April 28, 2006

Discussion Primer: why naive Christians and philosophers no longer talk to each other

Having noticed how many blog entries seem to ask and seek to answer questions of theology, and the almost total lack of response from philosophers, I thought it might be interesting to ask why there is such a disjunction.

The modes of operation are completely different. Naive Christians are asking completely different questions to philosophers:

Naive Christian:

If I assert X to be "true", what solutions does it provide to the problems of life and death? Which implies the question: if I assert X to be untrue, what things of value (beliefs, institutions, justifications, hopes) might I lose? How might life become less liveable?

Philosopher (from day 1 of an undergraduate philosophy degree you are trained to think in this way):

If I assert X to be true, what forms of justification (types of evidence, types of argument) do I necessarily assert as valid? What are the implications of asserting the validity of those forms of justification? What other truths could be asserted using those forms of justification? What kind of madness and contradiction might that lead to?

Cleverer Christian (oi Kant):

Must I assert X as a necessary condition for the possibility of knowledge (and hence for subjects, collections of subjects, societies, moralities). Is it OK then for me to claim that everyone else can employ the same kinds of justification without resulting in madness and contradiction?

Very clever Christian (has to live in a world dominated by scientific progress):

The truth of my assertions regarding God and morality, as well as the implications of the methods that I use to justify those assertions, are subject to empirical investigation, and can be modified as a result of the investigation. There is progress in spiritual matters as there is in scientific matters.

Transcendental Empiricist or Pragmatist (a kind of post–theological philosopher – my position, with thanks to Nietzsche):

A liveable attitude towards the world requires a complex mixture of beliefs (conceptual components). Some are disposable "helper concepts", used and reused without any siginificant implication ("creativity", "conjecture"), often merely to assist in freeing us from other tired concepts. Other concepts are more critical to the current context (technologies, ecologies), but permanently disposable if circumstances prove them to be no longer useful. The trick is to ensure that we don't think that helper concepts are more than just that (e.g. creativity being confused with divine provinence). But at the same time, we should always have good reliable helper concepts to assist us in assessing and disposing of broken contextual concepts, and therefore being able to cope with real time.

Which one are you? What of Islam?

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