The other I was having a conversation with a woman I interact with regularly for work, in the midst of small talk it came up that I was a graduate student. Being a kind and polite person she asked me what I study. My response caused a visible facial reaction, followed soon by “why?” in a voice that informed me of her exact opinions on the subject matter. I kept my composure and gave a few reason for why I study philosophy.
- To Study Reality
There are a number of reasons most of us don’t think about philosophy as the study of reality: we surrendered claims about reality to science, lots of philosophers are intelligent morons, other philosophers spend inordinate amounts of time and ink arguing things like “numbers don’t exist” or “the world is only physical”, which seem so distant from the man-on-the-street’s concern that there is little reason to believe they or their field could be any help. But the truth is that philosophy does in fact study reality and it studies it in both a higher level cognitive fashion and a practical, application friendly fashion. The higher level version talks about knowledge—what we can know, how we can know it, and why it matters—and existence—what exists and what doesn’t. These fields are called epistemology and metaphysics respectively. The practical side is more familiar, it is ethics. Though even ethics is often misunderstood. We usually think of ethics as doing the right thing, but the actual question that underlies ethics is ‘what is the good life?’ Though that is a classical way of formulating the question, I happen to like it, but we could contextualize it to today by asking, ‘what is the fulfilling life?’ It doesn’t get more practical than that.
- To Study Thinking
If you have followed my blog for a while or just been poking around, you may know that I want to plant and pastor a church. A big part of being a pastor is understanding people, the way they think, and, I believe, helping them to think rightly. In order to do this you need to know how people think and how to analyze thinking; much of this will involve the philosophical sub-discipline logic. With proper application, logic helps us track a line of thinking (or an action or manner of behavior) and understand the argument embedded in it. When we trace it to its root we find a worldview, the lens though which someone sees and, therefore, understands the world. All of us live out of an inconsistent worldview. In fact, for the Christian, transgression of God’s law is an act of inconstancy of worldview. Transgression or sin comes out when we forget or lose sight of the truths of the gospel that make up out worldview. An aspect of the pastor’s job is to use the ministries of the church (preaching, counseling, sacraments) to draw out worldview inconsistencies and replace them with gospel-centered, biblically-based, theologically-informed, and philosophically-coherent beliefs. Sometimes this means pointing out that false beliefs, sometimes it means reminding people the truths of the gospel and admonishing them to purse Christ.
- To Study Belief
As a Christian and an aspiring pastor, belief is very important to me, it is also a crucial concept in philosophy. As such I am able to analyze it as a concept and understand what beliefs are and how they work. This in turn helps me preach, counsel, and evangelize.
- To Know Truth (The Handmaiden of Theology)
I have a B.A. in biblical studies and a M.A. in theology, so why get another M.A. in philosophy? Because philosophy helps me understand, clarify, and refine my theology, which is another way of saying that philosophy helps me to see, know, and communicate the truths of the Bible. The separation of philosophy and theology has caused both to suffer, I am studying with and under godly men who have sought to bring theology and philosophy back together and place them in the right order (philosophy as the handmaiden of theology). When philosophy is divorced from or placed over theology, it runs amuck, that is, it posits asinine things: all the universe is physical, there is no truth, autonomy of the individual is more important than the survival of the group. Theology without philosophy might fair a bit better, but ultimately its prospects are all that great either. For example how does one explain the doctrine of the Trinity without philosophical categories like essence, being, personhood, unity, and diversity? Brought together though, theology and philosophy make a beautiful pair that rely on the Bible for truth, but are also able to clarify and articulate that truth in a manner that impacts lives.
So that’s why I study philosophy.
Thanks for reading,