“The unexamined life,” said Socrates, “isn’t worth living.” And apparently, Wikipedia proves that we still agree with his sentiment 2400 years later. The Epicurean Dealmaker performed an interesting experiment to demonstrate the intellectual proximity of philosophy to science and other random aspects of life (including eggplant and romantic love). Despite the small sample size, the results are quite compelling in general support of the statement that “Philosophy is a foundational discipline which underlies and transcends all forms of human knowledge…”
Philosophy asks important questions that other disciplines cannot attempt – questions of meaning and purpose. But how philosophy goes about answering those questions is another matter, altogether. The word philosophy simply refers to the love of wisdom, so the goal is stated at the outset, but methodology is as significant as purpose, yet is often neglected.
As the web of knowledge called Wikipedia illustrates, our present attainment of understanding recognizes that we are stuck with philosophy, for better or worse. I would even go one step farther: we are all philosophers (just like we are all theologians, poets, and scientists to some degree) – the question is, “Are we good philosophers?”
Are we doing good philosophy or bad philosophy? Of course, the answer depends on our definition of good and bad. In this matter I defer to one who was called the wisest ever (2 Chron 1:11-12):
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov 1:7).
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov 9:10).
If wisdom is our aim, Solomon has a clear picture of how we attain it. Paul later warns, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of men, rather than according to Christ” (Col 2:8). For Paul, the problem isn’t philosophy proper (i.e., the love of wisdom), rather it is a kind of philosophy that operates in opposition to Christ. In a similar manner, James contrasts wisdom from above with earthly wisdom (Jam 4:15-17). But what is the difference between the two?
What is the key factor that distinguishes between truth and empty deception, between heavenly and earthly wisdom? As Solomon suggests, it is the starting point. Our first principles and presuppositions ultimately predetermine our conclusions. Regardless of our first principles, we all deal with the same data (of human experience), but we interpret meaning and purpose differently depending upon our presuppositions. Hence the dramatically different philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche and C.S. Lewis, for example.
Philosophy matters to us, that much is clear. And if it is truly so important, than this foundational and encompassing pursuit deserves clear thinking and transparency about the first principles and presuppositions that so powerfully affect the outcome.
While the unexamined life is not worth living, the poorly examined one is worse. Let’s examine well.