What is philosophy?

I have another article about media that I am working on, but I just finished my first paper for my philosophy class, and wanted to share it with you. So, to hold you over here is my insight paper #1, what is philosophy.

The question of what is philosophy is a most difficult one to answer. Philosophers themselves can’t even agree on a proper definition for their field of study. If you look at the breakdown of the word, you get “love of knowledge” which I always thought was an adequate definition, but the more I have thought about it, the more I realize I don’t know what that really means. But perhaps in this lack of understanding, a true definition starts to show itself.

What is philosophy? The basic answer of course to a linguist would be to breakdown the etymology of the word and come to the conclusion of “love of knowledge”. But, the philosopher would argue is more than that. There is a deeper meaning behind the words used or the data given. If a historian were to be asked, they would look to all the definitions in the past and find that answer there. The philosopher does not stay satisfied with the answers given by the past, but instead looks to it and dialogues with it, hopefully coming to a better understanding than that of the past. A scientist might look to the different things philosophy chooses to study, give them labels, and come out with a set of empirically accurate answers as to what philosophy is. Yet when shown these sets of data the philosopher knows that there is something behind the empirical actualities. We can conclude from this, that within philosophy, unlike all the other fields, there is a yearning for the deeper truths of reality. The philosopher realizes that behind the facts and the words there is something deeper to be wrestled with and possibly understood.

So, how then have philosophers defined their field? According to Plato, philosophy is “The acquisition of knowledge1” This argument, taken very much from the roots of the word, on the surface, seems fairly accurate. But, do not biologists go after or acquire knowledge? This definition, although partial does not do justice for the whole of philosophy. According to Nietzsche, “To grasp the limits of reason – only this is truly philosophy.” Nietzsche, in tune with the practices of Socrates who highly endorsed the realization of ignorance, points to a part that is absolutely crucial to philosophy, but just as Plato, does not encompass the entirety of it. For, if philosophy were just a personal endeavor to understand our lack of understanding, then it would end there. There would be no need for discourse or insight, for it would only be a personal perspective issue.

What if then, we were to combine these, with the idea that philosophers strive after something deeper? It is here that a definition starts to appear. It starts with the understanding of our limited understanding, then goes head on into the depths of our clouded perspective, in a desperate hope to have acquired some picture of true knowledge. Philosophy is the understanding of our tainted perspective of reality and the process of learning to see through this perspective, while realizing its existence, to come to a somewhat clearer and much deeper understanding, through critical thought and discourse, of the world in which we live.


Wrestling with G-d: How Satan holds us back from Being Israel

I spent the past few weeks studying the nature of hell and satan. I have also been reading up on the wonderful philosopher and theologian Peter Rollins, specifically his book The Fidelity of Betrayal. I started to notice connections between the writings of Rollins, the articles of Richard Beck on Experimental Theology, and my own personal study of the history of  Satan. Perhaps Satan, or rather our belief in “him”,  is limiting our ability to truly connect with the Biblical narrative in the way our spiritual ancestors have for many years.

To understand this, we must first postulate the idea of Satan being a theodicy. Richard Beck writes at length about this on his blog (linked above). To summarize, there is a deep seeded polarity that comes out of being a monotheistic believer. For if we believe in an all-powerful G-d, who is ultimately in control, then we must believe that all good comes from G-d and all bad comes from G-d. We are stuck simultaneously praising G-d for the wonderful things he brings to us and cursing him over the bad things he does (allows to happen). This has been referred to as the monotheists lament. Beck then goes on to talk about the relationship of the Hebrews and the Persians and how perhaps the character of satan came out of the Hebrews interactions with Zoroastrianism. That it was combining the ditheism of Zoroastrianism with the idea of a one true G-d that satan, a lesser evil was born. We entered into a sort of soft-dualism. We can praise G-d for the good, and curse the devil for the bad.

There is this tension, just like the tension of the monotheist, that runs throughout the Bible. When you look at some of the old testament narratives you find a G-d that seems sometimes to be sporadic, vindictive, and jealous. There are times when G-d is questioned and he concedes, and yet others where he seems to put us humans in our place. He is loving here and then hateful there.  Over the years many have seen these seemingly opposed ideals and have used them to “disprove” the validity of the text. In response Christianity has set out to show that the Bible is a coherent and smooth flowing text. Using the fine arts of Biblical Study, Theology, and Theodicy, we have worked meticulously to show that the text does not contradict itself. But perhaps there is something we are missing if we continually try to show the text as flowing and coherent. Perhaps we miss the beauty in the chaos. The truth in the tension.

There is a story in the old testament about a man who wrestled all night with a stranger. In the end of his struggle he leaves with a blessing. His name becomes Israel for he “struggled with G-d and with men and have overcome.” How interesting it is that this is the name of G-d’s people. What it seems to show is that it is G-d’s will for us to struggle with him, that we are not to be content with an answer. It shows a wonderful way of viewing the bible. We need to be struggling over the text instead of trying to make it easy. For when we engage in the struggle, when we start to question and fight with the text, we are participating in a constantly changing perspective that will lead us to better understand that which we can not understand.

Now, I am not saying we do away with biblical study, or theodicy for that matter. I have my own ways of answering some of these questions, which include free will and not super-spiritualizing everything. I believe it was the earth shifting that caused the earthquake in Haiti, not G-d. I can admit that I have my fair share of Theodicy. But what I am saying, just as Rollins says is that perhaps we need to have a second naïvety, where we set aside these intellectual comforts and engage the text as it is: Dirty, Scary, and real. If we set aside Satan doing it, or us doing it, or the biblical writers adding it, or whatever you use to make sense of things and just let it not make sense, it is there that I believe that the bible becomes the Word of G-d. It is there that we start to see the text come to life. It is there, in wrestling with G-d and his word, that we start to move beyond belief, and we start to glimpse that which we cannot fully see.