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A Word of Clarification

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Okay, usually I won’t post twice on the same day, but I’m losing it here.

You’re misconstruing the phrase “by reason alone.’

It doesn’t mean that God is “entirely out of the equation,’ or that Christianity isn’t part of Western Civ.

Which is a good thing, because the phrase “by reason alone’ comes from Roman Catholic dogma–it is dogma in the Catholic Church that you can prove the existence of God and discover the basics of the moral law by use of secular reason without recourse to Revelation.

You need Revelation to tell you about the salvific mission of Christ, and about the Trinity, which are “revealed truths.”  But that God exists at all?  That, the Church said, you can do on your own without ever having heard a single religious idea in your entire life, by referring toyour own experience and applying logic and reason to what you’ve witnessed and experienced. 

The same is true of the moral law.  In Roman Catholic Christianity–which is pretty much the only Christianity there was in the West for a millennium and a half–the assumption is that the moral law is planted deep in our nature by our Creator, and can be discovered from an inquiry into that nature, even by unbelievers and rank atheists. 

There is nothing about the core Western assumption–that society is something men do, not something handed to them by tradition or God–that requires anybody to be a nonbeliever.

And Augustine is thoroughly inside this tradition.  He made a career of explaining God and the moral law to unbelievers by the use of reason, and he recommends it to his readers.

If you don’t mind my saying so, this seems to me to be a perfect example of why just reading a history “about” philosophy is not enough–you have to actually read the philosophy. 

It’s the process of thought, not the particular content, that matters first, and that process is not always clear–in fact, is virtually never clear–from a third person account.

Written by janeh

June 25th, 2009 at 6:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'A Word of Clarification'

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  1. “But that God exists at all? That, the Church said, you can do on your own without ever having heard a single religious idea in your entire life, by referring toyour own experience and applying logic and reason to what you’ve witnessed and experienced.

    The same is true of the moral law. In Roman Catholic Christianity–which is pretty much the only Christianity there was in the West for a millennium and a half–the assumption is that the moral law is planted deep in our nature by our Creator, and can be discovered from an inquiry into that nature, even by unbelievers and rank atheists.”

    I can understand the Church arguments. I can also understand the modern atheist or agnostic argument that logic and reason applied to our experience says there is no God.

    But I’m baffled and confused by the people who say there is no God and at the same time appeal to Justice or Human Rights as if they were some fixed feature of the universe and not inventions of the human mind.

    Now that ought to start a fight!

    jd

    26 Jun 09 at 4:44 am

  2. Fair save, but only fair. If the church was wrong about the ability to determine the existence of God by reason alone–which I presume is your position–then how does one determine that Augustine & Co. are right on the ability to formulate a moral code by reason alone? And why do philosophers diverge so widely on said moral code?

    And it still doesn’t make the French Revolution, let alone the Russian as Western as the American Revolution and capitalism. French Rev v. American gets hairy depending on what principles are “core Western” this week, but to the extent that Communism has, as you say, made a god of History, gone around interpreting signs and behaving accordingly, it is surely less Western than capitalism, which is a way of ordering a society and not a belief system. (I’ll grant you that a monastery is as Western as Wall Street, but that’s not Communism with a capital “C.”)

    And there is a much better case for studying philosophy than for adding it to the core curriculum. Being lectured at by a monomaniac is not the same as studying, and it would be MUCH easier to institute a core curriculum than to get all the little tin gods out of the Fuzzy Sciences departments. Too many of them went there so they could lecture a captive audience–and they’ve got tenure.

    robert_piepenbrink

    26 Jun 09 at 5:38 pm

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