Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Wisdom of Pursuing Wisdom

Happy is the man who finds wisdom, And the man who gains understanding; For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, And her gain than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies, And all the things you may desire cannot compare with her
Proverbs 3:13-15 (NKJV)
phi⋅los⋅o⋅phy n. 1. Love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you will become happy, if you get a bad one, you will become a philosopher.
Socrates
phi⋅los⋅o⋅phy n. 1. Meaningless abstract discussions carried on by academics, clergy, and overzealous laymen with a penchant for arguing and/or nothing better to do with their time.
Joe Christian

Ask someone at your church, or in your youth group, or small group, or Christian fellowship, or anywhere else you find a large gathering of Christians, about philosophy, and you will almost certainly get a number of cynical comments about its uselessness and divisiveness. Certainly philosophy involves disagreement, and certainly it often requires abstract discussion of concepts that you could not immediately put to work to put food on the table or tell the guy sitting next to you in the cubicle or classroom about Christ.

Yet philosophy is an exercise in equipping ourselves for situations which everyone encounters. Many of us have had the experience of being caught in a situation where we are genuinely unsure of the right thing to do. Others know people with thoughtful objections to Christianity which we do not know how to answer. Philosophy provides us a framework for pursuing solutions to these and other issues.

It is for good reason that the Bible spends at least one entire book extolling the virtue of wisdom. It is also pointed out in this book that wisdom must be pursued. It is not something that is handed to us, (perhaps excepting Solomon), it is not something which any of us are born with. It must be developed. Philosophy is the practice of developing wisdom by spending time carefully weighing various ideas on their merit.

If this doesn't sound like the philosophy you've studied in school or heard about, that's because the word philosophy has been taken to mean anything which deals with the nature of thought, decision, or morality. A great deal of what is practiced under the banner of philosophy is in fact sophism. The distinction is this: The word philosophy describes the action undertaken by those who called themselves philosophers, or "lovers of wisdom." The word sophism describes the thought and attitudes of the sophists, or self-described "wise men." These men had no interest in pursuing wisdom because they thought themselves already wise. You will notice that this is a great deal of what happens when people discuss "philosophy" today.

But it need not be so. There are individuals for whom philosophy is still an important pursuit, and this should include every Christian on the planet, heeding the command to pursue wisdom. There are many avenues to this, but I have formal study of philosophy extremely useful in clarifying my own thoughts as well as showing distinctions which I had long conflated. It would be most helpful if many more people learned these methods of thought and the practice of carefully distinguishing ideas from each other.