philosophy can appear to have not succeeded but in fact has.

    • Dan said:

      I also object to the notion that philososphy has been give a handful of questions and failed to answer them. This is grossly unfair. It lumps enormous issues into a single question, sees the question as unresolved and calls philosophy a failure.

      I think you are caught up is what was only a rhetorical device on my part. Hopefully my first essay pointed out that such a failure is false and that even though the appearance of such failure is debatable, I tried to point out at least four lines of thought that might falsely lead to such a conclusion. Hopefully my ending was more clear, although maybe I should have “quoted” the word failure to show it was ironic.

      Dan said:

      If Ethics (a branch of philosophy) concludes that is is wrong to torture children but Bob disagrees and proceeds to torture children it is hardly philosophy’s failure. The failure is with Bob.

      I’m not quite as willing here to let philosophy off the hook. There are a variety of reasons: historical, economical, cultural, force of personality, etc. that there are many philosophical trains that I don’t agree with. But many of those threads dominate common philosophical thought and even what is taught in philosophy. That is within philosophy’s control. Were it able to eradicate some of these lines of thought would prevent philosophical ideas that are bankrupt from being used as justification of policies and actions which are themselves false.

      It is a vicious circle. I think a greater interest in this subject would help eliminate such lines of thought. I think folks would admit they do not match with common sense and betray normal expectations. However, what interest would folks have in learning more about a field that displays such a lack of common sense.

      • Note : the use of completely failed is the rhetorical device to which I refer. Hopefully I spent the remainder of the essay disproving that initial statement.

        The sentence “I’d submit that none of these questions have been answered satisfactorily through philosophy to date.” is indeed likely overstating my case. There have been satisfactory answers provided. My excuse here was that I didn’t actually want to discuss ontology or epistomology in this essay.

        I was actually thinking about philosophical investigations into the role of the state when I wrote this question. I do not believe I’ve read a satisfactory answer to this question to date (although that may just be my naivete in the field.) But I didn’t use that as an example because I thought being, truth and morality sounded flashier.

        e.g. Even Plato and Aristotle and St. Moore didn’t have this nailed and then it really went off the rails with Hobbes, Locke, Mills and Marx.

  4. Dano says:

    Where are all of philosophy’s triumphs?

    I think that Todd’s original post is a perspective that is quite common. That philosophy has somehow not produced any success. I think this is untrue, but I can indeed see why that would seem to be the case. Truly Todd did an excellent job of demonstrating precisely that.

    So, where are all the successes of philosophy, and why are we not aware of them. To this I will give several answers.

    Successes we have forgotten, ignored, or just don’t understand because we currently suck at philosophy.
    This is essentially the subject of my first (real) post. Modern philosophy is in a poor state. Despite a few shining stars (and there have definitely been some) the vast majority of philosophy done, and studied is at an extremely low level. Some of this centuries most praised works are filled with logical falacies and wouldn’t have passed an introductory course during the height of Liberal Arts education. For more on this please reread my first big post.

    What I would like to do here is take up an example. It may seem like an odd example because I am going to discuss an idea that is wrong. Something that philosophy has disproved. (A lot like the scientific method here.) In Ethics, there is an idea know as Moral Relativism. I am sure that most people are familiar with it. I am not going to explain the actual philosophy here, nor its refutation. What I want to point out is that Moral Relativism is intellectually bankrupt. It has been refuted, re-refuted, and demonstrated to be utter illogical flim-flam. Philosophy has triumphed over moral relativism repeatedly. However, in our modern world, moral relativism is a common belief. It has shaped social policy. It is the dominant moral ideology in certain sectors of the media. And, most importantly to this discussion, it is currently being discussed, taught, and defended in academic philosophy.

    There are all sorts of philosopher’s today writing many essays in defense of moral relativism. They are all filled with logical fallacies. Most common is that they are self contradictory. Those smart enough to realise this attempt to defend it without being self contradictory. Gilbert Harman makes probably the most famous attempt at this. Certainly his essay is published in almost every ethics textbook available. He succeeds in not being self contradictory, but does so only by trading logical fallacies. He takes up ‘begging the question’ in earnest (a type of circular argument where you assume the very thing you are trying to prove). The sad part is that the vast majority of professors and advanced students don’t even notice what should be obvious to a 1st year student.

    This all leads to a inordinate amount of time spent discussing a failed philosophical thought that should have been given an F and ignored for the rest of time. Unfortunately we have a success in philosophy, the defeat of moral relativism, that has been ignored because of bad logic (another branch of philosophy).

    Successes claimed by other disciplines
    As Todd so rightly pointed out, philosophy spawned, and continues to spawn, other fields of study. For example we need only look at the modern sciences. The vast majority of these were spawned from what was called ‘natural philosophy’.

    It is very easy to miss the fact that the very first foundational successes of the sciences were in fact the successes of philosophy. In the history of science, we forget that it was St. Thomas Aquinas (perhaps the brightest mind to ever live and a philosopher) who, along with St. Albert, transformed the superstitions of astrology into astronomy, they transformed alchemy into chemistry, likewise with biology and physics. If it were not for these men, philosophers succeeding at philosophy, we would not have the glorious triumphs of modern science.

    Successes so ingrained that we cannot imagine them needing to have been worked out in the first place.
    These are a little harder to identify. Yet, they are perhaps the most common and profound. These are beliefs and truths that we all hold as so basic that we do not realise they are philosophical successes. In this we have truths like: matter exists. It may seem obvious to us, part of that is common sense, but part is also the fact that philosophy nailed the coffin closed on the idea that matter doesn’t exist. In fact, about the only place you ever see this crop up anymore is in a survey course on philosophy.

    Sucesses so old we lose sight of them being the successes of philosophy
    Todd, in his opening post commented that philosophy was given a handfull of questions two millenia ago and still hasn’t worked them out. However, one thing we need to realize is that some of them were worked out almost immediately. And, they were so completely dealt with that they haven’t come up again since.

    As an example of this I hold forth that most beautiful of philosophical disciplines – logic (that’s right, I give you an entire field of philosophy as a completed success). Logic, so powerful, so valuable, so influential, that everybody wants to claim it as their own. Mathmaticians want to claim logic, scientists want to claim logic, and understandably so for both depend upon it. But make no mistake logic is a field of philosophy. As such it was pretty much completed 2500 years ago. Philosophers got it, worked it out, and it has remained static in its perfection ever since. The rule of non-contradiction, the logical fallacies, and so much more come to us out of the depths of time. They shape our every thought. Yet, they are so ancient that we sometimed fail to recognize that they come to us as a gift formulated into existance by philosophers.

    Partial Successes
    Here I call upon one of the problems with philosophers. Philosophers love elegant simple answers. They desperately want to find that one thing, that single truth that completely answers the question. The problem, of course, is that life, reality, and the universe are messy. Often there is not an elegant answer. This creates partial truths. In essence, the philospher is right. He has come across a truth. However, he over applies it. He wants it to answer everything and it fails to do that. Other philosphers come along and demonstrate that it fails to answer everything and they hold him as failed since they too want a single answer and this isn’t it.

    For my example I hold up Ethics. Over and over again we have philosophers trying to boil all morality down to a single principle, be it the nature of the act, the intent, the consequences, the utility, the social bargining, etc . . . All of them are wrong. Yet, most of them are also right. The reality is that morality isn’t found in a singular principle. It is complex. So when an ethicist demonstrates how the fundamental nature of the act determines whether the act is good or evil he is right, but he is also wrong because the nature of the act is not the only reality that determines whether an act is good or evil other things matter.

    In this way we have many small failures that are also successes that need to be brought together. (Of course, bringing them together is not elagent or simple enough for philosophers and thus, in ethics, is usually only done by religion.)

    The above list is by no means exhaustive. I think, however, that it covers the main ways in which we lose sight of the successes of philosophy.

    It may seem that I have been disagreeing with Todd, but in truth I’m not. All that I have said could be summed up in the second last paragraph of Todd’s opening post.

    In summary, philosophy is perhaps the most successful field of study to ever be portrayed as a failure and to have not yet achieved its earliest stated goals. That is pretty awesome.

    No truer words have passed my lips (or fingers) in all this typing.

    PS: Thank you Todd for this blog and particularily this thread. I am in heaven with joy. I can’t wait for your next post. I anxiously await your comments on some specific philosophical trains of thought. I would love to see some of the philosophers that you liked.

    I took up this particular point, but I don’t want to derail you. I comment in abundance because of my love of the subject matter. I would love to see you go where you intended to go at the end of your original post.

    • Moral relatavism – We didn’t cover Harman at all on my course. I’d be interested in hearing that. I think relativism ala Nietsche is one of the more interesting approaches of 19th Century. And it gains an odd support through Einstein’s use of relativism in physics and special relativity even though they really aren’t the same thing at all.

      Astronomy – Copernicus, Galileo and Keppler? Not saying St. Aquinas wasn’t there to, but I’m unfamiliar with his contribution.

      Logic – I’d blame Descartes on that. He may have started the division of philosophical studies into sub disciplines.

      Ethics – I think you hit on a real core idea here. The inability to reduce everything to one simple foundational idea. However, training and understanding is necessary here too, because I think a lot of folks might take this as a first step towards relativism.

      e.g. no single simple principle -> many foundational principles -> which principles apply are relative to a situation -> all situations are relative -> different pints of view within a situation might be relative -> both points of view are thus equally valid -> relativism

      I recognize the horrible fallacies in the above…

      Can we go back to Aristotle’s four causes?

  5. Dano says:

    Ah crap – sorry about the missed close bold!

  6. Dano says:

    Todd foolishly says:

    I’m not quite as willing here to let philosophy off the hook. There are a variety of reasons: historical, economical, cultural, force of personality, etc. that there are many philosophical trains that I don’t agree with. But many of those threads dominate common philosophical thought and even what is taught in philosophy. That is within philosophy’s control. Were it able to eradicate some of these lines of thought would prevent philosophical ideas that are bankrupt from being used as justification of policies and actions which are themselves false.

    This is precisely my point in the first case. Many of these philosophical perspectives are either too new to be eradicated by our abysmal modern philosophy; or have been eradicated but have been resurrected by our irrational age.

  7. Dano says:

    Relativism – First, I’m glad that someone left out Harman. Let’s me know that some folks see through him 🙂 Second, yeah the wider use of the word ‘relativism’ really is a bugger for the ethicist. Worse than relativism in physics which really bears no resemblance to moral relativism are things like cultural relativism. Cultural relativism is true and is strikingly similar in construction to moral relativism. So much so that many folks bleed one into the other (falsely of course). Real tricky that one.

    Astronomy – Remember, Copernicus was a Catholic priest educated Thomistic philosophy (as all priests were in that time), as well as the natural philosophy of Aristotle (Aristotelian thought being dominated by Thomistic interpretation). But, more importantly than the direct and indirect influence on Copernicus. St. Thomas would be the one to lay the foundation for scientific academics. On the first part he spawned the Aristotelian revolution which brought forth the in depth study of the natural philosophies (which is the subject of Copernicus’ studies). On the second part, his natural philosophy would lead him to destroy the idea that the stars were some sort of sooth-sayer’s mosaic influencing our lives. After centuries of fighting superstition the Church would put down astrology based on Thomas demanding their physical (as in physics) reality. It was Thomas who insisted that the heavens were a natural reality; concrete, studiable things. On the third part, he emphasised the reality that truth could not contradict truth. Specifically, he promoted the idea that if an interpretation of Scripture contradicted what could be proved as practical discoveries then the traditional interpretation of Scripture must give way and be replaced by an interpretation that took into account the truths discovered by science. These may seem like simple things to you and I but they were the beginning of a revolution in thought in Thomas’ day. He did not study astronomy in any great depth himself, but it was these principles that would lead a Pope to ask the highly educated Copernicus to figure out how the planets actually moved so that they could have a more accurate calendar. A question that no one would have even thought of before St. Thomas.(Likewise with the other fields of science.)

    Logic – Descarte? No, the divisions in philosophy take their origin in the rediscovery of Aristotle by the medeval philosophers. Heck, most of the branches of philosophy even take their name from Aristotelian works.

    Ethics – Heh, you managed to sum up just about every logical fallacy leading to moral relativism in a single sentence. Well done man, well done. And, you are absolutely right. This does require some training. It takes a real well rounded understanding to see how the objective absolute, the objective non absolute, the subjective absolute, and the subjective non absolute all work together.

    On the bright side, I don’t think people are moral relativists because of difficult academics. I think the roots are found in more simple, fallable human, sources.

    • Great info Dan. Thanks!

      Dan says:

      On the third part, he emphasised the reality that truth could not contradict truth. Specifically, he promoted the idea that if an interpretation of Scripture contradicted what could be proved as practical discoveries then the traditional interpretation of Scripture must give way and be replaced by an interpretation that took into account the truths discovered by science. These may seem like simple things to you and I but they were the beginning of a revolution in thought in Thomas’ day.

      This may seem common sense, but I think there are a large number of people who hold a differing view. And a large number of people who think the Church holds a different view.

      Thanks for the praise on my fallacy chart. I almost lost myself at the end… a couple of the leaps were a bit big. 🙂

      I also agree that the choice (not really the right word) to be a moral relativistic likely isn’t academic for most people. Except for academic moral relativists. But I think a lot of people believe that they have an academic rationalization for it. If they trend towards thinking about that sort of thing.

      One of the nice things about the survey is that it did cover a lot and for most philosopher’s it covered the influences they had, the strengths of their ideas and the flaws that were argued against it then or since. Of course, I am trusting that it was as broad as it seemed. Even in 84 lectures it cn still only be a shallow overview.

      Hey, do you know of Alasdair MacIntyre? A lot of his thought parallels your own. He was one of the last folks talked about. If you don’t know of him, you might like his thought. You probably do know of him though.

  8. Dano says:

    I’ve never actually read Alasdair MacIntyre (even a 4 year degree is pretty shallow overview). All I really know about him is that soon after writing his most famous work After Virtue, he converted to Catholicism. Probably why our thoughts are similar. It comes as no surprise that I hold that the only sustainable ethical principle is that of the Church’s.

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