Philosophers In The Dock

In some ways, to philosophize is human. Despite the fact that not many people explicitly study the subject of philosophy, it is nonetheless true that people, whether they realize it or not, have philosophical views and positions simply by virtue of being human. There are, however, at least some of us who consciously and deliberately study philosophy and seek to understand where it is we fall in what we think and believe. And there is a great deal of temptation in this process. There is a temptation for those who know much to think that their knowledge is a moral rather than an intellectual superiority. Indeed, any sort of superiority that we possess over others is a temptation to think that we are better than someone else as a person because we are better in some aspect of being a person. We may look at appearance or wealth or knowledge or popularity or political power or any other number of factors as being a signifier of moral superiority. And that would be a great mistake. The fact that it is a common mistake does not make it less great of one.

Among the more obvious issues with the pursuit of philosophy is the confusion of quests. As human beings we can be on quests for many things. On the one hand, we may find ourselves on a quest for ways to feed the belly, for foods like Kao Soy [1] or alfalfa sprouts [2], or for games and amusement [3], or for medicine and health [4]. We can have a lifelong quest for knowledge, of a general kind of a very specific kind, or to push the boundaries of ignorance further away from humanity at large, or quests for love and respect and honor. These quests are not bad things, for they reveal to us (and to others) what motivates us to search long and hard and endure suffering and hardship in order to obtain. Yet there is always the temptation to view our willingness to endure difficulty in order to obtain something as a sign that we are superior to the common herd of humanity. And there is similarly a tendency to wish to compare ourselves among ourselves for the sorts of things that we quest for, leading us to speak without knowledge on the states of souls other than our own.

Indeed, a great many of the problems of philosophers relate to the tendency for people to desire to feel superior to others. There are many grounds on which we can claim to be superior to others. We may look down on others because of questions of identity that people have no choice in, relating to inherent questions of ethnic origin, sex, natural talents and abilities, and the like. We may look down on others because of issues where there is a mixture of choice as well as natural factors, including success in education, obtaining of wealth, love and relationships, physical appearance, strength and athletic prowess, intellectual attainments, and the like. We may even look at the state of the lives of others and look down on them and believe ourselves to be more moral than they are, judging them for being intolerant and bigoted, for example, or immoral in their personal conduct. Philosophers are not immune to the tendency of human beings to seek to view themselves as superior to other human beings. Indeed, the failures of philosophers in this way serve to illuminate the more common but less self-aware means by which the desire to be seen as above the common herd of humanity are a sign that one is commonly and ordinarily human. The desire to distinguish ourselves from other human beings only demonstrates our common humanity with them.

Similarly, many philosophers and intellectually inclined people in general enjoy placing themselves as judges over matters in which they have no competence. There is, for instance, no shortage of books that demonstrate the critical attitude of people towards the Word of God and the ways of God. Amateur philosophers seek to criticize God as being barbaric and people who believe in God as being intellectually inferior, all the while seeking to place themselves at the center of their own universes and view themselves as the source of legitimacy for their beliefs and practices. All of this neglects the fact that we are not, in our fallen human state, fit to be judges over the souls of other people, nor fit to put God in the dock and view ourselves as ultimate authorities in any field or endeavor. Instead, philosophers, just like everyone else, are in the dock to be judged by a merciful but a just Judge. And to the extent that we will find ourselves judging others in the world to come, we will not do so as partisan and flawed human beings such as we now are, but as beings who are capable of justice and mercy to an extent that is hard to find in humanity as a whole, no matter how intelligent we happen to be.





About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s