Monday, June 17, 2013

Some Thoughts on how to properly understand any given author

    The following thoughts came from a small discussion on facebook with a friend of mine.

    First of all, in seeking to understand any other we need to understand  their words, as they define them. We tell people that if they want to understand, properly, the Bible, that they have to understand the historical and cultural context of the authors, and understand what they meant, in the larger historical, cultural and textual context, by the words they used, rather than imposing our definitions on their terms. Furthermore, to truly understand the Bible, it is better to read it in the original language than to read a translation, because every translation is an interpretation The same thing is true in reading the ancient and medieval philosophers. Whenever we read a translation we read an interpretation, and, frequently we impose our definitions on their words.

    Secondly, in order to truly be able to critique any body (whether it be an author or a friend we are talking with) we first need to be able to understand what they are trying to say. If we don't understand and interact with their thoughts, as they expressed them, and as they meant them to be understood, then we cannot critique them meaningfully.

    Thirdly, though their may be many methods of understanding an author, I have found the following method to be the most fruitful.

              (1) Read through everything the philosopher has said, noting their definitions, and the logical implications of what they are saying, based upon their definitions.
              (2) Find the best commentators on the philosophers in question and read them, comparing your preliminary understanding of the philosopher, with that of the commentators. (This requires having the author that you are trying to understand beside you as you go through the commentator) The commentator will frequently give background information (cultural, historical, etc.). Don't read his commentary prior to reading the author in question. You may begin by reading the historical and cultural comments if it helps, but, I repeat, don't touch the commentary itself until after you have read the works of the author that you are seeking to understand!!!
              (3) Read other books on the philosopher that are "systematic theology" type books, in other words,  books that don't comment on the the author's writings, but seek to explain systematically the author's system.                
              (4) Read books by people who disagree with the philosopher and see if their critique's hold water.

If you change the order of this 4 step method, you will seriously limit your capacity to truly understand the author in question, you will taint your ability to objectively analyze and critique the author in question, and you will end up reading the author in question through the lense of whichever commentator, sysematiser or critique that you read first. A great book to read on this subject is Mortimer J. Adler's How to Read a Book.

So, for example, if we apply these four steps to Aristotle, we would advance as follows:

              (1) Get ahold of the Loeb Classical Library versions of Aristotle's works. They are printed with the greek text on one page, and a good translation on the opposite page. All of Aristotle's works are printed in this series. For the Metaphysics which the primary source for Aristotle's Metaphysical and Epistemological thoughts you should get Werner Jaeger's Greek edition of the Metaphysics published by Oxford, and a couple translations (W.D. Ross is one of the classic translations.)
              (2) By far the best commentator on Aristotle's works (by almost universal agreement) is Aquinas. He commented almost all of Aristotle's works, and you can get a really good translation of these commentaries from Dumb Ox books. Otherwise, you should get the Marietti latin versions. Aside from Aquinas, Heidegger wrote some interesting commentaries on Aristotle, as did a number of medieval authors.
              (3) For systematizers, you need to go by subject, so, for Aristotle's Metaphysical (and the foundation for his epistemology) theory, my personal preference is Joseph Owens "The Doctrine of Being in the Aristotelian Metaphysics", and Joseph Owens, "Aristotle's Gradations of Being in Metaphysics E-Z". Another classic is C. D. C. Reeve, "Substantial Knowledge: Aristotle's Metaphysics". Two interesting books on Aristotelian epistemology (though not the absolutely best) are the book edited by  John Wild, "The Return to Reason", and John Wild, "Introduction to Realistic Philosophy". On Aristotelian Ethics see Henry B. Veatch "Rational Man: A Modern Interpretation of Aristotelian Ethics", and the book of essays "Essays on Aristotle's Ethics", edited by Amélie Oksenberg Rorty. It is always helpful to have the Cambridge Companion to Aristotle. Anything by Jonathan Barnes on Aristotle will be worth reading.
              For (4) any modern platonist or Augustinian will do. I have found that most Christian apologists who criticize Aristotle are very superficial to the point of being factually false. I was very disturbed by some comments concerning Aristotle by one of my favorite Christian Apologists, John Lennox, in his book Gunning for God, as they were factually inaccurate.

If we apply this procedure to the Bible it might look something like this:

              (1) Get ahold of a good Greek version of the New Testament (for example: The Greek New Testament, 4th revised edition, published by the United Bible Societies, the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece, and The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text by Zane C. Hodges/Arthur L. Farstad). A good interlinear would also be helpful. Get ahold of a good Hebrew/Aramaic Old Testament, and a good interlinear. (Some good greek language tools such as Perschbacher's New Analytical Greek Lexicon, and the BDAG Lexicon are the best you can get for english readers.)

              (2) Get ahold of the commentators. This, of course, is alot of books, as each individual book in the Bible has been commented on by 100's of commentator from the time they were written to now. So, you'll have to do some research to find out who are the best on each book. For the book of Romans you can't go wrong if you get ahold of, at least, Douglas Moo (NICNT series and NIV series), Sanday & Headlam, Cranfield, Frédéric Godet, Luther, Aquinas and Chrysostom.

             (3) For the Bible you want to look for good systematizers, again, there 1000s of theology books. But, some that are absolutely necessary would include, Aquinas's Summa Theologiae, Hodge's Systematic Theology, Calvin's Institutes, Barth's Dogmatics, Geisler's Systematics, Augustine's Confessions and City of God, and a multitude of other works that touch on only one or two subjects, but, the list so long that it is hard to do it justice in a short post. (I have another page where I am developing a list of recommended books according to subject. I am constantly updating it, and would refer the reader to this page.)

            (4) The list of critical books is also so long that it is not worth listing it. Any book by an atheist or agnostic or muslim that purports to destroy some christian doctrine would count. Of course there are certain authors that aren't worth reading, such as Richard Dawkins and many of the new atheists (as their critiques are anything but serious), and other authors that are worth reading, such as Mackie and the young Flew.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Biblical Faith, Karl Barth and Natural Theology

       I'm currently working through the Gifford Lectures of James Barr, who is looking at the notion of Natural Theology and asking the question of whether or not the Bible approves of Natural Theology. Prior to reading Barr's Gifford Lectures, I read the Gifford Lectures of Karl Barth. I am happy to say that the conclusions that I came to as I read through Karl Barth are the same conclusions that James Barr comes to in his book.

    At the beginning of his career as an Old Testament Scholar he was sympathetic with the Barthian rejection of Natural Theology, however, in examining the arguments advanced by Barth and Barthian theologians he came to the conclusion that "His exegesis, however we may evaluate it in general, was thus selectively and tendentiously applied, magnifying the elements which fitted with the needs of his theology, and minimizing those which his theology opposed. (Barr, Biblical Faith and Natural Theology, p. 136)". A couple of pages earlier he notes that "Barth's apparent biblical emphasis and rejection of natural theology was in part a matter of appearance rather than of reality. His theology was at bottom a dogmatic-philosophical system, in which the biblical exegetical foundation, however many pages it occupied was logically incidental. (Ibid., p. 131)"

   On the same page he notes a problem with Barth, which is also a problem for Van Til, and presuppositionalism in general. "Revelation was central and must be accepted, but there were no real arguments to be offered why any particular claims to revelation should be believed. (Ibid., p. 131-32)" In other words, we are obligated to simply believe revelation. However, it seems that we are permitted to ask, "which revelation claim?" (i.e. - the Koran, the Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament, The Book of Mormon).

   A further problem, which Barr notes a little bit later in the book is, how does Barth, and, consequently, how do we, know that HIS interpretation of the Bible is the RIGHT interpretation of the Bible? Especially when he claims to be simply espousing the reformed view of theology, and yet, his claims about Natural Theology clash with the claims of John Calvin, and other Calvinists such as Charles Hodge. Who holds the true interpretation of scripture? This same problem seems to apply equally to Van Til and presuppositionalism in general. On the question of Interpretation Barr notes that "the more we stress the importance of interpretation, the more we render probable the influence of something like natural theology. Influenced by the dialectical theology, people have been inclined to think of interpretation as something that followed and expounded the contours of revelation without going in any way outside this narrow channel of thought. Interpretation, seen in this way, not only interprets revelation but interprets it solely by the use of categories which themselves derive from revelation and are internal to it. Some of the peculiar contortions of modern interpretative theory are probably half-conscious attempts to demonstrate this. But it would really be very strange if there was interpretation which used no categories whatever that were external to the material being interpreted. (Ibid., 150)" Barr goes on to show that, as he has already clearly demonstrated in previous chapters, that the Old Testament is chock full of Natural Theology of some sort.

   So far I have been thoroughly enjoying Barr's cautious approach to the question of Divine written revelation, and the notion of Natural Theology.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Une brève réflexion sur l'euthanasie

L'euthanasie, qui a été définie de plusieurs manières, est le suicide assisté par un médecin. Parfois on définit l'euthanasie d'une autre manière parce qu'on ne veut pas utiliser le mot "suicide" dans la définition, et ceci parce que le suicide est généralement vu comme étant mauvais.

La question est : "Pouvons nous écarter la notion de suicide de celle de l'euthanasie ?". La réponse est "non".

L'euthanasie est ce qui arrive lorsqu'une personne désire mourir et demande à des médecins de la tuer parce qu'elle n'est pas capable de le faire elle même.

Le suicide est, par définition, l'acte intentionnel de se tuer. Donc, l'euthanasie est, proprement définie, le suicide assisté. Philosophiquement parlant, et basé sur les définitions, si on veut affirmer que l'euthanasie est moralement bonne, alors nous devons tout d'abord démontrer que le suicide est bon. S’il l'est alors le suicide assisté par un médecin est également bon, et même meilleur que le suicide sans assistance ou assisté par quelqu'un qui n'est pas médecin.[1]

Je ne pense pas qu'il est possible de démontrer que le suicide est moralement bon; et j'ai écrit deux publications de blog à ce sujet (partie 1 et partie 2) qui démontrent philosophiquement que le suicide n'est jamais bon. Ainsi, si le suicide n'est jamais bon, alors il en découle nécessairement que le suicide assisté n'est jamais bon.


En philosophie il y a un moyen de démontrer l'erreur, ou la dangerosité, d'une façon de penser. On l'amène à ses conclusions nécessaires et possibles. Comment allons nous trancher entre qui a le droit d'être tué par un médecin et qui ne l'a pas ?

Je suggère que la définition de l'euthanasie permet, ultimement, que même des personnes qui sont physiquement capables de se suicider, mais qui ne sont capables émotionnellement ou mentalement (par un manque de détermination, par exemple), de commettre le suicide, seront admissible pour l'euthanasie.

Après tout, l'euthanasie est l'acte de tuer quelqu'un qui ne peut pas le faire elle-même, à sa demande. Sommes-nous prêts à ce que n'importe quelle personne en détresse émotionnelle ait le droit de demander à des médecins de la tuer ? Cette situation est une conséquence possible de ce qui pourrait arriver si cette pratique est approuvée. Un autre exemple, sommes nous prêts à permettre à des enfants (5-18), avec le consentement de leurs parents, d'avoir recours à l'euthanasie ? Parce que ceci est, aussi, une situation qui serait tout à fait possible et légale si on légalise l'euthanasie.

Le Québec veut toujours être considéré comme une nation en train d'avancer les droits humains. Parfois il faut se demander si c'est bien de légaliser certains actes qui ne sont pas moralement acceptables, afin d'être une nation libre. Certains actes et choix ne sont pas moralement bons, et le gouvernement est supposé interdire de telles actions. Je trouve ridicule qu'il est illégal de conduire en hiver sans des pneus d’hiver, mais qu'on cherche à légaliser le suicide assisté. D'un côté nous cherchons à sauver des vies mais de l'autre nous permettons de se tuer. Nous voulons sécuriser les routes mais nous transformons des centres médicaux pour qu'ils deviennent des lieux où nous pouvons nous tuer.

La médecine qui a prit le serment d’Hippocrate, de toujours chercher à sauver des vies, est maintenant obligée de tuer tous ceux qui le demandent.

Merci à Illia Chtcheglov qui a corriger ce texte, et Pierre-Étienne Loignon qui a inspiré les pensées dans le note de bas de page (qui sont, d'ailleurs, vraiment importants).


[1]Je n'ai pas abordé, par exprès, la question d'un personne qui aurait est garder en état de légume (et/ou sous médication), pour la simple raison qu'ils ne pourraient pas demander à la médecine de les tuer. Un tel cas ne pourrait pas être, par définition, un instant de suicide assisté. Dans un tel cas, la médecine va souvent demander à la famille s'ils voudraient le garder sur le soutien de vie (life support). C'était ce qui a eu lieu avec mon Grand-père qui est mort du cancer au cerveau. Dans une telle situation on ne peut pas parler de suicide assisté, parce que la personne en question ne peut pas (même s'il/elle le voulait) demander à la médecine de le tuer. Ce qui se passe (j’étais présente quand ca a eu lieu pour mon grand-père, et j'en ai parlé avec d'autres personnes qui ont vécu la même situation), est que la médecine demande à la famille ce qu'ils pensent être le meilleur. Dans un tel cas on ne peut pas parler de suicide assisté (dû à la définition de suicide), mais, ca serait plus exact de dire qu'on le laisse mourir en dignité. Aussi, un refus de traitement ne qualifie pas, non plus, comme un suicide assisté. Un refus de traitement arrive lorsqu’une personne va mourir si on ne les traite pas, et que la personne refuse le traitement en question. C'est 'est tout-à-fait légale, et permis, pour un patient de refuser un traitement qui pourrais sauver sa vie. Ceci ne qualifie pas comme suicide assisté.

Pour que l'euthanasie ait un sens, la personne qui veut mourir doit être en mesure de demander, elle-même, à la médecine de la tuer. Aussi, pour que l'euthanasie ait de la sens, ce n'est pas une question de laissé quelqu'un mourir qui allait seulement rester en vie dans un état de légume, mais de tuer de façon active (d'administré un traitement qui fait en sorte, de façon positive, que la personne meurt. Positive est l'opposé de négative, qui, dans un tel discours aurais le sens d'un refus de traitement.) Quelqu’un qui est capable de demander qu'on l'a tue, mais qui n'est pas en mesure de le faire soi-même (il n'y a aucun précision sur si c'est dû a un incapacité physique, ou a une incapacité mentale - manque de détermination). 

Il faut comparer des pommes avec des pommes, pas des oranges. Je suis d'accord que la médecine prolonge des "vies" de façon artificielle, et que ce n'est pas claire que la personne en question est toujours vivante (tout un autre sujet). Je ne vois aucun problème avec un refus de traitement, ni avec le choix d’une famille d'enlever la soutiens médicale qui garde la personne en état de légume. Le problème de l'euthanasie, et qu'il n'est pas un de ces deux choses mentionné (ils sont tous les deux déjà pratiqué et tout à fait normale), l'euthanasie la suicide assisté, la patient demande à la médecine de le tuer en administrant un poison (une substance qui tue) au lieu d'un médicament (une substance qui aide à la survie).