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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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3 Ontology: What Do I Think? In Beginning with God as Necessary Existence


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Introduction: The Ironies Multiply

In the beginning what do I think? What is the beginning of thinking? What does it mean to think (in) the beginning? The beginning of modern thinking, the beginning of thinking as modern begins, we may say, with St. Anselm in the later eleventh century when he provides the first formulation of what since Kant we know as the ontological argument for the existence of God. While I shall make no attempt here to write the history of the ontological argument, it is critically important to see that the multiple ironies contained in that history constitute the very essence of modernity. The pious monks in the monastery of which Anselm was prior asked their beloved mentor to provide them with a proof of the existence of God that was based, not on faith (Scripture) but on reason (philosophy). Anselm complied with their request. There is one thing that cannot be conceived (thought, desired, willed, loved, practiced) without necessarily existing, and that is God. (I shall use here the generic formulation of the ontological argument that is standard in modernity, not the particular formulation of Anselm.) St. Thomas Aquinas, together with his fellow, thirteenth century, Aristotelian, scholastic philosophers (Christian, Jewish, and Muslim), rejected the ontological argument and replaced it with arguments proving the existence of God as based on Aristotle’s concepts of first and final cause. At the same time, however, Aquinas maintained that, while reason could prove that God exists, reason...

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