What Is Philosophy? A False Pursuit? A
Religious Quest? A Search for the Truth? A Philosophical Conflict with
I have placed numerous quotations as a
Survey of Philosophy
by writers and philosophers over three millennia who have made
statements that either define partially or more fully, directly or
tangentially, what is philosophy or its characteristics. Here, I use
those thoughts as background for my pursuit of a definition of
From my reading of various texts of philosophy and online, it is
reasonable to conclude that philosophy has four branches: metaphysics
(cosmology), epistemology, logic (formal and informal reasoning), and
ethics (value, esthetics). This particular designation comes from Titus
et al. See References.
These branches are interdependent. One’s metaphysics will affect
one’s epistemology. One's epistemology will affect one’s ethics. As one
develops and practices ethics, this activity may challenge both one’s
epistemology and one's metaphysics. Ideas or principles from one branch
may cause a change in thinking in other branches.
Also, philosophical inquiry usually begins with one of these
branches. A young person may wonder about his career (an ethical
decision) and then begin to consider, “What is the meaning of life,
anyway (value)?” An astrologist, grounded in materialism
(metaphysics), may begin to wonder, “How does anyone determine what I
ought (ethics) to do from what is?” Ludwig Wittgenstein, as
an atheist (metaphysics), began to examine words and language and
doubted that he could know anything for sure (epistemology).
The issue of truth reflects this interdependence. Two of the
traditional tests of truth are coherence and correspondence. By
definition, these words demonstrate that all the branches of philosophy
are interdependent. One’s ethics must be correspond or cohere with one’s
epistemology. One’s metaphysics must cohere or correspond with the
surety of one’s knowledge (epistemology). Henry Stob in his definition
of ethics demonstrates this interrelatedness.
Ethics deals with the voluntary conduct of individual man
insofar as it is judged to be good or bad in reference to a
single, inclusive, and determinative principle of moral value
grounded in and validated by ultimate reality. (Stob,
Reflections… page 24)
By now, the reader may have noticed that I have not included logic in
this interdependency. Logic stands mostly beyond this interaction,
at least in the process of logic and its rules.
So, (1) Metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics are interdependent. The
degree to which one will affect the other varies among philosophers and
their systems, but they can never exist independent of each other. (2)
Logic is relatively independent of the other branches. (I say
“relatively” because I am not sure of all the implications of that
What Is It That Philosophers Do? Methods
There is no one philosophic method. Different philosophers
at different junctures of history have developed the procedure
which seemed most promising in view of their own purposes and of
the current methods in other disciplines. The Socratic dialectic
differs markedly from the Aristotelian syllogism, the Cartesian
deduction, and the Hegelian dialectic. Contemporary
phenomenology and analysis are different again. Yet each method
reflects a philosophical viewpoint, a larger epistemology and
even metaphysical presuppositions. (Arthur F. Homes in Nash, The Philosophy of Gordon Clark, 1968, page 202)
I think that we can safely say that philosophy is a quest for
truth. Certainly, truth encompasses metaphysics, epistemology, and
ethics. Truth is the serious philosopher's hope and dream.
"Philosophical inquiry centers on a quest for truth about crucial issues
that are perennially discussed by thoughtful men." (Geisler,
Introduction to Philosophy, page 19) And, perhaps
we can agree on a definition of truth as “what is” or Reality. (I
capitalize “Reality” because God is the Ultimate Reality. (I will
discuss this idea in more detail at a later time.) So, philosophy is
a quest for truth or Reality.
Arthur Holmes (above) has named a number of methods of philosophy.
But the reader should note that these are not methods only. The Socratic
dialectic would find truth in a sort of synthesis of minds. The Aristotelian syllogism
takes propositions and reasons logically from them. Cartesian deduction
posits the proposition, “I think; therefore I am.“ Thus, truth or
knowledge is grounded in the person reasoning or in Descartes himself.
The Hegelian dialectic assumes that truth is found in a synthesis of two
opposite propositions. So, methods themselves are interdependent upon
a metaphysic and an epistemology. They assume propositions of truth
and reason from them.
The Law of Non-Contradiction
While all philosophers may not agree with the law of
non-contradiction, it is widely accepted among them. And, one can
forcefully argue that communication and rational thinking is impossible
without this law.
Reality poses a dilemma. “There are no absolutes.” “Truth does not
exist.” Each statement (proposition) contradicts itself! “There are no
absolutes” is an absolute. “Truth does not exist” has no meaning if the
opposite is not true. This situation is not complicated. Very simply, if
communication by language is not possible, everyone should just shut up
and be quiet. For Wittgenstein to deny the possibility of language to
communicate, he had to use that dastardly method of language itself!
We gain considerable insight into philosophy and philosophers here.
(1) Language does communicate. I have been married to my wife for
more than 40 years. We have communicated fairly well (not perfectly).
The newspaper arrives every morning on my driveway. It communicates (not
perfectly) news from around the world. The Chairman of the Federal
Reserve Board of the United States holds a news conference and millions
of investors around the world make decisions based upon what he
communicates! Now, such communication is not perfect, but it works to
great degree of accuracy. So, in our pursuit of philosophy, let’s apply
some reality that we all understand.
(2) The law of non-contradiction is mandated by language itself.
Not only is it obvious that two opposites cannot be true at the same
time, but certain constructs of language (propositions above) mandate
that this law is true. For example, a cat is not a dog, and a dog is not
a cat. I am not you, and you are not me. A star is not a planet, and a
planet is not a star.
Enter the Bible and Jesus
We did not start our reasoning with God except for a brief mention
concerning Reality. But, based upon what we have discussed so far, Jesus
enters the scene. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes
to the father but by me” (John 14:6). Jesus has claimed an all
encompassing philosophy; He has claimed to be truth! (Not only that but
He has added a new dimension # the
need of salvation (being with the Father)!
Based upon the law of non-contradiction, Jesus’ claim to truth must
be true or false. There are no other options. Many people could just
reject the historical accuracy of this statement. But, there is another
problem here. (1) We have determined that truth exists; not what truth,
only that it does exist somewhere by the law of non-contradiction. So,
Jesus, claim is at least plausible on this basis. (2) To deny His claim,
we would have to deny that history of His time period is impossible to
know because Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection are (far and
away) the best documented facts of the first century A.D.. So, to deny
this claim of Jesus, we have denied the possibility of history for that
period, but most time periods of history (the evidence of writers and
witnesses). We have upset the basis upon which history is determined.
So, a denial of His claim has repercussions far beyond the “religious”
(3) We would have to deny the experience of millions of Christians
since the First Advent. Oh, you say, that is easy. Not so fast.
Pragmatism is one of the traditional tests of truth. These Christians
would testify to the “pragmatic value” of salvation in Christ and of his
commandments to love God and man. Also, empiricism one of the major
forms of epistemology. So, to deny the claims of Jesus, one has to
throw out the possibility that what Jesus said was true, the historical
method, one test of truth, and one theory of epistemology.
Why This Digression Into the Claims of Christianity?
What does Christianity have to do with trying to define philosophy?
Surely philosophy can be defined without a discussion or reference to
Actually, a definition of philosophy is not possible without a
discussion of Biblical truth for this reason: the Bible makes a truth-claim that forces one to choose between that truth and all other claims.
The Bible makes many claims to be Truth. Chapters and books have been
written on this subject, so an exploration into all those claims is not
necessary here. I will simply state that Jesus’ use of the Old Testament
verified it as truth and that the New Testament claims truth for itself
(for example, II Timothy 3:16-17 and Revelation 22:18-19).
So, the law of non-contradiction divides truth into either Biblical
Christianity or a non-Biblical reality. By coherence, the Bible itself
divides the world with such designations as, light and darkness (as
truth and error, not physical light and its absence), sheep (true
Christians) and goats (pagans), believers (in Christ and the Bible) and
unbelievers (in non-Biblical claims), and Biblical truth vs. the world
(people as a group), the flesh (the sinful nature), and the Devil (the
personification of everything that is against God).
We digressed into Christianity because the Bible (God) forces
philosophy, as a search for the truth, into two unavoidable categories:
Biblical Christianity and every other philosophy.
Then, if only these two categories exist, then all religions of the
world fall into the second category. All other metaphysical claims
(cosmologies) fall into that category. And, by interdependency, all
epistemologies and ethics fall into this second category.
So, our definition of philosophy is the pursuit of truth within (1)
Biblical Christianity or (2) non-biblical religions and philosophies.
Attention! Both Christians and Non-Christians
Non-Christian. A denial of the truths of the Apostles’
Creed is not a simple matter. You must overthrow commonly accepted
methods of scholarship in history and philosophy. If you throw in
Pascal’s Wager, you have some serious thinking to do.
Christian. This article was really written for Christians,
philosopher and non-philosopher alike, especially those who are
incoherent, non-corresponding, and illogical about Biblical truth. But,
I had to begin with a more or less “secular” approach. Even philosophers
who are Christians are often assert philosophical "truths" before they
assert Christian (Biblical) truth.
I can hear the reaction, “If philosophy is defined in this way, then
philosophy becomes theology.” Well, yes and no. No, emphases
and areas of interest will vary. Yes, philosophy cannot proceed
except under a thoroughgoing Biblical authority. John Frame
It is difficult for me to draw any sharp distinction between a
Christian theology and a Christian philosophy. Philosophy
generally is understood as an attempt to understand the world in
it broadest, most general features. It includes metaphysics, or
ontology (the study of being, of what “is”), epistemology (the
study of knowing), and the theory of values (ethics, esthetics,
etc.). (Ed: Frame left out logic.) If one seeks to develop a
truly Christian philosophy, he will certainly be doing so under
the authority of Scripture and thus will be applying Scripture
to philosophical questions. As such, he would be doing theology,
according to our definition. Christian philosophy, then, is a
subdivision of theology. Furthermore, since philosophy is
concerned with reality in a broad, comprehensive sense, it may
well take it as its task to ‘apply the Word of God to all areas
of life.’ That definition makes philosophy identical with,
not a subdivision of, theology. (Frame, knowledge of God,
Cornelius Van Til says similarly.
Christian apologetics (philosophy) must
concentrate on the central concepts of the Christian life and
world view as a whole. It will stress rather the unity
that the discreteness of a truly Christian theology and a truly
Christian philosophy. It will make use of the main
concepts of a true Christian theology and a true Christian
philosophy, combining them for its own purposes.
Interdependency, Coherency, and Correspondence
A huge debate exists among Christians between presuppositionalism and
evidentialism. While this debate primarily concerns apologetics, it has
a specific application here to philosophy. At some point, I will enter
that debate. For now, I simply posit for you to begin anywhere that you
like. I believe that presuppositionalism is true because even
evidentialists have to begin somewhere, even if they begin with
empiricism being true or epistemologically sound. The point that
I want to make here does not really concern either view. What I want to
do is go back to interdependency of epistemology, metaphysics, and
At some point in their reflection, a person interested in
Christianity will begin to evaluate the Bible at some level. Is it
truth? How was the canon formed? Is the God of the Old Testament
different from the God of the New Testament? Should the Apocrypha of
Roman Catholicism be part of the Bible? May I steal from my neighbor
when his food will save my starving family? What is a just war? Etc,
There is a movement in thinking from metaphysics to epistemology to
ethics, back and forth, among all three. Some ethics may challenge
whether the epistemology of the Bible. For example, if my teenage
daughter is illegitimately pregnant, and if God is love, why cannot she
get an abortion? Or, science gives strong arguments for long periods of
time when the Bible limits the same period to days or hundred of years;
how can I reconcile the two different explanations?
At some point in this movement, the question should be confronted
concerning the canon and the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture.
That is, what books of the Bible should be considered the “very Word of
God written?” And, if they are God‘s words, are they accurately
delivered to me today so that I can trust my life, liberty, property,
and future eternity to them?
I want to explore all these issues and more in greater detail.
Suffice it here that I would like to apply the principles of philosophy
that we have already reviewed. Correspondence, coherence
(consistency), the law of non-contradiction, and the interdependency of
epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics demand that the 66 books of the
Protestant Bible stand against all other epistemologies, metaphysics,
Back to Logic and Theology
John Frame goes on to say:
If there are any differences between the
Christian theologian and the Christian philosopher, they would
probably be (1) that the Christian philosopher spends more time
studying natural revelation than the theologian, and the
theologian spends more time studying Scripture, and (2) that the
theologian seeks a formulation that is an application of
Scripture and thus absolutely authoritative. His goal is a
formulation before which he can utter, “Thus saith the Lord.” A Christian philosopher,
however, may have a more modest goal--a wise human judgment that
accords with what Scripture teaches, though it is not
necessarily warranted by Scripture.
A Christian philosopher can be of great value in helping us
to articulate in detail the biblical world view…. to interpret
Scripture; philosophers often have interesting insights about
language, for example. (Doctrine of the Knowledge…, pages
And, I would add, philosophy is central to the role of apologetics,
the defense of the faith.
But, Frame also addresses my concern which is one of the primary
purposes of this website.
We must beware, however, of “philosophical imperialism.” The
comprehensiveness of philosophy has often led philosophers to
seek to rule over all other disciplines, even over theology,
over God’s Word. Even philosophers attempting to construct a
Christian philosophy have been guilty of this, and some have
even insisted that Scripture itself cannot be understood
properly unless it is read in a way prescribed by the
philosopher! … But the line must be drawn: where a philosophical
scheme contradicts Scripture or where it seeks to inhibit the
freedom of exegesis without Scriptural warrant, it must be
I contend that many philosophers who are Christians have transgressed
in the way that Frame has named. On the one hand, this transgression is
only consistent. Where one spends most of his time reading, thinking,
writing, and speaking will strongly influence his thinking elsewhere.
In Christianity on the other hand, this transgression is dangerous.
(1) The thinking of men (philosophy) becomes authoritative over
Scripture. In my writings over 30 years, I have given numerous examples
in medicine and psychology, two fields which I have studied extensively.
(2) The Christian’s life is weakened because he is not following “the
way, the truth, and the life.” (3) Christians’ influence in the Public
Square is weakened because God will not honor man’s thinking, and He
will not honor other gods. (4) The glory of God among men is diminished
because the people bearing his name, Christians (Christ one's) have
exchanged the truth of God for a lie.
Strong accusations. But, over time I hope to give many concrete
examples on this website I have given hundreds of examples in medicine,
psychology, and other areas of worldview over nearly four decades. For
laymen, I hope to write a book that will give simplify philosophy
without compromising either the benefits of philosophy or the truths of
Quo Vadis, Christian Philosopher?
I do not want to diminish the benefits of philosophy.
Philosophical inquiry and history makes the faith in our God and His
Bible a more solid foundation or “rational.” The greatest philosopher
who ever lived was Jesus Christ. Next could be argued are the Apostle
Paul and Augustine of Hippo. As I will fault Christian philosophers on
this site, I will also show how the best of philosophy strengthens our
faith and worship.
For example, coherence is a challenge for our theology and our
ethics. What is right for an individual must be right for the family,
for society, for the church, for the nation, and for the world without
conflict. God is One and He has One Plan.
We must show that the truth of the Bible corresponds
completely to the universe. Science and the Bible speak two different
languages. Every attempt must be made to resolve apparent conflicts.
Understanding and critique of language is a legitimate tool of
What could be more pragmatic than Biblical ethics? First,
there is the effect at the personal, social, and political level. But,
there is also an effect at the physical level. In the Old Testament,
prosperity and crop production were linked to the ethics and worship of
the people. And, creation groans for its own redemption (Romans
8:18-22). If Biblical Christianity is true, then it can only be a
thoroughgoing pragmatic system.
Then, there is apologetics. For the past four decades,
Christians in philosophy have argued tit for tat with pagan
philosophers. Some of the latter have come to faith in association with
the argument of the former. Many philosophers throughout history have
tried to find peace and meaning in their work. No philosophy will ever
provide that, as only regeneration and Biblical obedience can accomplish
those ends. While the Christian philosopher should show grace (more
accurate than “love” which Christians commonly use) towards unbelieving
philosophers, they dare not let them rest in their false reasonings.
And, perhaps the best is mentioned last. Remember the four branches
of philosophy? What have we left out? Logic. Logic. Ah! How many
issues could Christians resolve if they learned to reason more carefully
in Bible understanding, theology, ethics, and apologetics? We have the
true propositions of Scripture. We only need to reason logically from
So, I am not diminishing philosophy at all. In fact, I am arguing for
a more thorough application of it. But, the Scriptures as God’s Word
Written cannot be compromised for the reasons name above. Perhaps, God
will honor this website to His glory and the greater understanding and
good of Christians and the world.
Epilogue. I started out in this article to show that
“philosophy,” as such, does not exist. There is so much conflict of
ideas and difference in methodologies among philosophers for the past
three millennia that any claim by any one of them to be true is
preposterous. Therefore, philosophy is just an exercise in one man’s or
a group’s opinions about what might be true. Philosophy is also a way
for a thinker to avoid God. He can indulge himself in complicated
systems, old or new, and never have to face the issue of God and His
But, the tools of logic itself drove me to conclude that “philosophy
is a quest for truth.” The law of non-contradiction about the statement,
“No truth exists,” mandates that there is at least one form of truth.
Then, the law of non-contradiction applies to Jesus’ statement, “I am
the truth,” in that it forces a necessary conflict between His claim and
all other claims to truth, whether religious or philosophical.
The following quote was found several months after I
wrote the above:
Thus we can see that logical implication is
not a religiously neutral something. It is dependent on
ethical values, which are ultimately religious values.
Logical necessity can be understood as a form of ethical
necessity, which is ultimately a religious necessity.
Logic, therefore, can be viewed as a brand of ethics. But
the only true ethical values are those revealed to us by God.
Therefore, logic presupposes Christianity.
(John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, page