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Why Philosophy Matters

People talk about philosophy in terms of “or.” Philosophy or faith. Philosophy or literature. Philosophy or science, as if the mind were incapable of doing both and reaching its own conclusions.

But that position is ahistorical—great thinkers have long worked across disciplines—and counterproductive: you can glean profound insights from philosophy without emptying it of artistic value, without betraying scientific principles, without sacrificing your faith.

Whatever your worldview, philosophy matters.

Here’s why:

1. Philosophy helps you engage your culture

ancient-philosophy-bundleTo understand your culture, you need to understand its prevailing ideas. When you know philosophy, you can see where modern perspectives come from.

If you’re a pastor, understanding the culture helps you identify and address your congregation’s weaknesses, doubts, and blind spots. If you’re a student, it helps you think clearly about who we are, how we got here, and where we’re going. If you’re a parent, it helps you answer your child’s questions about the world.

2. Philosophy sharpens your critical thinking

“The test of a first-rate intelligence,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald, “is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” In that case, the study of opposing ideas is the training of intelligence. And philosophy is nothing if not the study of opposing ideas—universal classes of things vs. heterogeneous individual things, nonexistent selves vs. essential selves, rationalism vs. empiricism. As you follow the Great Conversation through the ages, you’ll consider more and more opposing accounts of the world. You’ll learn to recognize sophistry and language games, as opposed to attempts at truth.

(If you disagree with my arguments here, why? Have you found an unquestioned assumption, a circular argument, an inadequate proof? If so, you’re doing philosophy’s rhetorical work—and isn’t that a critical skill worth strengthening?)

3. You can cherry-pick the good

Some of the West’s most creative thinkers combined insights from disparate disciplines. Their genius wasn’t raw innovation; it was the creativity to pick out elements of disparate worldviews and combine them into something new. You can do the same—you can pick out philosophy’s useful elements without accepting the whole thing.

  • Not a postmodernist? You can still find insights into language in the twentieth-century “linguistic turn,” which studied how words’ forms (signifiers) and senses (signifieds) interact to create meaning.
  • Disagree with Kant’s conclusion that things in themselves are unknowable? You can still incorporate his categorization of knowledge as either sensible (five red balloons) or conceptual (fiveness, redness).
  • Not an existentialist? You can still appreciate Kierkegaard’s nuanced readings of Abraham, Job, and infinite faith.

4. When you know the old claims, you know the counterarguments

modern-philosophy-bundleSince most of today’s ideas aren’t new, neither are most of the interesting counterarguments. When you know intellectual history, you know time-tested answers—in advance.

  • Are you arguing with someone who doesn’t trust our sensory perceptions of the world—who thinks we might all be dreaming, or brains in a vat? Berkeley and Hume advanced similar arguments; Thomas Reid has already responded that common-sense belief in the world is the basis for any meaningful philosophy.
  • Defending moral absolutes against a relativist? Turn to the arguments of Socrates and Plato, who’ve already developed arguments for morality built on the notion of absolute truth.
  • Debating a vehement atheist who claims that the universe nowhere testifies to a creator? Aristotle, St. Anselm, Descartes, and Leibniz are ready with rational counterarguments.

5. Philosophy helps you understand your faith

Christian theology didn’t develop in a vacuum—Paul found philosophy worth engaging, after all. From then on, philosophy and theology developed side by side, but deeply intertwined. Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Kierkegaard—many of philosophy’s greatest thinkers were Christian, and many of philosophy’s greatest works address issues relevant to Christians (God, morality, origins). And philosophy is just as useful when it’s not Christian: it’s the context against which theological thought defined itself, so when you know the one, you better understand the other.

Even within deist thought, orthodox positions developed against a backdrop of unorthodox alternatives. As you study Western intellectual history, you’ll come across some nonbiblical but fascinating notions of the divine:

  • There’s Eriugena’s God, who “does not know . . . what He is because He is not a ‘what,’ being . . . incomprehensible both to Himself and to every intellect.”
  • There’s Alain de Lille’s God, “an intelligible [intellectually knowable] sphere, whose centre is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere.”
  • There’s Spinoza’s infinite God, roughly synonymous with the whole universe, of which thought, matter, and even human souls are all attributes.

Such alternative accounts are the negative space: the context against which, over time, modern theology established itself. To understand them is, in turn, to more fully understand the orthodox.

6. Philosophy matters because its questions matter

The value of philosophy isn’t just in its answers—it’s in the questions it asks. Though religion and philosophy disagree on much, they’re concerned with similar questions.

  • How should we live?
  • What are good deeds?
  • What can we know, and how?

If you’re thinking about these questions, you’re doing the work of philosophy. You may reach conclusions vastly different from those of Plato or Kant, but you’re still interested in the same things. That alone makes philosophy worth studying.

* * *

noet-classical-foundations-bundleFor centuries, thinkers have turned to the West’s philosophical canon for time-tested wisdom, fascinating questions, and sheer intellectual pleasure. Now, with Noet, you’ll be able to study these works in the most useful format they’ve ever appeared in.

Noet’s Classical Foundations Bundle (124 volumes, plus the Perseus Classics) sets you up with the core texts of the Western tradition: Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant, as well as Homer, Dante, Milton, Dostoyevsky, and far, far more. With Logos’ original-language tagging and smart searches, you’ll be ready to grasp Greek and Latin nuance and find just what you’re looking for.

Philosophy matters. Study it with the very best tools.

Pre-order your Classical Foundations Bundle before the price goes up, or customize your library with Noet’s Ancient and Modern Philosophy bundles.

Or keep reading—how well do you know the sophists?

Good and Bad Arguments: What’s the Difference?

“You can never reach another physical location: to get there, you have to cross half the intervening distance; next, you have to cross half the distance that remains; next, half again—no matter how far you go, half the remaining distance remains.”

That’s Zeno’s dichotomy paradox, and it’s easy to disagree with. It’s much harder to refute.1

It’s what’s called sophistry: “the use of reasoning or arguments that sound correct but are actually false,”2 or at least misleadingly strong.

But sophistry hasn’t always meant something bad, and the sophists—teacher-scholars who flourished first in Greece and later in Rome—are absolutely worth knowing.

  1. They made some key contributions to early Western thought.
  2. They provided the counterarguments against which Plato and Aristotle, pushing for objective truth and virtue, defined philosophy itself.
  3. They can help you learn to recognize misleading arguments, which, unfortunately, aren’t just an ancient phenomenon.
  4. Continue Reading…

  1. Aristotle countered Zeno’s paradox by arguing that as distance decreases, the time needed to cover it decreases correspondingly. Archimedes, and modern calculus, found a way to calculate the sum of infinitely many terms as they get progressively smaller. Diogenes the Cynic simply stood up and walked. []
  2. From Merriam-Webster. []

Why Postmodernism Isn’t New

ancient-philosophy-bundle“Every age has its own outlook,” wrote C. S. Lewis; “We, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period.” But we need more than that—we need books that reach our conclusions long before we do, books that remind us that our new outlook isn’t so new after all.

We call our times postmodern, often with something like fear. But postmodernism is in large part a renovation of ancient ideas—ideas you should know.

Postmodernists say:

“Right and wrong are human interpretations”

Though moral relativism has a postmodern flavor, it dates back to the ancient Greeks. Plato ascribed it to Protagoras; later, Herodotus assessed other cultures’ customs without questioning their rightness and wrongness. Later yet, Sextus Empiricus determined not that morality is relative to culture, but that moral knowledge is itself impossible.

Is moral relativism postmodern? Yes, in the sense that it exists today; no, in the sense that it’s uniquely characteristic of postmodernism. Before your next debate on moral relativism, you should read Plato, who, fearing moral chaos, argued that morality must be not only in the actor’s self-interest but also based on objective truth.

“But objective truth doesn’t exist!”

We usually trace this postmodern claim back to Nietzsche’s assertion that there are no facts, only interpretations. But it, too, has ancient roots: in the fifth century BC, Protagoras argued that “Man is the measure of all things.” Later, Plato and Socrates clashed with the Sophists over the nature of absolute truth: while the Sophists venerated persuasion and rhetoric, Plato and Socrates responded that the measure of an argument isn’t its persuasiveness, but its truthfulness.

Much later, Kant argued that truth is merely nominal (“true” means something within language), not real—not a statement about a thing’s essence. “Kant drew out the limits of our mind,” said Hegel, “and because of this we can not have a knowledge of the absolute truth.” But Hegel still found a way to truth: his “dialectic,” which, like science, moves from increasingly accurate oppositions—thesis, antithesis—to synthesis, the resolution that best corresponds to what is real.

“What we experience isn’t the world—it’s just our perceptions of the world”

modern-philosophy-bundleAgain we turn to Plato. In The Republic, his Socrates explains that without philosophy, we are like bound prisoners in a cave who, having seen nothing else all our lives, see shadows on the wall and interpret them as real things. Without philosophy, Plato claims, we mistake erroneous perceptions for reality; with philosophy, we see the world as it really is. Around two thousand years later, though, Descartes argued that wax’s physical characteristics reveal nothing about the wax itself: after all, its color, scent, shape, size, hardness, and coldness are all subject to change. George Berkeley took doubt even further, arguing that the world doesn’t even exist: only our perceptions of it do. (Sound postmodern?)

But Thomas Reid rejected that notion in compelling terms, arguing that common-sense belief in the world is the basis for all philosophy—that if you don’t believe in the world as perceived, the conversation is useless.

“We don’t have individual identities or souls”

Postmodernists from Foucault to Lacan to Riceour have argued that personal identity is unstable—that, without any essential “I,” we identify with images or stories to define ourselves. This thesis of shifting (or nonexistent) identity smacks of postmodernity, but it, too, is ancient. Plutarch wrote, in the first century AD, “Dead is the man of yesterday, for he is passed into the man of today . . . Nobody remains one person.” Heraclitus wrote that we cannot step into the same river twice: not only has the river changed; we have, too. Much later, Hume took Berkeley’s claim (“the physical world doesn’t exist”) even further, arguing that not even individuals really exist—we’re nothing but perceivers of perceptions.

But if the claims are old, so are the counterarguments. Spinoza argued that all things do have an essence, and that the nature of that essence is to persist in its being. Descartes argued, famously, that because we think, we exist.

* * *

To engage with our time’s prevailing ideas, you need to know where they come from—you need to know philosophy, both ancient and modern. Noet’s Ancient and Modern Philosophy bundles equip you with the core texts of the Western philosophical tradition: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant.

Pre-order the Ancient and Modern Philosophy bundles today, or build your library with the comprehensive Classical Foundations Bundle—everything you need to understand the origins of Western thought.

Then keep reading—where did history come from?

Where Did History Come From?

Herodotus-The-Persian-WarsIn the fifth century BC, the Greek historian Herodotus changed how we think about ourselves. He wrote The Persian Wars, and our modern understanding of history—that of a unified narrative characterized by cause and effect—was born.

Herodotus: father of history

The Persian Wars examines not only the Greco-Persian Wars, but also the rise and rule of the Persian Empire and the history and cultural background of Scythia and Egypt. These volumes, Herodotus’ only works, have had such a vast influence that Cicero called Herodotus the “father of history.” For George H. Chase, writing in vol. 51 of the Harvard Classics, “what distinguishes [Herodotus] from his predecessors and gives him a unique place in the history of literature is the fact that he was the first writer to undertake the narration of a series of events of world-wide importance upon a comprehensive plan and to trace in those events the relations of cause and effect” (emphasis added). Herodotus was also among the first writers to assess historical stories for truthfulness, though not without certain oversights.1 He wrote in a clear, simple style—“a wonderful achievement,” notes Chase, “when one considers that this is the first literary prose that was written in Europe.” Continue Reading…

  1. His fact checking, though a major step forward, overlooks some delightful fables: Herodotus famously describes “ants, not as big as dogs but bigger than foxes,” and notes that “the sand which they carry from [their] holes is full of gold.” These gold-digging ants chase down and kill camels. []

How to Land a Marketing Job at Logos

Hire MeAs of today, Logos’ marketing department has 21 openings. We’re looking for writers, editors, coders, strategists, managers, and more, and we want to hear from you.

So how do you land a job at Logos?

1. Be distinct

“Objective: self-starter / team player seeks a dynamic web 2.0 position that advances my career and leverages my talents.”

Nope—the last thing you want to do is blend in with generic language. Rather than adapting an online template or a cover letter from a different job, start by studying the job listing. Think about how you would filter out candidates, and write to beat that filter—be specific about how you meet each qualification.

One good way to stand out: get your portfolio online. That lets us quickly get a feel for your work and personality; plus, it shows some tech know-how. Even if you’re no web designer, WordPress makes it simple to get started.

2. Be polished

We want to hire the best people, the people with the highest standards. We also work with extremely tight deadlines. It says a lot if your cover letter and résumé, written without any deadline, are full of spelling and grammatical errors. Check everything you’re not sure about against Merriam-Webster—“Is ‘phenomenon’ plural?” “Does ‘sign-up’ need that hyphen?” Then proofread until everything’s perfect, and then a few times more. Continue Reading…

Earn Knox Credit at Camp Logos

Knox LogosMorris Proctor’s Camp Logos events help you master Logos’ powerful features. Now you can get academic credit for what you learn. When you attend Camp Logos, you’ll earn three credits toward your MA or DMin from Knox Theological Seminary—that’s an entire class’ worth! Find the Camp Logos event nearest you at MPSeminars.com/Camp-Logos.

Nine days of summer Bible study

June 20–25, Knox’s DMin program is coming to Bellingham. Dr. Warren Gage will be teaching “Gospel Hermeneutics 1: Typology, Symbol, and the Christ” at Logos’ headquarters. You’ll study parables, signs and symbols, allegory, and more, seeking to read the Bible as first-century Christians would have read it. Right after that, Morris Proctor will be teaching Camp Logos—again at Logos HQ—from June 26 to 28.

That’s nine days of immersive Bible study in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest. Come for the DMin class, come for Camp Logos (and its Knox credit!), or get in on both—you’ll want to be there.

Save your seat at Dr. Gage’s class and Camp Logos today. We’ll see you in Bellingham!

Another Way to Earn Your DMin Free

Knox Theological Seminary’s $18,000 Leith Anderson Scholarship is back! Enter to earn your DMin free at DMin.me/Leith-Anderson—the scholarship closes May 10.

This spring, Knox is introducing a new DMin track: “The Gospel in Church and Culture,” coordinated by Dr. Jim Belcher. The track draws on Scripture and Christian tradition to help pastors transform individuals, communities, and society.

If you start before June, you can take Dr. Belcher’s “Mission and Tradition: Seeking Balance in Ministry.” The class will look at the emerging and traditional churches, seeking a third way for the twenty-first century—a path between tradition and modernity.

Congratulations to Gary Golike!

Gary Golike

Gary Golike is the winner of our last Leith Anderson Scholarship. He’s a pastor in Nebraska with 33 years’ ministry experience. Gary is coming out of a sabbatical—he writes, “[The scholarship] comes at a perfect time in my life, and will fulfill a long-desired dream to continue my biblical and theological education. . . . [I feel that the] opportunity to study at Knox is an intentional gift from God.”

“As a teenager,” Gary writes, “I began to wander and attempted to live in both worlds, staying close to life in the church, but also getting involved in worldly behavior. . . . After struggling through a philosophy class that emphasized existentialism and also some relationship issues, I was suddenly struck with the foolishness and purposelessness of my attempts to find my way apart from God’s will.”

If Gary’s wanderings sound familiar, it’s because the tension he faced—between church and culture, tradition and modernity—is the same tension dealt with in Knox’s new Gospel in Church and Culture track. That tension is ancient, and it demands nuanced answers.

Save your seat in Knox’s Gospel in Church and Culture track today.

Then enter to win the $18,000 Leith Anderson Scholarship!

Learn Ministry from the Best

bryan chapellKnox Theological Seminary welcomes its newest professor: Dr. Bryan Chapell, distinguished professor of preaching, MDiv, PhD. Dr. Chapell comes to Knox from Covenant Theological Seminary, where he’s president emeritus and adjunct professor of practical theology. He was Covenant’s president from 1994 to 2012.

Dr. Chapell is the author of Christ-Centered Preaching, Using Illustrations to Preach with Power, and other important works. He’ll be teaching introductory homiletics in Knox’s master’s programs and contributing to the DMin’s Preaching and Teaching track. More than that, he’ll be working to strengthen Knox’s culture as a seminary that revels in grace.

Dr. Michael Allen, Knox’s dean of faculty, says, “Few people understand the rhythm of gospel-driven Christianity and its effects on Christ-centered preaching like Dr. Bryan Chapell. For these reasons—dear to our convictions about being a Christ-centered, gospel-driven, mission-focused seminary—we couldn’t be more excited about Dr. Chapell joining the faculty.”

Who you learn from matters

Dr. Chapell isn’t Knox’s only academic heavyweight. Drs. Michael Allen, Jim Belcher, Gerald Bray, Warren Gage, Samuel Lamerson, Jonathan Linebaugh, Haddon Robinson, Bruce Waltke—these are some of our time’s leading teachers and thinkers, and you can learn from them directly.

If you’re passionate about preaching and Bible study, you should always be learning. And Knox gives you the chance to learn from the best. See how Knox’s degrees fit your life at DMin.me and SeminaryDegreesOnline.com.

Know the Arguments for Skepticism and Common Sense

The rationalists relied on reason, not sensory experience, to explain the world. In turn, the empiricists—John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume—argued that knowledge comes from experience, not pure reason. Taken as far as logic allows, that entails some astonishing claims about reality.

Primary and secondary qualities

For Locke, primary qualities exist in the world, and secondary qualities in the perceiver. Solidity, extension, shape, motion, number—these exist whether they’re perceived or not. But attributes like color, sound, and scent exist only when perceived; there can be no image without an eye. (He didn’t reject reason altogether; rather, he thought that knowledge comes from the application of reason to sensory data.)

Berkeley, moved by Locke’s arguments regarding the uncertainty of secondary qualities, went further: he rejected Locke’s primary qualities, too. Berkeley thought that the distinction between qualities invites all sorts of skepticism. If we know only our own ideas, how can we trust them without ever comparing them to unmediated reality?

Perceptions, not material objects

The solution is simple: deny the existence of matter. If an apple is not only our collection of perceptions but also a material object, we may doubt that object, and such doubt is abhorrent to common sense. But if we define the apple as nothing more than our perceptions, it is beyond doubt.

The world doesn’t exist on its own, Berkeley argued—only perceptions do. Being is nothing more than being perceived.

Do objects come in and out of existence as we perceive them? Not quite. God always sees all things; thanks only to his perception, objects persist.

Hume’s doubt of the self

Hume, the most rigorous of the empiricists, developed Berkeley’s claims against the world to their logical end. People, he argued, “are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement.” Since there is no perception of self, there is no self.

This has some incredible consequences:

  • It invalidates Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am,” which now merely assumes the “I” it would prove.
  • It erases the distinction between self and world, which had so long dominated Western thought.
  • It precludes the soul.

But that’s ridiculous!

Hume took empiricism so far that, for most people, it became unbelievable. In turn, Thomas Reid argued that belief in the world is the basis for meaningful philosophy—that if you don’t believe in the world as perceived, philosophy is useless. The difference between object and sensation, he argued, is obvious to common sense. In response to Hume’s doubt of the self, Reid noted that, in order to talk about philosophy, you must believe that you’re talking with another person. If you don’t, you’re insane, and not worth engaging in conversation. Refreshing, no?

On Reid’s common-sense foundation, Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff developed the modern notion of Reformed epistemology, which defines belief in God as “properly basic”—belief that need not be proven from other truths. Despite the lack of irrefutable arguments for other minds, we believe in them; believing in God is just as reasonable.

Understand skepticism and common sense

Together, the Classics in Empiricist Philosophy Collection and The Works of Thomas Reid give you Locke’s, Berkeley’s, Hume’s, and Reid’s essential arguments, all searchable and cross-referenced. You’ll know the evidence for and against empiricism and common-sense philosophy, and you’ll understand Reformed epistemology’s foundations. Both collections are on Community Pricing for around 80% off; with more bids, the price could go even lower.

Know the arguments for skepticism and common sense—place your bids today:

Then sign up to get news and updates about more classic works of history, literature, and philosophy:





 
Keep reading—now that you know the empiricists, who were the rationalists?

Rational Arguments for God and the World

For many philosophers, God’s existence resolves otherwise unsolvable puzzles. The great rationalistsRené Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and Gottfried Leibniz—argued that knowledge comes not from the senses, but from reason and innate ideas. From there, they developed some fascinating notions of God and the world.

Descartes

Widely considered the father of modern philosophy, Descartes introduced Cartesian doubt and the cogito. In his Discourse on Method and Meditations, he resolved to doubt all that could be doubted. Can you doubt that you’re reading this blog post? Of course; you might be dreaming. Can you doubt that a square has four sides? Yes; a demon might be causing you to err. But a demon couldn’t trick you if you didn’t exist at all. Hence his famous cogito: “I think, therefore I am” (Cogito, ergo sum).

So why not continue doubting the whole world? Because God is good. Our inclination to believe in the world is so strong that if the world did not exist, God would be deceitful; therefore, the world exists.

Spinoza

Baruch Spinoza understood God as in every way infinite. Thought and matter, he argued, are attributes of God, and so are human souls. The chief end of humanity is not personal immortality, but union with the divine.

If the world is an attribute of God, to understand the world is to understand God. “The mind’s highest good,” Spinoza wrote in Ethics, “is the knowledge of God, and the mind’s highest virtue is to know God.” That’s a description, though, not a command—according to Spinoza, if you understand the world, such a higher good is inevitable. If you know all things to point to God, the idea of God will fully occupy your mind.

Leibniz

Building on arguments that stretch back to Aristotle, Leibniz refined four proofs of God’s existence:

  1. Ontological. In an argument built on St. Anselm and Descartes, Leibniz argued in Monadology that “There is . . . or there can be conceived, a subject of all perfections, or most perfect Being. . . . it follows also that he exists, for existence is among the number of the perfections.” That is, the essence of God is perfection, and a God who exists is better than a God who does not; therefore, God exists.
  2. Cosmological. Aristotle noted that all actions have causes, which in turn have causes, which in turn have causes. But the series can’t be infinite; the first action must be uncaused. God is the universe’s uncaused cause. Leibniz, in turn, saw the universe as contingent—not demanded by logic, not inevitable. Given that logic permits the universe not to be, and that the universe contains no reason for its being, it points to a reason beyond itself: God.
  3. Eternal truth. Leibniz observed that statements—thoughts—are true in different ways. Though “it’s sunny” may sometimes (or, in Bellingham, rarely) be true, “2 + 2 = 4” is true eternally. And thoughts are the work of minds. An eternal truth must be the work of an eternal mind: God’s.
  4. Design. The world, noted Leibniz, is full of things that can’t be explained by blind natural forces. Such things testify to a creator. Though Leibniz advanced this argument long before Darwin proposed evolution, Leibniz’s point sounds familiar: it’s the thrust of today’s Intelligent Design.

Such notions and proofs of God aren’t biblical, of course. They’re grounded in pure reason, and that’s what makes them fascinating. It’s worth remembering that, in seeking to explain the world, some of the West’s most important thinkers turned to God.

The Classics in Rationalist Philosophy Collection articulates these arguments and more

And right now, it’s on Community Pricing at 84% off! With more bids, the price could go even lower.

Revisit some of philosophy’s most interesting arguments about God, mind, and the worldplace your bid now.

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