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This is a great article written by a former prof of mine that really resonates with me, and helps to explain my own love for philosophy. Enjoy!

Philosophers in love
February 2007 – V. 35 I. 5
by Jennifer Hart Weed

“What does love have to do with philosophy?”

My students ask me this question in the Great Books courses at Tyndale University College. They are surprised to learn that the term “philosophy” means “love of wisdom.” The connection between love and philosophy is not clear to them.

My students think that love is the quickening of heartbeats and the sweating of palms. They think that love is desire. And they are not wrong. Love is desire: the desire for beauty, companionship, and to be loved in return. All of these desires can be classified as “goods”: the goodness of beauty in a pleasing physical form or a noble character, the goodness of companionship in a faithful friend, and the goodness of requited love when the beloved loves you back.

It seems impossible to my students to desire philosophy in this way. Reading Plato doesn’t elicit heart palpitations—at least not in most of my students. Nor can philosophy love you in return—and being loved in return is something we all want. Why should you love something that cannot love you back?

Aquinas on Love

The love of St. Thomas Aquinas’s life was God. Aquinas (circa A.D. 1225-1274) was a theologian and philosopher who taught at the University of Paris. Despite his coming from a wealthy family, he joined the Dominican order and devoted his life to serving God through teaching and preaching. In his biography of Aquinas, G. K. Chesterton tells us that Aquinas’s family hired a courtesan to tempt him to break his vow of chastity and thus to abandon his vocation, but Aquinas picked up a poker from the fireplace and drove her from his room. As a celibate living in community with other Dominicans, it is not surprising that Aquinas devotes little of his attention to women. When Aquinas writes about love, he writes primarily about the love of God, and on the basis of the love of God he writes about the love for one’s family, neighbours, and enemies.

In a lengthy discussion of God’s love in the Summa theologiae, Aquinas argues that love is recognizing the good in someone else and desiring that good. More specifically, when you love a person you desire the good for that person. If this is correct, then to love philosophy would be to desire the goodness that is in it. This goodness could include moral goodness, such as ethics, as well as intellectual goodness, such as wisdom and truth. A lover of philosophy is someone who desires goodness and is passionately committed to knowing the good and to doing the good. Understood in this way, then, we can ask whether any human being has ever loved philosophy and what has philosophy offered in return? If we love philosophy, will she love us back?

Philosophers in Love: Socrates

Socrates (circa 470-399 B.C.) is, perhaps, the pre-eminent philosopher in that he loved philosophy unto death. Socrates pursued the moral and intellectual goodness of philosophy through public discourse, dialogues, and endless arguments until the Athenians executed him. They felt threatened by a man who could not be manipulated, bribed, or seduced by material possessions. Even on his death bed, surrounded by weeping friends, Socrates would not repudiate the intrinsic worth of his pursuit of wisdom.

Socrates loved conversation. Plato portrays him as a man who enjoyed arguing with people, both friends and strangers. Although he had a wife, Xanthippe, and children, he preferred the company of his friends to that of his family. In Plato’s Phaedo, Socrates says his final farewell to his family in prison by demanding that someone take them back home. Impatient with their tears, Socrates is in a hurry for them to leave so that he can continue his discussion about death with his friends. One might say that Socrates loved his vocation more than he loved his family.

The Oracle at Delphi is said to have declared that no man was wiser than Socrates. Perhaps the Oracle was referring to Socrates’s single-minded commitment to loving wisdom no matter the cost. If Socrates’s love affair with philosophy ended with his execution, then it would be a very tragic tale, indeed. But this was not a one-sided love; philosophy loved Socrates back.

It was philosophy that enabled Socrates to see that human happiness cannot be found in material concerns or in human praise. As recorded in Plato’s Apology, Socrates argues that one must be virtuous in order to achieve happinessl Happiness is not to be found in wealth, honour or power:

For I go around doing nothing but persuading both young and old among you not to care for your body or your wealth in preference to or as strongly as for the best possible state of your soul, as I say to you: “Wealth does not bring about excellence [virtue], but excellence [virtue] makes wealth and everything else good for men, both individually and collectively.”
(Plato, Apology, trans. G.M.A. Grube, 30b)

Philosophy dragged Socrates back from the brink of Athenian excess and offered him an alternative. He could have spent his life like the Sophists: charging a fee for his conversations, influencing the sons of wealthy families, and making a name for himself on the debate circuit. But what a waste of Socrates’s talents that would have been! Philosophy pushed Socrates to desire more than just empty rhetoric and to desire wisdom and truth, instead. In this respect, philosophy loved Socrates back by helping him pursue the good by the use of reason.

Although most of the Athenians rejected Socrates’s argument, it is clear from Plato’s writings that Socrates had a remarkably good quality of life. He was surrounded constantly by friends and admirers who shared his love of wisdom, and their conversations provide the foundation for Plato’s remarkable corpus of dialogues. Instead of abandoning Socrates to die alone, philosophy provided him with a vibrant, intellectual community of friends and a lasting legacy that praised his tenacious pursuit of virtue, goodness, and knowledge. In enabling Socrates to see the truth about himself and those around him, philosophy made Socrates a better person. In this respect, philosophy loved Socrates back.

The Greeks were not the only ones to love philosophy. In the Middle Ages, Christians like Aquinas and Augustine loved philosophy, too. For medieval Christians, philosophy was the true handmaiden of theology. That is, philosophy enabled Christians to understand God in a fuller, richer way.

Philosophers in Love: Boethius

Boethius (circa A.D. 470-524) had a more personal contact with philosophy. He had been an advisor to Theodoric, the Ostrogothic emperor. Falsely denounced as a traitor, Boethius was separated from his family and forced to live in exile until his execution. A devout Christian, Boethius bemoaned his unjust persecution and meditated on the conflict between evil and the existence of God.

The love of Boethius’s life was his wife, Rusticiana. His concern for her and their sons contributed significantly to his depression while he was in exile. Boethius was also very fond of his former political position. He came from a famous family of public servants, the Anicii, and so some of his tears seem to have been shed over losing his place of honour and having shamed his family. He went from the palace to a small hut in Pavia, where he was held under house arrest.

In Boethius’ famous dialogue, The consolation of philosophy, it is philosophy who visits to comfort him, not Gabriel or Michael. Who sends philosophy? Although the answer to this question is not stated in the dialogue, it seems clear that the personification of philosophy is sent by God. Having loved philosophy and studied her in the past, she is sent to Boethius once again so that he might remember the truth and not be trapped in despair.

According to philosophy personified, Boethius has forgotten the truth about God, about himself, and about the nature of the universe. Once he recovers the truth, Boethius’s distress will be eliminated. So philosophy acts as a messenger of God to assist Boethius in his time of need; she is the true handmaiden of theology.

In the beginning of the dialogue, Boethius complains that he is a victim of bad fortune, and that God has turned a blind eye to him. Philosophy challenges this complaint by arguing that no act goes unseen by God and that Fortune is only permitted to act as God allows. Through an extended conversation in which philosophy prompts Boethius to reason out of his distress, Boethius accepts her admonition to remain faithful in his Christianity and to focus on God’s goodness. God desires Boethius to love Him more than he loves his political position, his power, and his honour.

Philosophy ends the dialogue by encouraging Boethius to continue to develop his God-given ability to reason:

Alone the race of men can lift its head on high,
Can stand with body upright and disdain the ground.
This picture warns—except to doltish earthbound men—
‘You who raise your eyes to heaven with thrusting face,
Raise up as well your thoughts, lest weighted down to earth
Your mind sinks lower as your body rises high

(Consolation Book. V, chapter 5, Tr. by Victor Watts).

As is clear from this citation from Consolation, philosophy loved Boethius more than he loved her. Boethius forgot about the good of philosophy, while philosophy never gave up desiring the good for Boethius. She does not take leave of him until he abandons his doubts and false beliefs.

Love and philosophy

What is the connection between love and philosophy? In answering this question, I pointed out that a Thomistic understanding of love would enable us to see that the love of philosophy includes the desire for the goodness that is in it, such as wisdom and truth. A lover of philosophy would be someone who desires goodness, and who is passionately committed to knowing the good and to doing the good.

But the love of philosophy is not an unrequited love. As I have argued in connection with the lives of Socrates and Boethius, if you love philosophy then she will love you back.

She loves you back by showing you the truth about yourself and the people around you. She loves you back by helping you to develop your God-given ability to reason and to think. The pursuit of philosophy is intrinsically valuable because of the transformative nature of philosophy as a way of life. As philosophy pointed out to Boethius, human beings alone are rational animals. If human beings do not exercise and develop their rational capacities, they sink below their God-given potentials and purposes to the level of the brute animals (Consolation Book IV, chapter 3). In loving philosophy, we are loved in return because she makes us better human beings, and she points us to the ultimate good, God, whom we should love with all our being.

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In Ron Sider’s book, “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger”, he cites some very disturbing facts:

“In 1996, the World Health Organization reported that an annual increase in preventative care of 75 cents per person in the Third World could save 5 billion lives every year. That would take less than $3 billion. Surely the people of wealthier nations can find $3 billion to save 5 million people. The National Center for Health Statistics reported that people in the United States spend between $30 and $50 billion each year on diets and related expenditures to reduce their caloric intake”.

This is the epitomy of irony. It is so wrong. So messed up. The world is a tumbling ball of different worldviews, belief systems, and degrees of psychosis. Different colors and smells, different sounds and sights. A mish-mash of truth and lies so tightly intertwined. To find the truth and separate it from the crap is a perilous and highly unappealing quest. Most don’t even bother trying anymore. Just take it all at face value, believe what the world tells you, and don’t bother to think for yourself. The colors and sounds are so mesmermizing. They whir and twirl, bounce and jerk. I am drawn to the labels of “open-minded”, “cool”, and “unique”. The whirling ball tells me that I will find acceptance and fulfillment in it. But slowly I begin to feel disillusioned. I am a little woozy, and am experiencing motion sickness from the constantly changing ride. I think that I am desiring something else, something not readily available on this ride. I yell out “stop the ride”, clamber off, and throw up in the trash can. What is it that I seek? The whirling ball of colors, sights, sounds and smells has not fulfilled me. Absolute Truth? Is there such a thing as that old archaic notion once taught to me in my youth? There is. Yes, I believe it, even though the whirring ball has told me otherwise.

The real problem is not why some pious, humble, believing people suffer, but why some do not.
-CS Lewis

I have often thought about the so-called “problem” of evil that atheists and agnostics love to spout on about in regards to their unbelief. They claim that the fact that evil exists demonstrates that God cannot. I have always thought this to be quite an immaturely thought out claim. Really, it all hinges on the free will that God has given to each human being. He does not want robots, nor automatons who will praise his name without a choice to do otherwise. He wants us to freely love and choose him. Thus, He created us with free will, which we chose to exercise by making the choice to sin. Nonetheless, He loves us – His creation – so much that He chose to allow His very own blameless Son, the second member of the Trinity, to come to our world to die and take our sins so that we could be redeemed. The love and joy and the power of forgiveness that I experience in my life because of these facts would not be possible without this salvation story. Thus, even if you were to ask, (like I have in the past), “why did God not just make the world such that we have free will, but we freely chose to not sin”, it would be irrelevant. If this were the case, there would be no salvation story, which I don’t think would be as good a world as this one. Without great sorrow, how can you know great joy? Without great depravity, how can you know great sustenance? Without sin, how would we ever have realized out great need for the Almighty God? Perhaps this the best possible world?

Thus, I agree with Clive Staples. The real question is not why some followers of Christ suffer, but why some do not. Does not the book of James speak at length about how suffering makes one stronger and allows one to grow in perseverance and joy? If this is truly the case, then it seems that we would all “desire” some measure of hardship in our lives, because of the benefits it brings in our walk with the Lord.

These thoughts are exactly why I am perplexed at things like the “name it and claim it” theory, and the health and wealth gospel (Why do these things always rhyme?). First, we do not have any right whatsoever to tell God what to do. If He chooses to allow us to go through some suffering for a greater purpose that we cannot see because we are finite human beings bound by time, then who am I to tell God to take away my suffering? Furthermore, who am I to expect it? I think this is a severe and insidious form of pride that infects the North American church culture. Because we live in a country where we have enough to eat and roof over our heads, and many have much more material blessing than that even, we have come to expect it and demand it… and heaven forbid to cry and pout like little children when it is taken away even briefly.

I agree that God wants us to be happy; He’s not a mean old Scrooge who desires our misery. However, His word does say that all things work together for the good of those who love Him. This does not say that all things ARE good for those who love Him, but rather that ALL THINGS work together for the good of those who love him. The Bible also says that suffering is to be expected, even welcomed as Christians, and that we are to rejoice in our trials.

I don’t see how you could believe otherwise, although I’d welcome anyone who’d like to RATIONALLY and CALMLY discuss the various issues raised by this rant.

“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither”.

CS Lewis

I like this. It sounds like Pascal’s Wager, which I also enjoy.

who invented the internet? where is the internet located? can it ever be destroyed?

it’s such a funny thing, all these internet phenomenons. I remember the day we got our first computer, a funny little thing that only did word processing with the black and green screen. I remember typing a letter to my great-grammy, and it was so much more work than just writing it out, and besides it was very plain looking at the end. I remember the days before facebook, email, internet, itunes, msn, google, myspace, and blogging. I had never even heard of those things growing up. my how times change. I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or not.

what about writing letters by hand on paper, and putting stickers on them to decorate them, and then licking (not peeling) a stamp to put on the upper right hand corner, addressing the envelope, and actually putting it in a mailbox. I miss that. I’m going to do it more.

I like to think that all this technology is such a great addition to our society, but I am afraid that it is more harmful than anything. In Africa, the same techological conveniences are not as common. They however seem to have deeper relationships and a much greater sense of community. There, taking the time to do the daily tasks is an opportunity to sit and get to know people, because tasks are usually done together. Building relationships over a tub of water waching clothes, or cooking over a fire. What a concept.

There is an African saying: “They have the watches (referring to the western world), but we have the time”.

I think I want to add to that and say that we (the western world) have the conveniences of techology, but they have the less stressful way of life.

(Reason # 4,285 for why I want to live in and raise my future children in, AFRICA.)

I'm Red, he's Honey. I'm the writer of this blog and the source of your entertainment and/or boredom. We're parents of an exceptionally adorable child, and we have no idea what we're doing! This blog is the outlet for my thoughts along the way - welcome! Pull up a couch, grab a cup of tea, and stay a while! Or back away slowly. Whatever works.




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