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Why Philosophy Matters (1/5)

There are few words that elicit a more apathetic response than “philosophy.”

It smells like old books and old men. It congers up images of stone statues and Greek togas. It’s what you think about the moment before your eyelids collapse ushering you into the netherworld of REM.

But really, philosophy shouldn’t matter to Christians, right? I mean, didn’t the Apostle Paul in the book of Colossians tell us to avoid philosophy? If you ask me, you should leave the philosophizing to the liberals and the humanists.

Alright, so that might be how you feel, or how you’ve heard someone describe the discipline devoted to deep thinking, but why does philosophy seem to be so perennial and why should a Christian even care? Here are five reasons:

1.) Philosophy matters because truth exists.

As Aristotle, to quote a dead philosopher, once said, “All men by nature desire understanding.” All men want understanding. All men want truth.  But as Jack Nicholson, to quote a living actor, once said, “You can’t handle the truth.” I suppose they are both right.

But all quotes aside, philosophy literally means a love of knowledge. If you desire to be wise, you will inevitably find yourself engaged in philosophy.

While ignorance might be bliss, it is an unfortunate way to live. As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Alan Jacobs recently used the word “stupid” as a synonym for this sort of culpable ignorance. While some may have a hyper-appreciation for bliss, they surely don’t want to be called stupid. Philosophy is a tool for preventing stupid.

It should be noted, however, that philosophy and truth are not synonyms. Philosophy is not an end in itself. Philosophy is a way to think long and hard about what is true and why it matters. It is a road upon which we may discover truth, but never create it. That’s why G.K. Chesterton once said, “I opened my intellect as I opened my mouth, in order to shut it again on something solid.” Philosophy helps you know when to shut your mouth.

“But we already have something solid . . . we have the Bible, therefore we no longer need philosophy,” a Christian might retort. I would argue the opposite. Philosophy has great value because truth exists. It is truth that endows philosophy with worth, and not the other way around.

It is deceptive philosophy, however, that the Apostle Paul tells us to avoid (see Colossians 2).

But how can we do this? How do we perceive implausible propositions? How can we spot self-refuting systems? How can we recognize irrational ruminations?

Such critical analysis is made possible by a biblically informed view of the world. When the Christian takes a biblical truth and thinks deeply about how it relates to the world around them they are engaged in something an awful lot like philosophy. And because truth matters, so does philosophy.

To be continued.