Ionian Philosophy and It’s Influence on Greek thought.

August 31, 2006

In A History of Philosophy:Vol. 1, Frederick Copleston ruminates on Ionian Philosophy.  Coming from a Thomist position himself, he sees much value in an awareness, understanding and deep appreciation for the roots of philosophy.  According to him, to be a good philosopher is to have a knowledge of the historical context of philosophy, a “sympathetic” or intimate knowledge of the inner workings of any given philosopher’s life as well as the language he or she use(d) and the implications of what was said or written.

Trying to embody this himself, Copleston moves onward to enumerate different beliefs of the earliest philosophers Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes.  In describing their efforts to greater understand the nature of reality, Copleston presents some information that will be of no surprise to the advanced philosophy student, but is of great help to newer students approaching the history of philosophy.

In the midst of an effort to reduce all that exists and find commonality these philosophers arrived at differing views.  For instance, Thales viewed that the one common element of all of reality was water.  He believed the earth floated like a disc on water.  In trying to discover the source of Thales belief, Aristotle said that he got “the notion perhaps from seeing that the nutriment of all things is moist, and that heat itself is generated from the moist and kept alive by it.  He got his notion from this fact, and from the fact that the seeds of all things have a moist nature, and water is the origin of the nature of moist things.”

On the other hand, Anaximenes believed the primary stuff underlying all to be air and supported this conclusion with the proofs of “condensation” and “rarefraction”.  He knew that air was not seen but that it could take the form of water under certain circumstances.  Moreover, when “condensed: even further it would take the form of a solid.  However, when air became “rarefied” it became warmer and would eventually would lead to fire.

Finally, Anaximander took a different route by proposing the primary element was “indeterminate”.  Whatever it was that was indeterminate was the source out of which things like water, fire, earth, and air came.  Copleston notes that Anaximander was the first to speak of this as the “material cause.”  “It is neither water nor any other of the so-called elements, but a nature different from them and infinite, from which arise all the heavens and worlds within them.”  This concept has been called the “indeterminate infinite.” It was further described as “the substance without limits, Eternal and ageless”, and it “encompasses all worlds.”

While all three of these options were of interest to me, of particular interest was Anaximander’s option.  To me this sounds a lot like the unmoved mover that I from a Judeo-Christian background would hold as the first cause.  Is it the case that later philosophers drew on this idea of Anaximander?  If so, is there any documentation or sources that mention this possibility?


New Blog

August 25, 2006

For those of you die-hard/fanatical molinists out there, check out and add it to your blogroll.

Heresy Free!!

August 25, 2006
You scored as Chalcedon compliant. You are Chalcedon compliant. Congratulations, you’re not a heretic. You believe that Jesus is truly God and truly man and like us in every respect, apart from sin. Officially approved in 451.

Chalcedon compliant

Are you a heretic?
created with

Finally, absolute, infallible, unerring proof that I am not a heretic!  Phew!

Intelligent Design Causes Cancer!!

August 22, 2006

More over at Telic Thoughts

The Myth of the Great Fall

August 17, 2006

There seems to be an enduring myth accepted by many evangelicals that the Church, soon after the apostles, “fell” and that this period of ecclesiastical degeneration lasted until the Reformation in the sixteenth century.  Accordingly, this view says, much of what took place in this intervening period was either irrelevant, un-Christian, heretical, or all of the above.  Nevertheless, we are told, somehow a tiny “remnant” of true believers survived as flickers of light in this overwhelming period of darkness.

D. H. Williams points out two shortcomings in this view:

1.  It creates a gulf between Protestantism and its patristic foundation

2.  It has spawned dreadful ahistorical interpretations of Church history based on a kind of spiritual successionist model that somehow connects the Day of Penetcost (Acts 2) directly with the present day Church (or certain present Protestant denominations).

nuff said.  

Review of Simply Christian

August 15, 2006


Seldom does a scholar emerge whose cogitating and insightful research yields results on par with great thinkers such as C.S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton. Yet in his thoughtful new book, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, the Bishop of Durham, N. T. Wright, paints a picture stroked equally by the brushes of historical theology and dogmatic theology, framed within a lucid and logical method. While engaging and enlightening for those familiar with the information imparted, Wright’s book still is able to present the Christian faith in an introductory, yet, holistic manner, even for those with very little exposure to Orthodoxy. Wright notes that his “aim has been to describe what Christianity is all about, both to commend it to those outside the faith and to explain it to those inside” (p. ix).

The book itself is constructed of three different sections. Part One, Echoes of a Voice, deals with what Wright calls “the longing for justice, the quest for spirituality, the hunger for relationships, and the delight in beauty.” The idea developed here is that there exists what Wright refers to as “signposts”, which point to something. Being quite like a “dream” experienced but not remembered, they leave us in a hazy place, in a sense of perplexity. He exposes many of the common broken elements (the echoes) that humans uncover upon introspection. These broken elements, which are common to humanity, can only be “put to rights” when our sense of perplexity collides with the truth covered in the next section.

Part Two, Staring at the Sun, is an attempt to clear some of the perplexity by offering the Christian view of God as an answer. One idea introduced in this section is that of God as found in “Option Three.” This option avoids the pitfalls of the other two, Deism and Pantheism/Panentheism, by providing a balanced picture of how God is related to his creation. He states:

To speak of God’s action in the world, of heaven’s action (if you like) on earth—and Christians speak of this every time they say the Lord’s prayer—is to speak not of an awkward metaphysical blunder, nor of a “miracle” in the sense of a random invasion of earth by alien (‘supernatural’) forces, but to speak of the loving Creator acting within the creation which has never lacked the signs of his presence. It is to speak, in fact, of such actions as might be expected to leave echoes. Echoes of a voice (p. 65-66).

With this backdrop, the reader is then guided into an understanding of God through the framework of Israel as described through four themes: “king, temple, torah, and new creation.”  Next Jesus is expounded upon in relation to the Kingdom of God and his “vocational” part in the “rescue and renewal” plan for humanity, which include the giving of and living in the Spirit.
Part Three, Reflecting the Image, is all about how to practically be the “new creation.” One of those ways is through worship, which when done through different means (song, Scripture, and the breaking of bread), demonstrates that “because you were made in God’s image, worship makes you more truly human” (p.148). Again with the backdrop of “Option Three” (that of a God intimately involved in Creation) in mind, Wright reflects upon prayer and the Bible, including a brief historical overview of Scripture and a treatment of inspiration and interpretation. Then, to cap off the discussion, he ends with an aptly named chapter, “New Creation, Starting Now”.
Simply Christian is a must read for any person already in the family of faith or seeking to make sense of the Christian message. It will, for good reason, go down as the classical Christian text for this generation.

Stump on the Nature of Faith

August 13, 2006

Coptic Image of the CrucifixionEleonore Stump in her recent work sketches an account of Aquinas’ teaching on faith that is as fascinating as it is puzzling.  The very thing that fascinates in Aquinas’ view (that the will moves the intellect to assent to propositions that it would otherwise not have) is the thing that puzzles the most (just how is the resulting belief justified?).

The Will and the Intellect

Stump explains the complicated interaction between the will and the intellect in Aquinas: Far from being unrelated faculties operating exclusively in their own spheres, the will often works with the intellect to form beliefs.  In such instances, the will can command the intellect to attend or to refrain from attending to something.  But even more than that, the will sometimes has a direct role to play in the intellect assenting to certain propositions.  This is clear when Aquinas describes the nature of faith. 

Now according to Aquinas, intellectual assent can be brought about in different ways.  For example, assent to a proposition can be brought about by the object of the intellect itself.  Such is the case when an individual assents to first principles (those propositions or assumptions that are not derived from any other) or to the conclusions of demonstrations.  Here, the first principles or conclusions are themselves sufficient to move the intellect to assent.  There is yet another way intellectual assent can be obtained.  In this second way, it is not the object of the intellect that moves the intellect, but the will itself.  “[I]n such a case”, Stump says, “the intellect assents to one proposition rather than another under the influence of the will and on the basis of considerations sufficient to move the will but not the intellect” (emphasis mine). 

Faith and the Will

Stump gives an example:

In George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Dorothea Casaubon finds her friend and admirer Will Ladislaw in a compromising embrace with the wife of one of his friends.  Although it is possible (and in the novel is in fact the case) that there is an exonerating explanation of Ladislaw’s conduct, the evidence available to Dorothea strongly suggests that Ladislaw’s behavior is treacherous.  But because of her commitment to him, Dorothea, in spite of the evidence, cleaves to her view that Ladislaw is a good man, not a scoundrel and a traitor.  As becomes clear to Dorothea and to the reader of the novel, Dorothea’s belief based on her desires about her relationship to Ladislaw is veridical.  Without the influence of her will on her intellect, Dorothea would have formed a false belief about Ladislaw.

Dorothea’s attitude toward Ladislaw, Stump says, illustrates the will’s role in faith.  The propositions of the faith, say, the proposition ‘Jesus is the Son of God’, is not sufficient to move the intellect (in this life).  But this proposition is sufficient to move the will.  The intellect assents to such a proposition, but only because the will has directed it to do so.  This then, is the nature of faith.

Now it is evident that the proposition, “Jesus is the Son of God,” is sufficient to move the will if we understand Aquinas’ view of the will.  According to Thomas, the will by nature is an appetite for the good.  The will esteems that the greatest of goods is the happiness of the willer.  But it is also manifest that the greatest good is God Himself, so union with God is perfect happiness for the willer.  The proposition, “Jesus is the Son of God” then, directs the willer to the highest Good and the will, because of its natural hunger for goodness, is inclined to be moved by it.

Stump realizes, however, that there is a serious problem to address: This account seems to leave faith as having no epistemic justification.  Moreover, Aquinas seems to invite the charge that religious belief is simply a case of wish fulfillment.  For if the believer’s intellectual assent to the proposition, “Jesus is the Son of God” is primarily the result of the will, then what reasons are there to suppose that the proposition is justified for her?