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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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1 Introduction: In Beginning with Adam and Eve as the Story of Two Beginnings—in Athens and Jerusalem


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I intend my book to be an essay in philosophy. I undertake, in the spirit of the essays of Montaigne, to essay philosophy, to try philosophy, to put philosophy on trial, and so, at one and the same time, to put the author and his readers as philosophical thinkers, as thinkers whose thought is philosophical, on trial. I write, then, also in the spirit of Descartes—I think, ergo I am—and of Spinoza in accord with Axiom 1 of Part 2 of his Ethics: Homo cogitat (man thinks). Thinking, Descartes shows us, begins with doubt, with doubting absolutely all that you can doubt, at least once in your life. Thinking ends, consequently, with the demonstration that, in doubting absolutely everything there is, there is at least one thing or, rather, there are two things whose existence you absolutely cannot doubt: that you necessarily exist as the one who doubts something (the other) as necessarily existing. All thinking, all doubting—all desire, all will—involves both the thinking self and the other that is thought, both I and thou, we may say. Thinking is not given outside of the subject thought. The subject thought (the other) is not given outside of the thinking subject (the self). Thinking, we see, affirms, verifies, proves—desires—existence. Existence, then, is the affirmation, the verification, the demonstration—the desire—of thinking. Descartes is, consequently, the revolutionary founder of modern philosophy precisely because he demonstrates that the subject of the doubting thinker...

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