I have been commenting that philosophy and Christianity may be compatible terms if both are seen as ways of living. Philosophy as a way of life is unquestionably (in my view) the ancient understanding of philosophy. A similar way of understanding can be seen among the earliest writings of Christianity, including its own Scriptures. Whether these two ways of living are compatible will remain to be seen.
I have previously been commenting that philosophy is best understood as a way of life over against the conception of philosophy as a life of the mind. That is to say, philosophy as understood within modernist paradigms is that of rational engagement with objects of thought in an attempt to somehow accurately describe reality. There are, of course, innumerable variations on this theme, not the least of which is the locus of those objects of thought, what counts as engagement with them, and so on. I will not, of course, here settle the variation to be preferred, but I do hope to tease out some implications by examining some of the varieties of definition for reason and what counts as rational activity.
It will not be surprising to note that the ancients had a robust understanding of reason as differentiated if related and united activities of the intellect. In the Ethics, by way of example, Aristotle distinguishes among the various “excellencies” (or virtues) of thinking activity, among them, wisdom (sophia), scientific knowledge (episteme), productive knowledge (techne, also often translated as “craft” or “art”), practical judgment (phronesis), etc. Not all ancient epistemologies categorized the energies of thought along these Aristotelian categories, of course, and even among these differentiations, one form of intellectual activity which was emphasized broadly was that which Aristotle calls “discursive reason” (dianoia), etymologically, “thinking things through,” or the sort of reason that moves from premise to premise along established principles of right thinking toward a conclusion.
We might, today, think of this sort of intellectual activity as analytical, logical, and so forth. So, too, did the ancients. Aristotle, of course, famously wrote (or edited) the major works on logical thought (such as the Categories, Prior Analytics, Posterior Analytics, Topics, etc.), collectively called the organon, or tool, which was to stand for a couple of millennia as the standard description of human thinking as discursive reason. Where we differ from the ancients is that for some this is the only intellectual activity that “counts.” Even if a Kantian practical reason is explicated, it is, in many ways, pure reason applied to the specifics of contingent reality. Some of a more stringent bent even than Kant may even affirm that this is the only intellectual activity there is.
Under the influence of the Stagirite, I would not be inclined to agree. Just as the muscles of the hand differ from the muscles of the arm, each are productive of movement and composed of the same essential parts. So, too, though the intellect applied to the evaluation and selection of competing choices is different from the intellect applied to the grasping of first principles, both are intellect. And though the latter instance of the intellect may more purely contemplate various forms of thought, it is the former which moves us through our days.
That is to say, if ancient philosophy was a way of life more than simply a life of the mind, the mind of that philosophy was rich and differentiated in its application of its energies to the spectrum of human existence, body and soul. The Academics and the Stoics may both seek the purity of thought that aligns with discursive reason, but even so, both sought a real integration with the reality that energizes the worlds in each moment, each in accordance with their respective way of life.
This is not to say, of course, that the way of life that is philosophy will not have a marked emphasis on discursive reason and on critically examining various objects of thought, their connections and relations, and so forth. Such intellectual activity is necessary and important, and makes of the way of life that is philosophy something at once different from as well as connected to other ways of living.
However, if we are going to speak of reason and the intellectual activity that is the hallmark of philosophy, we would do well to understand it as a rich and varied group of energies expressive of the intellect, each distinct in its particular activity but one in kind. This is a reason that is analytical and pragmatic, that is intuitive and discursive. It is not an attenuated and distorted reason, but one that is robust and dynamic. It is the sort of reason that is productive to and supportive of a way of living.
If, then, this is the reason of which we speak, what of faith? After all, Christianity, of whatever sort of description, is founded on acts of faith. Modern thinking juxtaposes discursive reason over against faith. If philosophy cannot be inclusive of faith in its project, then Christianity and philosophy are at their core essences incapable of juncture. That is to say, Christianity cannot be a philosophy and philosophy cannot be Christian.
However, before we can examine this apparent dichotomy, we must explore what potentially could be the point of linkage between these two purportedly opposed activities: namely, truth. One Gospel figure once famously asked “What is truth?”
To this issue we will turn next.