Monthly Archives: November 2016

Initial Thoughts on Reading in Philosophy

I haven’t posted anything here for a long time. I will have to learn to dictate if I am to revive this blog.

I have struggled with faith more than I ever have before. I don’t know to what extent I will document my struggles.

Yesterday, I read portions of Thomas Nagel’s The View from Nowhere and John Frame’s History of Western Philosophy and Christian Thought — just starting both books. One is secular; the other Christian. Neither purports to be neutral with regard to theism, which is refreshing. John Frame’s review and taxonomy of western philosophy are very standard.  He says, in his introduction, that he does not challenge the consensus presentation of these philosophers, though he plans to evaluate them unconventionally; that is, from a distinctively Van Tilian standpoint. Although I find John Frame generally very helpful — his Doctrine of God is one of the best books on theology proper I have read — I don’t get his perspectivalism, his obsession with triads, or his verbose descriptions of his diagrams. There is just something about his perspectivalism (seeing/knowing/defining/etc. all things from three different perspectives, situational, normative, and existential — held in tension) that just doesn’t click for me, yet it seems to be critical for his philosophy. He says it will be important for his presentation of metaphysics and epistemology. It also applies to “value theory” though that is barely treated in this volume.

Thomas Nagel’s book also argues that perspectives held in tension drive philosophy. His perspectives are subjective and objective “in the primary sense;” that is, subject and object. He argues that the failure to maintain this tension leads either to skepticism and solipsism or to a scientism and physicalism that fails account for mental events.  So, for Nagel perspective is critical for metaphysics, epistemology, and value theory as well.

Nagel’s perspectives somehow seem more natural for me than Frame’s, even though his arguments and conclusions are more foreign. However, Nagel’s philosophy depends on an unsupported supposition, “there is a connection between objectivity and reality — only the supposition that we and our appearances are parts of a larger reality makes it reasonable to seek understanding by stepping back from the appearances in this way.” (4) For Frame, and for me, this supposition is grounded in divine revelation. Some may argue that this is no better than being unsupported — divine revelation adds nothing. That would be true only if divine revelation were not more extensive, providing an entire worldview rather than supplementing our reason with needed suppositions.

Although, I will probably agree with Frame’s conclusions more frequently, I’m enjoying Nagel more.

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