Monday, September 05, 2005

Theology needs reasoned reflection on human experience

These are the study questions for lesson 1.

1) What does the study of "philosophy" in its original, broad sense include?

In its original sense, the scope of philosophy is all human knowledge, specifically all knowledge pertaining to the natural world. It included the physical sciences, mathematics, rhetoric—essentially all of the liberal arts and fine arts. No doubt Aristotle understood it in this sense, and his corpus of works includes subjects such as tragedy, biology, and physics.

2) What is the difference of philosophy in this broad sense from theology?

While philosophy's focus is on human knowledge—that is, knowledge gained through the powers of reason—theology focuses on revealed knowledge. Philosophy dwells in the natural realm. Theology dwells in the supernatural realm.

3) Is philosophy only "the clarification of the language of other disciplines?"

If philosophy is only "the clarification of the language of other disciplines," it is only such in the minds of modern philosophers. Clearly specialization of disciplines has taken the focus away from philosophy as a multifaceted discipline, but this fracturing does not truly divide the philosophical subject into separate disciplines. Logic is certainly part of philosophy, but its use must extend to other realms of study. Metaphysics exist even if modern philosophers find the fact uncomfortable or daunting.

4) Are "metaphysics" and "philosophy" the same study?

In the sense that it's dealt with here, metaphysics is a branch of philosophy but not all of philosophy focused on the study of being as being. However, Wikipedia defines metaphysics as 'a branch of philosophy concerned with the study of "first principles" and "being" (ontology).' It notes the meaning if the roots meta (after or beyond) and physics (nature). If we take this meaning, then you could see it as a study that overlaps philosophy and theology. So metaphysics is not the same study. It's a specific application for philosophical and possibly even theological thought to first principles and ontology.

5) Why is it a waste of time to study theology without adequate preparation in philosophy in this broad sense?

Theologians often use philosophical methods in their work. However, the methodologies are sometimes flawed. For example, those theologians who tend to view doctrine as fungible have a more relativistic view of truth. Without preparation in philosophy, one might not recognize the ramifications of such a stance (reletavism, indifferentism). For those theologians who claim a more postmodern approach, the tendency to redefine terms can lead to fallacious argumentation (sophistry). In order to recognize the traps that some theologians fall into, we must be prepared to distinguish among rational and nonrational modes of thought.
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