Why Philosophy?: Some Initial Thoughts on Philosophy’s Value

The following question was recently posted in a forum on Facebook:

How would you argue that knowing philosophy, both Christian and secular, is important for the enrichment of Christian life?

The question is a valid one, particularly when one considers how modern philosophy has sought to discredit many of the claims of Christianity. However, just because some philosophers have used philosophy against Christianity doesn’t mean that philosophy itself is the problem. Rather, it is the philosopher. That is, philosophy (in part) is the pursuit of and application of wisdom–of truth.

Where philosophy goes wrong (again, in part) is when the philosopher accepts and supports assertions that are antithetical to the revealed word of God. In Colossians 2:8, Paul does not warn the believer against philosophy in general; rather, he warns believers against philosophy that is devoid of Jesus Christ. Philosophy, rightly under the authority of God’s Word, can be – and ought to be – a boon to Christian theology and practice. In this light, here is an edited response I provided to the question above:

The answer to the question is more complex than it seems. For instance, it depends on how you define “philosophy.” I know this may seem to be splitting hairs, but if you were to do a brief survey, there is no consensus on how to define “philosophy.” (this deserves a post in itself). Nevertheless, if we use the classic definition of philosophy – “the love of wisdom” – then philosophy’s value can be seen as follows:

  1. Life’s ultimate questions – as Solomon says in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun, and this includes the questions that plague humanity since the dawn of time. While God’s Word has given us the answers to these questions (what is the really real? What is the nature of a human? What happens after death?), philosophy elaborates on these questions. For instance, if there is a spiritual realm of reality and a material realm, how do they intersect? Etc.
  2. History of ideas. Related to #1 is that philosophy can be seen, in part, as the history of ideas. Ideas have consequences, and ideas are born out of specific contexts. What we see in today’s culture, economics, etc. didn’t just “happen”, they are the result of ideas manifested in action. It behooves us to study philosophy to see how we go to where we are today. We can also confront wrong ideas, for spiritual warfare includes the battle of ideas. To more effectively engage the culture with the truth of God, we need to understand the ungodly ideas that are out there.
  3. Disciplining your thinking. Thinking – we all do that. But, some think better (if I can use that word) than others. That is, some are more disciplined to think through a problem, or question, or idea, before responding. We tend to want to react to ideas, but philosophy helps one to temper their reaction with thoughtful responses (ideally).

Those are just three points that come to mind. There are more. What should be emphasized is that philosophy is not an end to itself. Many see philosophy as the pinnacle of all disciplines, as if gaining wisdom were the goal. Rather, as we see in Scripture, wisdom is not just having the knowledge; rather, it is living out what one has learned. That is, wisdom is obeying and embodying the Word of God. So, philosophy (from a Christian perspective) ought to be a servant to theology–philosophy should aid and serve one’s understanding of God and his revelation, thus impacting how one acts and lives in the world.

How one defines philosophy is actually an ongoing debate within philosophy itself, as well as identifying the value of philosophy in the pursuit of truth. The field of study that seeks to address these issues is called metaphilosophy. While the nature of philosophy (and its value) was virtually unquestioned for centuries, the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution forced thinkers to address the issues of metaphilosophy – issues that are still relevant today. As this website matures and progresses, it is my goal to extensively address these issues of metaphilosophy.

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