History of Philosophy and Christian Thought - Lesson 31


The fundamental idea of skepticism is that no one can know anything. Augustine this statement contradicts itself because the skeptic is claiming that you can know that you can't know anything.

Ronald Nash
History of Philosophy and Christian Thought
Lesson 31
Watching Now

Augustinian Philosophy

Part 7

VII. Skepticism

A. Self-contradictory

1. No one can know anything.

2. Do you know this?

B. If I am wrong, I still am.

1. One thing that everyone knows

2. Solipsism

3. Comparison to Descartes

  • Thales and Anaximander were two philosophers in the sixth century BC that lived in Miletus.

  • Heraclitus and Pythagoras lived into the 5th century BC.

  • Any worldview addresses the subjects of God, ultimate reality, human knowledge, ethics and human persons.

  • Fundamental beliefs of a naturalistic worldview is that nothing exists outside the physical universe and that all things evolved.

  • Plato was a student of Socrates and lived into the fourth century BC. He opposed hedonism, empiricism, relativism, materialism, atheism and naturalism.

  • Plato described the universe as having three levels: the world of particulars, the world of forms, and the form of the good.

  • Plato's view of the universe was dualistic.

  • One of Plato's fundamental arguments is that the human soul is immortal.

  • Evaluation of Plato's arguments and comparison of Plato's philosophy with biblical theology.

  • Empiricism teaches that all human knowledge arises from sense experience. Rationalism teaches that some human knowledge does not arise from sense. experience

  • Aristotle was a student of Plato and lived in the fourth century BC.

  • Aristotle rejected Plato's doctrine of two worlds.

  • Discussion of Aristotelian philosophy as it relates to the incarnation.

  • Aristotle's philosophy as it relates to attributes of God and fundamental assumptions about psychology.

  • Aristotle made a distinction between passive intellect and active intellect.

  • Discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the law of non-contradiction.

  • Discussion of the nature and substance of matter.

  • Hellenistic philosophy was an approach that was popular from the fourth century BC to the fifth century AD.

  • Stoics were determinists who believed in living according to nature.

  • Hedonism emphasized pleasure as the greatest good. "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we might be dead."

  • Philo's philosophy was based on a synthesis of Stoicism and Platonism.

  • Implicit "Logos" Christianity is an underlying theme in the book of Hebrews.

  • Plotinus lived in the third century AD and is considered the founder of Neoplatonism.

  • Augustine is a Latin church father, is considered by many to be one of the most important figures in the development of Western Christianity.

  • Augustine wrote Confessions as an autobiographical work to record his experience as a sinful youth and his experience becoming a follower of Christ.

  • Augustine wrote to refute some heresies of the day by focusing on the concepts of faith and reason.

  • Augustine writes about the problem of evil and describes evil as the absence of good.

  • Augustine writes to refute Pelagianism by focusing on the biblical teaching about sin.

  • Augustine writes to refute Donatism.

  • The fundamental idea of skepticism is that no one can know anything. Augustine this statement contradicts itself because the skeptic is claiming that you can know that you can't know anything.

  • When Augustine wrote "The City of God," he had a linear view of history.

  • In Augustine's theory of knowledge, he says that eternal reason and human reason are two different levels of reason.

  • Augustine was personally convinced of the importance of divine illumination.

  • The intellectual background of Thomas Aquinas was influenced by the discovery of ancient manuscripts, the rise of universities, the rise of religious brotherhoods and the rise of Muslim philosophy.

  • Aquinas describes faith as whatever a human can know through special revelation, and reason as whatever a human can know outside of special revelation.

  • Aquinas attempts to prove God's existence.

  • Aquinas describes four kinds of law as eternal, divine, natural and positive.

  • The rationalists and empiricists set the stage for Kant and other philosophers of the modern era.

  • Kant argued that moral requirements are based on a standard of rationality he dubbed the “Categorical Imperative."

  • Kants two worlds are the phenomenal world and the noumenal world.

  • Discussion of criticisms and questions about Kant's ideas.

  • Similarities between Kant's ideas and postmodernism.

  • The dialectic is a central idea in Hegel's philosophy.

  • Ideally, Marxism begins with class struggle, then revolution, dictatorship of the proletariat, withering away of the state, and a utopian classless society.

  • Discussion of four faces of Marxism.

  • Nietzsche proclaimed that, "God is dead." His cure was to live life knowing there is no ultimate meaning. Kierkegaard emphasized a worldview based on true faith.

In this class, you will explore the rich history of philosophy and its relationship with Christian thought. The course begins with an introduction to the definition and importance of philosophy in Christian theology. You will then delve into the evolution of philosophical thought from the Pre-Socratic era, through the Classical Greek philosophers, and into the Hellenistic period. As you progress, you will discover how early Christian thought emerged and developed during the Patristic period, with a special focus on Augustine. The class continues with an examination of medieval Christian thinkers, such as Anselm and Thomas Aquinas, and concludes with an analysis of modern philosophers like Descartes, Kant, and Kierkegaard, and their influence on contemporary Christian thought.

Two other books that are recommended reading for this class are Confessions by Augustine and Phaedo by Plato.


Recommended Books

The Gospel and the Greeks: Did the New Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought?

The Gospel and the Greeks: Did the New Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought?

Examines contemporary claims for Christian dependence on Hellenistic philosophy, Greco-Roman mystery religions, and Gnosticism. He finds the case for dependence in the...

The Gospel and the Greeks: Did the New Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought?
The Word of God and the Mind of Man

The Word of God and the Mind of Man

The last two centuries of Christian theology are the record of an evolving attack on the role of knowledge in the Christian faith. The purpose of this book is to challenge...

The Word of God and the Mind of Man
Life's Ultimate Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy

Life's Ultimate Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy

Life's Ultimate Questions is unique among introductory philosophy textbooks. By synthesizing three distinct approaches

  • topical, historical, and...
  • Life's Ultimate Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy
    The Meaning of History

    The Meaning of History

    The Meaning of History is a concise look at the meaning of the history of the world from the viewpoints of major historians and philosophers. By examining the individual...

    The Meaning of History

    Dr. Ronald Nash

    History of Philosophy and Christian Thought



    Lesson Transcript

    [00:00:02] Let me say a word or two about Augustine's criticisms of skepticism. This is important stuff. After a Guston turned away from Manichean ism and you must understand that he had he had privately in his own heart, broken with Manichean ism probably two years before he made it public. The reason he got the job as public order in Milan was big was due to the intervention of Manichean friends, but he himself had privately turned away from Manichean ism. He just hadn't told his friends. So after he abandoned Manichean ism, he became a skeptic. That was one of those five Hellenistic systems that I told you about. And therefore, after his conversion, the first book he started to write was a book called Contra Academics. Contra Academics, meaning against the Skeptics. See, there were two kinds of skepticism, and I will not ask you this again. There was a form of philosophical skepticism that was unrelated to Plato's Academy, but the major form of skepticism in the world during that time, that century was an offshoot of stuff that had happened within Plato's Academy. This is hard to believe when you first hear it. Plato's Academy continued to exist until five. I'm going to say 529. I can't remember everything. It was it was within one or two years of 529 A.D. But long before Plato's Academy was closed down, it had become a center, a hotbed of a philosophical position that was actually the opposite of what Plato had taught. Plato's whole position was opposed to skepticism. Plato's whole system intended to lay a foundation that explained how human knowledge was possible. The forms and all of that stuff that you've learned about skepticism taught that no one can know anything, that skepticism, no one can know anything.


    [00:02:32] Now, the first and major criticism of skepticism and this is somewhat ironic, does not appear in Augustine's writings. He writes a whole book attacking skepticism, but he doesn't use the best argument. The best argument against skepticism is this. It is self-contradictory. If you say no one can know anything, you can refute this by asking just one simple question of the person who says this. And that question is, Do you know this? Now follow me here. All right. This is this is good stuff. The guy says no one can know anything. Oh, really? Do you know that? Do you know this? Now he's only got two possible answers. If he says yes, then he's contradicting himself. He's saying yes. I know that no one can know anything, which immediately identifies him as a bozo of the first magnitude. Do you want to stand? No one can know anything. And I know that No one can know anything. If this if this guy doesn't understand how he's contradicting himself, get away from him quickly. Don't ever get on an airplane with a person like this. But he's only if once he sees the contradiction, he's only got one other answer. No one can know anything. Do you know that? No, of course not. Do you think I'd contradict myself? In other words, he's saying, I don't know what I'm talking about. Now. I don't know about you, but my mother taught me never to. Never to fellowship with an idiot. All right, So no one can know anything. Do you and all that? No. Never argue with someone who admits he has no idea what he's talking about. Now, for some reason, Augustine doesn't use that argument. I guess he doesn't use it because it hadn't occurred to anybody yet.


    [00:04:38] Well, you don't have that excuse anymore. But here are some of Augustine's other criticisms, although, frankly, now that I think about it, the second objection doesn't appear in contra academic course either. It appears in his book The City of God. And this is a this is a beautiful refutation, but it came to Augustine years later and expressed the second criticism by using this Latin expression, See Thal or song, I'm going to I'm going to I'm going to translate this and I'm going to tell you what it means if I am to see if I am wrong. If I am mistaken, I still am hears Augustine's point, even if I am wrong about everything else in life, if I'm wrong about who the current president is, if I'm wrong about who won the World Series, if I'm wrong about the year in which Mark McGwire announced his retirement. Did you hear about that today? What a great hitter he was. Even if I'm wrong about everything else, there is one thing in life about which I can never be mistaken. And if there is one thing in life about which I can never be mistaken, then I know it. And if there is one thing in life that I know, then skepticism can't be true. Because skepticism says I can't know anything. But there is one thing that everybody knows, and you know what that is? He knows that he exists. This is true story. I was once speaking in California at an apologetics conference and it was time to break for lunch. And I was having lunch with a guy who worked for what ministry? Oh, the U. Ross ministry. Yeah. Now, you, Ross is a pretty well known Christian apologist. In fact, I write for you.


    [00:06:53] I write regular column for you right across magazine. And I just forgot the ministry to which this kid that I was having lunch with worked for. Now, what this kid did was his task was to take letters from crazy viewers of Hugh Ross's TV program and answer them. And he asked for my help. And I said, Well, what's your problem? He says, Well, Dr. Nass, I I've got this crazy person who keeps writing me. And I keep coming up with every argument that I can. And he he won't shut up. I said, Well, what's his problem? True story. I'm not making this up. He said, This guy is a solipsistic now. Now, let me tell you what a solipsism is. A solipsism is a person who believes that he is alone in the universe, a subsist as a person. This is a true story. Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher who changed his philosophy every time he changed mistresses. Ooh, that's true. Once wrote a book in which he argued for solipsism. And a lady wrote him a letter and she said, Dr. Russell, your arguments on behalf of solipsism are so powerful, Why can't we convince anybody else that they're true? Now, if you're not laughing, you know, you probably do not have a future in philosophy. All right. It's that simple. You're in the wrong course. You don't see the Juma of that. Anyway, I gave that. I told this kid how to answer this weird solipsism. I said, write him this letter. Dear Mr. Smith, I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is you've convinced me that solipsism is true. The bad news is, since you no longer exist, I'm not going to write you anymore. All right.


    [00:09:04] Someday I got to write it. I got to run into that guy and tell him if that. If that did any any any good by that. I'm sorry, but that's good stuff right there. And it really happened once in a while. I can be funny. But here's the point. You can't listen. You cannot be wrong about anything unless you exist. Write that down. And give me credit. No, I'm. I'm stealing from somebody else. If you are wrong about something else, there's something that you can't be wrong about, and that is your own existence. What about René Descartes, the French philosopher who died in 1650. Who seems to have stolen from Augustine? Okay. But who denies stealing from Augustine? Well, there are some things I like about Descartes. At least his book, The Meditations. But Descartes did steal from Augustine. Augustine would have put it this way. We're still talking Latin, and you all are learning a whole lot about Latin from this course. Agustin would have said, Do battle, ergo. So he never wrote this particular sentence, but that I doubt. Therefore I am okay if I'm well or c foul or some if I make a mistake, I still must exist. Nonexistent. People don't make mistakes. Nonexistent people can't be wrong. Okay. But Descartes, he wrote Cogito ergo sum, which means I think. Therefore I am. I think, therefore I am. So there's Augustine on skepticism. Don't ever become a skeptic. Don't ever become a skeptic.