Magnus Elhardt

GBT 5 Paper #2

June 5, 2002





Hegel and Objective Truth



Where can Man find an Objective Basis for Reality, Truth and Morality?


During the Enlightenment, the Western world began to abandon its Christian heritage.  Men stopped depending on God’s revelation and began to look exclusively to their own understanding to discover truth.  Taken to its logical conclusion, this form of thinking leads to absolute relativity.  In absolute relativity, everything is subjective.  A philosophy like this makes it very hard for a society to function.  If, for example, each individual can decide for himself whether or not it is wrong to murder, is it reasonable for society to punish someone who murders for acting on what he believes is right?  Even more basic is the question of whether a man can be punished for shooting a bullet through what he considers an illusion, someone whom he doesn’t believe even exists.  After all, if reality is completely subjective, who is the authority on what really exists or not?  Absolute subjectivity can never provide a basis for practical truth and morality.


The philosopher Hegel understood the problem inherent in subjective reasoning.  He saw that society needed an objective standard of truth and morality to function.  However, he did not want to turn back to Christianity.  Instead, Hegel developed a philosophy based on a dialectic view of history, which he felt was capable of fulfilling the role of ultimate authority better than Christianity had done.  The question is, did he succeed?  What are the characteristics of Hegel’s absolute?  What is the relationship between man and the absolute?  Can it give life meaning?  Can the absolute provide an objective basis for reality, truth and morality?  Does it allow man to distinguish reality from illusion, truth from falsehood and right from wrong?  If so, is there any reason to choose one over the other?  In short, can Hegel’s philosophy fulfill the functions of an absolute?  Is his philosophy a viable alternative to Christianity?



God – the Christian Absolute


Before examining Hegel’s philosophy, it is of paramount importance to understand that which it was intended to replace.  Christianity had held the fabric of European society together for more than a thousand years.  What  absolute does Christianity rely on to provide an objective authority? How does it answer questions concerning truth, morality and human existence?


Christianity relies on God.  God, the creator of heaven and earth, is the only absolute it acknowledges.  God was and is forever.  In Daniel 6:26, Darius, King of the Persians, wrote this: “I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.  ‘For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end.’”  Hebrews 7:3 says that God is “without beginning of days or end of life.”  He is far beyond the control of man’s weak powers.  He is the living God, an infinite absolute who exists independently of man.


God is also an active God.  In Psalm 72:18, King Solomon wrote: “Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds.”  God involves himself in the everyday details of the world’s existence.  After God had created the earth, he gave man a job.  Genesis 2:18 says: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”  Man owes not only his very existence, but also his purpose to the absolute.  It is only because of God that human life has meaning and a value.   Romans 8:28 says: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  Life does have a meaning and purpose – in God.


All truth is found in God; it is part of his essence.  He is the God of truth.  In Romans 1:25, the apostle Paul says of mankind: “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised.”  God does not change.  In Malachi 3:6, he says: “I the Lord do not change.” The apostle James wrote that “the Father . . . does not change like shifting shadows.”  God is an absolute who was, is and always will be the same.  Since God does not change, truth does not change.  It is always the same.  It is also something that human beings can know.  Amos 4:13 says: “He who forms the mountains, creates the wind, and reveals his thoughts to man, . . . the Lord God Almighty is his name.”


What is the relationship between man and the absolute in Christianity?  Man cannot fully know the absolute.  Job 36:26 says: “How great is God – beyond our understanding.” Although there is no person who can fully comprehend God, God not only understands, but cares about man.  In fact, he wants man to know what is true and right.  In 1 Timothy 2:4, Paul writes: “God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” God actively and willingly communicates with man.  To those who ask him, he reveals wisdom, knowledge and understanding.


Being both the author and source of truth, God is a reliable guide.  In Isaiah 45:19, he said: “I speak the truth; I declare what is right.”  God is truth, and it is by his nature that he sets the standards for right and wrong.  Since truth can be directly communicated to the individual, since God can be trusted and since God wants man to know the truth, man does not need to discover the truth by his own devices.  He only has to listen.  God is always willing to explain it to him. Since the standard of right and wrong can be directly communicated to man, there is never any reason for man to be ignorant of the nature of his actions.  Either God says they’re right, or he says they’re wrong.  Furthermore, since God does not change, there is no need for any periodic divine updates of truth and morality.  Stealing is as wrong today as it was a thousand years ago, and it will still be wrong when another thousand years have passed.


God also judges wrongdoers.  Man is accountable to God.  Job 21:22 asks: “Can anyone teach knowledge to God, since he judges even the highest?”  God, as the Christian absolute, enforces his own decrees.  God provided man with a moral standard, and he has the power to punish man for breaking that standard.  People can ignore him, but they can’t get around the consequences of his existence, or of their own behavior.


To sum up the Christian position, there is an objective absolute and it is God.  God is an eternal, infinite being who takes an active role in man’s life, giving it meaning.  He is himself the criteria for reality, truth and morality.  God gives man an absolute standard by which he is expected to live, and by which he is ultimately judged.   Man, being finite, cannot find truth or morality on his own but God, who created man, willingly gives it to him.



On Hegel’s 'Absolute'


What is Hegel’s absolute?  Hegel did present an absolute, a standard of truth which he was convinced could be trusted.  Man can, according to Hegel, look to phenomena outside of himself to find truth.  He himself is not the measure of all things.  However, understanding exactly what Hegel’s absolute constitutes is not that simple.


In order to understand just what this ‘absolute’ is, one has to look at the integral and fundamental premises Hegel bases his reasoning on.  Hegel’s first definition of the absolute is that it is a ‘being.’  It is existent.  Hegel then reasons that since the being is only a conceptual thought, a “mere abstraction,” the absolute can also be defined as ‘nothing.’  How is it possible to reconcile such opposites in one entity?


Hegel lays out a logical process whereby the being that is also nothing is shown to be a being that has defined limits.  In his book, Logic, he wrote that the “Determinate Being is a somewhat.”  The absolute is existent, but what does Hegel mean with ‘somewhat’?  He explains himself: “Somewhat is by its quality, firstly finite, secondly alterable; so that finitude and variability appertain to its being.”  Change is, according Hegel, an inherent part of existence.  The absolute is therefore finite and alterable.


In change, the absolute then “becomes an other; this other is itself somewhat; therefore it likewise becomes an other, and so on ad infinitum.”  The problem is, Hegel concedes, that there is now an infinite which only expresses the “ought-to-be elimination of the finite.”  Like being and nothing, the opposites of ‘self’ and ‘other’ must be reconciled.  What is Hegel’s solution?  He simply points out that the ‘self’ is also an ‘other’ to the ‘other’.  He then writes: “Thus Being, but as a negation of the negation, is restored again; it is now Being-for-Self.”


What in the world does this mean?  It means that the absolute inherently has a dual nature.  It is both infinite and finite.  Can this work?  Is something finite an absolute in the presence of an infinite?  Is an infinite really an infinite if it is one of two?  It is not a neutralization, Hegel contends.  The finite is absorbed into the infinite, leaving a unified absolute which exists for itself.  Hegel writes: “This unit, being without distinction in itself, thus excludes the other from itself.”  It is now ‘one.’  In another place, Hegel says: “Being or immediacy, which by the negation of itself is a mediation with self and a reference to self – which consequently is also a mediation which cancels itself into reference-to-self, or immediacy – is Essence.”  The absolute consists of multiple like natures which, one contained within the other, make up one single entity.  Two distinct entities make up the essence of one.


According to Hegel, then, the absolute is a finite and changing infinite.  How does this work out in practice?  Here’s what Hegel writes: “The thought, which is genuine and self-supporting, must be intrinsically concrete; it must be an Idea; and when it is viewed in the whole of its universality, it is the Idea, or the Absolute.  . . . Truth, then, is only possible as a universe or totality of thought.”  In other words, the absolute, being infinite, is a universal.  A universal is made up of many particulars.  The sum of the particulars equals the infinite, and therefore the absolute.  Hegel said that the particular is a ‘thought’ or ‘idea’.  The absolute is therefore the sum of an infinite number of ideas, which together constitute reality and illusion, truth and falsehood and right and wrong.


Hegel elaborates on this in his book, Phenomenology of Spirit: “The goal, Absolute Knowing, or Spirit that knows itself as Spirit, has for its path the recollection of the Spirits as they are in themselves and as they accomplish the organization of their realm.” The absolute can best be understood as a kind of living spirit, which is, in itself, merely an infinite collection of finite human spirits.  In this spirit, and only in this spirit, can absolute truth be found.  Every day, every minute, every second, more information is added to this spirit, and thereby it continually changes.


To summarize, Hegel describes an absolute that is a changing and infinite composite entity.  It is made up of an infinite number of finite pieces, more of which are added to it all the time.  It includes the idea of wrong as well as of right, the idea of falsehood as well as of truth.  This is Hegel’s absolute, his standard of truth.



Hegel and Man


What, in Hegel’s philosophy, is the relationship between man and the absolute?  The spirit of man, the individual, has a need for the absolute.  In order to fill that need, it places itself completely under the direction of the absolute.  Hegel describes this: “This sacrifice is the externalization in which Spirit displays the process of its becoming Spirit in the form of free contingent happening.”  As the individual spirit, the human, sacrifices control over itself, it actually becomes part of the greater Spirit, the absolute.  As it is absorbed, so to speak, into the absolute, it in its own turn absorbs the rich history of the absolute.  It is in this history of the absolute that man can find truth, learn what morality is and be secure in his existence.


Hegel put it this way: “This Becoming presents a slow-moving succession of Spirits, a gallery of images, each of which, endowed with all the riches of Spirit, moves thus slowly just because the Self has to penetrate and digest this entire wealth of its substance.  As its fulfillment consists in perfectly knowing what it is, in knowing its substance, this knowing is its withdrawal into itself in which it abandons its outer existence and gives its existential shape over to recollection.”  The goal of the individual spirit is absolute knowledge.  The only way to attain that goal is to take on the entire wealth of knowledge contained in the absolute, to become the absolute.


Since the absolute is constantly changing, the only way to know truth is to grasp the absolute in the midst of its change.  This is impossible.  Trying to take in the absolute is like doing day trading on the stock market when the only stock quotes available are delayed by five minutes.  A trader can try with all his strength to beat the stock market, but all he is really doing is trying to guess at the reality being formed on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.  He may make money, but he can never know, for sure, exactly the true price of what he buys and sells.  It is only when the stock market closes, and the change in stock prices comes to a halt, that he can achieve his goal of true knowledge of stock value.  By then, however, it is no longer of any practical value to him.


Would it be possible for anyone to complete this feat even in a lifetime?  Just consider the size of the absolute.  Billions of people have lived on earth up to this time and have each contributed to the absolute.  This means that the individual spirit tries to digest billions or even trillions of bits of knowledge, a task that can definitely not be completed in the lifetime of a human being.  Even superhuman abilities would not allow anyone to come to a complete knowledge of the absolute, since new material is constantly being added.  Here is a paradox which can only rob the individual of all peace.  Hegel has set man a goal he cannot reach.  A man may live long and hard, yet he will die without ever attaining certainty about what is real, true or good.  Obviously, those who work harder at the task than others end up far closer to their goal, but no one has any hope of coming even near complete understanding.  Doesn’t this elusive chase for truth defeat the purpose of seeking truth?


A man’s position would not improve in Hegel’s system if he were somehow able to actually gain absolute knowledge.  In gaining absolute knowledge, he would become one with the absolute.  In fact, the individual would himself be the absolute.  In what position is he now?  Rather than having an objective standard outside of himself to which he could look for truth, the man has raised himself to the level of the absolute and has once again become his own standard.  When the individual is raised to the level of the absolute, the absolute is no greater than the individual.  In other words, the absolute is no longer an absolute.   This situation is simply another paradox, and the man is left without a solution to his original problem.  No, Hegel’s absolute can only remain an objective standard as long is it cannot be fully known.  Yet, as long as it is only incompletely known, it is unreliable as a standard.  What a man needs he cannot get, and were he to get it, it would not fulfill his need.


Not only is it impossible to completely know Hegel’s truth, but his absolute is not able to give purpose to life.  A man can objectively know that he exists and that his dog exists, but he cannot objectively know why his dog exists.  Since the absolute is made up of the many ideas of many individuals, it can give no answer to any question that the individual cannot himself answer.   Is there any value in the life of a dog, or of a person?  Hegel’s absolute can answer that question, but the answer, like the other solutions it provides, is subject to change.  It probably isn’t the same today as it was fifty years ago.  For example, Scrooge’s statement that the poor ought to be left to die, in order that the surplus population might be reduced, can be regarded to be just as correct in its time as the generous and loving view brought about by his later change of heart. 


Does Hegel provide any reason to live a moral life?  The absolute is a guide to what is, at any given time, right and wrong.  However, Hegel’s absolute gives man no reason to live a moral life.  The absolute may be there, but it has no hold over anyone.  Where does it get its binding power?   It has none.  Morality does not need to carry any weight with a man as long as the people around him do not object to his behavior, and even then very little weight, if any at all.


The absolute, and therefore truth, in Hegel’s world is constantly changing and can never be fully known. The absolute that was in the newspaper yesterday is not the absolute that is today.  While one can be reasonably certain that what one sees, hears and feels really exists, and while one has an objective moral code to live by, even if a person spends his whole life searching for truth, he can never fully rely on what he knows about either truth or morality.  Even though Hegel’s absolute does provide man with at least a rough standard to live by, it gives him no reason to want to follow it.





Now it is time to ask the final question.  Can Hegel’s philosophy fulfill all of the functions of an absolute?  Is his philosophy a viable alternative to Christianity?  Does his changing trail of spirits fulfill the same role as an eternal and active God?  Does Hegel’s solution even live up to his own expectations?  The answer to each of these questions is “no”.


Both Hegel and Christianity assume the existence of an absolute.  However, the nature of Hegel’s absolute is very different from the Christian absolute.  While the Christian absolute is an infinite and unchanging person, Hegel’s absolute is an infinite and changing conglomeration of developing world thought.  While the Christian absolute interacts with and reveals himself to man, Hegel’s philosophy says that man must first submit himself to, then become part of, the absolute in order to achieve truth.


The underlying fallacy in Hegel’s philosophy is his assumption that man can come to fully know truth using only his own mind and reason, by his own efforts.  In Hegel’s view, the individual must not only raise himself to the level of the absolute to do so, but he himself must become the absolute.  However, it is impossible for man to achieve this goal in a lifetime.  According to Christianity, however, the way for man to reach truth is for God, the absolute, to reveal it to him, to raise him above his natural condition.


Hegel’s absolute can never give man final assurance of what is real in the world.  Reality can change, just as Hegel’s absolute does.  That is also why it cannot assure man that his life has any meaning or inherent value.  Christianity, on the other hand, gives assurance of both reality and worth.  All of God’s creation is real and was put in the world by God for a reason.  God cares about his creation enough to get involved with and guide his creatures.  They have value.


Another problem with Hegel’s absolute is that, although it may be objective, it isn’t really an absolute.  It can not be taken as a reliable standard of truth and morality.  If truth and morality are always changing, they are really rather relative.  Imagine hearing the following statement: “I’m already 83.7% sure that this brick will fall downwards every time you drop it, and 43% sure that the brick actually exists!”  How is anyone going to be able to base their actions on that sort of a statement of ‘truth’?  Man can only base his action on a truth and a morality that, as well as being objective, are complete and can be known.  Unlike Hegel’s philosophy, Christianity looks to an objective absolute which provides an unchanging standard of truth and morality.  Furthermore, the Christian absolute can be fully known.  Christianity does not require a man to do the impossible in order to know reality, truth and morality.  With a constant standard of truth and morality, a man can know whether what he does is right or wrong.  He has something to base his actions on.


Hegel’s philosophy is an improvement over a philosophy of absolute subjectivity.  It recognizes man’s need for an objective standard of truth and morality by which he can live his life.  However, it cannot assure man completely of the reality of what he senses, or the value or meaning of human life.  Continually becoming, but never complete, it can only provide preliminary standards of truth and morality.  Christianity, by contrast, assures man that he and the rest of creation exist and are not only valuable, but also loved.  God, the Christian absolute, is an unchanging standard of truth and morality and reveals himself to man.  When it comes down to it, Hegel’s philosophy seems to be nothing more than just a way of allowing people to delude themselves about their lives for the eighty years or so that they may live.  These considerations can only lead to the assessment that Hegel’s philosophy comes nowhere near being able to replace that which it claims to supersede.



Jonathan Palmer

GBT5, Paper #2

Final Draft

June 7, 2002


The Inevitable Sorrow


“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” –Jimi Hendrix, American Singer/Songwriter


Though Jimi Hendrix believed that men could overcome their love of power, these lyrics express a basic understanding that has been seen throughout history: man’s desire for power and wealth leads to war.  From the Greek orator Pericles to early church leaders to America’s founding fathers, men have accepted the inevitability of war.  Though there have been differing opinions about the cause of war throughout history, most agree that war is the result of man’s natural tendencies and desires.  This view agrees with the Biblical idea of human nature and has been consistently supported in history and remains true today.


In the 800’s BC, The poet Homer portrayed a world where the gods were intimately involved with the affairs of men.   The Greek gods and goddesses played a central role in men’s lives, directly influencing all aspects of human life, including war.  A god’s whim, for example, could change the outcome of a battle.  The course of the Trojan War continually changed as bickering gods interfered for their own purposes and to fulfill their own needs and desires.  In Homer’s Iliad, Zeus calls the gods to his halls and tells them,

“‘Here I stay on Olympus throned aloft, here in my steep mountain cleft, to feast my eyes and delight my heart.  The rest of you: down you go, go to Trojans, go to Acheans.  Help either side as the fixed desire drives each god to act…  If Achilles fights the Trojans – unopposed by us – not for a moment will they hold his breakneck force… I fear he’ll raze the walls against the will of fate’… So the blissful gods were rousing both opposing armies, clashing front to front.” (Iliad, Book 20, line 27 & 65)

The gods themselves understood that Zeus could ultimately decide whatever outcome he wished.  The goddess Athena tells Ares, “Let Zeus give glory to either side he chooses.” (Iliad, Book 5, line 34)  There is an apparent inability of humans, and sometimes even the gods, to change the course of events.


Homer explained man’s tendency towards war by ascribing it to the gods’ desires. Odysseus called the Acheans “Men whom Zeus decrees, from youth to old age, must wind down our brutal wars to the bitter end until we drop and die, down to the last man.” (Iliad, Book 14, line 105)  The gods’ influence was accepted for many years.  Croesus, one of the military leaders in the Persian War, said, “The cause of [war] was the god of the Greeks, who incited me to fight. For no one is, of himself, so foolish as to prefer war to peace; in the one, children bury their fathers; in the other, fathers bury their children. I suppose, however, it was the will of the gods that it should have happened so.” (Herodotus’ Histories, I.87)  Not understanding any other reason why men would continue to fight wars that left them to bury their young men, Croesus, like Homer, attributed war to the gods as well.  Ascribing so many aspects of their life, including war, to their gods, allowed men to avoid personal responsibility.  Instead of realizing the implications of a corrupted nature in man, the gods received the blame for man’s endless conflict.


In contrast to Homer and Croesus’ ideas, other Greeks placed less significance on the gods’ involvement and more on man’s own actions.  In Pericles’ funeral oration, recorded by Thucydides in History of the Peloponnesian War, Pericles says, “I shall begin by speaking about our ancestors…they, by their courage and their virtues, have handed it [Athens] on to us a free country.” (2.36) Athens was a free democracy, and it gained its freedom because men were willing to fight against opposition and die for the cause of liberty.  They gave their lives to make Athens free, and later to keep it free:  “…And it was not without blood and toil that they handed it down to us of the present generation.” (2.43) Pericles made no mention of the gods’ participation in the affairs of Athens, but glorified men’s role, referring to their virtues and courage.  It was the men who fought wars and gave their lives who made Athens great.  The desires and actions of men, not gods, were now seen as the reason for war.


In a speech to the men of Sicily, Hermocrates says, “That war is an evil is something which we all know…the fact is that one side thinks that the profits to be won outweigh the risks to be incurred, and the other side is ready to face danger rather than accept an immediate loss.” (4.59) Men who thought they would fulfill their desires for further power and wealth were understood to be the cause of war.  In order to protect their freedom and rights from these men, wars were fought almost constantly in Greece.  There was always someone stronger who desired to gain dominion over others and increase his power.  Without an army for defense, the sovereignty of the individual states would be lost.  Though the basic idea of war’s inevitability remained, it no longer resulted from any belief in the gods.  Instead, it came from a perception of man’s nature.  Men realized that in order to maintain their freedom, they would have to resist those who tried to take it from them.


The philosopher Plato also discussed man’s natural tendency for war.  In a conversation between Socrates and Glaucon, Plato presented a common scenario demonstrating how man’s desire for prosperity and dominance results in war.


Socrates: If we are to have enough for pasture and plough, we shall have to cut a slice off our neighbours’ territory.  And if they too are no longer confining themselves to necessities and have embarked on the pursuit of unlimited material possessions, they will want a slice of ours too.

Glaucon: The consequence is inevitable.

Socrates: And that will lead to war, Glaucon, will it not?’…

Glaucon: we have found its [war’s] origin to be the same as that of most evil, individual or social. (Republic, 373e)


Plato identified man’s ambition for further power as the cause that results in a continual state of conflict.  Each country must fight and defend itself in order to maintain its freedom from others.  Plato declared that “in reality every city is in a natural state of war with every other, not indeed proclaimed by heralds, but everlasting.”  (Laws, I 625b)  The nature of men – their lust for power and desire to protect what they owned – led to an unvarying state of war between the Greeks as each city-state fought to protect what was theirs.  Though these men did not necessarily possess a full understanding of man’s nature they still placed the responsibility of war on the actions of men, sometimes even praising man’s role in warfare.  They disregarded the supposed influence of any gods. 


Early Christian thinkers and writers agreed with the Greek’s fundamental understanding of the necessity of war.  Saint Augustine was one of the first men to propose and develop the idea of a “just war”.  He maintained that the only valid reason for war was to enable a government to keep peace in its realm.  War was still seen as necessary, being the only way to protect freedom from usurpers.  Augustine said, “True religion looks upon as peaceful those wars that are waged not for motives of aggrandizement, or cruelty, but with the object of securing peace, of punishing evil doers, and of uplifting the good.” (De Verb. Dom) Augustine’s concept of just wars echoed Pericles’ glorification of the virtues of the Athenians who fought wars to protect freedom.  By giving consent to war and asserting that it could be considered just when fought for the right causes, he elevated some warfare above the level of simple conflict between men.


Thomas Aquinas expanded on the idea of a just war in his Summa Theologica.  In Part II, question 40, Aquinas lists three conditions for a just war.  First, only the government may have the authority to wage war.  Individuals do not have the right to avenge wrongs by killing – it is a matter of the state.  Second, there must be a just cause, “namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault.”  Last, the attackers must have the right intentions – primarily the advancement of good.  The Church fathers understood that the weaknesses of human nature necessitated war.  Attempting to limit the wrongs that could result from excessive warfare, they provided an outline of a just war.  A variation of the Platonic understanding now existed.  The responsibility for war remained on men, but it resulted from a full understanding of man’s fallen state.  The Christians understood that man was no longer perfect as he had been created, and that a sinful nature was inherited by all people, giving them desires for further power and wealth.  They recognized the fact that nothing could stop the historical pattern of wars until man’s basic nature had been redeemed to its former state.


The late 17th century brought the first of several humanist thinkers who introduced new ideas about men and war.  Instead of accepting the idea that men have natural desires that result in conflicts, they believed that man’s nature was basically good but had been corrupted by society.  John Locke was one of the first to write about a natural state in which man first existed.  Attempting to show the source of a government’s power, Locke considers “what estate all men are naturally in.”  (Second Treatise on Civil Government, 2.4)  This was a state of perfect freedom with no subjection to others.  “A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another…without subordination or subjection.” (2.4) Any time a man attempts to infringe on another’s freedom or makes some design on his life, Locke believes he has put himself in a state of war with the other.  Locke’s state of nature and his state of war are exact opposites – war cannot exist in the natural state.  “And here we have the plain difference between the state of Nature and the state of war, which…are as far distant as a state of peace, goodwill, mutual assistance, and preservation; and a state of enmity, malice, violence and mutual destruction are one from another.”  Locke understood that war was an inescapable part of life, but did not consider it to be a natural part of man’s early existence.


Jean Jacques Rousseau followed Locke and expanded many of his ideas.  Rousseau believed that “Nothing [was] more gentle than man in his primitive state.” (Origin of Inequality, p. 91)  Society became the perceived reason that men had to fight to keep their freedom.  In man’s perfectly natural state, there was no cause for war.  Man’s movement away from his natural state into the restrictions of society introduced new elements into life – mainly individual ownership of property.  Some men acquired more than others, leading to inequality and oppression.  War became a part of life as some men fought to increase their power, and others fought to retain their freedom.  War was no longer seen, however, as a natural part of man’s existence, since it was not to be found in man’s naturally free state.  These ideas opened the way for the “enlightened” thinkers of the coming centuries.


This line of thinking later influenced the writers of the Humanist Manifesto in the 20th century.  This manifesto, written in 1933, advocated the idea of a world community that must “renounce the resort to violence and force as a method of solving international disputes.”  It continues, “War is obsolete.  So is the use of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.  It is a planetary imperative to reduce the level of military expenditures and turn these savings to peaceful and people-oriented uses.”  Modern day Humanists continue to believe that man was, at some point, basically good but has been corrupted.  By focusing his efforts toward pursuits that benefit mankind, man can change the direction of the future so that it does not mirror the course of history with its many wars.  Instead of accepting man’s natural desires like the Greeks or believing in man’s sin nature as the Christian fathers did, the Humanists believe war is something that men can choose to stop.  This idea allowed Humanists to fault others for conflicts and wars.  They assert their desire to live at peace with one another, blaming governments and leaders for conflicts.


The events of the 20th century, however, have confirmed Pericles’ and Plato’s understanding of war.  The Greeks fought wars to protect themselves from usurpers.  They accepted this fact and tolerated it.  There was no expectation that people’s efforts could overcome this reality.  The 20th century confirmed the belief that man’s greed poses a continual threat to freedom.  This past century was filled with bloodshed and destruction.  The United States was involved in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War and other smaller conflicts.  Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and other despots and communist regimes left their mark on history during these wars.  Each war is an example of a deficiency of human nature – man’s desire for wealth and power.  There is always someone ready to take advantage of another’s weakness for his own purposes.  The wars and violence in this last century forced the writers of the Humanist Manifesto to publish a second manifesto forty years later, in 1973.  They opened it by saying “Events since then [the publishing of the first manifesto] make that earlier statement seem far too optimistic.  Nazism has shown the depths of brutality of which humanity is capable… Recent decades have shown that inhuman wars can be made in the name of peace.”  War has proven to be a permanent part of human life. 


Variations of these different understandings are found throughout history.  Very few of these ideas, however, have accepted the fallen and sinful man portrayed in the Bible.  Unlike the gods of the Greeks, the God of the Bible does not delight in war.  He does, however, use it as a tool to accomplish His will.  War dates back to the earliest written histories in the Old quizament.  As God worked to establish a kingdom for the Israelites, He often commanded them to fight - sometimes to kill every living thing in a city.  The nation of Israel kept its freedom by fighting the wars that God directed it to fight.  War is not something good or something to be praised, but it is necessary because of man’s sinful nature and God used it to bring about His purposes.  In 2 Samuel 22:33&35, David sang a song of praise near the end of his reign as King, acknowledging God as his strength in war.  “It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect…He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze.”  Again, in verse 40, he says “You armed me with strength for battle; you made my adversaries bow at my feet.”  God gave David success in war to protect His chosen people and establish their kingdom, and David attributed his success to God.  In the account of Eleazar, one of David’s Mighty Men, it says, “The Lord brought about a great victory that day.”  (2 Samuel 23:10)  In spite of Eleazar’s strength in battle, the success is credited to God.  The New quizament shows that God gives power and authority for aggression to rulers.  In Romans 13:4b Paul says that a ruler is “God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”  In a world plagued with sin, God has given leaders the right to use force to punish offenders, thereby protecting peace and freedom.


The writings of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers, reflect a strong understanding of this Biblical view.  In Federalist Paper #6, Hamilton says, “To look for a continuation of harmony between a number of independent, unconnected sovereignties in the same neighborhood, would be to disregard the uniform course of human events, and to set at defiance the accumulated experience of the ages.”  Understanding that history repeats itself, many of the founding fathers knew that it should serve as an example – wars had been fought for thousands of years and would continue to be fought.  Again in Paper #34 Hamilton states, “To judge from the history of mankind, we shall be compelled to conclude that the fiery and destructive passions of war reign in the human breast…and that to model our political systems upon speculations of lasting tranquility is to calculate on the weaker springs of the human character.”  The Founding Fathers acted on this understanding when they drafted the Federal Constitution, giving the leaders of America the power to use force for punishment and defense.  Basic tools of defense are defined to guard America’s freedom from the “destructive passions of war…in the human breast.”  The structure of America’s government shows an overall understanding of human nature as it is portrayed in the Bible, including an understanding of war and God’s perception of it.  Responsibility was again placed fully on man in his fallen state.  This realization of man’s nature gave the United States a strong basis for its government that quickly helped to make it the most powerful nation in the world.


In spite of the Christian basis for the American government, the humanists continue to have a great influence on many Americans’ way of thinking.  During the Vietnam War, the “hippie movement” began.  This was perhaps one of the most obvious demonstrations of the humanists’ impact on society.  The hippies believed that all men should live in equality and that they could achieve universal love and peace.  They organized massive anti-war demonstrations throughout the Vietnam conflict, often involving thousands of people.  Their sentiments echoed the ideas of Locke and Rousseau.  They formed communes, living together and sharing their belongings.  These communes mimicked the “natural state” that earlier humanists had written about while asserting that man was naturally at peace with one another.  Although the hippie movement has faded in America, humanist ideas still permeate many people’s thinking.  They lament the frequency of war and the use of force to solve problems.  Even after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, rallies were organized and banners appeared telling us to “practice peace,” and to “make love, not war” in response to these attacks.  Disregarding Biblical truth, those influenced by humanist thought want to remove any responsibility from themselves and believe in the possibility of a world with no wars.  The Humanists desire the world to believe in a principle that has no support – historical or otherwise.  All experience points to a fallen world with sinful men that will always result in war.


Man’s explanation of the causes of war has changed throughout time.  Homer and other Greeks attributed war to the whims of the gods, giving no accountability to man or his actions.  Pericles and Plato, however, recognized the weaknesses in men’s character that caused a continual state of conflict.  War was no longer ascribed to the gods, but to man’s own choices.  In spite of what history had shown, the Humanists disregarded history’s lessons and arrogantly assumed that man could improve his own nature.  They blamed war on the inequalities introduced by society instead of accepting the reality of individuals’ own natural desires.  In spite of the scores of millions of people who were killed during the 20th century, the humanist ideals still have a strong hold on the thoughts and ideas of many Americans, resulting in generations that refuse to take responsibility for the results of men’s actions.  History, however, verifies the Biblical truth: mankind is fallen and flawed.  His greed and his lust for power make war a sorrowful, yet inevitable, part of life.



Christy Giannestras

July 17, 2002

Great Books V

Paper #2



Plato’s Progress:

The Gospel According to Reason




     Every philosopher has a gospel that is the focus of his life.  Convinced of his enlightenment, the philosopher concentrates all of his mental and communicative strengths in evangelizing the world.  Plato, the author of The Republic, had a similar objective in writing this exhaustive discussion of morality, government, and the soul.  The focus of The Republic lies in the cave allegory, portraying his belief of how the soul rises above the shadows of deception in the world and gains knowledge of truth.  More aptly named “Plato’s Progress”, the personage in the allegory is released from a lifetime in darkness and led gradually closer to accepting the light and acknowledging its Source.  In Plato’s placement of the degrees of knowledge, the method by which the soul ascends from level to level, and the end the soul attains, he reveals the heart of his philosophy.    This ancient Greek “lover of wisdom” bases his gospel on the ability of an individual to be conformed to a new nature through reason of an Absolute Idea.  Because his nature is inherently flawed, Plato’s man does not know the Idea, God, until he rejects the faculties of the world of sight and ascends to pure intellectualism in the world of knowledge.  How do these conclusions compare with a biblical worldview?  The fundamental difference between these worldviews is their characterization of man’s relationship to the divine.  Plato’s man is separated from God’s truth intellectually, while the biblical man is separated from God’s truth ethically.  The cave allegory is the gospel according to reason, the Platonic method of resolving the crisis between man and truth.


The World of Sight—Perception of Shadows


     The physical world offers an extraordinary array of entities sensible to the human sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell.  Perception is the faculty that translates what the senses receive, differentiates between the signals, and draws immediate conclusions about each object.  Since this intellectual “sense” depends upon individual perspective, Plato believes perception is entirely relative.  The common beginning of knowledge, perception is the primary force in man’s nature that isolates him from truth in the Platonic system.  “…For nothing imperfect is the measure of anything, although persons are too apt to be contented and think that they need search no further.” (p. 242) In this fashion, perception masquerades itself as absolute knowledge when, in fact, it is a flawed representation of truth.  How does this compare with a biblical view of perception and its consequences?  While Plato insists perception is the reason for man’s ignorance, the Bible replies that man’s chosen bondage to the world produces the distorted images of reality.  Truth cannot be discovered in Plato’s cave as a result of his man’s obligatory attachment to perception.

     The allegory of the cave begins in the depths of a dark, grim prison house.  Plato says, “Behold! Human beings living in an underground den… here they have been from their childhood and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them…” (p. 253) The prisoners are forced to live in darkness, restrained from knowledge of anything beyond their immediate sight.  A wall, reflecting sounds and images of a life occurring behind the prisoners, is their only source of learning, truth, and entertainment.  Thus, their lifetime has been spent knowing only shadows of truth.  The prisoners, however, do not comprehend their plight or desire better circumstances because they know only their own experience.  In fact, they believe the images on the wall are true beings in themselves!  “Would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?  To them, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.” (p. 254) The dim light cast on the hostages fails to help them consider the sources of the images and leads them only to erroneous conclusions.  Left in this condition, the prisoners will remain doomed to eternal, blissful ignorance of all truth and reality.

     This stage of the allegory paints a disarming picture of mankind’s ignorance.  Since living by perception in the world of sight is the beginning of all knowledge for Plato’s man, those who remain in this state are hopelessly chained to their senses and passions.  Two important conclusions may be drawn from Plato’s interpretation.  First, perception has an imprisoning effect on all who succumb to its deceptively vivid representations.  Second, the world of sight conceals reality, distorts any truth that is revealed, and dooms its victims to eternal ignorance.  “‘You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.’  ‘Like ourselves,’ I [Socrates] replied; ‘and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of another…’” (p. 254) The reflections stand for all things that are known in a limited, misconstrued sense.  The dark cave symbolizes worldliness, wherein the light of fire, representing truth, is distorted and misunderstood.  The prisoners represent all people who live ignorantly, while the chains represent perception itself, preventing understanding of truth.  Instead of becoming enlightened over time, prisoners of perception become acquainted with falsehood and convinced of relative truth.  According to Plato, the limited reality that can be known in the world of sight is rendered worthless by the chains and images of perception.

     Plato presents a difficult idea to man by condemning perception and the validity of the world of sight.  Man is often inclined to rely on his senses for knowledge, as well as to distrust anything beyond or against his immediate understanding.  Yet Plato insists that the perceptive faculty in man is not only greatly flawed, it is the very instigator of misconception.  It is the prime mover in man’s intellectually barren nature that makes deception appear realistic.  Scripture, however, speaks against this reasoning.  “They are darkened in their understanding…because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” (Ephesians 4:18) This verse says that man does not understand truth because he has hardened his heart, thus enslaving himself to the world of sight.  He is a bondsman to his perception only when he deliberately rejects the obvious truth!  Man is the victim of his own ethical problem, not an intellectual flaw.  His perception, therefore, is faulty because he has chosen deceptively vivid images over reality.  Acts 28:26 says, “Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive; for the heart of this people is become obtuse…” Truth cannot be found through perception because this faculty is distorted by man’s sin nature.  Thus, Scripture does agree with Plato that truth has a greater source than what can be known through physical senses.  Nevertheless, in believing the barrier between man and truth is an intellectual problem, Plato wrongly asserts that man’s perceptive nature is the cause of his ignorance.


The World of Sight—Faith


     Faith conjures many definitions and inspires much controversy.  Philosophers spanning millennia have exhausted the debate of its value and legitimacy.  Faith is, perhaps, the most difficult and misunderstood phenomena in the world.  Plato, however, neither stresses the subject nor exalts the idea of faith.  In fact, as the second stage of his allegory, faith in the world of sight is uncommonly simple.  Plato says of this type of knowledge, “…the soul is compelled to use hypotheses; not ascending to a first principle, because she is unable to rise above the region of hypothesis…” (p. 252) And again, “…When turned towards the twilight of becoming and perishing, then she [the soul] has opinion only… and seems to have no intelligence…” (p. 249) Plato compares faith to an erroneous hypothesis made by an inexperienced science student before an experiment.  He stresses the notion that faith is merely an opinion formed when one makes an unsubstantiated choice between opposing ideas.  This opinion, entirely devoid of logic or evidence, is founded in man’s bondage to his perceptive nature.  How does this compare with a biblical view of faith and its significance?  While Plato’s faith originates in the flawed intellectual nature of man, biblical faith is based on God’s infallible truth, a gift to free man from depravity.  Faith is insignificant in Platonic philosophy because it results from individuals who remain deceived by their nature.

     The stage of faith marks the first turning point of the cave allegory.  Having lived a lifetime in bondage and ignorance, the prisoners experience an extraordinary change.  “…See what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error.” (p. 254) Plato describes little regarding the subject’s release, though he credits an “instructor” as their guide and mediator.  This mediator knows a world beyond sight, can distinguish truth from shadows, and assumes responsibility for releasing his fellowmen.  Imagine—the same prisoners who have never moved or known anything but a shadow can now turn their heads and face reality.  Thus situated, do the freedmen rejoice in their fortune, thank their benefactor, and rush towards the light?  “He will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows…” (p. 255) They experience only suffering and confusion in the glare of truth.  Having grown accustomed to the deceptive shadows, they are physically and intellectually stunned by this encounter with reality.  Unwilling to endure the pain or accept what the “instructor” insists is fact, they hurriedly return to the darkness.  Their familiarity and comfort in the shadows induces the captives to reject their introduction to truth.

     Plato interprets this passage as the natural method an individual undergoes to transition from perception to faith.  First, aid must come from a source outside of oneself.  Without a mediator, prisoners would remain in permanent bondage.  Second, an individual must act to benefit from an “instructor’s” help.  “…The instrument of knowledge can only by the movement of the whole soul be turned from the world of becoming into that of being…” (p. 258) Prisoners of perception must turn away from the world of sight in order to benefit from the instructor and be introduced to reality.  Third, truth is disturbing for one who is deceived by perception.  Exposed to a new realm of intellect and being, the individual rejects the confusion it causes and attempts to live unchanged by his new knowledge.  Previously forced to accept the world of sight, he now chooses deception because he now trusts the validity of perception.  He hypothesizes (or supposes) that truth lies in what he perceives rather than what he does not understand, simultaneously acknowledging something does exist beyond his own opinion.  Formerly, he had no opportunity or reason to have faith or question his relative, perceptive “truth”.  This faith is an irrational, passionate choice.  Platonic faith is a decision to believe in a theory without the ability to give a logical account for one’s choice.

     Plato makes several dubious assumptions in the faith stage of the cave allegory.  He spends remarkably little time discussing the subject and portrays the nature of faith in a simplistic manner.  Plato equates faith with mere opinion, hypothesis, and conviction.  How does this compare with a biblical view of faith?  There are some similarities in the biblical and Platonic view, including the need of a mediator and a change within the individual to reach faith.  Scripture says, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…” (1 Timothy 2:5) and  “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth…” (Isaiah 45:22a) Jesus Christ is the bona fide mediator who reveals truth to mankind, and man must, in turn, respond to see.  These similarities are limited, however, for there are significant differences between the two worldviews and their faiths.  The Platonic gospel assumes the barrier between man and truth is solely intellectual, believing faith is opinion without evidence or understanding, derived solely from individuals bound to perception.  The cure for man’s mental nature, therefore, would consist in intellectual enlightenment alone.  Biblically, man is in ethical rebellion to the truth he already knows from general and special revelation.  Faith is not opinion or whim, but is solidly based on Scriptural evidence and the world’s confirmation.  Romans 10:17says, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Further, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen… Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God…” (Hebrews 11:1&3a) Faith has substance and brings understanding because the Author of faith is substantial.  Valid faith is God’s divine and absolute gift of truth to alter man’s unbelief.  Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God…” If man’s problem is ignorance, his “faith” is worthless; if man’s problem is sin, then God’s faith is the only remedy.  Plato rejects the validity of faith because he does not understand its nature or source.       


The World of Knowledge—Understanding


     Understanding is often used as a synonym for the concepts of knowledge, comprehension, and discernment.  These closely affiliated words imply a similar state of mind.  It is commonly believed that understanding is comprehension of information received by the brain by any source and in any form.  Plato, though, enters the third stage in his allegory with a different perspective.  He believes understanding is the soul’s combination of experience and belief in truth.  “And the soul is like the eye: when resting upon that which truth and being shine, the soul perceives and understands and is radiant with intelligence…” (p. 249) To attain understanding, his pilgrims must be turned from the world of sight and exposed to the world of knowledge.  Plato thinks perception and faith, faculties of man’s nature, must be abandoned in order to understand truth.  Man’s intellectually base nature is painfully stripped away upon exposure to absolute principles, enabling the soul to be enlightened.  How does this compare with a biblical view of understanding?  Plato’s understanding is gained by virtue of transcending the incapacities of earthly thought, whereas biblical understanding comes only when God reveals himself to ethically depraved man, thus enlightening his whole being.  In contrast, the Platonic gospel requires the mind to escape its own limitations caused by world of sight in order to achieve understanding.      

      The stage of understanding marks the most significant turning point in the allegory.  The prisoners are freed from chains as well as their clouded devotion to the shadows.  This release, nonetheless, does not come without distress.  “And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he is forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated?” (p. 255) Their arrival in the presence of the sun, forced by the mediator, is an unwelcome experience.  Thoroughly helpless, each individual longs for the comfortable, familiar depths of the cave.  They experience the ultimate paradox—the darkening effect of enlightenment.  “When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.” (p. 255) Though surrounded by a beautiful world of truth and light, the subjects are repulsed.  Slowly, however, their eyes are able to distinguish objects.  At first, they recognize only shadows, reflections in the water, and dark images.  Eventually, they recognize actual objects as truth.  Lastly, they are able to look upon the illumined heavens of night.  “He will then grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world… he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day.” (p. 255) Though not able to endure the sun, the ultimate source of sight, the individuals experience reality and can differentiate between it and the false images of the cave.

     Plato shares a vivid interpretation of the journey to understanding, taking a unique approach on the subject.  Three important points in his worldview are that understanding may only be acquired with great difficulty, exposure, and knowledge of truth.  First, the “ascent of the soul” away from the realm of perception and misconstrued conviction is unavoidably painful and done against the will of the subject.  Plato believes all humans are slaves to their faith in the physical world and must be rescued from delusion by a philosopher who knows truth and will enlighten his listeners.  Secondly, Plato says that time in and exposure to truth gradually lessens the natural limitations of the intellect.  Just as the cave dwellers’ eyes eventually accepted the light and new-dimensional objects as a higher reality than the shadows, a person’s soul will grow accustomed to truth and realize its past misjudgments.  Moreover, “our argument shows that the power and capacity of learning exists in the soul already…” (p. 258) In other words, truth lives in each individual, is suppressed by his nature of ignorance, and must be extracted by an enlightened source to be recognized.  Lastly, understanding is gained only by differentiating reality from falsehood and comprehending truth.  Therefore, in Platonism, perception and faith are counterfeits of true knowledge because they stem from the deceptions of the mind.  Plato’s understanding is attained only through discomfort, time, exposure, and most importantly, escape from the world of sight.

     The stage of understanding showcases some of Plato’s most outstanding beliefs.  His philosophy revolves around the principles that truth pre-exists in the soul, understanding is knowledge of truth only, and understanding is gained without a revealed Source.  Is it possible to understand without discerning the Source?  How do these conclusions compare with a biblical view of understanding?  Scripture does not promote Plato’s escapist methodology for attaining understanding.  Man’s inability to understand results from his rejection of an ethical standard, not an incapacitated intellect.  Biblically, in fact, man is not unable to understand but actually darkens his truth-knowledge.  Romans 1:21 says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”  Earlier in the chapter, Scripture reveals that truth is known but suppressed by wickedness.  Man’s ethics, not natural ignorance, bar him from accepting knowledge of truth.  One can know truth without acknowledging it, but the only way to achieve valid understanding is by God’s severing the ethical boundaries between himself and man through a work of redemption.  When man is saved from depravity, his blind soul is opened to the Source of his salvation, bringing absolute understanding. “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood…” (Psalm 73:16&17) Man must know the Source of truth before his understanding is transformed.  Platonic understanding is achieved by escaping the limitations of natural intellect through the influence of truth without knowledge of its Source.   


The World of Knowledge—Reason


     Reason, in many philosophical circles, is considered the epitome of life and truth.  It is often exalted above all other forms of knowledge and existence.  Consequently, reason becomes the god of many otherwise atheistic viewpoints.  Plato views reason as being a means of knowing the Absolute rather than being the Absolute itself.  In the cave allegory, the “stage of reason” introduces his subjects to the Source of light and life.  His gospel of reason arrives at its central point: the idea of good.  “Now, that which imparts truth to the known and the power of knowing to the knower is what I would have you term the idea of good… not only the author of knowledge to all things known, but of their being and essence…” (p. 249) This “idea of good” is Plato’s God.  This revelation transforms the former prisoners and is the cornerstone of Plato’s system for changing man’s nature as well.  Since man must escape the limitations of his perceptive and faith-oriented nature to know truth, unadulterated reason is the only vehicle that reveals the highest truth, God, to the soul.  How does this compare with the biblical view of reason and the means of achieving knowledge of God?  Plato and the Bible make two incompatible theses.  The first depends on reason given by an Idea to a “knower” in order to heighten his intellect, while the latter depends on faith and understanding given to man by God through His Incarnate Self in order to resolve man’s ethical rebellion.  Plato’s philosophic system is based on man’s ability to attain reason through knowledge of the idea of good.

     In the climactic stage of reason, man comes to the end of his quest for truth and reality.  Having comprehended everything else in his new surroundings, man’s eyes are strong enough to look upon the sun.  “Last of all he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.” (p. 255) Man finally knows light, its source, and its vitality to life.  The sun reveals a completely transformed perspective of his past, present, and future.  He simultaneously acknowledges the nature of the sun, crediting it as the Creator, Guardian, and Cause of all things.  He revels in the truth, looking back on his old life with contempt and pity for those who remain in bondage.  “And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?” (p. 256) So great is his joy of discovery that he returns to the cave to become, in turn, a mediating philosopher to his race.  The sight of the sun negates the power of deception and marks the beginning of a life based on absolute intellectual truth.

     Plato’s stage of reason clarifies his beliefs about God and the mental capabilities of man.  He says, “…My opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right… the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual...” (p. 257) There are three important points to be gleaned from this passage.  First, the idea of good is the last reality to be revealed to the human intellect.  All other truths must be understood before one is capable of grasping the intensity of this Idea.  It wields the power to enlighten but is disturbing and painful for the one who remains unaccustomed to its effects.  Second, the idea of good is recognized as the Universal Author.  It is both the source and creator of truth, essence, and being.  The idea of good is Truth-in-Itself but far exceeds the limits of essence-in-itself and being-in-itself.  This is the prime mover of the allegory and the God of Plato’s philosophy.  Lastly, the reason given to the “knower” by the idea of good can never be lost.  It permanently transforms the intellectual nature of the individual and induces him to share his Idea-given truth with those who remain oblivious to its power.  Absolute reason is the primal force that changes man’s perspective of truth.

     The concluding phase of the cave allegory brings the nature of Plato’s philosophy into clear focus.  He explains the heart of his allegorical gospel: the divine quality of the idea of good and the power of the mind to comprehend all absolute truth.  How does this compare with a biblical view of God and reason?  According to Scripture, it is humanly impossible to understand God in the way Plato attributes to reason.  I Corinthians 13:12 says, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” The Bible stresses the fallibility of human reasoning and the intellect’s limitations in divine and absolute knowledge.  The crucial difference between these philosophies is that Plato’s idea of good and the true God are two entirely different beings.  The transforming of the intellect is the focus of Plato’s gospel because his God is an Idea known only through absolute reason.  Consequently, his characterizations of perception, faith, and understanding are perfectly harmonious with his End.  A change in man’s ethics is the focus of the true gospel because God is holy Being known only through His gift of faith and understanding.  Reason is unimportant compared to assurance of faith and its supporting evidence through general and special revelation.  Romans 1:17 says, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last…” Truth is known through biblical, evidential faith rather than pure reasoning.  Plato resolves the crisis between man and truth by reason because his God is the essence of and revealed by absolute knowledge.             


The deduction


     The allegory of the cave forms the soul of Platonic philosophy.  It contains the most vital principles of Plato’s worldview, sharing them in a rousing parable of individuals who forsake their abode in the world of sight to gain a greater knowledge of reality and ultimately, the good.  Likewise, this “lover of wisdom” desires his audience to embrace the gospel of rejecting earthly perception and faith in order to raise the mind to the realm of absolute ideas.  “Plato’s Progress” represents a viewpoint far removed from biblical truth.  It is based on the assumption that man is intellectually separated from God’s truth by his nature in the world of sight.  Perception, therefore, is that natural faculty which obligates man to be deceived by false representations of truth.  When introduced to reality, man as a prisoner of perception will resort to a weak, unsubstantiated faith in his accustomed process of thought.  Only upon being forcefully thrust into the world of knowledge and shedding his love of perception will understanding enlighten man’s soul.  Finally, man is exposed to the idea of good through absolute reason, thus transforming his intellect and resolving the crisis of attaining truth.  The Bible refutes Plato’s conclusions on the basis that man is ethically responsible for his separation from truth and is transformed only through God’s gift of faith-based salvation.  This truth changes one’s perspective of perception, faith, understanding, and reason.  The allegory of the cave is Plato’s gospel according to reason, abandoning the soul of mankind to a purely academic enlightenment.

Katherine von Heiland

GBT V, Paper Two

June 7, 2002


That Lofty Pinnacle of Glory



On their intellectual thrones the great political theorists sit-Pygmalions critiquing civilizations and creating utopias. Their names adorn history’ s halls- Plato, Cicero, Hobbes, Locke, and others. Their revolutionary and profound treatises on government continue to shape men’ s minds. Nevertheless, like Pygmalion, their perfect creations remain in stone- lifeless. Existing governments, customs, or lack of power often strangled their political philosophies. However, in the eighteenth century in the “new world” the slate was wiped clean; a country received the chance to build a nation, to lay new foundations. Then Prometheus arose, giving the people his gift of fire, a new country. Then, the power of the gods, the glorious blaze of their ideologies, gave life. Into the raw clay of this nation poured the writings of Ancient Romans, the ideas of the Enlightenment, and the doctrines of Christianity.  >From these sources a country was created, built neither on geography nor nationality, but constructed from principles- universal truths established by God and acknowledged by men.   


When the dust from the American Revolution settled, the nation’s founders began the task of construction. “If America ever approached (for however brief a time) that lofty pinnacle of glory to which the proud imagination of its inhabitants is wont to point, it was at this solemn moment . . .” (Democracy in America  Vol. I Chap. 8) From the stones of the past they raised three ideological pillars as the stays and supports for their Constitution- the nations single most important document. Upheld by this triad of principles, it is the consummation of the Revolution and the colonies’  struggle for independence. In order to appreciate and to rightly interpret this document, one must examine its foundations-individual liberty, balanced power, and continuous reformation.

Liberty, the Constitution’s most famous pillar, which gave the document its first breath, stands as its cornerstone. It is the idea, stated in the Declaration of Independence, that men “are born with certain inalienable rights” to advance themselves and live peaceably. With this premise the founders sought to establish a government, which preserved this liberty instead of encroaching upon it. Their goal translates into the powers and duties they bestowed upon the Federal government. “The Congress shall have power . . . To declare war . . . To raise and support armies . . . to provide and maintain a navy . . . To provide for calling forth militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions.” (Art. I.8) These military powers are immense, effectively establishing the government’s seniority and position as the country's central authority. With these and other prerogatives, the founders created an  umbrella government over the states, unifying them--forging them into one country. At that time the avaricious appetite of the European continent as well as rivalry between the separate states threatened to destroy the new nation. They urgently needed a government, which would ensure cohesive, deliberative action and unity in the face of war. “. . . it appears equally clear to me that one good national government affords vastly more security against dangers of that sort than can be derived from any other quarter.” (The Federalist Papers ) True freedom cannot exist amidst chaos or weakness. Only within the restraints of law, only armed against their enemies and anarchists could the founders preserve liberty for their people. Thus the first step toward their goal was to establish a secure, ordered state--an ideal sometimes viewed as freedom‘s enemy. Encased in this armor, protected from internal convulsions and foreign aggression, the people of America could pursue the blessings of liberty. 

Although the Constitutional government was established to promote liberty, the founders recognized the danger from freedom’s other enemy--the state itself. For this purpose they raised the Constitution’ s second life pillar, the system of “checks and balances”--the guardian of liberty. Again and again history and the Bible demonstrate that human ambition distorts government into an instrument of oppression. In addition to this universal human failing, the constitution faced another obstacle--rivalry between the larger and  smaller states. One side sought a division of power based on population, while the other advocated equal representation. Rather than quixotically ignoring this opposition or the truth of human nature, the founders integrated these into the Constitution itself. “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” (Art. I, section 1) Besides resolving the internal conflict, the “Great Compromise” established a vital precedent of balanced power. Since the House draws its members from a popular vote, it fulfills the need of a government “for the people, of the people, and by the people,” directly addressing the needs of the citizenry. Through the second part of the Congress, the Senate, it lays down an important principle in American government. “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the legislator thereof . . .” (Art. I Section 3) Closer to the needs of their own populations, extremely wary of concentrated power, the states stand as watchdogs over their rights, to impede the oppression of the federal power. The House and the Senate each brings special interests and abilities to the State. Tyranny, chaos, or oppression result when these bodies exist by themselves. Together they “check” each other’s power and “balance” each other’s interests. 

Noble and wise as the Constitution’s precepts are, the founders did not regard it as an ideal document. To combat its inevitable ageing, to preserve the nation from future chaos, they instituted the third column,  the procedure of constitutional amendment. “The Congress, whenever two-thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution . . . valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution.” (Art. 5) Through the system of Amendments, the States and the population could work to address specific problems or correct flaws within the Federal government. Congress used the Amendments to establish the Bill of Rights, provisions for the death of a President, and restrictions on Presidential terms. In one sense, the Amendments serve as another “check” to power, a way to perfect and guide the Constitution. However, they also establish a vital precedent of their own-the idea of continuous reformation. The Constitution did not institute a transitory government, to be replaced once it had served its purpose. No, the  men behind this document knew America needed a stable, lasting government, which would guard their nation and allow it to prosper. Doubtless, the warnings of Thomas Hobbes reverberated in their minds throughout the Constitutional convention. In the Leviathan, Hobbes wrote about the anarchy, which will override a volatile nation. “In those Nations, whose Commonwealths have been long-lived, and not been destroyed, but by forraign warre, the Subjects never did dispute of the Soveraign Power.” (Lev., ch. 20) However, his alternative of a country frozen in its institutions, too fearful to combat injustice or correct its flaws, does not conform to the ideal of Liberty, which birthed this nation. The Amendments operate as the medium between Hobbes’  dire predictions and his own philosophy. They allow for and condone improvement without rending the country apart. “It guards equally against that extreme facility, which would render the Constitution too mutable; and that extreme difficulty, which might perpetuate its discovered faults.” (Federalist 13 ) Without the Amendments the Constitution would atrophy, its ligaments and sinews would stiffen and it would fail to address the needs of a growing nation. 

“Liberty, Fraternity, Equality,” the humanistic anthem cries.  What greater sentiments could stand? Nevertheless, the founders of the American Constitution saw a higher peak beyond the grand roll of these words, beyond the noble aspiration of these thoughts. They saw the quartz but chose the marble; they gazed at the bronze and reached for the gold. Instead of freedom from moral restraints, they envisioned liberty within a structured, ordered society where individuals could better themselves. Rather than cling to the  fleeting dream of universal brotherhood, they acknowledged human fallibility and guarded against it.. Finally, they chose the principle of internal flexibility, allowing their government to improve while standing secure.

Born in 1776, itself the child of change, the Constitution could not escape the subsequent years of metamorphosis. With increasing intensity, transformations shook society, shooting it into the twenty-first century. Indeed, each Amendment quizifies to one or more ideological or social shift. Following the principle of flexibility, they were applied like mortar to cauterize the Constitution's cracks, to adapt it for new generations. Inevitably, in the pangs, which propelled those years, it suffered as well as benefited. Inevitably, in the raw, unpolished fervor of “progress” amendments were created, transformations wrought, too rapidly. Inevitably, personnel ambition or harmful ideologies left deforming scars. As the United States enters another epoch, a new millennium, it is vital to reevaluate the amendments. Which improve the Constitution, breaching its gaps, rendering it new and living? Which work against the Constitution, rising from mistaken theories? Most importantly, do any strike at the Constitution’s founding principles, crippling its strength, destroying its voice? These areas reveal the needs and virtues of America’ s founding document. The lessons they teach, the flaws they disclose are vital as both a guide to understanding the Constitution and a light to lead it.

>From time of its ratification, the Constitution was refined and preserved through its amendments. Ideals, which birthed the revolution, also fathered the Bill of Rights. However, the theme of liberty did not end here but continued  to shape American history. One of its most renowned children appears in Article Thirteen. “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime . . . shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” (Art. 13, section 1) This Article marks the first, great change in the Constitution since its ratification. Like many first-borns, it took a violent, bloody road, which ravaged the nation. However, it does mirror the march of liberty through every level of  society. Article Thirteen in turn spawned Article Fifteen, as America continued in its evolution. “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” (Art 15 Section 1) These do not eradicate the validity of the Constitution or the universal principles, which shaped it, but are its direct descendants.  For a time the prized ideal of liberty and the institution of slavery-two opposites- existed side by side. Eventually, they clashed; the contradiction was resolved; the process of change and compromise, of conflict and resolution continued. 

Despite the benefits time wrought in the Constitution, it also took its toll; like water it wore away at the document. In 1913 Congress ratified the seventeenth amendment. “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof . . .” (Art. 17) Apparently, this opens the door to even greater liberty and self-governance--allowing a more direct, popular government, where the citizens select both their representatives and their Senators. Under this amendment the legislative body maintains its original structure; two houses preserve the  balance of power. The only difference being that each is directly responsible to the people. While previous amendments clarified constitutional limits or righted social injustice, the seventeenth altered the very structure, which the founders instituted.  During this country’s early history the states played a vital role--forming a distinct part of each man’s identity, values, and politics. Each formed a unique “republic” and jealously guarded its rights. Within these pre-existing bodies the Constitution evolved, neither overriding the states’ authority nor bowing subserviently to their ambitions. “. . . giving to the State government such an agency in the formation of the federal government as must secure the authority of the former and may form a convenient link between the two systems.” (Federalist 62) With this “convenient link” in mind, the founders integrated the states into the Constitution, forging them into the nation’s backbone, turning them into strengths, not weaknesses. Can one remove such an intimate, interrelated aspect of the Constitution without profoundly altering the government? Since the founders wove the states into the system of checks and balances, can the tapestry of balanced power stand without them? Suppose the states had received the power to appoint the people’ s Representatives. This would have profoundly altered the nature of the federal government. Conceivably, the political atmosphere would have reverted back to the chaos and anarchy, which existed under the Articles of Confederation. Conceivably the states would have increasingly expanded their power, served their own ambition, and fractured the nation. “The faith, the reputation, the peace of the whole Union, are thus continually at the mercy of the prejudices, the passions, and the interests of every member of which it is composed. Is it possible that foreign nations can either respect or confide in such a government?” (Federalist 15 ) If such a change in the appointment of Representatives contains the potential for great chaos, would not the converse transformation equally disturb the balance of power?  

The founders were deeply conscious of man’s fallibility--his lust for personal gain--and how this predisposed governments to chaos and ultimately despotism. To guard against this inherent evil, they attempted to redirect man’ s fallibility--to harness human lust and ambition, forging it to the reins of government. “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place.” ( Federalist 51) One iron line joined the senators ambitions to their states’ interests. Another, equally strong, tied the Representatives to the people’s service. Like two contrary horses, drawing the nations chariot, they had to adjust their pace to the other’s needs, to pull against the other’s strength when it threatened the nation.  Today, however, nothing substantial differentiates the two bodies; both serve the same master, motivated by the same lusts, elected by the same citizens. The bodies of congress—the horses--now work in tandem.   United in this way, how can they maintain the balance of power? The Seventeenth amendment not only subjugates the bodies of Congress to the same master, but also appoints, as that master, the popular vote. “. . . there are times when the people, stimulated by some irregular passion or some illicit advantage, or misled by the artful misrepresentations of some interested man, may call for measures which they themselves will afterwards be the most ready to condemn.” (Federalist 63 ) In cases such as this, when public passion fervently attaches itself to some cause, the best interest of their Representatives and Senators is in supporting the people’s desires. Their success and power lies in pleasing the peoples’  whims, catering to their passions, which often change with every wind. Originally, the state acted as a stabilizing authority, a catalyst to curb the citizen’s excessive passions or misguided fervor.  >From their high positions the state legislators held a broader picture of situations and their far-reaching effects. Ordered and fixed in their institutions, the states were more difficult to sway, less prone to sudden change. These benefits transferred to the senate, where the senators represented the concerns of the state legislators. “ . . . another advantage . . . Is the additional impediment it must prove against improper acts of legislation. No law or resolution can now be passed without the concurrence first of a majority of the people, and then a majority of the states.” (Federalist 62) Too much power, concentrated in one area, ultimately corrupts, leading to chaos and opening the door to despotism. This proves true whether  a group of aristocratic states, an executive minister, or the populace itself holds large amounts of authority. The founders recognized this and sought to guard against it by dividing the legislative branch--preserving liberty. Thus when the seventeenth amendment altered the appointment of senators it struck a blow at the very foundations of the Constitutional government. 

When renovating an ancient building, one must proceed with caution, taking care to preserve its worth and structure. Special tools  must be used to improve without destroying. The Constitution was created with such instruments to preserve its integrity, to keep it from calcifying. These, the amendments, carried the Constitution through centuries, restoring its vitality with an elixir  of youth, rendering it ever pertinent, ever precious for each generation. Through them, the ideas, which spawned this nation developed and matured, despite social, political, and geographical upheavals. Indeed, time has proved the genius of their inception. However, these guardians of the Constitution also opened the door to misuse and harmful changes. They drilled into the structural harmony and supports as well as the rotting timbers. What differentiates the amendments, allowing one to build and another to destroy? Those, which adhered to the Constitution’s principles, ultimately furthered the nation’s good. Others, which assumed the guise of principle but abandoned its spirit, struck at the Constitution’ s roots. These two categories demonstrate the amendments proper place in the Constitutional government and their abuse--the harm they can bring or the good they can further. One treats the amendments as a bridge to carry ideals from the past to the present. The other sees them as a road leading to a new and strange city.  

What endows the Constitution with lasting greatness, placing it among the tarnished but glorious annals of human achievement? What sets it among the dissertations of Cicero, the observations of de Tocqueville, and the essays of Montaigne? Two elements distinguish it thus--the principles, which it embodies, and the system of amendments. Goals of liberty, balanced power, and internal improvement birthed and shaped the Constitutional government. From these roots spring its nobility and relevance for subsequent generations. They are the rudder, which steers the state through both calm and stormy seas. Inspired by the principle of continuous reformation, the system of amendments arose. This preserves and renews the Constitution,  correcting its flaws, furthering its principles. It allows the Constitutional government to remain a living document--to translate its timeless ideals from the eighteenth century to the future. Like sails they harness the winds of change, propelling the Constitution through the decades. Without the amendments the constitution would stagnate, stuck in the past like a ship without sails--unable to move. Good  Despite the universal nature of its values, without the ability to address the needs of the present without losing the principles of the past, it would eventually flounder. On the other hand, deprived of its principals, the Constitution is subject to every wind of passion, every fleeting dream, like a rudderless ship, which moves at the mercy of the elements. It has no direction, no standard to dictate its movements, nothing to steer it away from the rocks. However, together these two elements compose the Constitution’s greatness, its nobility and practicality. Whatever the Constitution’ s status in the government, however crippled its power may seem, it remains--like the Parthenon of Athens--a reminder of “that lofty pinnacle of glory” which this nation once reached.




Elizabeth Meihaus

GBT 5, Paper #2

Second Semester, June 2002


The Pursuit of Truth

An Essay On The Influences of Ancient

and Modern Philosophy



Who is it really that puts questions to us here.  What in us really wants truth?”  These questions were posed by Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the most influential philosophers of the nineteenth century.  In his renowned work “Beyond Good and Evil”, he acknowledges through these questions the desire that man has to be enlightened by truth.  His query has proven fitting as modern culture is clearly laden with exceptional works of past individuals.  These individuals have sought truth and understanding, and have opened their discoveries to all in the classical texts that make up the Great Books of the western world.

Throughout history, there have been numerous philosophers, each with varying ideologies.  The title “philosopher”, a word derived from Greek meaning ‘lover of wisdom’, reflects the way these individuals lived: loving the idea of knowledge to the extent that they devoted their lives and studies to its attention. Men like Plato, Aristotle, Anselm, Nietzsche, Kant, and Hegel are several of the most prominent ‘lovers of wisdom’ who have shared their philosophic dogma in texts such as “The Republic” and “Prolegomena To Any Future Metaphysics”. 


In studying these works, and others, it is apparent how obviously so much time, personal sacrifice, and intellectual genius have gone into their philosophic volumes.  The intellect is indeed an extraordinary and brilliant medium by which coherent thoughts and opinions are brought to life.  Without such an endowment and the ability to reason, the world would be at a virtual standstill, deprived of such ingenuity as modern inventions and the realization of the laws of the physical universe.  Seeing the need for reason, and the indispensability of thought, also seen is the need for objectivity so that organization of thought can prevail.  One can often find philosophy lacking in areas of objective thought, and without proper resolution of the inquiries concerning its key elements.  Without a higher, ultimate standard, and without the support of more than subjective ideas and theories, philosophy cannot fulfill the needs of man and will continue to lack a resolution.


Stemming from this proposition, several questions could be addressed concerning the nature of philosophy.  Has it neglected a rational method of reasoning  and missed a key element in communicating with its audience?  Has philosophy influenced the world for the better or added  constructively to the spoken and “unspoken” moral codes that govern the world?  Further, as philosophers have approached truth through their personal worldviews, have they left behind what should be a vital part of that search: namely, a worldview centered upon the God of the universe, solely through whom their thoughts are given?  And finally, has the subjectivity that philosophy relies upon, in fact, been its downfall?



Without objective truth, order, unity, and most importantly, morality, could not exist.  If each person were to live by their personal convictions alone, chaos and confusion would be prevalent.  But through firm foundations and principles that have been established in countries and civilizations, harmony is generally free to reign.  There is always the need for a higher authority in order that man may be ruled by something other than his primal nature.


Friedrich Nietzsche in his renowned work “Beyond Good and Evil”, discusses negative conceptions of philosophers of the time.  He states, “Gradually it has become clear to me what every great philosophy so far has been: namely, the personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir; also that the moral (or immoral) intentions in every philosophy constituted the real germ of life from which the whole plant had grown.”  His statement clearly expresses the way by which the majority of philosophers argue their point: that is, subjectively, and with a desired end in mind.  This causes as he says “the real germ” from which the plant of philosophy grows, as it has grown so massively and all-inclusively.  He also states that “In the philosopher...there is nothing whatever that is impersonal; and above all, his morality bears decided and decisive witness to who he is...”  A thought given by a particular individual is naturally going to reflect their own personal convictions in a great way.


Even while philosophy is connected by aspects that are intertwined with certain specific principles, the ability is, nevertheless, constantly there for philosophers to contribute their own personal assertions.  In the same way that evolutionary theories are and can be numberless, so it is the way with philosophy.  Consequently, there is room for countless systems of thought if there are not specific boundaries.  The possibilities were endless for ancient philosophy, and are endless for the scope of modern philosophy, as long as the only requirement is personal cognizance and conviction.


The beliefs of John Locke are an example of the connection between philosophy and personal belief.  He says, “The last resort a man has recourse to in the conduct of himself is his understanding.”  Locke, as well as men such as Kant, believed in a method of “empiricism”, the notion that experience is the primary source of knowledge.  Empiricism, although dealing primarily with the generic notion that knowledge comes only from actual physical occurrences,  does imply and allow for personal interpretation of experiences.  Locke, as well as others, supports this view as he states essentially that the only means by which a man can direct himself is through his own discernment.


While there was the existence of terminology used by Kant and others such as “analytic” and “a priori” that dealt with knowledge that was born of logical laws instead of being entirely subjective,  philosophy retained its premise that experience was the greaquiz giver of knowledge.  This is the cause of numerous predicaments.  For, while all human experience does play a large roll in the understanding of life’s principles, it will not always lead to the same conclusions for all men.  Because individuals have the ability to interpret matters differently, gaining knowledge by means of experience alone can give way to very contrasted views on life, making it difficult to live in unity.


But this unity, and this apparent need for it is everywhere exhibited even in creation.  The created order speaks of a rational Creator.  In order for a better knowledge of this created world, learning is strongly encouraged and promoted.  Education offers useful knowledge, and trains the mind to think and process information.  As the mind matures and needs to be further challenged, the study of logic can be employed to train the mind to think in an orderly manner, and the art of rhetoric encourages the ability to argue persuasively.  These forms of education are valuable when considering the  necessity of living life sensibly, and effectively communicating with fellow individuals.  


Seeing this need for communication and the necessity for logical, processed thinking, and in reading works of philosophy, a question arises.  Has philosophy neglected a rational method of reasoning for a system that ultimately  misses a key element in communicating with its audience and persuading them to a desired opinion?  The Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language defines persuasion as “The act of influencing the mind by arguments or reasons offered, or by anything that moves the mind or passions, or inclines the will to a determination.”  One of the only ways that the passions of the mind are able to be kindled is if they are allowed the indulgence of understanding.


Philosophy has regularly produced its own terms to describe faculties of man and his intellect, in order to express propositions in a desired way, and,  just as often, a given language is not always capable of articulating the desired affect.  This has always been necessary in order that philosophy could expound ideas in the manner desired.  Kant and others used terms such as ‘empirical’ and ‘a posteriori’.  But, in the midst of these terms and the materials philosophy addresses, it begs the question, does it allow  for laymen and the common-wealth in general, to read these philosophical works and understand, and to gain the truth that is said to be sought after?


Dr. Seuss is one of the most beloved children’s authors of the 20th century.  His style of writing is of the caliber that all can appreciate.  If children’s books were to contain material far above the average child’s comprehension, they would most likely draw a very exclusive audience.  A similar comparison could be drawn with philosophy.  When even the basic grammatical structures of philosophical arguments are often wanting, in even such elementary aspects as vocabulary and sentence structure, it can affect the way that their materials are absorbed in the minds of the audience who is seeking to learn, not one that is already especially educated.


Not only in grammar, but also in content, can and does philosophy often go astray.  Concerning this topic, Nietzsche writes, “They [philosophers] pose as if they had discovered and reached their real opinions through the self-development of a cold, pure, divinely unconcerned dialectic... while at the bottom it is an assumption, a hunch, indeed a kind of “inspiration”... that they defend with reasons they have sought after the fact.”  As a philosopher himself, Nietzsche admits to the fact that most philosophy is often merely theories or the desire to an end.  Often it seems as if these new ideas are not necessarily genuine discoveries for the furtherance of philosophy, but merely the hopes and dreams of those who bring forth the thoughts. 


Where these great philosophers have desired the advancement of understanding and truth, they have essentially given their own ideas.  An example of this is Plato’s notion of ‘forms’, where he believed that what one sees on earth is simply a representation and imitation of its higher form that exists in a higher place.  While it is often profitable to present ideas to seek to gain understanding of various subjects, philosophy appears to present ideas which are only the speculations of the philosophers themselves, such as Plato’s notion of the forms.  Through this, it can be difficult to fully understand philosophical ideology, especially if philosophers themselves do not have a firm grasp of the ideas they present.  One cannot present speculation as fact without inevitably causing some discontent and confusion.




Has philosophy influenced the world for the better?  It has certainly affected even far-reaching subjects such as economics.  The manner in which philosophers argued was often imitated by others, and even by individuals later in history.  Hegel purported a dialectical method, the concept that a trio of ideas including a thesis and its opposite, or antithesis, worked together to form a new concept, or synthesis.  Karl Marx, in his socialist commentary, “Das Kapital”, used this dialectical method in his philosophy of dialectical materialism, that described the constant change that the economy undergoes.  But has philosophy, despite all its elevation and fame, in fact, encouraged humanity to a better way of life?


Philosophy has held great sway over ethics and morality.  In the system of Stoicism, Marcus Aurelius, was a prominent author promoting his philosophy that a man could live morally and die knowing that he had done the best that he knew to do.  The Stoics, the leader of whom was Zeno of Cittium, also believed that one should live a life indifferent to pleasure and pain.  If a man underwent a tragedy, he should remain detached from the situation, not allowing emotion, either good or bad, to affect him.  These beliefs make both pleasure and pain to be of no consequence, causing even the simple, God-given joys of life to have no affect on the soul. 


The same detached sentiment could be said of how morality was approached by philosophy.  The major aspect of Kant’s belief system assigned an action moral merit if it was done from duty.  Aristotle believed that an action should be done “for itself”, or perhaps more distinctly, it should be done simply for the sake of doing it.  Considering the subjective way philosophy approaches morality and ethics one can understandably  introduce the question, “Why?”.  The unresponsive way in which the philosophers portrayed morality seems  to be almost sterile.  Why seek to accomplish something if there is no greater end than merely doing it because it is ‘good’ if there are no other benefactors, and if this goal of “good” is left to interpretation.  Deeds, if done from right motives, can benefit mankind, not existing only as duties performed from obligation.  Philosophy searches for a way to better understand matters that might seem complex, but in the process most often misses the simple beauty in life.


On the exact opposite end of this spectrum was Epicureanism.  Founded by Epicurus, who founded a school near the time of the of the school of Stoics, this system appealed to individuals who believed in a system that embraced a moderate and peaceful life that was free from pain.  But even this system of beliefs became marred, as its followers eventually took that view to an extreme and led lives of indulgence.


All of these systems of morality were extremes, and almost entirely subjective.  According to Stoicism, one had to live his life as best as he could.  In the method of Epicureanism, one had to live a life as free from pain as possible while leading a temperate life.  Kant believed that an action should be done from a sense of duty; but duty can be flighty, particularly if there is no other motivation to do good.  While all of these beliefs hold worthy principles, there is room for distortion.  A person perhaps would not feel duty compelling him to perform a good deed.  One might also feel as if spending large amounts of money on frivolous trifles would be most conducive to a life free of stress.  The perpetual but subjective freedom illustrated in these systems of thought do not promote many objective values.  In areas such as these,  philosophy seems to provide only more of a means of wonder to life’s questions, rather than come to a true realization of answers.  It has not given clear, objective guidelines, ultimately leaving it standing not having contributed to a furtherance of truth.



Seeing that philosophy embraces much of what is subjective, there is a need for higher absolutes.  As long as there are no real objective truths, as long as philosophy continues to embody the “personal confessions” of its authors who are mortal and fallible men, it  neglects a process of reasoning that  reflects the God by whom those very thoughts are given.  There is indeed a need for a higher, objective truth, one which includes the God of the universe.  Universal truths given by the very God of creation are the only true answers to life’s intrinsic questions.


But, this solution is not easily accepted by philosophers.  For, if their whole premise is based upon subjective reasoning, they would resist the act of accepting something so completely against what is core to their reasoning.  Nietzsche writes, “From the start, the Christian faith is a sacrifice: a sacrifice of all freedom, all pride, all self-confidence of the spirit; at the same time, enslavement and self-mockery, self-mutilation.” But these sentiments cannot be further from the truth.  The Christian faith and salvation are gifts of God (Ephesians 2:8-10), and never degrading, they rather elevates man beyond what he could have made himself to be, or beyond where he has attempted to place himself.  Throughout the centuries, Christianity has always taken the lowly and the weak, and elevated them to a higher place,  through  salvation and sanctification gained in Christ,  not by any human psychological strength.  Philosophy has tried to elevate man intellectually, but has failed in the process, gaining neither a godly nor objective concept  of truth. 


But this is not to say that Christianity requires a renunciation of all desire for earthly knowledge.  The search for wisdom and truth is one that should be executed according to God’s principles and with the desire for his prinicples, rather than through the wisdom of fallible men.  Proverbs 16:25 speaks clearly to the issue, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”  The road that men such as Hegel, Augustine, Kant, and Nietzsche traveled seemed to them to have been virtuous and profitable,  leading them to a higher good.   But unless they understood the genuine objective truth obtainable as a result of salvation through Christ, their historic masterpieces could not lead them, nor others, to a higher knowledge and understanding of life’s greater mysteries, including who God is and what he requires of mankind.  


Christianity is neither an “enslavement” nor a self mockery as Nietzsche claimed it to be.  A common belief of those with anti-Christian sentiments, such as Nietzsche , is that through the renunciation of self and the taking up of the cross of Christ, one looses his identity as a personal being, no longer able to live as himself.  This sentiment is ironically true, but only in part.  By becoming a child of God and in living by his laws and statues, Christians are indeed in submission to a higher power.  They loose their identity, but merely loose it in themselves, finding it in Christ.  And, through gaining salvation, one does loose his self pride, but finds confidence in Christ.  Psalm 4:7 states, “Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than when their grain and new wind abound.”  While grain and new wine are not connected to intellectual wisdom, this verse clearly speaks of finding fulfillment in Christ rather than in earthly possessions and in temporal gain.  Rather than elevating oneself through the intellect and temporal fame, joy is found in the One who bestowed such blessings.  Jeremiah 9:23 speaks to this aspect, saying, “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom...”  God has indeed granted the gift of wisdom and insight to some, but man’s ultimate satisfaction should be in Him who gives that gift, as Jeremiah 9 goes on to say in verse 24, “...but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord...”  Wisdom, thought, and understanding are not ends, but means to an end, that end being the knowing of God.


While philosophy could easily be subject to criticism on all sides for most of what it embodies, in one area there is undeniable beauty.  The thoughts of these men, no matter how imperfect, reflect the magnificence of the Creator.  It is not often in history that there are brilliant minds who are willing to give up earthly benefits and pursue truth instead.  Their intellects are God-given and splendid.  Often, knowledge is taken for granted, and this attitude has been rejected by these men as they have embraced the desire for truth.  But even this aspect of beauty if marred.  Romans 1:18-19 states, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made is plain to them.”  Men such as Nietzsche, Plato, and Hegel knew in their innermost souls that there is an objective truth which God has “made plain to them”.  They knew the truth, for the great numbers of  works they have written embody that knowledge.  But they are never wholly able to grasp it because they look to themselves.  Because of this, they did not see the Higher Being who is able to give wisdom and truth.  It is this looking to themselves that is their downfall.  It is subjectivity, the very premise on which they base their arguments, that is their destruction.



Nietzsche writes, “ often and how easily they [philosophers] make mistakes and go astray; in short, their childishness and childlikeness...”  This description of childlikeness that Nietzsche assigns philosophers cannot paint a truer picture of them.  Children, being young and dependent, are often unable to truly distinguish between moral and corrupt actions until they have been trained to recognize them by guidance.  If a child were to be left absolutely alone and to his own inclinations until he grew to maturity, he would face serious distress later in life,  not having been trained and prepared for the world.  Paralleled with a situation such as this is the predicament in which philosophers are to be found.  They have contented themselves with their doctrines, and have clung to their intellectual god.  But without an objective truth by which to live, where else can they turn but to proceed down the path they have chosen and the only path they know.


C.S. Lewis, a great theologian of the twentieth century, writes compelling truth in his book “The Abolition of Man”.  The subject matter of his book warns of what the state of mankind will ultimately be if it continues on a path of subjectivity.  He writes, “A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.”   In the absence of absolutes, man is either ruled by standards  imposed by a few, “conditioned”  to accept these truths  to which the rulers  themselves are not accountable, or left to his own  subjectivity, a slave to his own primal desires.  The decision to embrace the standards of the Creator is the only means by which the tyranny of and slavery to our desires will be abolished among men.  It cannot be accomplished through man himself.


To quote a popular cultural phrase, “The truth is out there”.  It is available to those who give up a self-worth found in human reason alone.  It is available to those who give up subjective intellectualism, and accept an absolute standard found ultimately through faith in Christ.