History of Philosophy and Christian Thought - Lesson 39


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

Ronald Nash
History of Philosophy and Christian Thought
Lesson 39
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Modern Philosophy

I. Rationalists

A. Spinoza

B. Descartes

C. Leibniz

II. Empiricists

A. Locke

B. Berkeley

C. Hume

III. Philosophical Background to Kant

A. Theory of Ideas

B. The Problem of the External World

C. The Problem of Other Minds

  • 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.

Dr. Ronald Nash
History of Philosophy and Christian Thought
Lesson Transcript


[00:00:01] We're going to skip to the period of philosophy that is known as modern philosophy. And in almost every course that is ever taught about modern philosophy, the material that I'm going to give you in the next 5 minutes appears, although it is usually spread out over many weeks. One of the things that historians of modern philosophy do is divide the major philosophical thinkers between 1618 hundred into two groups. Okay, so philosophers talk, on the one hand about three continental rationalists. Here's the reasoning behind that label. Number one, they were rationalists. Okay, Spinoza is a little bit out of sync with the other guys. Descartes and LIBE Nuts are rationalists more in the sense that I represent Spinoza isn't. They're also called continental rationalists because they all lived on the European continent. See how easy this stuff is? Descartes. And get this in your notes, because, boy, these are quiz questions for next week. Descartes was a Frenchman and a Roman Catholic. In fact, if you ever are a guest on Jeopardy, one of his writings is often described as the first major writing in the French language. Most other well, prior to Descartes, philosophical writing in the area, the continent and Britain was, you know, was written in Latin. Descartes was also Roman Catholic. The extent to which he was a Roman Catholic is somewhat up for debate. Roman Catholics tend to regard him as an enemy. But, you know, he was I'm sure he got the last rites of the Catholic Church. He was he went to a Jesuit college and so on. So there's René Descartes. Spinoza was a Jew. He was born in Spain. He then moved to Holland or the present day Netherlands. But he was a heretical Jew. He was a pantheism.


[00:02:26] That is. His reflections about philosophy led him to equate God and the world, and for very good reason. Then he was excommunicated from the synagogue. He died at a very early age. He died at the age of 45. He made his living. Incidentally, the first real professional philosophers that you have on this list would be limits and cut the Germans until you get to seventh German philosophy in the 17th century. Most philosophers earn their living doing something else. Some not. These guys? Well, yes. George Barkley was a bishop in the Anglican Church, but other people whose names do not appear on the list were pastors. For example, there was a a pretty major Scottish philosopher named Thomas Read. We don't have to worry about him here, but he he pastored occasionally Presbyterian churches. So we got Descartes, the Roman Catholic Frenchman, Spinoza, the Jewish, Spain, Holland and Leyden. It's Gottfried, Wilhelm Leyden. It's a German Protestant, which I presume means he was Lutheran. Okay. Because in, in in the German area of the world back then, you were either a Roman Catholic or you were Lutheran. If you were from Northern Germany, you were probably Lutheran. If you were from some southern Germany, such as Bavaria, the Munich area, you were a Roman Catholic. Notice the dates here. They Descartes 1596 to 1650. All of these guys had something to do with the 17th century, even though limits as life went into the 18th century. Then there are three British empiricists. 18th century British empiricist, because their lives can be related primarily to the 1700s. And Locke, the first of these guys, just squeezes in. John Locke was an Englishman. George Berkeley was an Irishman, and David HUME was a Scotsman. Locke is interesting because and you certainly know by now that I have little empathy for any empiricist.


[00:05:02] But having said that, Locke is interesting because his parents were Puritans. His parents were involved in the English Civil War that led to the to the execution of King Charles, the first. And if if you know anything about English history, you know how fascinating those those periods of time were. John Locke, it appears, came then from a Christian home, was educated in a Puritan college at either Oxford or Cambridge. I can't remember everything. So he had a grounding in scripture. But it appears as though near the end of his life, he wandered away from an orthodox view of Jesus. And he's sometimes described as an early deist. And there's no need for us in history of philosophy, of course, to many of you know what deism was. So Locke is often described and viewed as turning somewhat liberal near the end of his life. He probably did not hold a biblical view of the deity of Jesus Christ, or so it appears. George Berkeley, on the other hand, was a very orthodox, a very theologically conservative bishop in the Anglican Church. One of the things that's most about Berkeley, Berkeley, Berkeley let me explain my confusion there for reasons that I have never been able to discover. George Berkeley was the source for the name of Berkeley, California. Now, if you're going to get the name Berkeley, why don't you pronounce it from Berkeley? Why don't you call it. Berkeley, California. Berkeley is the only great philosopher prior to the 20th century to visit America. His reason for coming to the American colonies was to establish a missionary training school, a kind of college to educate Indians in New England. He had a a missionary burden for Native Americans in the New England area. I used to use a textbook in this course called Socrates to Sartre, written by a man named Samuel Stumpf, who had Presbyterian background roots but became somewhat liberal, I understand, in his theology.


[00:07:53] That book is the only book I have ever found that says that George Berkeley, while he was in New England, actually met Jonathan Edwards. One reason I'm fascinated about that is because Jonathan Edwards philosophy is often misrepresented. It's misrepresented as a as a spin off from Locke's theories. But the truth is that the mature Jonathan Edwards owed far more in his philosophy to the thinking of George Berkeley than he did to John Locke. And I just sometimes I have students in this course who write research papers about George Berkeley. There may be one or two in that stack of papers, you know, in the other building, and many of them have tried to research the question. Did George Berkeley actually meet Jonathan Edwards and was there some kind of serious influence? And the really frustrating thing is there isn't a source that anybody can find other than Stump's book that suggests that relationship and even Stumpf fails to give any footnotes. So where'd he get it from? George Berkeley is also interesting because he argued that material things do not exist. By material things we mean solid like turn solid tables. Everything Berkeley argued that exists is really just an idea that exists, first of all, in the mind of God and then secondly in the minds of human perceives. But because we've lost about a week of time during the semester, I'm not going to have time to go into Barclays. Very interesting ideas. David HUME So Locke was an Englishman, Berkeley was an Irishman. David HUME was a Scotsman. I find him very fascinating, even though I'm a rationalist. Okay. Lightning slip. Clear. I'm never going to visit Lynette's grave. Wherever it is, I'm never going to visit the card's grave. I'm certainly not going to go to Spinoza's grave.


[00:10:19] But I have visited Hume's grave on several occasions because it's in one of my favorite cities Edinburgh, Scotland. It's a fascinating grave, and because I visited there back and way back in 1956 when I was preaching in Edinburgh. And so when I took my family back a couple of times to Edinburgh, we always made a little pilgrimage to Hume's grave, even though he was an enemy of the Christian faith. Okay. I like to visit the graves of famous people. Among the other famous people buried in Edinburgh is Adam Smith, who, in the same year that HUME died in 1776, Adam Smith wrote the book The Wealth of Nations, which many people regard as the first definitive explanation of capitalism. Let me explain this arrow between light nets and lock. You might think that these two guys, Leiden, it's coming at the bottom of this list lock coming at the top of this list that these two guys lived separate lives. The truth is that Light notes during his lifetime wrote an amazingly perceptive rebuttal of Locke's empiricism. Locke's major book was called Essays Concerning Human Understanding. I don't think I'm ever going to ask you the title of that book. It was, I think, a particularly bad defense of empiricism. It was a very bad attack upon rationalism. It's embarrassingly bad. So. LYDEN It's answered Locke, by writing new essays concerning human understanding. And in fact, I was just looking at those two books in my on my office shelf this morning. And I said to myself, I got to take Leibniz's book home and I've got to read it Just I mean, that's that's a philosophical classic. I've got to go back and reread again. Now, when people teach the history of modern philosophy, they go through these guys maybe spending a week on each of them.


[00:12:31] Some of you have taken the history of philosophy and you you have seen that happen. We can't do that because we've spent, what, 12 of our weeks just getting through the Middle Ages, just getting through Augustine. But then the claim is made that what Immanuel Kant did was integrate the best elements of rationalism and integrate the best elements of empiricism, thus ensuring him a place in the Philosophical Hall of Fame. Right. Actually, that's a misinterpretation of cart when I get to cart. I will explain that even though there are elements of rationalism and cart, he really turns out to be in the final analysis and empiricist. Okay, so we'll explain that. Now, you do have a lot of material in Chapter 11 on David HUME. I want you to read that stuff carefully. But before I actually begin, Scott, I want to explain three additional points that appear near the beginning of Chapter 11. And the reason is this unless I explain these three points, you really won't appreciate many of the things that I say about Kant. And so I have to I have to make some brief comments. So if you've got your textbook open to 253, the three things I want to discuss are, number one, the theory of ideas. The theory of ideas. Now, this theory was prominent. Get this in Descartes, in Locke, and certainly in Rome. But Burke, Berkeley is a little bit tricky here. And again, I regret that we don't have time to go into more detail on this. Now, here is the essence of the theory of ideas. It is the belief that in the case of every act of human perception, sense perception, what we are aware of immediately is never anything that exists outside the mind.


[00:15:15] Let me repeat that. The essence of the theory of ideas is this Whenever we have sense perception of something, what we are immediately conscious of in the mind is not the physical object. It is rather an idea of the physical object. Let me draw you a little picture. Okay. When I'm drawing for the sake of the people, listening by tape is the face of a very happy male student. And the reason he's happy is because he's studying philosophy. All right. Now, here, outside of that head of a human being is a tree. Magnificent drawing of a tree. It's a shame that people listening by tape cannot see my artwork. Okay. Now, let's talk. Let's call this Mr. Jones. He becomes aware of the tree because something happens here, and that's always subject to further debate and discussion. Something happens or an idea or an image of the tree in his mind. So the theory of ideas is what we are immediately aware of. And since perception is never something outside the mind. It is always something that is inside the mind. Okay. Now, the importance of this theory, and I'm not going to talk necessarily about its correctness or incorrectness is this if all we are immediately aware of in sense perception are ideas that exist in our mind, how do we know that the tree itself really exists? Look around you in this room. You see a lot of human bodies, okay? A lot of human bodies. But everything you see, the tables, the bodies, the pens, the recording machine, my fantastic tie. My hair is simply a set of ideas that exist in your mind. How can you possibly know the objects that are imaged in your mind? Now, everybody who you know, everybody who thinks this way believes, with the exception of Bishop Barclay, that there really is a tree out there.


[00:18:15] And they also believe that that tree causes the ideas that we become aware of in our mind. But how do we know that? Okay. Well, that brings us then to the second point. And I'm I'm embarrassed by how much I'm skipping. But, you know, if you want, there are plenty of books to read on all of this. Then the second issue is what is called the problem of the external world. The problem of the external world. Now, what is the external world? It is the world, presumably, that exists outside your mind. If we took the time to roll up the shades in the back of the room so that we could all turn around and look out at the sun and at the trees and everything else, that's the external world in the external. The world. Is the automobile that you think drove you to this campus today. In the external world is the refrigerator that contains what you think will be your lunch for today. But you understand you can't prove the existence of the external world. You can't prove it. In fact, one of the embarrassing things about philosophy is here we are in the year 2001, almost 22. No philosopher has ever yet succeeded in improving the existence of the tree itself, the existence of the car itself, the existence of the other building. The existence of the trees. Now hour. Does it make sense for us to believe in the external world? Well, again, if I had another week, I could pull out all the stops. And believe me, if I had the time, by the time you left this class, I could have every one of you doubting the existence of the external world. I could do that. But I.


[00:20:20] I won't do it for two reasons. One, I don't have the time. And two, we still have students who are in mental institutions after I did that last year. See, I mean, they just don't. So I can't do that. And of course, you know, I've already told you my joke about solipsism. Right. And you laughed. So I'm not going to repeat the joke about solipsism that comes from the same, same stuff. How can we You ask yourself this. How can you prove that the world outside of your mind exists? You would have to find a way to free yourself from consciousness. Reach a status up here where you could look down upon both the ideas in your mind and the objects that exist independently of you. And no one can do that. Okay? No one can do that. Well, time again is our enemy here. The last problem here is the problem of other minds. The problem of other minds. Just as some philosophers have said, we cannot prove and perhaps we cannot know the existence of the world outside of our minds. So we also have a problem figuring out how we can know that other minds exist. Now, I don't know about you, but I know that my mind exists. In fact, I know it indubitably. I think, therefore, I am. Descartes, said Cogito ergo sum. I think. Therefore I am. But look around you. How do you know? And you know that you have a mind. Right? I hope so. Heaven help you if you think you're just a body. Heaven help you if you think you're just a body. All right. You know that you have a mind because you have. You have immediate access to the contents of your own consciousness if you don't move.


[00:22:34] Oh, just stay away from me. Okay. But here's the problem. What can we know about other people? We can perceive their bodies, but we can never perceive your minds. How do we know that you're not just. What was Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator two? Cyborg? A cyborg? Yes. Okay. Just a machine. How do I know that you're not just machines now? Sometimes I can guess. For example, if I tell a real funny joke and you laugh, that might imply that you have a mind. If I tell a real funny joke and you don't laugh, that sort of confirms my suspicions about you. Then, of course, there's the issue of your exams and your quizzes. Okay, so how do we know that other people have minds? Now, I'm not going to answer that question in this course, but I will answer it in the apologetics course. And if you cannot wait for the apologetics course, skip to Chapter 12, which we will not know. And you're going to read about a new philosophical system called reformed epistemology. You notice there is no such thing as Armenian epistemology. You notice, you know, why Armenians can't think? I mean, what can I say? But there is a system of philosophy called reformed epistemology. And one of the exciting things about it is that it not only constitutes the foundation of our apologetics course here, but it can answer the question of other minds and the external world. Once you become grounded in reformed epistemology. Which, among other things, has been developed by Alvin Planning as a great American philosopher and some other people. You will discover that there are there is a very appropriate answer, very adequate answer to the problem of the external world and other minds and so on.


[00:25:11] But that's all stuff for another course.