How much of philosophy is merely Judeo-Christian heresy?

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Reply Sat 13 Sep, 2008 08:17 pm
... an interesting article I ran across (some of which was printed in Science magazine in 1967) - http://www.uvm.edu/~jmoore/envhst/lynnwhite.html ...

Quote:

It is often hard for the historian to judge, when men explain why they are doing what they want to do, whether they are offering real reasons or merely culturally acceptable reasons. The consistency with which scientists during the long formative centuries of Western science said that the task and the reward of the scientist was "to think God's thoughts after him" leads one to believe that this was their real motivation. If so, then modern Western science was cast in a matrix of Christian theology. The dynamism of religious devotion, shaped by the Judeo-Christian dogma of creation, gave it impetus.

...

I personally doubt that disastrous ecologic backlash can be avoided simply by applying to our problems more science and more technology. Our science and technology have grown out of Christian attitudes toward man's relation to nature which are almost universally held not only by Christians and neo-Christians but also by those who fondly regard themselves as post-Christians. Despite Copernicus all the cosmos rotates around our little globe. Despite Darwin, we are not, in our hearts, part of the natural process. We are superior to nature, contemptuous of it, willing to use it for our slightest whim.
... if western science can be viewed as being so derivative of the Judeo-Christian tradition, what of western philosophy? ... how many modern philosophical concepts are grounded in the Judeo-Christian belief system? ... and does this grounding call anything into question?
 
jgweed
 
Reply Sun 14 Sep, 2008 07:44 am
@paulhanke,
Even if philosophy be limited to Western philosophy, it seems that its origins in the presocratics and in the Hellenistic world would suggest that its origins were an attempt to get beyond a theological cosmology and seek a rational explanation for the world.
Later, perhaps because of social and economic causes as much as convictions of faith, one sees a temporary alliance between the two that culminates in Aquinas's magisterial synthesis. As explanations transcending the common view, this was a natural cross-borrowing of thinking and thoughts (a matrix if you will).
Yet modern philosophy is marked by the re-assertion by philosophy of its independence, of reason and not faith nor dogmatics as the proper method of explanation and understanding.

I think a closer examination of the history of philosophy would suggest that the view of it being a footnote to religion, as it were, is not an accurate one, either in its beginnings or in its "contemporary" existence.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Sun 14 Sep, 2008 08:25 am
@jgweed,
Recalling Scholasticism especially, Judeo-Christian belief has certainly been an influence of western philosophy. But I think jgweed is right to assert the independence of modern philosophy, and I do not think that theological influence are an impediment to the modern discourse.

As to the article, I think the author has, to some degree, missed the point of the religious language. The men mentioned, who so often spoke of God, would have pursued no matter the dominant faith tradition. They were simply explaining their motivation, and the value of their exploits, in language that would make sense to skeptics in their own time. And in a language that reflects a particular cultural background.

Philosophers of the era, who steeped their discourse in religious language, are still respected for ideas that are interesting even to the secular world. A certain brand of religious devotion was a mark of the culture. Cultural differences are not differences to be detested and overcome, but differences to be appreciated and enjoyed.
 
Fairbanks
 
Reply Sun 14 Sep, 2008 12:34 pm
@paulhanke,
paulhanke wrote:
... an interesting article I ran across (some of which was printed in Science magazine in 1967) - http://www.uvm.edu/~jmoore/envhst/lynnwhite.html ...

... if western science can be viewed as being so derivative of the Judeo-Christian tradition, what of western philosophy? ... how many modern philosophical concepts are grounded in the Judeo-Christian belief system? ... and does this grounding call anything into question?

Smile
Seems the other way around sometimes. Heidegger was wanting to unwind everything back to the forgotten beginnings and discover the hidden grounds of which the forgetting was itself forgotten.
 
paulhanke
 
Reply Sun 14 Sep, 2008 02:20 pm
@jgweed,
jgweed wrote:
I think a closer examination of the history of philosophy would suggest that the view of it being a footnote to religion, as it were, is not an accurate one, either in its beginnings or in its "contemporary" existence.


... perhaps then "merely Judeo-Christian heresy" is too strong a phrase to use ... certainly, many western philosophers consider themselves to be independent of Judeo-Christian thought - but if one were to trace back contemporary western philosophy to its very foundations/assumptions, would we find a significant number of Judeo-Christian ideas? ...

Fairbanks wrote:
Smile
Seems the other way around sometimes. Heidegger was wanting to unwind everything back to the forgotten beginnings and discover the hidden grounds of which the forgetting was itself forgotten.


... agreed Smile ... but those lines of thinking seem to be in large part responses to the mainstream which the mainstream collectively devalues to the point of near obscurity ... maybe I'm wrong, but it seems that even folks on this forum wax apologetic when mentioning anything coming from Heidegger ...
 
jgweed
 
Reply Sun 14 Sep, 2008 04:57 pm
@Fairbanks,
We have little enough evidence about the pre-socratics, and if there were precursors, nothing of their writings exists. Thales (c. 585 B.C.) is roughly contemporary with the collation of the Torah from older sources, and the various recensions of the Book of the Dead seems to be based on writings in the beginning of the Old Kingdom.
It is, moreover, difficult to say with any accuracy how strong the alliance between various religions and what we call philosophy was before the time of Thales and the other Ionian writers.
It is enough to say that during the period of intense activity (600 to 300 B.C.), that is from Thales to Aristotle, Western philosophy took its decisive form. These dates would, obviously, eliminate Christianity as a source of influence, and would suggest that (despite the commerce and travel along the Levantine shores), the monotheism of the Jews would have but second-hand influence compared to, for example, the more direct influence of local or Persian religion.

We may be able to say that the three hundred years saw a succession of writers who contributed to the separation of religious thinking by creating a tradition of rational, speculative thought about the world and the place of humans in it that generally remained operative up to the present.
While diverse in the answers the presokratics provided, they seem to share a common set---or perhaps family resemblance---of characteristics that set them apart from religious speculation:
1. A commitment to argument and dialogue as a means of inquiry instead of uncritical belief and dogma.
2. A view that reason, common to all men, was the appropriate justification for an explanation
3. A belief that the natural world could only be explained in terms that do not refer to sources outside of nature. Given the crudity of explanations, it is still worthy of notice that the fundamental reality of the world was an element or strife or the collision of atoms, and not the divine intervention of the godhead and its miracles.
So much was the general opinion of Frankfort (1946) and of Kirk and Raven (1964). It is certainly instructive, moreover, to consult Aristotle (Metaphysics, Book I) and to consider his views of his precessors---even more importantly, the kinds of criticisms he levels at each of them; his arguments are far from disputations on religious grounds, but are presented from the position of one philosopher (as we know it) criticising the theories of others.

Now it may be argued against this view of philosophical history, that nevertheless many of these same Greeks wrote about God. But if one attends to what they say, or how Plato and Aristotle concieve of the godhead, it becomes I think very clear that their conception is far from the traditional religious one: not Yahwah sending plagues and floods, but the unmoved mover.
 
Fairbanks
 
Reply Sun 14 Sep, 2008 05:03 pm
@Fairbanks,
paulhanke wrote:
... agreed Smile ... but those lines of thinking seem to be in large part responses to the mainstream which the mainstream collectively devalues to the point of near obscurity ... maybe I'm wrong, but it seems that even folks on this forum wax apologetic when mentioning anything coming from Heidegger ...


Smile Philosophers should not get involved in politics since the political values of the day seem to fade soon and be replaced with other impermanent values, not worth the effort.
But, Heidegger was good at explaining classical Greek philosophy, including the language, and even better at going to root meanings of German terms and some of the secret codewords of the professionals.
 
jgweed
 
Reply Sun 14 Sep, 2008 05:14 pm
@Fairbanks,
"Heidegger was good at explaining classical Greek philosophy..."
Probably as good as he was in explaining Nietzsche.
 
Fairbanks
 
Reply Sun 14 Sep, 2008 05:18 pm
@jgweed,
jgweed wrote:
. . . diirect influence of local or Persian religion
. . . their conception is far from the traditional religious one: not Yahwah sending plagues and floods, but the unmoved mover.

Smile
Reading Plotinus, supposedly a neo-platonist, and have to remember he is not Christian because just reading now and then in the Enneads it is easy to forget. Also surprising now and then to find a Hebrew word that sounds suspiciously like a Greek word, but then the languages and cultures were more than next-door neighbors, they were interwoven culturally in an arms length kind of way.
 
paulhanke
 
Reply Sun 14 Sep, 2008 08:25 pm
@jgweed,
jgweed wrote:
We have little enough evidence about the pre-socratics ...


... you've obviously read more on this subject than I have! Smile ... but what I think White is talking about lies subsequent to the pre-socratics ... for example, White talks about how time for the pre-socratics was circular, whereas time in contemporary western philosophy is linear; that the dualism of man and nature and the God-willed exploitation of nature is in absolute contrast to ancient paganism; etc. ... so what might philosophy look like today if the line of Greek philosophers hadn't died out, only to have their works taken up much later and re-interpreted in an entirely different context? ... would time still be circular? ... would it still be man-in-nature as opposed to man-vs-nature? ... and so on?
 
jgweed
 
Reply Mon 15 Sep, 2008 07:44 am
@paulhanke,
It was not the content of the various Pre-Sokratic philosophies, but their common attitude that seems important. Given that they had one foot securely planted in the comfortable ground of poetic explanations, and the other testing the new ground of rational explanation, and given that what we know of their thought is second-hand bits and pieces or brief accounts by later philosophers, it is very difficult to say what they actually meant outside of seeing in their attitude a rejection of religious explanations in favor of natural and rational accounts.

From the glorious century in Athens where Plato and Aristotle lived and taught, to the closing of its schools under Justinian, one sees first a line of independent philosophical thinking (Stoics, Epicureans, Skeptics) and then (since philosophy does not operate in complete isolation from the world) a second line of thinking that incorporates various religious influences (Augustine, Neo-Platonism). [There seems to be, slightly later, a parallel in Arabian philosophy under the influence of Manicheanism and then Islam. During the Medieval period, there were certainly cross-currents between "East" and "West."]

Was it the case that suddenly one century Greek philosophy completely vanished? During the Scholastic period, when definitions of terms and logic were explored and codified, there were still sparks of thinking independent of Christian Doctrine, and philosophy was not without its heretics. Was it not Aquinas that made the attempt to reconcile Aristotle and Greek thought in general with Catholic doctrine, and did he not almost put the writings of "The Philosopher" on the same footing as the Biblical Canon? And meanwhile, back in Constantinople, monks were carefully preserving much of what we know of the other classical philosophers so that when that great city fell, they were re-introduced into the West at the beginning of the Renaissance.It needed only the Reformation to allow philosophy once again to declare its independence and it used with great effect the Scholastic tools-at-hand to "philosophize with a hammer."
 
paulhanke
 
Reply Mon 15 Sep, 2008 10:22 am
@jgweed,
jgweed wrote:
Was it not Aquinas that made the attempt to reconcile Aristotle and Greek thought in general with Catholic doctrine, and did he not almost put the writings of "The Philosopher" on the same footing as the Biblical Canon? And meanwhile, back in Constantinople, monks were carefully preserving much of what we know of the other classical philosophers so that when that great city fell, they were re-introduced into the West at the beginning of the Renaissance.It needed only the Reformation to allow philosophy once again to declare its independence and it used with great effect the Scholastic tools-at-hand to "philosophize with a hammer."


... and I think White is asserting that it is during this era that various ideas and assumptions that are basic to western philosophy were invented and that many of these ideas and assumptions somehow passed through the secularization unquestioned ... do you think that's possible?
 
Fairbanks
 
Reply Mon 15 Sep, 2008 10:35 am
@Didymos Thomas,
Didymos Thomas wrote:
. . . They were simply explaining their motivation, and the value of their exploits, in language that would make sense to skeptics in their own time. And in a language that reflects a particular cultural background. . .

Smile
Thomas was also Thomas Didymos, both names meaning 'twin,' or 'twins' and likely a nickname referring to something about him. Ignoring the street meaning of didymos, was he in fact Jesus' twin brother, or brother in spirit, or perhaps named for the ever-popular Homeric Dioscuri, or for having part of his mind on earth and part in heaven all the time? Or something else? Lots of local culture in that, and Greek for that matter rather than Jewish or the new Christian thing.
 
jgweed
 
Reply Mon 15 Sep, 2008 10:56 am
@paulhanke,
What if the "prejudices of philosophers" as Nietzsche called them predate even philosophy and religion? Could it not be argued, perhaps, that these assumptions owe their origin and continuation to the very structure of language or thought or to "human nature"?

If one were to cast about for the strongest case for Christian influences being "hidden" as it were in philosophy, it might be in the realm of ethics. But then, it seems the argument would have to be able to:

  1. make a case for there actually being something like a "true" Christian religion.
  2. be able to clearly distinguish the uniquely "Christian value-system" from all others in history. It might turn out to be that whatever persisted in that system did so because it did not contradict the general evaluations of mankind, and these "eternal" values" are what was supposed by philosophy.
  3. Be able to clearly surface those presumptions, if you will, as such in the writings of philosophers. But inasmuch as they are claimed to be underlying presumptions, their existence would be difficult to prove with references to texts.

Moreover, one would also have to explain the Judeo/Christian assumptions that disappeared or were rejected, or at least be able to argue that these (e.g. slavery, divine right of kings) were not ESSENTIALLY Christian in nature.

If the most obvious case is uncertain, how much more so would be non-ethical cases?
 
paulhanke
 
Reply Mon 15 Sep, 2008 01:23 pm
@jgweed,
jgweed wrote:
If the most obvious case is uncertain, how much more so would be non-ethical cases?


... sounds like the initial question is off-base then (i.e., more finger-pointing than warranted) ... should we rather simply be discussing which (if any) of the fundamental ideas/assumptions of western philosophy need to be questioned regarding their validity in light of the contemporary (ecological) situation? ...
 
BrightNoon
 
Reply Tue 16 Sep, 2008 09:02 pm
@paulhanke,
Western science is most definitely the product of the same impetus that gave birth to christianity as was philosophy until the irrationalists, such as Nietzsche; though some silly philosopher's who refuse to accept relativism remain in fie of God. As I mentioned in another thread, the christian 'soul' finds its counterpart in the 'cause' of science. That is one example; the essential similiarity between judeo-christian traditions and science is the tendency to posit the 'real world' beyond human excperience and existance. 'They both 'seek truth', upon which they rest and which does not exist.
 
jgweed
 
Reply Wed 17 Sep, 2008 08:10 am
@BrightNoon,
"...the essential similiarity between judeo-christian traditions and science is the tendency to posit the 'real world' beyond human excperience and existance."

If this position means that both the religious and the scientific horizons are, in some fashion, interpretations, then one might easily agree. But even in this case, there are important distinctions and differences between the two horizons, the least of which is that one is public and the other is private.

The world which science posits, which we may call nature, is after all, the world which humans do in fact experience and the laws it deduces are consonant with human experience (or they would not be laws now, would they?). The basic assumption of human existence is the Self and the Self's world; both are needed.
We could not exist in or understand this world without its regularity, especially in regard to future projects, and this regularity is codified by science.

Now religion sees the natural world as subject to forces beyond those of nature and regularity. Miracles are, by definition, exceptions to the rules of nature, and their cause cannot be found within the nature that we experience. The existence and essence of god, moreover, is not explainable by reference to the known world we experience; in many respects our "knowledge" of God is only known by negations of our common experience.

In brief, the differences between the two and the many distinctions, only some of which I have mentioned, seem to far outweigh an "essential similarity."

Lastly, are not the Truth either seek of an entirely different order? If so, then the goal of their explanations and endeavors must also indicate their differences.
 
paulhanke
 
Reply Wed 17 Sep, 2008 10:54 am
@jgweed,
jgweed wrote:
The basic assumption of human existence is the Self and the Self's world; both are needed.


... to take your quote out of context (sorry! :devilish:), how "theory-laden" is such a basic assumption? ... and is it the only possible basic assumption? ... for example, could it not alternatively be said that the basic assumption of human existence is the Social Group, the Individuals who uniquely and responsibly contribute to the Social Group, and the local characteristics of the World in which the Social Group locates itself? ... and wouldn't the philosophical paths leading out from these alternatives be (significantly) different? ...
 
jgweed
 
Reply Wed 17 Sep, 2008 11:26 am
@paulhanke,
Unless an extreme solipsism be adopted, it would seem that the Self's world would necessarily include the existence of Others and society, just as the Self's situation would have to presuppose the existence of an entire world of meaning that is generated by society and history (pre-existing birth) in which one lives and acts.

This position seems to me to be absolutely fundamental, approaching Descarte's indubitability, to any philosophical viewpoint. Where there is confusion, consequently, is understanding the extent and manner the two parts interact and change one another, and to what extent they are autonomous.
 
paulhanke
 
Reply Thu 18 Sep, 2008 10:27 am
@jgweed,
jgweed wrote:
Where there is confusion, consequently, is understanding the extent and manner the two parts interact and change one another, and to what extent they are autonomous.


... speaking of which, I ran across this quote (of Alasdair MacIntyre) last night:

Quote:

In Aristotelian practical reasoning, it is the individual qua citizen who reasons; in Thomistic practical reasoning, it is the individual qua enquirer into his or her good and the good of his or her community; in Humean practical reasoning, it is the individual qua propertied or unpropertied participant in a society of a particular kind of mutuality and reciprocity; but in the practical reasoning of liberal modernity it is the individual qua individual who reasons.
... MacIntyre goes on to assert that an education in the liberal modernity tradition (which he sees as just one tradition among many) produces a student:

Quote:

... with a set of skills, a set of preferences, and little else, someone whose education has been as much a process of deprivation as of enrichment.


... so it would seem that (in MacIntyre's opinion at least), it's more than just "confusion, consequently" - it's confusion with consequences!
 
 

 
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