Apr 17, 2008

In Hebrews 11.1, what is "faith"?

Leonard Peikoff notes that Aquinas is "the greatest of all religious thinkers," one who openly champions reason--with faith as a supplement.[1] In this post, my purpose--as a layman, not as a specialist--is to suggest an interpretation of a Biblical passage that underlies Aquinas's view of faith.[2]

The passage is Chapter 11, Verse 1 of The Letter to the Hebrews, in the Christian New Testament. The anonymous author of the Letter probably lived c. 100 CE.[3]

Verse 1 is the theme statement for Hebrews Ch. 11. It says, "... faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Subsequent verses chronologically present examples of Old Testament men and women who had faith.

Now take a closer look at the two main parts of the Letter writer's definition.

1. The things hoped for are values. Judging from the context, the values are not merely any values, but a Christian's highest values, such as everlasting life in heaven. (Verse 16 says that for those who have faith, "God ... has prepared for them a city," presumably the City of God, as Augustine will later call it.)[4] Thus, half of faith is having confidence in receiving something of value--in the next world. In part, this is a matter of ethics, one branch of the Christian worldview.

2. In the second half of the writer's definition, the conviction of things not seen is belief in ideas which have no basis in sense-perception of this world. Earlier in the New Testament, in The Second Letter to the Corinthians, 5.7, the writer, the apostle Paul (Saul of Tarsus), encourages Christians to walk in this world by faith, not by sight. That is appropriate advice if this "world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear" (Hebrews 11.3). Such advice is a matter of epistemology and metaphysics (ontology), two more branches in the Christian worldview.

Conclusion: The anonymous writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is presumably competing with Judaism, Roman paganism, and other religions in his time. To a steadily growing, potentially Christian audience, he offers the essentials of an integrated worldview. The metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics of early Christianity are interlocked: An invisible God created this world from nothing; and He tells us, without offering evidence, to spend our miserable, sinful lives seeking values available only after we die and, even then, in another world.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

[1] Leonard Peikoff, "Religion versus America," The Objectivist Forum, June, 1986 (Vol. 7), New York, TOF Publications, 1993, pp. 3 and 7-8. The same essay appears in The Voice of Reason. [2] Mark D. Jordan, translator and editor of On Faith: Summa theologiae, Part 2-2, Questions 1-16 of St. Thomas Aquinas, Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press, 1990, p. 14, lists Hebrews 11 and First Corinthians 13.2 as two passages underlying Thomas's view of faith. [3] For discussion of the identity of the author of The Letter to the Hebrews: Pheme Perkins, Reading the New Testament: An Introduction, second ("revised") edition, New York, Paulist Press, 1988, Ch. 17 ("Hebrews"), pp. 270, 272 and 273. [4] The Biblical quotations come from The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Meridian Books, 1962.

Apr 4, 2008

Philosophical Ripples?

My purpose in these notes is to summarize my understanding of the general process of spreading a philosophy.

Philosophical transmission is the passage of a philosophy from one generation to the next or from one society to another. In the west, a long line of scholars transmitted Aristotle's philosophy from Greek society to Roman society; in the east, Greek writers transmitted it to Syriac and then Arabic society; and from these earlier cultures, scholars transmitted it to the world of Thomas Aquinas.

In contrast, philosophical dissemination is the passage of a philosophy down a socio-intellectual hierarchy from a philosopher to the man in the street, within one society. The philosophers of the Italian Renaissance disseminated Aristotle's philosophy into their society--as some philosophers are today disseminating Ayn Rand's philosophy, Objectivism, into modern society.

A new philosophy enters a society like a stone dropping into a pond. The effects ripple through the society.[1] The ripples pass along a chain of individuals.

1. Primary philosophers create radically new philosophical systems. Each presents his philosophy to a few students. In the 2500-year history of philosophy, only four primary philosophers have emerged: Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Rand.[2]

2. In the generations following the introduction of each primary philosophy, secondary philosophers build their own philosophical systems. Whereas primary philosophers create radically new philosophical ideas and integrate them into a system, secondary philosophers start with some of the essential elements of a primary philosopher's system and then develop their own variation from those and other essential elements. Example secondary philosophers are Plotinus (600 years after Plato) and Kierkegaard (50 years after Kant).

Primary and secondary philosophers systematize their philosophical ideas in their thinking but not in their presentations of their own philosophies. Perhaps the reason for the lack of a single-volume presentation of the whole philosophy is that each primary and secondary philosopher is fascinated with (1) solving particular philosophical problems (such as the problem of universals) and (2) mentally integrating the solutions into a system, but he is bored with presenting the system as a whole to beginners.

3. Tertiary philosophers are individuals who immerse themselves in a primary or secondary philosophy but do not create systems of their own. Example tertiary philosophizers are academics who (1) think about and teach philosophy fulltime; (2) specialize in the study of a particular philosophical system; (3) adopt it as their own; (4) make its implicit elements explicit; and (5) systematically present it in their own lectures and books. A partial example is John Rawls (chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Harvard and author of Theory of Justice); he applied Kant's metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics to his own politics of egalitarianism.[3]

4. Philosophers of the sciences develop the basic principles (the foundation, the "philosophy") of each science. Example specialized sciences are physics, history, and psychology. Unlike primary, secondary, and tertiary philosophers, philosophers of science characteristically do not work directly with whole philosophical systems. Philosophers of science apply parts of a philosophy--especially its metaphysics and epistemology--to their particular field. For example, besides being a physicist, Galileo (1564-1642) was a philosopher of the emerging science of physics. He placed physics partly on a foundation of Aristotle's philosophical method--logic--and partly on elements of Aristotle's epistemology.[4]

5. Intellectuals apply philosophical principles (formulated by others) to their specialized studies in particular sciences and arts. Intellectuals continue the process of selecting pieces of a whole philosophy for narrower applications. Thus intellectuals develop and spread new specialized ideas as well as philosophical ideas. Example intellectuals are university professors who think about, write about, and lecture on specialized sciences. Today, in such fields as economics, biology, architecture, political science, art criticism, and history, intellectuals write and lecture outside universities too -- e.g., in "think-tanks" and specialized weblogs.

An intellectual activist is a person who (1) is intrigued by at least some philosophical principles and their application to his milieu, and (2) takes action to spread the applications and their underlying philosophical principles into his society. An intellectual activist, as distinct from a professional intellectual, need not be an originator of new ideas.

(The term "intellectual" can also be used very broadly to name anyone who is concerned about fundamental ideas and their application to society; in this sense, "intellectual" is not a matter of profession but of interest.)

6. Broadcasters further disseminate particular philosophical ideas (e.g., "Nobody can be certain of anything") and their applications ("Someone has to help the people who do not plan for their old-age"). Broadcasters do not develop new ideas, either philosophical or specialized. Example broadcasters can be teachers in lower schools, local newspaper columnists, and intellectually articulate politicians--but not all teachers, columnists, and politicians are broadcasters. Broadcasters spread philosophical ideas and their applications by talking directly to the "man in the street," for instance, to the truck driver whose actual philosophy ("Aw, hell, who knows--and who cares anyway?") determines whether he accelerates or brakes as he drives toward you when you walk across an intersection.[6]

Philosophically, the idea that underlies dissemination is the movement from the universal to the particular. Each disseminator applies a philosophy more narrowly (while implicitly retaining the whole). Socially, the process of dissemination affects more and more people. Thus, in dissemination from a primary philosopher to truck drivers, the philosophical and social hierarchies are parallel.[7]

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

[1] For innovative, general insight into the hierarchy of a philosophical army: Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, hardback, p. 25. To better meet my needs as a student of history, I have added stages in the hierarchy and I have used additional terminology.

[2] For the idea of primary philosophers: Dr. Andrew Bernstein's recorded lecture, "Four Giants of Philosophy"; and Dr. Gary Hull's recorded lecture, "The Two False Theories of Concepts." Both lectures are available from The Ayn Rand Bookstore.

[3] For an example of a primary philosopher's influence, 175 years later, on an academic philosophizer: indirectly, a discussion of work by John Rawls (a Harvard philosophy professor, author of *A Theory of Justice*) in Ayn Rand, "An Untitled Letter," Philosophy: Who Needs it, pp. 131-137 and 140-144. For the transmission and dissemination of Kantianism, from Kant to Rawls: Leonard Peikoff, Ominous Parallel, especially Chs. 2, 6, 14 and 15.

[4] For Galileo as philosopher of science and as scientist: "Preface," William A Wallace, Galileo Logic's of Discovery and Proof: The Background, Content, and Use of His Appropriated Treatises on Aristotle's Posterior Analytics, Vol. 137 (a philosophy of science series), Kluwer Academic Publishers, Boston, 1992. As elsewhere, I am offering this example tentatively. I am not a specialist in any of their philosophies.

[5] For philosophy's effect on the man in the street: Ayn Rand, Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 5 of the title essay.

[6] I have discussed dissemination here only as a process of spreading ideas down a social hierarchy. Dissemination also includes spreading ideas "laterally," for example, tertiary philosophers who have adopted Kant's philosophy may advocate that philosophy to their peers, inside or outside of academia.

[7] "Enablers" can play a role at each stage of dissemination, but without themselves being disseminators of the ideas. For example, a philosophically mute but wealthy businsessman might provide free lodging to a philosopher who is developing a book presenting a key element of his new philosophy; a scientist immersed in his own specialized work might donate part of his salary to an institution dedicated to spreading a particular philosophy; and a carpenter might donate a new philosopher's book to a local library.