Yesterday I had the privilege of eating lunch with Dr. Jerome Wernow. He is a philosopher and bioethicist. Even more importantly, he has proven to be a good friend and mentor. As always our conversations transcend small talk quite quickly moving into subjects that are far beyond my ability to address. Since we are both Christians we bring our religion into the discussion. Yesterday we chatted about language games, evolution and the biblical narrative, the doctrine of regeneration, and what it means to exist in eternity (static perfection or perfecting perfection?). As I said, I know enough to avoid sounding like an idiot.
As a Christian it is difficult to divorce theology from philosophy. When Jerome and I had our nerdy dialogue we were able to address particular philosophers and philosophies briefly without connecting them to Christianity. One can bracket their faith for a time, but like those who do historiographical studies on Scripture it is inevitable that one’s religious commitments will become visible. This leads to today’s discussion if you’re willing to join:
Where does philosophy meet theology and where do they part ways?
In other words, what characterizes these two disciples?
I would say that one is done within a tradition and one without, but that is misleading. As the postmodernists exposed, western philosophy is not free-thinking rationality. It is not universalized thought. It finds itself within a very specific, eurocentric worldview. It could be argued that one begins with “rationality” and the other “revelation” and that would be an interesting paradigm within which to work, though one thing that makes me nervous is when Christian theologians act as if their thought is pure and free from philosophy. Anyways, let me stop rambling so you can talk!
I think that all ‘philosophy’ has a rational and revelatory aspect to it. Many non Christians have those aha moments which fits into a revelatory category and Christians also base their philosophy for living within a relational framework.
Its a bit confusing to know if ‘philosophy’ is the outworking of ones ‘theology’ for life. Or, if ones theology is the outworking of ones philosophy. Take the lens one develops their theological framework from. I will say that ‘Calvinism’ is a philosophical framework, in which ones theology is outworked. The same within the complementarian and egalitarian frameworks.
Within this schema, theology then becomes the explanation of ones philosophical views.
* I mean to say “rational” not “relational”
It is quite difficult to find the difference between these disciplines. Like you, I don’t see Calvinism as a pure, theological system. It comes to the table with all kinds of philosophical presuppositions related to causality, free will, and the like. Likewise, the egalitarian/complementarian debate has hermeneutical presuppositions (which is a category of philosophy), sociological presuppositions, and on and on.
Just found your blog looking for “philosophy”. Enjoying this. 🙂
For what it’s worth, from the Catholic point of view, I think this is gradually becoming clearer: What is philosophy in regard to theology? What is theology in regard to philosophy? When Pope John Paul II wrote an encyclical letter about faith and reason, he called philosophy an “autonomous science” or “autonomous wisdom” that Christians are called to work, if they are philosophers, as Christians. Meaning, being a Christian doesn’t change what philosophy is. But one had better to it as a Christian. Like teaching mathematics or history.
He cited many Christians who had integrated faith and reason. Of all of them, I’m only aware that Jacques Maritain spoke in the same way as the Pope on philosophy and theology. As a result, I think reading his views on the topic of what is different between philosophy and theology can be very illuminating. Certainly if one wants to understand how a Catholic might answer, anyway.
A lot of these views were recently taken up by the Catholic Church’s International Theological Commission (in a document approved by Pope Benedict’s successor as head of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), saying, “Pope John Paul II rejected both philosophical scepticism and fideism and called for a renewal of the relationship between theology and philosophy. He recognised philosophy as an autonomous science and as a crucial interlocutor for theology. He insisted that theology must necessarily have recourse to philosophy: without philosophy, theology cannot adequately critique the validity of its assertions nor clarify its ideas nor properly understand different schools of thought… In this critical assimilation and integration by theology of data from other sciences, philosophy has a mediating role to play. It pertains to philosophy, as rational wisdom, to insert the results obtained by various sciences into a more universal vision. Recourse to philosophy in this mediating role helps the theologian to use scientific data with due care.”
Just for pondering. 🙂
Philosophy of course means the Love of Wisdom.
Does any contemporary philosophy or theology have anything to do with Wisdom?
Has any Western philosophy or theology ever had anything to do with Wisdom?
Except perhaps in the long ago case of Plato, Socrates and especially Plotinus.
And in the reports of the Illuminated Christian Saints of the Catholic and Orthodox Traditions
True Philosophy is not a pattern of mechanical thinking -which is what all of it now is. True Philosophy is a lived process, an art, a transformative Yoga in which the total psycho-physical being of those who practice or do it is necessarily transformed. It is necessarily associated with Reality, Truth and The Beautiful.
The Process that is True Philosophy must also necessarily take death fully into account.
Which of course Christian philosophy/theology does not.
For us in our normal buttoned down dreadful sanity the death of bodies is a philosophical or theological matter that causes untrust, distrust, and fear, a matter that fills us with philosophical and theological propositionsd that are Godless, Ecstasyless, Blissless.
As a matter of fact, the cosmic or conditional domain is just like Mother Kali. Exactly so. It is full of death, full of process, full of moment to moment changes.
Ecstasy and thus the doing of philosophy or theology as a Process of Transformation, requires trust and the utter acceptance of death?
The answer to this question is all going to depend upon one’s philosophy ;-). William Lane Craig and Paul Moser believe it to be in a sort of handmaiden role towards theology. In that one uses philosophy to clarify theological language. Obviously most of the Medieval thinkers we are all familiar with (Aquinas, Anselm, Augustine, Boethius etc.), were quite comfortable blending philosophy and theology; using philosophy to clarify theological concepts. On the other hand, Bertrand Russell believes that certain doctrines and dogmas are off limits to philosophical scrutiny. The Faith/Reason debate has been going on since at least the days of Augustine.
There is no doubt in my mind that a theologian who has some sort of philosophical understanding/experience will be better for it. Many of the topics are identical (reality, knowledge, ‘the good-life’). On the other hand, there maybe some things that are ‘mysterious’ and we may have to accept that—i.e. Incarnation, Trinity, for Catholics the Eucharist. However, we must be careful here, if we hide behind faith (i.e. we accept the Trinity upon faith even though it doesn’t make sense!), we must be willing to extend that to those who are non-Christians whose belief may sound illogical to us (so when a mormon relies on the ‘burning in the bossom,’we may not have much wiggle room in critiquing that if we our selves rely upon our faith experience).
Philosophy is the process by which we scrutinize our beliefs and actions in light of created reality. Theology is the process by which we scrutinize our self and our beliefs about God in light of the creator’s reality. Both are, prescriptively and descriptively, necessary and unavoidable.
Ryan: I agree with your assessment, but I suppose the difficult part would be in defining what goes into each category? For example, I have a few books on the shelf that philosophically analyze the Trinity, Revelation, Foreknowledge, Inspiration of Scripture, Incarnation, etc.
barobin: I think your right about the difficulty. Unfortunately, the terms are often used vaguely like when people attach “theology of” to various matters related to the church. It’s not really theology in the sense that its object is God but that it’s a Christian (or whatever religion) analysis of some topic. It sells books, and it’s commonplace, but it’s not very philosophical. 🙂 I suppose all of those topics you mentioned can be analyzed philosophically as long as its understood that they are being analyzed in respect to their relations within the created world because those are the points at which God “touches down” and opens himself up to our understanding.
We were tearing down some walls in Milliken the other day and Dr. Wernow cracked me up with a comment about Derrida as he was walking by.
My understanding has been, for the last few years, that philosophy is the use of pure reason to construct arguments. Philosophy has the tools of logic, both induction and deduction, and thus philosophical arguments can be judged on their logical merits. Thus, the study of logic is a sort of meta-philosophy, and vital to the discipline.
Theology, on the other hand, treats a religious text/revelation/etc as authoritative, in addition to logic. Aquinas would be practicing philosophy if he argued for entailment (if the Bible says X, and you should do what the Bible says, you should do X), but he practiced Theology insofar as he actually asserted the authoritativeness of the Bible.
This distinction can make sense of the difference between theology and the philosophy of religion. I think any cogent definition of theology and of philosophy should be able to do the same. Consider that a test for the definitions you choose, if you like. 🙂
I do appreciate the call to do philosophy as a Christian. In our class this was one of the discussion: can a Christian bracket their theological commitments when doing philosophy. I think they can try, but I am skeptical. We must bring our theology into contact with philosophy. Now, I must ask, for Catholics what would be considered the major difference between philosophy and theology. I know Aquinas remains one of Catholicisms’ foundational minds. It could be argued that he is as much a philosopher as a theologian. How would I know what hat he is wearing at a given time?
I do wonder though if we are getting stuck on the etymology of the word. It could be argued that the word “philosophy” applies better to the Book of Proverbs than to Michel Foucault, but words change over time.
I am a bit surprised that you say theology hasn’t addressed death. Death seems to be quite important to Christian theologizing.
The “mysterious” elements are interesting. That said, if you read the Greek Fathers even the Trinity is shaped by the philosophical language of the time. It may be baptized, but it comes from somewhere. The incarnation is another area as we talk about natures, wills, and the like. It still feels like theology is Christian philosophizing at times that allows for some different premises, but it isn’t something completely unique, no?
I like your distinction. How do we do thinking as humans from God’s perspective without allowing it to slowly move into philosophy?
Let me guess, he couldn’t pass up a reference to “deconstruction”?!
That tends to be how I see it as well. That said, I am a bit skeptical of the idea that philosophy is grounded in isolated, pure logic. Could we argue that while western theology doesn’t have a biblical canon it has a canon none the less? As one person said, it is all a footnote to Plato!
Brian: That’s a good question, and I wish more seminaries and the like would have some class on theological methodology (which I think is more foundation than systematic theology). The only book that I’ve read that tries to address the subject is Torrance’s Theological Science (dense, but worthwhile). Do you know of any others?
You may be interested in John Cooper’s Locke Lectures on “Philosophy as a Way of Life” (on Oxford’s iTunesU page). This may help clear up some confusion about what philosophy is (at least for Socrates, Aristotle, the Stoics, and Plotinus).
Oh, and the footnote to Plato is from A. N. Whitehead.
@Brian: I myself am not sure what counts as ‘mysterious’ and what counts as being worthy to be ‘reasoned towards.’ Both sides have some merits…although the philosophical side in my opinion has the least amount of problems (uh oh…a reasoned response). The easy answer for one who wants to hide within mysterious-faith would be to just deny the merits of the Church Fathers in their heretical philosophical lingo ;). However, the problems with reliance upon mysterious-faith is that most tend to believe their faith makes most sense of the way things are around them (a sort of reasoning), or disbelieving/argument against a rival belief because it doesn’t make sense (Buddhist doctrine of no-self doesn’t make sense and is illogical! Mormons just want to rely upon their ‘feelings’ in whether its true!). The rival belief could just resort to hiding behind mysterious-faith, like those who most support it, and thus one is at a standstill and completely reliant upon one’s subjective experience. Plus, the mysterious-faith bit usually goes out the window when those who hold that position, attack rival positions within Christianity—whether heretical,heterdox, or orthodox.
I love the Church Fathers and their writings, as well as philosophical-theology/philosophy, and thus I tend to lean in that direction.
I should also add that Jaroslav Pelikan’s book Christianity and Classical Culture: The Metamorphosis of Natural Theology in the Christian Encounter with Hellenism is a good historical summary of how early Christian (specifically the Cappadocians, albeit a little lopsided towards Nyssen) wrestled with this very issue.
If it’s all a footnote to Plato, not sure how Nietzsche– one of Plato’s biggest critics, depending on how you read him– works. 🙂 I’m certainly amenable to the idea that Kripke and Aristotle are more “philosophical” than Kierkegaard and Arendt, but there is (of course a spectrum). Philosophy and Theology both seem to be the study of entailment– but while Philosophy discusses logical entailment, Theology seems concerned with revelatory entailment. Those closer a work is to the nature of logical entailment, the more philosophical it is. The relationship of mathematics to philosophy may be controversial, but certainly worth thinking about.
At least, in my humble opinion. 🙂
Come to think of it, I don’t know that I’ve read a book on theological methodology! It’s kind of a shame. I will listen to those lectures this weekend, thank you for pointing them out. Likewise regarding Pelikan’s book.
You speak my words for me! I am frustrated by these things at times. I don’t understand how some could say their theologizing is not “rationality” when it is in fact that very thing. They may have different premises or foundational beliefs, but from there they, well, reason!
Neitzsche would be a negative footnote! 😉
It does seem that this is a matter of “spectrum” rather than black-and-white differentiation.
i think philosophy meets theology when philosophy has reached a limit of logic and reason and man borrows a mythos to bridge the gap. for the latter, i think maybe a better question is- do they part? is there a divorce? i dont think so… i think its indisputable at this point to seperate which and what is purely philosophy and theology albeit there are distinctions in the meeting.
I agree, there ought not be a divorce between the two. If there is a “spectrum” of critical thinking philosophy may be on one side and theology on another, but they connect. It is interesting to hear that theology picks up where philosophy cannot go. I will have to think on that. It seems like this would mean philosophy should take one the right direction, but then there must be a leap of faith followed by a new type of “reasoning” based on the new presuppositions received from that leap of faith.
Thanks for your response. I recommend the ITC document that I just quoted (“Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria (2011)”). There it’s stated that philosophy and theology are in “dialogue”; there are many great nuggets of wisdom in the document.
For example: Philosophy, which is a purely “rational wisdom”, doesn’t in itself need theology to do its job. But we’re wounded. And we’d be stupid and slow even if we weren’t wounded! So a dialogue with theology is needed if we wanted to do philosophy as well as we can. What is theology? It’s reason applied to all the implicit content faith, and therefore is situated only where there’s grace. The philosopher needs this. At the same time, if theology involves reason, then it needs the background of a sane philosophy or “rational wisdom”. It’s truly a dialogue, lived under different aspects by the philosopher and the theologian.
You ask about St Thomas’ “hats”. I think Thomas did everything he did as a theologian. But he used a philosophical, rational wisdom to do it. I don’t think anyone could break down what he’s doing at any given time into a particular “hat”. The “dialogue” is constant in Thomas, and Thomas himself is a theologian. Even the Summa contra Gentiles is clearly written by a theologian (there are scripture references and exegeses everywhere) — although Thomas does pretend to follow a rational procedure and that the sequence of arguments/chapters does not rely on faith in itself (for the first three books). Thomas is always a theologian, I think, a theologian in dialogue with “rational wisdom”.
Again, just for pondering. Nothing definitive. =)
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