Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Inwagen on the advantage of skepticism

Peter von Ingwagen, in God, Knowledge & Mystery: Essays in
Philosophical Theology
(Ithaca and London: Cornell
University Press, 1995), on p. 2, writes:
One advantage philosophers bring to theology is that they know too much about philosophy to be overly impressed by the fact that a particular philosopher has said this or that. Philosophers of the present day know what Thomas Aquinas and Professor Bultmann did not know: that no philosopher is an authority. Philosophers know that if you want to pronounce on, say, the project of natural theology, you cannot simply appeal to what Kant has established about natural theology. You cannot do this for the very good reason that Kant has established nothing about natural theology. Kant has only offered arguments, and the cogency of these arguments can be (and is daily) disputed.
This is, of course, amusing in one way; and I think I agree with in in the sense in which I believe he intends it. Yet I would disagree with the notion that no philosopher can properly be an authority, as, for instance, Aristotle is for St. Thomas Aquinas. This, of course, is what Ingwagen's quote would entail, if it were taken in the literal sense. Authority, I would argue, is something a bit like honor. You can be honored by others and not deserve it; and you can be dishonored by others and not deserve it. But when you get it right, you're honored by others because you've earned it by becoming worthy of their honor; and that worthiness is the important thing -- far more important than the actual honor given you by others. Accordingly, I would argue that it's possible for a philosopher (like Aristotle) to earn the right to be considered an authority -- whatever lack of consensus may exist within the contemporary fraternity of postmodern professional lemmings who call themselves philosophers. And a philosopher earnes this right by being worthy of being so regarded -- by becoming, in fact, an authority on a subject.

[Hat tip to Prof. Edgar Foster for the Ingwagen quotation.]

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