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.
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.