I am listening to a free ITunes University lecture series called “History of Philosophy and Christian Thought”. It is really stimulating my thinking. Up until a couple months ago I didn’t really see the importance of studying philosophy. Now I am realizing that philosophy is a great tool to understand what I believe and what others believe, and how to go about reconciling those differences effectively.
Imagine a large pile of papers lying in a room. All of these pieces of paper have some piece of information written on them and represent the thoughts that you have gained over your entire lifetime. When you engage in a conversation with somebody who doesn’t see your perspective, you begin to argue with them by pulling examples from this pile of papers. It’s very difficult to do this quickly and in a coherent way. So, either we say something unintelligible or we don’t say anything at all for fear of saying something unintelligible. Yet, you know that the correct information is in that head of yours somewhere.
All of a sudden a filing cabinet is placed into the room with a sticker that says “My Philosophy” on it. There are 3 drawers on this filing cabinet. One is labeled METAPHYSICS (being). The next one is labeled EPISTEMOLOGY (knowing). The last one is called MORALITY (knowledge).
You then go over to the stack of papers and grab the first one. It says “The sky is blue.” You take that paper and file it inside the METAPHYSICS drawer. Then you grab a 2nd paper. This one says “God is real”. You place that into your EPISTEMOLOGY drawer. You then grab a 3rd paper and it says “Cheating is bad”. You place that into your MORALITY drawer.
You continue to take all of your thoughts and file them into one of these 3 drawers until the stack of papers is gone. In the process of doing this, you have identified your worldview. You can now begin to answer the great questions that everyone in this world deals with. Why is there suffering in the world? Is there a God? Is there such thing as good and evil? What happens when we die?
In my experience, I have filled my drawers (sorry for the poor use of words there) with papers that have scripture written on them. What I know about the physical world, what I consider to be good or bad, and how I know what I know is truth are all derived from revelation in scripture.
This may sound like an irrational statement to some, but only because they have not really considered the true nature of rationality. Everyone in this world starts with a ultimate source of where they get their “truth”. Many believe that the senses can be trusted completely in order to know the truth. I think this is an irrational view because I know clearly there are things in this universe that man does not see, hear, touch, feel, or smell. Nobody experiences the same level of knowledge as someone else. We are all walking around like ignorant children trying to reason that the world is flat and that germs, since they cannot be seen, do not exist. There is much, much more to be learned and to think that we can unveil the truth with our own eyes and see it as it truly is in all aspects, is very irrational. Nobody will ever know everything. I also disagree that we know enough already to take an educated guess at the truth.
My ultimate source of truth is my faith in Christ. If you were to ask me why I believe in Christ, I would say because I believe in Christ. You know you have reached your ultimate truth when you use circular reasoning to rationalize your conclusion. But since Christ is my foundation for truth, I can build upon that statement rationally in order to truly understand the world around me.
If someone does not start with the ultimate foundation that Christ is the truth, then they will come to drastically different conclusions about their understanding of the world. This is exactly why we see so many different, competing worldviews. It is so comforting to know that I am not a reed swaying in the wind but that my foundation is planted on solid rock, whether you believe in that rock or not.
In returning to my filing cabinet example, I want to share that there are certain areas of my knowledge of the world that I am lacking. The difference between knowing everything and what I currently know can be defined as my ignorance. Some of these drawers are a little less empty than others and I am currently making sure that I start filling these with more paper so that I can better explain my worldview coherently to others. I have also recognized a few areas where I believe in something for no rational reason at all. These are the areas of utmost confusion. If I can build up these areas then I will be able to more boldly speak the truth in all circumstances and then apply the truth to my life.
If you are reading this post still and you are confused at anything you just read, this is a perfect example of why philosophy is important. What I have stated here is not a bunch of nonsense. It will help you understand where others are coming from, and what you believe, giving you confidence to speak the truth with precision. That is probably the most rewarding venture I can think of in this life.