The Twins That Do Not See Eye to Eye

Truths found by mean of faith cannot be contradicted by truths found through philosophy for they aim at the same thing— truth. Since truth cannot be contradicted by truth, it is logical to say that philosophy and theology are non contradictory (St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles). Averroes, an Arabic philosopher, say there is nothing inherently contradictory between philosophy and theology; it is the means used to reach the truth that conduct the pursuer in confusion. “Theologians deal with revealed truth with regards to God as the Creator and His relation with His creation. Lovers of wisdom, on the other hand, seek truth and permanence in a constantly changing world (The Decisive Treatise, 18).” So for Averroes the means employed by these seekers may throw them off track, but if both philosophy and theology are done rightly, they cannot find contradictory conclusion pursing the same thing.

One interesting observation made by Pascal, who came long after these masters were gone, signaled that “There are three kinds of people in the world; those who have sought God and found Him and now serve Him, those who are seeking Him but have not yet found Him, and those who neither seek Him nor find Him. The first are reasonable and happy, the second reasonable and unhappy, and the third unreasonable and unhappy”. The truth remains that today’s society has to deal with these people. This issue spurs me to ask: what went wrong? Why is the more one plunged into philosophy the further away he or she tends to browse from the truth? Why were only the ancients able to find truth through philosophy?  Let me be more direct; why does philosophy not lead to truth anymore?

Anyone who has studied philosophy knows that philosophy remains what it is regardless of culture. It asks the same fundamental questions that have always been pervaded humanity for eternity: Who am I? Where have I come from and where am I going? Why is there evil? What is there after this life etc? In fact, these questions are not merely peculiar to philosophy; we find them in the Bible, in Islam, in ancient philosophy, in religion like Confucius and Lao-Tze, and in the preaching of Tirthankara and Buddha; they appear in the poetry of Homer and in the tragedies of Euripides and Sophocles, as they do in the philosophical writings of Plato and Aristotle. Blessed Pope John Paul II noticed that these are questions which have their common source in the quest for meaning which has always compelled the human heart. The answer given to these questions decides the direction which people seek to give to their lives. So why do most people fail to take the right road then?

JPII seems to strike at the heart of the issue. “Reason,” He says,” in its one-sided concern to investigate human subjectivity, seems to have forgotten that men and women are always called to direct their steps towards a truth that transcends them”.

JPII—It has happened therefore that reason, rather than voicing the human orientation towards truth, has wilted under the weight of so much knowledge and little by little has lost the capacity to lift its gaze to the heights, not daring to rise to the truth of being. Abandoning the investigation of being, modern philosophical research has concentrated instead upon human knowing. Rather than make use of the human capacity to know the truth, modern philosophy has preferred to accentuate the ways in which this capacity is limited and conditioned. This has given rise to different forms of agnosticism and relativism which have led philosophical research to lose its way in the shifting sands of widespread skepticism. While philosophical thinking has succeeded in coming closer to the reality of human life and its forms of expression, it has also tended to pursue issues—existential, hermeneutical or linguistic—that ignore the radical question of the truth about personal existence, about being and about God.

Philosophy has clearly then lost its aim. It bitterly fails to pursue the beautiful original path traced by the ancients. Of course it can no longer cohabit with theology in this environment. They become like a divorce husband and wife that can neither stay away from each other nor get along. Philosophers ask questions known by only theologians. Rather they prefer to reject all insights that come from theology. The reason why today’s philosophers find not the truth is because they don’t accept the theologians’ answers. Though they do acknowledge the limit of their science, they reject theological answers because they use a tool that had never been employed before then, namely the tool of revelation. Why else would philosophers not want to work with theologians? Sheer arrogance. Do you now see why philosophy does not conduct to truth anymore? The day philosophers finally understand that it is sine qua non to work with theologians, no longer will there be unhappy and unreasonable people out there.

Annoying Question? What to Do

Epistemology is the most thought provoking class I have taken so far in my three years of studying philosophy. For those of you who have not yet studied it or who will not study philosophy, epistemology deals with questions such as how do we know what we claim to be true? How do we know God exists? How do we know there is a heaven, a hell or a purgatory since those who die never come back to confirm these things? How do we know we exist? You get the idea, right? This simple sentence—how do we know-causes us to delve in an interminable debate started since humans’ first interaction. Due to that, we fail to agree on burning issues like when life really begins. All answers are never sufficiently satisfying. We become like a child who just started to use his intelligence. We never stop asking how we know things like a child who never stops asking why regardless of the answer. The truth of that matter is, and sadly so, there is no clear cut answer that can satisfy everyone. If that were so, people who were committed to finding ideal answer to poignant questions would have provided the answer to us already. Was there anything that the philosophers (the ancients) did not discuss? Had there been a non controversial answer, they would have provided it. The truth is that there is none apart from what revelation tells us. So a secular point of view about this matter is and will always be controversial. Forgive me for saying that; religious documents (the Bible) are the most reliable truth here; there is no great answer.

Does that mean we don’t have to answer questions about the beginning and end of life? Does that rule out these kinds of questions out of the picture? Absolutely not! These questions are too big to be ignored. If we fail to shed the natural light, some would act according to their selfish desire. They would fail to see that human life is intrinsically valuable and so we cannot afford to trample over them. Since they already fail to see the goodness that comes from believing in the existence of an afterlife, we don’t expect them to provide a good answer to such burning questions. They don’t know that society (globally speaking) works best when people believe in the existence of God. They fail to see the peace, joy, and contentment that religion brings to society as a whole. They deny that all knowledge start from some kinds of beliefs before reaching any absolute certainty. therefore, we, not they, must respond to these questions.

Of course, in attempting to give an answer, we must not raise our voice too high because we have a lot of daredevils out of there. They call themselves risktaker. Some issues are too important to dare take any risk about them because we could almost never see the damage they caused (in this life). The damage is penetrable only if we could see as God sees, which is impossible. So what must we do? When it comes to question we don’t know the answer to, the most prudent way of acting is conservatively. (I am not using the term from the Republican Party’s viewpoint). When burning issues becomes controversial, we must not give up on it by saying that people may act as they see fit. We (authorities) must decide as conservatively as possible in order to avoid any kind of unknown disaster.

Let me give just three reasons why we need to take the conservative road over any other ones. For one thing, we don’t know it all. Though we have achieved unbelievable things in the past centuries, we remain powerless when it comes to question involving life and death. We vacillate when it comes to moral questions. Mysteries remain a territory unexplored by us. Since we are evidently limited, it would be sage to avoid making decisions whose outcomes are unknown and unpredictable. Secondly, I would advise that we follow what is called Joebrice’s wager. If taking a risk can be disastrous while not taking one involves no risk, the best course of action should be the latter. It ain’t like eating ice scream when asking to give a report of our actions on earth. We may not be praiseworthy for not taking action, but it is not blameworthy avoiding the risk of taking action in this case. There is too much at stake. Finally, why should act against nature? Parts work for the sake of the whole. Who should dare troubling the outcome decided by providence? It is clear that nature works hierarchically. Where are we placed in the scale? Not on top, so we must not act as if we are the sole decider. if we don’t know how something comes about, we should not do things that can destroy it.