Friday, February 21, 2014

Progress or Decline?

I had a moment's glimpse last night of a great philosophy class for our time. The danger for me and people like me is that I love the truth. I love the truth whether it has any obvious immediate benefit or not. There are students who want that and I hope there continue to be places where those students can get it, dreamy places where thinkers and students can sit together by the river Cam and think deeply.

But what most people need in a philosophy course at a Christian university are the tools to think truly and coherently about the life most of them are going to live. Philosophy in the majority of the academy should be about learning how to think logically and learning how to engage the issues of the day in a helpful and profound way. For a Christian college or university, it should help them consider Christian ways of thinking about the world, recognizing that there is often more than one way even a Christian can process things.

Last night, after a mid-term, until the thunderstorm warning went off, we pondered a little the philosophy of history. It struck me how relevant this topic was, because there is a narrative of decline assumed among most American conservative Christians. Maybe it is true but it is an interpretation.

I immediately felt guilty. I had put this topic in a backwater of the course, the mindless time in the second half of an evening class after the mid-term. But this was one of the most important topics of the course. What skills are needed to be discerning about interpretations of history?

We interpret history all the time. I'm not so interested as a philosophy teacher that a student adopt my interpretation but I want them to know that they have inherited an interpretation. Are the things you hear about Thomas Jefferson in the public school lies, as David Barton says? Has the Western world been on a decline since Aquinas?  Since the Reformation? Since the Enlightenment? Since they took prayer out of the public schools?  Or is it all up, up, and away, until there will be no cats in America and the streets will be paved with cheese?

For just a moment, I had a vision of the philosophy course the American Christian college needs...


Angie Van De Merwe said...

I hope you are talking about the limitation of Power, Ken. That is what the Founders agreed on (no matter their religious opinion) and why they had checks and balances to Power. WHY are limitations upon Power needed, is an open question that can be answered by both Christians and non-Christians, but, perhaps, with a little difference.

Individuals were to be valued in our society, because it prevented abuse of Power from the Majority or Government. Majorities seem to create "the social norms" by consensus (and sometimes, fear). Organizations, of any kind, can breed unintentional evil due to the nature of bureaucracies (read "Ordinary Evil").

Therefore, though Man has made Progress, Man is still limited and fallible. Though Man is limited and fallible, Man is not determined. Therefore, choices should and do matter. And choices must have counsel and knowledge to buffer against one's own weaknesses. Ultimately, the individual is responsible for his decisions and choices.

It would be nice to see the Executive and Congress practice such behavior, as it would alleviate some of the problems we are experiencing today. And it would be what the Founders had envisioned for our society.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The problem of framing things as "Progress or Decline" is also limiting, as it presumes that history is either progressive or declining. It is more appropriate to view history as cyclical, isn't it? Those that don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

History of Philosophy and Philosophy of History....hmmmm

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I'd much rather go with the History of Philosophy, because the History of ideas and Philosophers is a factually objective subject. The Philosophy of History, is subjective or contextual subject, and can lead to the mess we are in today, where the Holocost can be denied!

The Philosophy of Science understands that prevailing paradigms change in scientific understanding, but does not exclude previous understanding necessarily. That is why science can have numerous explainations about "reality" without real contradictions. The Disciplines are methodologies (paradigms) in which understandings differ somewhat and such differences lead to priorities that can keep consensus about the problems in the world and what solutions are going to work.