In my previous post, I put forth the notion that the intellect expresses itself in many differentiated activities that are nonetheless the same in kind. One kind of intellect evaluates and selects among competing choices in actions. Another kind grasps first principles as wholes. Another kind informs productive activity. Yet another kind organizes and systematizes various empirical data into coherent related thoughts. And so on. Yet all these intellective energies are one in kind in that they are intellect.
Reason, at least in modernist contentions, is generally much narrower than the ancient understanding. As noted earlier, reason in modernist paradigms is generally that intellective activity that ancients called discursive reason or dianoia. It is the activity of the intellect that proceeds from one thought to another via established principles of reason toward a valid conclusion.
I highlight these distinctions, because all understandings of the intellect (and reason) ultimately deal with the concept of truth, and objects of thought as being true or false. What counts for one as reason (or intellect) will similarly determine what counts for a thing as being true. If one sees reason as only (or primarily) discursive, then one’s concept of truth will follow. One will not, for example, understand moral truth as the same thing as logical truth, if indeed there is such a thing as moral truth.
These considerations are further embedded in much larger metaphysical and anthropological considerations. These of course will take us far outside the much more humble constraints of these posts, but we do well to note them so as to properly limit our own reflections. But while we need not here present cogent examinations of what counts as ultimate reality or what capacities a human person has relative to our considerations, we cannot escape such questions, however superficially we deal with them. Are truths simple objects of thought reflective of the reality they direct us to? Are truths the actual items of reality which we encounter? Are truths those things that are empirically derived? Are truths those things which are only derived from intellective activity? Do humans possess the capacities to actually engage with or discover truth? What capacities are necessary for such engagement or discovery?
But sidestepping these legitimate concerns, we can at least acknowledge that whatever truth is, it provides us with objects of thought by which we evaluate the content and method of our intellective processes. If we label something as true, and its thought content as truth, then it stands for us as both an object of our thinking activity and a standard by which to evaluate that thinking activity as proper. And what sort of intellective activity is suited to discovering and evaluating such truths will be determined by what we think of truth.
It is, admittedly, slightly self-referential. More on that when we discuss the concept of faith. For now, then, let us simply note that the sort of thinking (reason, intellect) that is embedded in a way of life will yield a different truth content than the sort of thinking embedded in a life of the mind. Why this is the case, is hopefully obvious from previous comments.
Having said this, then, let us also freely note that while the ancients generally posited truth as on some level a conformity to reality, that within ancient philosophical ways of life such truth was primarily intellective. Within Christianity, this is not the case. For Christianity, Truth is primarily a Person. In Christianity, then, knowledge is not primarily about intellective processes, but, rather, about personal encounter. The biblical euphemism for sexual intercourse is, of course, “knowing,” which speaks eloquently of an epistemology of love. I will not here deal with the questions surrounding epistemology. But I present this as a very important distinction that will guide us when we discuss faith.
Since we are addressing the compatibility of Christianity with philosophy and since for this discussion what counts for philosophy is the ancient understanding of it as a way of life, let us note that this understanding of truth which Christianity promotes is not a complete departure from the ancient philosophers. One would do well to note, for example, that the pursuit of philosophical knowledge in Platonic dialogues is sometimes couched in terms of personal love (think, for example of the Symposium, or, to my mind more simply his metaphor of the cave and its subsequent exposition in the Politeia). But, that said, there is not the same sort of understanding of truth as located in a Person, as Christianity has. The pursuit of knowledge and truth, while motivated by love does not necessarily have the same entity as its desiderative object.
Let us also note that for ancient philosophers, truth, whatever its actual locus, was discovered by the intellective processes. The ancient philosophers would not accept the notion that truths could be gleaned by divine revelation. For many philosophers, humans exercised the divine qualities within themselves by utilizing the intellect. But otherwise, the gods, were primarily the constructs of myths and stories that were quite repugnant to the conclusions of reason (cf. Plato’s fourth book of the Politeia).
In Christianity, truth is also discovered by intellective processes, but since for Christianity the essence of truth is a Person, even these discovered truths are derivative from those truths revealed in this Person. That is to say, Christianity, over against philosophy, offers a higher category of truth: revealed truth, within which are contained all those truths available to intellective processes. Or to put it the other way around, the truths discoverable by intellective processes are partial and limited by those intellective processes.
We might then refer to the truths of philosophy as speculative, in the sense of founded upon intellective processes, whereas the truths of Christianity are revealed, and which revealed truths limit and define any of the speculative processes the intellect within Christianity may energize. It is just this divide that lead many to conclude Athens has nothing to do with Jerusalem.
My project here, however, is not to discern whether Christianity and philosophy are coterminus or one true and the other false. My thoughts rather are meant to discern whether the essential characteristics of Christianity and philosophy allow of enough overlap so that one may posit a specifically Christian philosophy. I have not found agreement with the position that a Christian philosophy is simply philosophy infused with Christian content. This is what I take Dr. Tatakis’ position to be. Whether or not there will be such a thing as Christian philosophy I hope to come to some conclusion regarding the question.
For now, though, it begins to be seen that philosophy and Christianity have significant points of divergence on the matter of what constitutes truth. This divergence will intensify as we go on to discuss the matter of faith. But first we must discuss the difference between philosophy and Christianity on what is the human organ which discerns truth. For philosophy, this is the intellect. For Christianity, the intellect is an organ which may discern truth, but the primary truth-discerning organ is the heart. To that discussion we will turn next.