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In the Beginning Is Philosophy

On Desire and the Good


Brayton Polka

Philosophy, when understood to embody the values that are fundamental to modernity, is biblical in origin, both historically and ontologically. Central to this idea is the question famously posed by Tertullian: What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem? The answer – as based on a comprehensive and systematic discussion of the key texts and ideas of Spinoza, Vico, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche – is that we can overcome the conventional opposition between reason and faith, between philosophy and theology, and between the secular and the religious only if we learn to see that, as Spinoza shows us, both philosophy (reason) and theology (faith) are based on caritas: love – on the divine command to do unto others what you want others to do unto you. Provided throughout is a commentary on how fundamentally different philosophy is in the Greek and in the biblical traditions (in Athens and in Jerusalem). Whereas Socrates argues that (human) desire and the (divine) good are contradictory opposites, Spinoza shows that it is human desire that truly constitutes the divine good of all.
This book would be indispensable to courses (both undergraduate and graduate) in philosophy, religious studies, and the history of ideas – in interdisciplinary courses in the humanities, generally – that focus on the values that are central, both historically and ontologically, to modernity.
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Advance Praise for In the Beginning Is Philosophy


“There are many insightful writers, but Brayton Polka is not content to be merely insightful. In this ambitious study, Polka invites his readers to rethink the beginning of philosophy by rethinking the Bible. In the process, Polka puts philosophy and theology on trial for ignoring the biblical foundations of modern thought while they uphold ancient Greece as the true origin of philosophy. The price of ignoring our intellectual debt to the Bible’s metaphysics of desire, the good, and honest self-critique is evident in the common failure of scholars to understand how even the greatest Greek philosophers (Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle) are fatally ignorant of the good, which is desired yet never known by ordinary mortals. Greek thought sees only conflict between the divine (which is unknowable) and the human (which is ignorant). The good news which Polka demonstrates in his masterful interpretations of the Bible, Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, Vico, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche is that the biblical tradition shatters all false oppositions between the religious and the secular. Polka’s work is a brilliant and necessary corrective to the conflicts of our age, which are so often fuelled by the dogmatic misuse of religion and the skeptical adulteration of reason.”

—Grant Havers, Trinity Western University

“Brayton Polka is an outstanding historian of ideas, combining deep insights into philosophical texts from ancient Greece to modern Europe with a fine appreciation of their historical contexts and effects. This work deepens his powerful case that Spinoza is central...

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