Intro to Philosophy Source List

Earlier I had done a list on which basic philosophy texts to read. Here I should step back and look at the best secondary literature on the topic. On one hand, some philosophers like Plato need no interpreters. His writing is too good. Others, like Hegel and Kant, demand interpreters. The writing is not so good. Even worse, men like Locke and Hume are not always using terms the way you think they are.

Learning the Language

101 Key Terms in Philosophy and their use for Theology. Eds. Clark and Smith. Covers theological prolegomena, some analytic philosophy, and some hippie continental nonsense.

Using the Tools

Baggini, Julian. The Philosopher’s Toolkit. Excellent job explaining the methodology in philosophy. Written from a secular standpoint.

History of Philosophy

Frame, John. History of Western Philosophy. Okay. Frame’s strength is in linguistic analysis. Good sections on Kant and Hegel. Misreads other thinkers, though.

Russell, Bertrand. A History of Western Philosophy. Once you get over how impressed Russell is with himself, this is a handy tool. Very well-written.

Scruton, Roger. A Short History of Modern Philosophy. A sheer joy to read. Writing style surpasses Russell’s.

Tarnas, Richard. Passion of the Western Mind.

Philosophy of Religion

Thiselton, Anthony. Approaching Philosophy of Religion. Superb writing. Leans analytical with discussions on Wittgenstein.

Rowe, William. Philosophy of Religion. Rowe is an atheist but a competent philosopher. This isn’t his best work, though.


Meek, Esther Lightcap. A Little Manual for Knowing. Wonderful account of how we know. Almost has a healing effect on the mind.

Wood, W. Jay. Epistemology. Echoes some of Plantinga’s moves.


Holmes, Arthur. Ethics. Great discussion of utilitarianism.

Geisler, Norman. Ethics: Issues and Options. Probably the best modern systematic treatment of ethics. Presents his “graded absolutism.”


Hasker, William. Metaphysics. In the same series as Wood and Holmes. Hasker is an open theist, but even then he presents a very weak defense of free will.

Chisolm, Roderick. On Metaphysics. Difficult at times but a number of important discussions.

Engaging the World

Moreland, J. P. Love Your God with All Your Mind. Probably the most important philosophy text I have ever read.

Moreland, J. P. Kingdom Triangle. Similar effect as the above one. Updates JP’s project to include virtue ethics and the Spirit’s power.


Systematic Theology vol 1 (Kelly)

Kelly, Douglas F.  Systematic Theology: The God who is: The Holy Trinity. Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2008.

It is hard to explain how one feels about this volume from the highly-revered Douglas Kelly.  In many ways, this is not a normal systematic theology textbook. Some of Kelly’s chapters seem oddly placed.  Following every chapter, moreover, is an appendix (or appendices) that is highly technical and seems to detract from the flow of the book.  That is my one criticism of the book.  On the other hand, Kelly knows more about theological method and the Trinity than most professors, Reformed or otherwise, ever will.  

How do we Know?

Reality Comes First, and the mind second (Kelly ST I:41ff).  The question before us: how do you form beliefs in your mind? To which Kelly responds, there is a real world that imposes itself on your mind.  In other words, and with the historic Reformed (and classic) tradition, the order of knowing follows the order of being.  And the order of being is God himself.

As it stands, that paragraph is standard Reformed prolegomena.  Kelly takes it a step further. Kelly is one of the few Reformed theologians to include a section on how the mind, particularly the redeemed mind within the covenant community, forms beliefs. First, truth causes belief (17). “God’s reality imposes itself upon those whom He has made to know him” (17-18).

There is almost a “reflex-action” in the mind.  As Clement of Alexandria said, “Knowledge is excited by outwardly existing objects” (quoted in Kelly, 18). Faith, and here Torrance draws heavily from his mentor, Thomas Torrance, “involves a conceptual assent to the unseen reality.” Faith is the obedient response to truth.

Following the Stoics, though not blindly, Kelly remarks that the basis of the system “is the assumption that the real world imposes itself upon the recipient mind of man.”  An “outer reality presses in on the mind.”  This is “apprehensive presentation” (41).  Indeed, within the mind are “class concepts, which serve to give the mind clues into the objectivities of reality” (44). One can call them “proleptic pointers” that allow the mind to jump from clues to conclusion

Applied to theology, faith is the heart response to the aforementioned proleptic assent (46).

Kelly has several chapters on the Trinity, but no one chapter on the Trinity that neatly corresponds to standard treatments. At this point in the book (chapter four) he does not give a clear presentation.  What he does do, however, is press the meaning of the term “person” as it relates to the Trinity.  This represents a clear advance in modern systematic theology.  The key point is that the being of God leads itself to the concept of “person.”  That is good.  What is not so good, however, is Kelly’s use of John Zizioulas’s idea “being as communion.”  I think I know what Zizioulas means: being is being as communion.  It seems it means “the being of God” is the being as persons in communion.  Maybe.  The problem is Zizioulas will take the Person of the Father as the monarchy of the Trinity.  Kelly rightly rejects this move.  Athanasius (and for what it’s worth, Augustine) sees the being of the Father as the monarchy. This is much better, for it allows one to say that with the being of the Father, we automatically get the Son.  If we follow the Easter route of the Father as Cause, then we have introduced a sequence of causes in the Trinity.

I cannot go into detail here, but Kelly has a wonderful section on person and “modes of being” and why we prefer the former and not the latter (503ff). A person is inherently relational.  A mode of being is not. “The personal distinctions within God are constituted by eternal relations, as indicated by Father, Son and Spirit; or, by begetting and proceeding” (521).  With Didymus the Blind, we say the persons refer to the order of relations (kata schezein) rather than to the essence (521-522).

The later Cappadocians, excepting Gregory Nazianzus, account for the persons by the Father as cause or monarchy. They do not intend any latent Arianism by the word cause (since it happens before time), but, nonetheless, a person is now part of a causal sequence in the Godhead.


By no means is this a beginner’s textbook.  Kelly’s ordering of topics does not always follow the standard accounts.  Moreover, the reader risks getting lost in some of his appendices.  On the other hand, few Reformed authors today demonstrate Kelly’s grasp of Nicene Trinitarianism and the idea of person in the Godhead, and for that reason this volume is highly recommended to the intermediate student.

Epictetus (Discourses)

This is a manual for Business Ethics 101. The following metaphor is not original to me, but imagine your life as placed on a wheel with spokes.  If you focus your life in the center, the hub, then when the wheel turns, as it must, you will be moved, to be sure, but you won’t be thrown over the place.

Epictetus exhorts the reader to develop a strong inner life.  This goes beyond merely getting your priorities right.  It means being proactive and never reactive.  It even includes a calculus for business decisions.  Know your worth. 

Epictetus does not paint a rosy picture for the reader.  Having been a slave in a cruel world, he knows how the world can be.  He does not think it will ever get any better.  If Stoicism has sometimes been accused of being resigned to despair, that criticism might have some justification with Epictetus.

He does give us the basics of a Stoic worldview. There is the standard Stoic line on rationality.  Man is midway between beasts and God.  From the former he has a body, the latter a mind.


Man’s good is a type of moral purpose, or “a disposition of the will with respect to appearances” (1.8).

On the Gods

When Epictetus uses the term “God,” he can mean the gods, Jupiter, and/or a guardian spirit within us. He believes our souls are “parts and portions of God.”  We also have a guardian genius with us.

As a good Stoic, Epictetus assumes some form of pantheism, albeit not an extreme kind.  All things are united as one (I:14).  He does not mean some form of Eastern pantheism.  His point, so it seems, is to find a reciprocal relationship between heaven and earth.  In fact, “our bodies are intimately linked with the earth’s rhythms.”  We do not have to accept his mild pantheism, but that statement is not wrong.


“Impressions” is the key word in Epictetus’s epistemology. It is not always clear what an impression is. Notwithstanding that, they come to us in four ways: “things are and appear to be; or they are not, and do not appear to be, or they are, but do not appear to be; or they are not, and yet appear to be” (I.27.1).

 The mind forms “ideas that correspond with the impressions” (I.14.8). That seems accurate enough, but Epictetus takes it a step further with his definition of reason: a collection of individual impressions (I.20.5). That does not seem right.


The goal of education is to bring our will in alignment with God’s reality and governance (I.12.15). As long as we understand that Epictetus does not mean the same thing by “God” as one normally does, it is a true enough statement. 

One strength in his approach is that there is not a sharp line between epistemology, education, and ethics.  Epistemology and education dovetail with his use of the term “impressions.”  We all have preconceptions. Our reason makes use of “impressions.”  Getting an education, therefore, is “learning to apply natural preconceptions to particular cases as nature prescribes, and distinguishing what is in our power from what is not” (I.22.9). That last clause connects education with ethics.  The wise man understands what he can and cannot control.


The goal of virtue is “a life that flows smoothly” (12).  Even though he does not use the term, he means that we should reach a state of apatheia. We can only do this by having “correct judgments about externals,” as externals are the only things outside of our control (I.29.24).


If one wants to read a primary source on Stoicism, this is as good as any.  Epictetus, perhaps in line with his own philosophy of limitations, never gets to the substance of the issue.  These are more conversations than logical analyses, and they should be judged as such.  It even seems that Epictetus commits a logical fallacy.  He writes: “God is helpful. Whatever is good is also helpful.  It is reasonable to suppose, then, that the divine nature and the nature of the good correspond” (II.8.1).  The conclusion is certainly true, but Epictetus committed the fallacy of the undistributed middle premise. We can illustrate it in a Venn Diagram.


Epictetus lacks the nobility of Marcus Aurelius and the poetic grandeur of Lucretius. In some ways, however, he is more accessible than both.

Personal Knowledge (Michael Polanyi)

Polanyi, Michael.  Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago, reprint 1974.

Despite the extreme difficulty of both the subject matter and the text itself, Polanyi’s argument is relatively simple: the knower is more akin to a detective looking for patterns than traditional epistemological models allow for. Earlier models saw knowledge as instrumental, and the closer one got to lab instruments, the better the knowledge.  With Einstein we see a beginning attack on this type of thinking.  His 1905 essays “discovered rationality in nature, unaided by observation” (Polanyi 11).

You Know More than You Can Say

The scientist, or any knower, observes “a set of rules which are not known as such to the person following them” (49).  There are rules to an art, but they do not always determine how you practice that art.  Polanyi gives the example of practicing a piano.  On one hand, a certain sequence of keys have to be hit, but they also have to be hit in a certain way, or “touch.”  The element of “touch” remains surprisingly resistant to analysis.

This type of learning is tradition, or that of a master/apprentice relationship. The apprentice watches the master and imitates him.  In doing so, he not only learns the technical process of the craft, but he also picks up the rules of the art which aren’t always known to the master himself (53).

Focal Awareness vs. Subsidiary Awareness

I hit a hammer with a nail. In doing so, I attend to both the hammer and the nail, but not in the same way. My focal awareness is on driving the nail.  My subsidiary awareness is on the feeling the hammer has on my hand.  I am “watch[ing] something else while keeping intensely aware of [it]” (55).

Polanyi concludes this chapter noting that “personal knowledge in science is not made but discovered, and as such it claims contact with reality beyond the clues on which it relies. It commits us, passionately and far beyond our comprehension, to a vision of reality” (64).  This is what Thomas Torrance calls “kataphysic knowledge.” It is where we submit as knower to the object known, which then impresses itself into our mode of knowing.

When we discover patterns in learning, the process is irreversible.  You can never “unsee” a completed puzzle.  The child at early ages learns by basic operational rules.  Over time and use, these rules form a system of logic.  This system of logic does not give any new information.  It is akin to “mere manipulation of symbols” (83).  When confronted with a completely new opportunity for knowledge, the mind must make a “proleptic jump” from the known to the unknown.

Subsidiary knowledge is instrumental knowledge.  “It is not known in itself but is known in terms of something focally known” (88). In the quest for knowledge, one cannot always say how the subsidiary facts fit together.

“The origin of this intellectual striving…both shapes our understanding and assents to its being true.” It is “an active principle” (96).

“Education is latent knowledge, of which we are aware subsidarily in our sense of intellectual power based on this knowledge” (103).

Polanyi’s project consists in reminding us that we rely on verbal clues in the quest for knowledge.  Knowledge is not merely justified, true belief, but also “aha!”  It is almost a gamble.  Polanyi writes, “We take a plunge only in order to gain a firmer foothold” (106). We are moved by “a desire for greater clarity and coherence.”

Back to the Search

Polanyi points out three “strata of intensions:”

(1)   Readily specifiable properties of a class of things.

(2)   The known but not readily specifiable.

(3)   Indeterminate range of anticipations.

In other words, “In order to analyse the use of a descriptive term we must use it for the purpose of contemplating its subject matter” (116).  We move from analysis to use to proleptic jump. It is almost a paradox.  One cannot discover a new thing by merely following the accepted rules.  There remains a “logical gap” between the rules of the experiment and the discovery (123). Illumination bridges the gap.  This logical leap is a heuristic act which requires the rules to be sometimes vague and that interpretation be an art.

Focus awareness  {conception of solution} = Look at known data as clues to the unknown

^ ^ ^ ^
|  |  |  |


Polanyi: “We look at the known data, but not in themselves, rather as clues to the unknown; as pointers to it and parts of it” (127-128).  The act of knowledge has a certain “feel to it.”

“The application of existing rules can produce valuable surveys, but does not advance the principles of science.  We have to cross the logical gap between a problem and its solution by relying on the unspecifiable impulse of our intellectual personality” (143).

“As observers or manipulators of experience we are guided by experience and pass through experience without experiencing it in itself” (197).

As Polanyi hints on his last page, and as Thomas Torrance said in all of his literature, the closet analogue to this type of knowing is worship and theology.


We should stand in awe of Polanyi’s breakthrough. One wonders, however, if he would have been as important if Thomas Torrance had not promoted his project. In Torrance’s hands Polanyi’s work, especially when incorporated into theological epistemology and the Trinity, is exhilarating. This book, however, is not. Before reading this book, one should spend some time with Esther Lightcap Meek‘s works on epistemology.

Longing to Know (Meek)

Meek, Esther Lightcap.  Longing to Know.

(This review is from the audiobook version.)

This book is wonderful, but I would not approach it as a philosophical account of knowledge. It is almost like a meditation on the knowing act. It is best seen as asking one to know from a different angle.

Main idea: What is knowledge? Knowledge is the responsible human struggle to rely on clues to focus on a coherent pattern and submit to its reality. With this definition she upholds the traditional view of knowledge as correspondence and justified, true belief.  Such views, necessary as they are, are inadequate.  Applied strictly, very little of our knowing would count as knowledge, and that would exclude most bodily acts of knowing. On the other hand, coherence models, while purporting to embrace the bodily dimension of knowledge, often fail to provide any knowledge.  Esther Lightcap Meek goes beyond both models with her vision of integrating clues into a larger pattern.

We can look at the problem another way.  We all know of those “Aha!” moments in our knowing.   That is when we make the leap from the unknown to the known (a problem that Plato’s Meno could not solve). For Meek, that seems to be knowledge.  My only quibble is that much of our knowing does not have this “Aha!” moment, but the idea itself is sound.


Thesis: the act of knowing as traditionally understood implies success.  It means I have achieved truth by meeting certain conditions for knowledge and/or certainty.  

Week has a colorful way of summarizing Western philosophy: if Western civilization was born in Athens, then skepticism was its cradle. We tend to think of Plato as promoting eternal truths.  He certainly did.  The way he did so, however, presupposed skepticism.  If knowledge is justified, true belief, then in order for someone to know something, he or she has to prove he knows it.  As Meek says, “We don’t simply want to be sure, we also demand to be shown.”

As Week has elegantly said in other works, knowing is a “coming-to” reality. It involves the “Aha!” moment. It has a “from-to” structure.  This “from-to” is the subsidiary or particulars.. We move from the subsidiary to the focal.  She illustrates this by one of those “3-D” pictures where you have to look at it for a while before the image appears.

Meek suggests this form of knowing is “embodied.” That is true for many aspects of knowing, but it is hard to see (no pun intended) how knowing God would be embodied.

Knowledge as Vector

“Knowing vectors us through the world and also vectors us through time.  Call it ‘being on the way to knowing.’ Knowing is a longing, a leaning into the world.”  Indeed, earlier she says, “If a statement is a dot, the act of knowing is a vector to and throw the dot.”  We can also see the dots as subsidiaries.  The act of knowing gets us through the subsidiaries and into the focus.

Integration > coherence

Coherence models of truth cohere like flour in a measuring cup.  They might fit, but they tell you nothing about knowledge.  Integration is like flour as it is in rising yeast.  Integration is knowledge transformed.

Doubting the Doubts

Going through doubts is akin to going through a batting slump in baseball.  The goal is to get beyond the subsidiaries and back to the focal. Many, but perhaps not all, of our doubts are when we get stuck in the subsidiaries and never see the picture. I do not mean this in a cliched sort of way. For one reason or another, a doubter is not able to focus on the key picture.  

As some reviewers noted, Meek’s comments on “certainty” are a bit unguarded.  I agree with her that a God’s-eye certainty is neither possible nor desirable.  Indeed, as one Reformed author cogently argued, it is also illegitimate. That kind of certainty is not what God promised his children.  On the other hand, a finite sort of certainty is certainly commendable.  With that aside, this is a wonderful, even healing type of book.

The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Torrance)

Torrance, Thomas F. The Ground and Grammar of Theology. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1980.

Man, the Priest of Creation

Herman Weyl: “since all things, bodies in motion and space and time, are ultimately defined by reference to light, light occupies a metaphysical place in the universe” (Torrance 3-4).

Thesis: space and time are the bearers of all rational order in the universe (6). These set the boundary markers for us and represent the way “we know things in accordance with their natures” (8). These things impress themselves upon our minds. Theology works the same way, though we do not always know a thing in one field by the same rational mode in another.

The Being of God in His Acts

Science is moving beyond the old structures of determinism and mechanism towards an “open-structured order” (12).  Instead of either a flat mechanism (modernity) or Neo-Platonic emanations, we see the universe as a hierarchy of levels, “a stratified structure, so that our science takes the form of an ascending hierarchy of relations of thought that are open upward in a deeper and deeper dimension of depth” (13).  This is a huge point that Torrance expounds elsewhere in his works on the Trinity.  I wish he would have given examples.

Emerging from the Cultural Spirit

Thesis of chapter: examine the move from a dualist to a unitary outlook on the universe (15).  Torrance’s enemy in this chapter is the “old mechanistic system, or a closed continuum of cause and effect, characterized throughout by a hard determinism” (18). This is at odds with a kataphatic view of reality, where the very structures of reality impress themselves upon our minds.  The closed continuum view, by contrast, rules out possibilities before the very investigation.


The first dualism was from the Greeks, that of the sharp contrast of “rectilinear motion in terrestrial mechanics and circular motion in celestial mechanics” (21).  This points to a deeper dualism between “the empirical and the theoretical, the physical and the spiritual, the temporal and the eternal, the mortal and divine.”

Newton never fully broke with these dualisms.  He identified absolute time and space with the mind of God, thus positing an eternal, inertial frame. Kant took this absolute time and space from the mind of God to the mind of the human knower (26).

But if Einstein is correct that there is a unity of form and being, the theoretical and empirical factors in knowledge, then we can no longer follow Kant (30).  If there is indeed a unity of form and being, structure and substance, then we can be confident that “reality discloses of itself” (31). The same unity, we will see, also obtains in theology.  

Response: I like this. It echoes my thoughts. I do wonder, however, if Torrance overcooked the evidence.

Nicene Theological Geometry (my phrase)

Nicea rejects the Greek dualisms in knowledge.  As Torrance says, “If Jesus Christ is in his own being what he is as God’s revealing word and saving act towards us…then through Christ and in one Spirit we are given access to God…(40).  The enousion energia are the internal relations of God (cf. Athanasius, Discourse on the Arians, II.14.2).  The anchor of homoousion allows us to see “the meditation of knowledge of God in his intrinsic reality and intelligibility” (40).

Creation and Science

Thesis: We know the intrinsic structures of the universe “in such a way that its basic design becomes disclosed” (45). When we seek to know both God and the world in such a way that they force the structures on our minds, we have “what Cyril of Alexandria (or maybe Clement of Alexandria) called dogmatike epistime, ‘dogmatic science’” (50). We know God and the world in the way that “our minds fall under the power of what we hear and find there.”  Professor Torrance helpfully outlines what he means:

[1] There is a rational unity of the universe. If God created all things, then we cannot posit a hard and fast dichotomy in the universe.

[2] There is a contingent rationality or intelligibility of the universe (53). Indeed, we might not be able to posit eternal forms in creation.  (For all his recent lapses in theology, William Lane Craig at least saw this clearly in his rejection of Platonism.) Space and time now have a relation to God, a created relation.  This means we must reject the Aristotelian notion of space as a container and the Newtonian view of time as absolute.

[3] The freedom of the universe is a contingent freedom.

Torrance suggests that Athanasian theology and non-Aristotelian, indeed anti-Aristotelian, science meet in the person of John Philoponus.  Philoponus was condemned as a monophysite because nature, according to Western readings, was interpreted in an Aristotelian way.  Philoponus, working with relational views of space and time, saw nature as more akin to “reality,” which led him to say there was only one reality of the Logos–no schizoid Christ (61).

Theological summary of the book: “Since the act and Word of God we meet in Jesus Christ are eternally inherent in the Being of God, and since none other than the very Being of God himself is mediated to us through the incarnation of his love in Act and Word in Jesus Christ, God’s Being is revealed to be his Being in his Act and Word” (67).

The Transformation of Natural Theology

We hold to a natural theology, but not one of simply identifying various causes.  Rather with Athanasius’s De Gentes we “let our minds tune in to the rational order that pervades the universe…a way of communing with the regulative and providential activity of God in the rational order of the universe” (76).  When this work is paired with Athanasius’s more popular De Incarnatione we see a field of “God/man/world or God/world/man interconnections.”  This allows the structure of reality to “throw light upon the whole manifold of connections with which we are concerned in the knowledge of God in his interaction with creation” (77).

Unity of Form and Being

This unity finds an analogue in the Word/Act and Being of God.  The unity of form and being is the “indivisibility of the intelligible and the ontological” (96).  The patristic analogue is the inherent of logos and act in being.  This means that objects “must be known and understood objectively in their distinctive modes of being and modes of self-disclosure.”  As a result, these “things” will impress upon us objective forms of thought “correlated with the ultimate openness of being and its semantic reference beyond itself” (97).

Conclusion and Grammar of Theology

[1] There is a Trinitarian character in our knowing that corresponds to the trinity of relations in God himself.  “We grasp things in our though, and hold them in our thought, only if we can grasp them in their internal relations” (149-150).  We take our cue from Athanasius’s concepts of enousios logos and enousios energeia.

[1.1] If the Logos is inherent into the being of God, then we have access to divine intelligibility.  We are able to access intrinsic structures.

[1.2] If God’s energeia or act inheres in his being, and that Act is Jesus in the Incarnation, then we know God “in his activity in disclosing himself to us” (152). A created analogue is our relation and knowing to the dynamic structure of the universe (as opposed to a medieval model of final causes).

[2] Our first and basic level of this experience is in worship, “in which we encounter the revealing God.” The next level is the theological level where we meet up with the so-called Economic Trinity.  This throws us upon a “higher theological and scientific level,” the internal relations of God.  While we know the economic reality first, it is the ontological reality that grounds our knowing.  This is true episteme dogmatike. 

Like all of Torrance’s books, this one is exciting, explosive, and probably underdeveloped in key areas.  I think the problem is that Torrance likely memorized many of Athanasius’s passages in the original Greek and instead of translating them from memory, I think he is summarizing the Greek into English from memory.  I went back and checked some of these in Contra Arianos.  The idea is close enough, but not word-for-word.

A Little Manual for Knowing (Meek)

Meek, Esther Lightcap.  A Little Manual for Knowing. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014.

Meek resists the claim that knowledge is reducible to information. If knowledge is just about information, then “how do we come to know in the first place?”  We must have some knowledge to begin the “knowledge journey,” but if knowledge is just information, then we can’t even begin.  This is why Plato reduced knowledge to remembrance (particularly of past lives).

A consequence of the “knowledge-as-fact” approach is that it divides the knower.  It assumes one can detach himself from the act of knowing.

Covenant epistemology: the knower “pledges himself to the yet-to-be-known, the way a groom pledges himself to a bride.”  This is quite different from when the postmodernist attacks rationalism.  The postmodernist quite correctly says that all knowing is done from a finite standpoint, with the implication that knowledge is relativised.  The covenantal knower, by contrast, sees knowledge in an almost eschatological light. In Meek’s words, knowledge is a “pilgrimage” in which “we journey together.”  “All knowing is a coming-to-know.”

Polanyi: “subsidiary-focal integration”

This book is unique among Christian epistemology texts in that she gives exercises at the end of each chapter.

Knowledge as love implies that knowing ← → Being go hand in hand. Reality is person-like, not an amalgamation of bits of information.  Meek argues, by contrast, that reality is a gift.  When I look at a thing, on first glance we see it as it is.  But in a Creator universe, the thing is also “what-it-promises-to-be” and “what-it-ought-to-be.”

Promise language then is covenant language. This is tied with the notion of “reality as gift.

Her thesis is “we love in order to know.” I don’t think this works as a global thesis, but in terms of some knowledge-situations it is probably accurate. This type of loving is an “active receptivity.”

There are some good thoughts on “cultivating wonder” as a mental habit.  In her nice phrase, “it is a trained readiness to be astounded.”

Covenantal knowledge involves a “pledge,” which is the “I do” of love. In this knowledge “we give ourselves to be known,” to pledge to the Other’s “being.” This is what Torrance and Polanyi mean by knowing “kataphysically,” according to the nature of the thing known.  The thing presses its reality upon your mind. Granted, this makes more sense in terms of religion, philosophy, and politics than it would in looking at a blank wall.

If these things about knowledge are true, then knowing also involves a “maturity in love.” This is where knowing’s “interpersonal” dimension is clearly seen.  We need other persons to help us mature and be the person’s we are.

She has a neat section on “The Void.”  The void doesn’t have to be evil.  It can just be the realization of non-being.  It can be how healing can begin.  It’s sort of like having the law preached to you.  She has a neat diagram on the four dimensions of humanness.


Self ——- ——–         ————–   Situation


In a moving line, Meek writes, “In the Void, we must cry out in hope for the gracious deliverance and inbreaking of new being.  This is a key act of inviting the real.”  In another diagram, she calls this “the knowing event.” “The Holy is the gracious possibility of new being.”  It is where “epiphany” happens.

Now we are going to add persons to the picture

Meek gives good guidelines for cultivating the real:  choose wise guides, for one.  Beginners don’t know a lot about philosophy.  I personally wasted years on dead-ends.  You must also “place yourself where reality is likely to show up.”

Knowledge as Indwelling

Now Meek moves into the territory of the Hungarian chemist Michael Polanyi and his idea of “Subsidiary-Focal Integration” (SFI). We will go back to Plato’s Meno.  If knowledge is simply about transfer of propositions, that which we do not know, then we can never cross the Platonic chasm between Knowledge and Becoming, since we are in the realm of Becoming.

Perhaps we are getting too far afield.  Meek’s point is that knowledge also involves a “subsidiary” dimension that happens below the surface of the focal. Perhaps we can reframe the above-mentioned Platonic problem this way:  let’s take Heidegger’s question on being.  What is being?  To ask that question presupposes some knowledge of being, otherwise we couldn’t use the word “is.”  Let’s say a toddler is learning.  He needs sentences to learn, yet he doesn’t know what a sentence is, so how can he learn?

“All knowledge and knowing has a ‘from-to’ structure.”  It is not “a linear relation.” Think in terms of clues and patterns.  There is no linear connection, yet your mind is already seeing the evidence for patterns.  It then makes a proleptic jump, which Meek calls “integration.” It’s like playing “Wheel of Fortune.”  Her conclusion: “As we indwell the subsidiaries, we creatively integrate to a sustained focal pattern…We actively shape clues to the pattern; and we passively submit to the pattern.”

And then comes the moment of epiphany: [it] feels very much like a gracious gift from outside us.”  Indeed, “embedded in epiphany is the shift from active to passive, from giving to receiving.  It feels like a shift from knowing to being known.”

Knowing as shalom: we know shalom when the tension in the knowing encounter is brought to a proper resolution.  It is the joy we experience in seeing the “natural fittingness” of something that was put together.  She has some interesting–but only tantalizing–suggestions on shalom and healing.  That definitely needs to be developed.

Catchy sayings:

* Covenantal knowledge is commitment, not curiosity.
* Knowing is inviting the real, welcoming the yet-to-be-known.

* We seek to indwell and be indwelt by the yet-to-be-known.
* Coming to know proves to be a process of moving from looking at to looking from in order to see transformatively beyond.

* IFM = indeterminate future manifestation.”  Any good integrative pattern promises future unfoldings of dimensions and horizons.

* Insight isn’t informational–it is transformational.


This is a dynamic little book.  Not all of her arguments are sufficiently developed, but I think she knows that, as she intends this to be a gateway to her larger works on epistemology.  This book succeeds where so many epistemology texts from post-evangelicals have failed.  Too often we hear that rationality ought to be “Embodied” or “situated.”  Fair enough.  Few really say what that means.  In other words, granted that knowledge is embodied, what would mechanism or the knowing act look like?  Meek actually develops an answer.

It’s also fashionable, especially among Reformed, to advocate a “coventanal epistemology.”  That usually means quoting Bible verses such as “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  That’s true, but by itself it tells me nothing of how knowledge works.  If I preface a trigonometry problem with “Fear of the Lord,” I still have to work the problem and the answer will be the same as if I didn’t say “The Fear of the Lord.” Meek’s approach reshapes the covenant question in terms of knowledge as gift, pledge, promise, etc.  Which is actually what a covenant is.

Introduction to Philosophy (Geisler and Feinberg)

This is a systematic philosophy text.  Like a systematic theology, it explains and evaluates the loci of philosophy.  It is probably the best intro text on the market, at least from a Christian perspective.

A good philosophical system will achieve three things: (1) internal consistency, (2) external comprehensiveness, and (3) correspondence (Geisler and Feinberg, 72).

The authors do a fine job rebutting the pietistic charge that studying philosophy violates Colossians 2:8.  For one, Paul is warning against false knowledge, not all knowledge.  Moreover, the definite article could actually indicate a specific teaching at Colosse (i.e., most likely gnostic angel-worship).  Even more, one cannot beware of false philosophy unless he is first aware of it (73).  And though Geisler does not mention it, these same pietists themselves give a logos about theos and have no problem with using Aristotelian concepts like being, quality, quantity, and motion.

The first locus the authors cover is knowledge and the various options with justifying belief.  My only concern is that I wish they had spent more time on foundationalism.

What is Knowledge?

Problems with skepticism:

1) Skepticism is rationally inconsistent.  Assertions that we cannot know anything are themselves claims of knowledge (94ff).

2) Skepticism is practically inconsistent: skeptics trust their sense perceptions when they cross the road.


Foundationalism is the view that there is a structure of knowledge “whose foundations, though they support all the rest, are themselves in need of no support” (152). We have directly justified beliefs “and they are topped with indirectly justified beliefs.”

In response to criticisms, the foundationalist maintains his position does not end in an infinite regress. It is possible that there are immediately grounded propositions.


Coherentism is one alternative to foundationalism.  Geisler notes a distinction between coherentist theories of truth and coherentist justification for truth (161). The coherentist justification asserts that there are no basic beliefs, only webs of belief. 

What is Reality?

Is reality One or Many?  Geisler does a fine job explaining the power of Parmenides’ argument for monism (168). It looks like this:

1) Reality is either one or many.

2) If reality is many, then then many things must differ from each other.

3) But there are only two ways things can differ: either by being (something) or by non-being (nothing).

4) However, two (or more) things cannot differ by nothing, for to differ by nothing means not to differ at all.

5) Neither can things differ by being (or something), because being is the only thing that everything has in common, and things cannot differ in the very respect in which they are all the same.

6) Therefore, things cannot differ at all; everything is one.

It’s clear that the problem is his univocal use of the term “being.”  The solution can’t be an equivocal use of the word “being,” for then our knowledge of reality is now suspect.  The only solution, and one Aristotle and Aquinas would later formulate, is an analogical use of being.

The pluralist options are as follows:

Atomism: “Things Differ by Absolute Non-Being” (170ff).

Platonism: Things differ by relative non-being

Aristotle: Things Differ in their Being (Which is Simple)

Aquinas: Things Differ in their Being (which is composed of Form and Matter)

Trinity, One, and Many

Can the Trinity solve the problem of the One and Many?  Short answer: No. The Trinity does not address Parmenides’ concern.  Parmenides wants to know how things can differ in their being.  The Trinity, however, only seeks to posit plurality in the persons, precisely not in the being.

God and the Ultimate

We must not confuse “belief in” with “belief that” (269). I do not need a reason for faith in God.  It is entirely legitimate, though, to stress reasons for belief that God exist.

Some Thoughts on Deism

The Deists’ line that miracles are a violation of natural law no longer works.  Science today is as likely to speak of “models” and “maps” than laws (277).  Moreover, natural physical law does not actually “cause” anything.  It merely explains it.

Problems with Panentheism and Finite Godism

Panentheism cannot claim an infinite god with “finite poles.” It does not make sense to speak of a contingent and necessary God.  Even more problematic, “can God actualize his own potential?” This problem is even more damaging for finite godism.  As Geisler notes, “A finite god needs a cause.”  That new cause is now God (or at least has a better claim to be God).

Paul Tillich’s Symbolic Language

It does not do to say that God is the ground of ultimate Being and that language about God is symbolic. Such a person believes there is at least non-symbolic entity, being.

Analogical God-Talk

1) There is only a basis for “analogy when there is an intrinsic causal relation” (314). For example, as Geisler notes, hot water has an extrinsic relation to the hardness in the boiled egg, but it has an intrinsic relation to the heat in the egg.

2) The effect does not need to resemble the instrumental cause, only the principal efficient cause (315).

3) Likewise, the effect need not resemble the material cause, only the efficient one.

4) Terms like “being” are univocally defined, but analogically applied (317).

What is Good or Right?

Kantianism: will it to be a universalizable law.  Existentialists have asked why should we prioritize the universal over the particular?

Utilitarianism: greatest good for the greatest number.  There are numerous problems with this claim. Only God can be utilitarian, since only he has the foresight to know which actions will be the best for the greatest number (393).  There is another problem: the utilitarian subtly analyzes results in terms of ‘the Good,” which means results cannot be the deciding factor.  Perhaps the greatest practical problem: how long-range must the results be in order for them to be good?  If it is only short-range, then this justifies a number of evils.  Too long a range, on the other hand, makes it worthless.

Classical theistic ethics: the Good is self-evident. The main difficulty with the classical view is whether it can overcome the “is-ought” fallacy. There are several lines of response.  “If ‘ought’ is a basic category that cannot be reduced to ‘is’ or anything else, then one must understand it intuitionally, since there is no way to break it down further” (383). We still haven’t justified natural law ethics.  We have, however, provided a source about what we believe.  We should point out, though, that concepts like “The Good” cannot be analyzed in terms of a higher concept.


This book was a joy to read.  Geisler provided us with an accessible, yet rigorous text for the introductory to mid-level college student.  

Volume 2 of the Syntopicon (Adler)

Mortimer Adler regularly claimed that it was impossible to be educated before the age of 40.  If true, I would also suggest it is difficult to be educated without working through something like his Syntopicon.  The setup is the same as the earlier volume.    There is a ten page essay, topical indexes, and a recommended reading list.  This review will only outline his key topics, the various positions taken, and how the great thinkers interacted with their predecessors, if time permits.


Man is the only subject where the knower and the object known are the same (Adler 1).  Indeed, “the human intellect is able to examine itself.”

The Western tradition is divided on man’s essence.  The standard (and correct) view is that man differs from animals because he is rational.  His use of speech is a consequence of this rationality.  It is not the main difference.  If this is true, then there must be some distinction between reason and sense (5).


The mind is capable of self-knowledge. This is the difference between sense and intellect.  Senses do not seem to be aware of themselves (172). 

Following Aristotle, we see that if “the soul is the principle of life and all vital activities, so mind is the subordinate principle of knowledge” (173).  And the act of intellect moves as such:

1) conception
2) judgment
3) reasoning.


Adler wisely separates the principle of absolute government from monarchy, since republics and democracies can be as absolutist (205). Monarchy as an idea underwent a transformation in the Middle Ages. It did resemble an absolute system in one sense by giving power to one man, yet it placed supremacy of law in the hands of the people (207).  The only problem with this idea is that given its birth in feudalism, it did not last long in the modern age.

Hegel suggests a robust constitutional monarchy.  In this view the state is more of a corporation. The advantage of this view is that it is quite flexible with modernity and market forces  It doesn’t have any of the disadvantages that plagued medieval models.  On the other hand, it’s not always clear what Hegel is saying.

One and the Many

In line with Aristotle, unity is the first property of being.  All contraries are reducible to things like being/nonbeing, one/many, etc.  Moreover, unity belongs to the individual natural substance.  Man is a substance.  He is not made of other substances.  Machines, though, are.

This is somewhat different from Plato.  Plato’s view had problems.  The idea of the one is also one idea among many.  Plotinus corrected some of these problems.  For him, the one transcends being.  It also transcends intelligence, since knowing requires an object, which would introduce duality into the One.


Opposites do not simply distinguish, they exclude.

Plato: Everything has one opposite.  This was his idea in Gorgias and Protagoras on the unity of virtue.  This also illustrates the numerous subdivisions in Western taxonomies.

Aristotle: made the distinction between correlative opposites (double, one-half) and contrary opposites (odd/even).

Hegel: Unites opposites by reconciling their differences.  Every finite phase of reality has its own contrary.  For example, being and nonbeing imply and exclude one another.  They are united in becoming.


The words “if” and “then” indicate that reason is a motion of the mind from one alternative to another.

Plotinus: any form of thinking signifies a weakness.  It introduces duality.  Higher intelligences, by contrast, know by intuition.  Later Christian thinkers didn’t accept this extreme a view, but they did borrow his idea on intuition and applied it to angelic intelligences.

All the praise I gave of volume one also applies to this volume.

Aristotle for Everybody (Adler)

Adler, Mortimer J.  Aristotle for Everybody: Difficult Thought Made Easy.

Even with the advances in science, Aristotle’s shadow is unavoidable.  We still operate with concepts like “part,” “whole,” “motion,” “change,” etc.  Despite modern pedagogy in the university, we still use logic and assume it is valid.

“Great Divide”

First problem: What differentiates “all living organisms from inert bodies” (Adler 5)? From this we draw a line between some living organisms and others.  Aristotle keeps drawing these lines and classifying individuals.  In order to do this, he posits that each thing has a nature. He finally arrives at the conclusion that man is a rational animal.

On one side of the line are “bodies.”  On the other side are “attributes.” The key idea is that an attribute exists in a thing but not of itself.  A stone’s weight exists in the stone, but no one thinks that the weight of a stone exists on its own.  Moreover, a body changes; the attributes do not.  The attribute of hardness doesn’t become “smoothness.”  Rather, the stone becomes smooth.

We can best discuss man by seeing him in three different dimensions:

Man is:

Making (Beautiful).  This covers the metaphysical angle.

Doing (Good)

Knowing (True)

Man the Maker

A work of art is man-made. It is more accurate to say that man produces; he does not create.

Change and Permanence

The problem is how can something always be in a state of becoming, always in change, yet remain the same.  One type of change is motion (a change in place), alteration (a change in quality), and a change in quantity.  All of these changes take place in time.

The Four Causes

I can’t do any better than to quote Adler:

1. Material cause: that out of which something is made.
2. Efficient cause: that by which something is made.
3. Formal cause: that into which something is made.
4. Final cause: that for the sake of which something is made 

To Be or Not to Be

To understand Aristotle on being, we need a firm grasp of “matter,” “form,” “potentiality” and “actuality” (50).

Privation is a lack of a certain form. Potentiality is when you predicate the words “can be” of a thing.  A matter can lack a form but nonetheless have the potentiality for it. “Matter always has a limited potentiality for acquiring other forms” (53).

Man the Doer

Man usually acts towards a goal. This is practical thinking, thinking about means and ends. Means are the ways we achieve our goal or other means.  For Aristotle the end to which we aim is “living well.” However, when Aristotle says we are to aim for the right ultimate end, this isn’t relative.  There is an actual objective Good to which all seek to aim. People who do not aim for this objective end have disordered passions.

This is happiness.  It is important to note that ancient man didn’t consider those who were still living to be truly happy.

Man the Knower

“The senses are the doorway to the mind” (130). They are instruments, and in a nice turn of the phrase, the mind, too, is an instrument.  It is the “form of forms” (134). Thinking does more, as it also “relates the ideas it produces.”

The next chapter is on the laws of logic.  In some ways, that chapter alone is worthy of an entire review.  On the other hand, there isn’t much in it that isn’t also found in other logic texts. Some comments are appropriate, though.  For example, the term in both major and minor premises is the middle term. It functions to connect the major premise and the conclusion.

Moreover, if the major premise is negative, the conclusion must be negative.  A positive conclusion cannot follow from negative premises.

I recommend this book to any starter in philosophy.