Reflections on Truth, Goodness, and Beauty

Truth, goodness, and beauty.
All eternally exist in the self-giving, and self-existent God, whose life pours out as a gift to the other.

Truth, goodness, and beauty.
Knowable because truth, lovable because good, and delightful because beautiful.

Truth, goodness, and beauty exist because of the existence of the other; the Three Persons within the Godhead; others in unity, self-existent, and self-giving.

Being (God who is ultimate being) exists in relation to truth, goodness, and beauty because  the being of the Godhead itself consists in these relations. Within the life of the Trinity, the persons know themselves, love themselves, and delight in themselves. God is a “community of being,” who exists in relation to himself. Truth, goodness, and beauty cannot not exist.  They are necessary and eternal because God himself is necessary and eternal.

Because of this self-giving relationship, God pours himself out as a gift, creating the other (the universe and all that is within it). He creates the other who is other than himself- the other which owes its existence to, and depends on the existence of the other who made it. All things created are defined by this other- this Tri-Personal God.

Creation is an extension of the self-giving relationship of God. Creation is a gift, a gift that exists necessarily in relation to the one who made it, and therefore exists in relation to truth, goodness, and beauty. Creation partakes in the relations of truth, goodness, and beauty because creation is a reflection of these primordial relations. These relations existed within the Godhead, and now these relations have been poured out as a gift to something other than the Godhead. God created the heavens and the earth “and God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

Truth- the self-disclosure of reality- being’s way of calling out and saying “I am here,” is an objective relation. If something is true, then it is the way reality really is. God created something other than himself and said “it is real, it exist, and it is good.” It is truth. Not only that, but that it is beautiful. When God said that what he had made was good, he was making an aesthetic judgement. Thus we see that truth, goodness, and beauty are inseparably bound to each other, and are real relations that creation is objectively ordered to. Creation is true, good, and beautiful, because the one who made it is true, good, and beautiful.

Creation is defined by the character and self-giving existence of the one who fashioned it. Existence derives its meaning in relation to God. It could be no other way. Therefore, to sin is to ultimately lose one’s meaning. To sin is to commit and absurdity, and to strive toward absurdity. To sin is to revolt against the other, and to the necessary relations that inhere to reality. To sin is to create what is not God and to call it truth, goodness and beauty. To sin is to redefine reality.

Because we have redefined reality, we have necessarily redefined what truth, goodness, and beauty are. In redefining the truth of reality, we have embraced falsehood, therefore making what was good bad, and ultimately making what was beautiful ugly. We have lost our sense of taste. In redefining reality, we have come to delight in the false, the bad, and the ugly. We have distorted everything that once made us human, and we are ultimately going to lose ourselves unless someone comes and finds us.

To sin is to deny the other his immanency, and to assert one’s autonomy. Only, one can never truly be autonomous. Autonomy cannot exists due to reality’s necessary relations. One can no more deny God’s sovereignty than he can make a square circle. To deny God’s sovereignty is to collapse in on the self. Consequently, to revolt against the other is to lose the other, and therefore to lose truth, goodness, and beauty. With the loss of the other, we lose what inherently made us who we are. For to exists is to be in relation to the other. Salvation consists in being rightly related to the other- to the God who is there.

And now we come to Christ’ paradoxical statement: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). Christ, the incarnation of the other, the God-man, gives his life for us, so that we may give our life to him.  As I spelled out above, existence is defined by this self-giving relationship. It can be no other way. Turn back to the one through whom we move and have our very being, or lose that which gave us meaning. That is why Christ is and must be the only way. Life has no other meaning.

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Salvation, Peace, and Joy

I started a study of Luke tonight and came across this verse in Luke chapter one. The story goes that two women, Elizabeth and Mary, have both been told by an angel that they have been favored by God and that both will bear sons. Elizabeth was barren, and Mary was a virgin. Both are very excited of their fortunes. Even better, both have been told that their sons will be the means by which God’s salvation will be brought to Israel. Indeed, Mary’s child, Jesus, will be salvation itself. But this is what caught my eye.

“In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”

While not really related to my passage, there was a thought that crossed my mind.

Salvation, peace, and joy are inextricably linked.

Salvation brings joy, and does so because salvation brings peace. Just read Zechariah’s prophecy (Elizabeth’s husband) at the end of Luke chapter 1.

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

ResurrectionSalvation, peace, and joy. These all go together.
Salvation must always end in joy. Salvation must lead to joy for salvation is peace; peace with God, peace with others, and peace with oneself. Salvation brings peace to all of these areas. Peace results when there is a reconciliation of beings to ultimate being; when we are properly related to being as it should be. Peace is not the mere absence of war; peace is the absence of deformity in God’s good creation. Salvation accomplishes nothing short of all creation being transformed and transfigured- creation redeemed and restored to its original purpose. In fact, more than restored- glorified. That is peace. Read what Isaiah says:

“”For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the LORD, and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.” -Isaiah 65:17-25

Salvation brings peace, and peace results in joy, for it is God’s delight to bring peace through salvation. And that is why salvation, peace, and joy go together.

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Art for God’s Sake

“…beauty and truth are connected. The problem with some modern and postmodern art is that it seeks to offer truth at the expense of beauty. It tells the truth only about ugliness and alienation, leaving out the beauty of creation and redemption.

A good deal of Christian art tends to have the opposite problem. It tries to show beauty without admitting the truth about sin, and to that extent it is false- dishonest about tragic implications of our depravity. Think of all the bright, sentimental landscapes that portray an ideal world unaffected by the Fall, or light, cheery melodies that characterize the Christian life as one of undiminished happiness. Such a world may be nice to imagine, but it is not the world God sent his Son to save.” -Philip Ryken

Take a look at some of these modern and post-modern paintings.

Guernica

 

Rothko1

The first one is by Pablo Picasso, the second is by Mark Rothko. I would encourage you to look up their life stories, and learn why they painted the way they did. It is very enlightening.

The next two are by Christian artists Thomas Kinkade and Stephen Sawyer.

Kinkade

 

lover of my soul

 

This says it all. I believe Ryken is correct in what he says in the above quote.

I could give many more examples, but it pained me greatly to find examples of sentimental Christian art, and I don’t think I could bear to do it again.

Thankfully, not all modern and post-modern art fits Ryken’s description. Neither does all of Christian art (thank goodness). But what Ryken call us Christians to is a sensitivity to matters of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, and an understanding of the inter-relatedness of these three categories in the realm of art.

Check out Philip Ryken’s book “Art for God’s Sake.”
You can buy it here.

It’s only $6, and is only 58 pages.

 

 

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What is Theology?: Part 2

In the first part of this blog series, I attempted to explain what theology is. Theology is the study of God, and theological understanding comes from a relationship with God. Just as when we are in a relationship with someone, we not only experience what they are like, but knowing them leads to knowing things about them. Theology is knowing things about God.adam God

Then in the first part, I attempted to explore the doctrine of special revelation: The unique idea that God himself has actually spoken and has provided us with the means that makes theology even possible. In the Bible, God has given us his self-disclosure, which provides with sufficient knowledge of who he is, and his purposes. The Bible is the primary source for all theology. Without it, we would not even know what God was like.

But there are other sources of theology that I alluded to. So what are these sources? Historically, Christianity has recognized four sources of theology.

  1. Scripture
  2. Tradition
  3. Reason
  4. Religious Experience

Since I’ve already examined the first and primary source, I will now explore the other three sources of Christian Theology.

Tradition
You might be surprised that tradition is a source of theology. For some, tradition is something to be highly skeptical of, or outrightly rejected. But tradition, properly defined, has actually had a positive role in the history of the Christian church. The word tradition comes from the Latin word “to hand over” or “to hand down.” The Apostle Paul actually uses the idea of tradition in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 when talking about the core teachings of the Christian faith. Paul says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” Here, Paul is talking about a body of teaching that he had received and had passed down to the church. It is important to note that the new testament church did not have a “New Testament” yet. What they had heard came down from other people who had been eyewitnesses, and had heard about Jesus. There were no written reports, only the tradition that had been passed down from the Apostles and those who had seen and heard about Jesus. So here, tradition is understood to be the handing down of sound Christian doctrine, thus making tradition a valid source of theology.

The importance of tradition in Christian theology can be seen in an event that took place around 160 A. D. At this time, there were a group of renegade Christians called the Gnostics who began to interpret the Bible in ways that the Christian church had never Irenaeusheard of before. A Christian by the name of Irenaeus (eye-run-ay-us) realized that the Gnostics could interpret Scripture to mean anything they wanted it to mean. But Irenaeus pointed out that the Gnostics were interpreting passages of Scripture to mean something that they had never meant before. So what Irenaeus did was point back to the body of tradition that had been passed down in the history of the Church. The argument went something like this:

“Scripture has been interpreted this way for years, and has been handed down from the Apostles to the present day. No one in the church has ever interpreted these passages to mean such things!”

That which had been handed down to them was handed down from the community of faith, who had ultimately received it from the Apostles (take note that the Apostles lived only some 100 years before Irenaeus). Irenaeus stands as an important figure in Christian history because he took the traditions of those who had gone before him seriously.

As we can see, tradition was a source of theology for Irenaeus because it provided him with a standard by which to measure the claims of the Gnostics. When given a counter-claim, Irenaeus essentially asked a very legitimate question, “why has no one interpreted those passages to mean that before?” While this may not have been the strongest argument, tradition still provided a source of reference in theology. By looking at what had been handed down to him, Irenaeus took seriously the claims of the historical Christian community.

An additional word needs to be said regarding tradition. While tradition should be considered seriously, tradition should ultimately be measured to the bar of scripture. If tradition ever contradicts Scripture, then tradition should be rejected in favor of a more biblical approach. Whenever there is a tradition that does not have clear biblical warrant (that is, if there is a “grey” area), then tradition should not be considered as binding on any believer, but kept individually according to the conscience of that believer.

Reason
So what role does reason play in Christian theology? This has a long and complicated history. Early on in the the history of the Christian church, the Christian faith was being increasingly attacked bPaul athensy the Gnostics and by pagans in the surrounding culture. Christian writers such as Justin Martyr (100-165 A. D.), Tertullian (160-225 A. D.) Athanasius (296-373 A. D.) and many others tried to defend the Christian faith using rational arguments. The assumption that they all had was that Christianity was a reasonable faith, and that faith could be defended using rational arguments, built on evidences and logical inferences. Reason was a friend of faith, not its enemy. At times, faith was seen to be above reason, but this never made faith irrational.

For these early Christian writers, God was a rational being. While his reason is far beyond our understanding, he was nevertheless a rational God. Therefore, their theology was informed by the belief that God’s truth could be tested and tried, and that his revealed word (the Bible) could stand the test of scrutiny.

The interplay between faith and reason is a complex issue, so a detailed illustration will go beyond the scope (and desired length) of this particular blog. But for now, it is sufficient to say that reason aids in the study of theology because it can clarify seemingly absurd doctrines, and deepen our understanding of the Christian faith. Here are a few questions that theologians have asked, questions that have been answered with the help of reason:

What does it mean to say that God is three persons? What exactly is a person?
How can God be three “persons” and yet still be one God? Isn’t this contradictory?
How can Jesus be both God and man?
How can an infinite God even communicate to finite humans? Is this even possible?
If God is all-powerful, can God make a rock so big that he can’t lift it?

Religious Experience
Here is the aspect of Christian theology that I alluded to in the first part of this blog. It is the one aspect of theology that many of us want to focus a lot of attention on. For Passioncommited Christians, experiencing God in a personal way is deeply important. The deep rooted conviction that Christianity is about a relationship with God, and not a mere system of beliefs about God is one of the reasons many people don’t like the term “theology.” But as we have seen, theology is not a stale academic subject. Theology, properly understood, should arise from having a deeply personal relationship with the God of the universe. Properly speaking, you can have a theology without a true relationship with God, but you can’t have a relationship with God without a theology. Knowing God entails knowing things about God.

But what does it mean to experience God? This may sound fuzzy to some people. The word experience comes from a latin word which means “that which arises out of traveling through life.” In the Christian life, we may go through certain circumstances that impress upon us the feeling that God taught us something through that experience. Other times, Night skywe may feel that we have encountered God in a “ineffable” way; that is, in a way that is hard to describe. There are times when we can be overpowered with the feeling that God is closer in that moment than in other moments. This feeling could happen when one is in awe of nature, or maybe in a worship setting at church. This can happen even when reading the Bible. These feelings can have a powerful impact on us, and can play a powerful role in the development of our theology.

However, religious experience poses a unique challenge to the Christian faith. Sometimes religious experiences can be contradictory in its content. An important question must be asked: how much of our theology is informed by our experiences, and how much of our experiences are informed by our theology?

1) Suppose that a young Christian moves off to college and while there, becomes close friends with people from differing religious backgrounds. All his life, the Christian has been taught that Christianity is the only true religion, and that Jesus is the only way to God. However, his friends are so sincere, and they are good people who live ethical lives. How could they be wrong? Ultimately, he reasons that Jesus’ teachings must be re-interpreted, and he begins to believe that all religions are equally true, and that all lead to the same God.

2) A young man feels attracted to other men, despite the fact that his Christian upbringing has told him that homosexuality is wrong. Because this young man’s desires are so strong, he reasons that God must have made him this way, therefore he believes that God desires that he finds a male companion.

3) An atheist is invited to a huge Christian conference by some friends. During a worship service one night, he feels overwhelmed by the presence of God and becomes aware of his deep need for a savior. Because his feelings are so strong, he ends up committing his life to Jesus Christ.

How do we interpret these situations? Do we let our experiences interpret our theology, or do we let our theology interpret our experiences?

This is a long and difficult subject that cannot be dealt with fully in this blog. But for now, it is most certain that theology and experiences have a two-way exchange. In Christianity, it has been taught that experiences, while providing many questions for theology, must themselves be interpreted though a theological framework.

Oftentimes, Christians draw too much theology from their experiences. I have known many fellow brothers and sisters who have been led into making decisions based upon feeling and not upon faith. Faith is not irrational, contrary to what you may have heard. Faith is a trust that we have in a God who has revealed himself to be trustworthy. If faith is not built upon God’s special revelation, then it is not true faith. Feelings on the other hand can be irrational, and can oftentimes be misleading.

As we have seen, experience is not the only source of theology. According to Christianity, the Bible is the primary source of all theology. All other sources bow the knee to the supremacy of Scripture. If tradition contradicts Scripture, then tradition must be abolished. If reason falsifies biblical claims, then so much the worse for reason. And if a religious experience leads us to understand something differently then what the Bible makes clear, then our experience must be reinterpreted through the lenses of God’s word.

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What is Theology?

TouchChristian Theology is one of the most rewarding studies to ever commit oneself to. At the surface, it can be simple, and yet profound; mystifying, and yet illuminating. Theology can help us Christians to formulate what it is that we believe, give us a greater appreciation for our faith, and deepen our love and adoration for the God who has been revealed in the person and deeds of Jesus Christ.

From my own experiences, I’ve noticed that some Christians feel slightly uncomfortable with theology. When the word “theology” is mentioned, some people seem to get the impression that we are talking about a boring, and lifeless academic subject that robs a Christian of his joy and passion for God. “All you need is Jesus,” is a type of reply you may get whenever the word “theology” is used. “Theology is human wisdom trying to make sense of God,” or my personal favorite, “Theology puts God in a box.” But I believe that these responses stem from misconceptions of what theology actually is.

I believe that the Christian writer and theologian, C. S. Lewis captured the proper perspective of Christian Theology in his book Mere Christianity. Lewis compared Theology to a map. If you are content to look at the Atlantic Ocean all your life, then taking a walk along the beach is all that is in store for you. But if you want to cross the Atlantic, then a map is absolutely essential.

Having a relationship with God is like looking at the Atlantic Ocean. You experience the waves, the sounds, and take in the majestic sights of an absolutely hugh bmap3ody of water. But if you want to cross it, then walking on the beach will do you no good; you’ll need a map. Lewis writes “Theology is like a map. Merely learning and  thinking about Christian doctrines, if you stop there, is less real and less exciting… Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map.”

Having a relationship with God and learning about God are not the same, but they do go hand in hand. Being in a relationship, you not only experience that person, but you also learn about that person as well. If I were to tell you everything about a person I love, right down to their personality, and their hair color, you would never know what it’s like to experience a relationship with that person. I could describe how tall they were, what their favorite food was, and what kind of movies they like to watch. But if you have never met them, you would never really know what it is like to know them. You would have to meet that person to know them.

So how do we define Theology? Again, the illustration of the map can help us. Looking at a map will help us describe what it is that we are experiencing. If someone asks “what is God like?” a Christian can say things like, “he is loving,” or “he is patient.” A Christian can describe God with words like all-powerful, all-knowing, and fully-present everywhere. This my friend, is theology.

Theology comes from two Greek words: theos, God, and logos, word, or “study of”. Strictly speaking, theology is the study of God, but as we have seen above, theology comes from the experience of knowing God as well.

Whenever Christians say things like “Jesus is God,” we are saying a theological truth. Whenever we comfort ourselves in times of pain by saying “God is good, and he has plans for me,” we are doing theology. When we sing “great is thy faithfulness,” we are commiting ourselves to a theology. Theology is a belief system, and an affirmation of what it is that we believe. While we can say all these things without having a real relationship with God, we can’t have a relationship with God without a theology. In reality, the two go hand in hand.

So to sum this all up, theology is anything about God. What we believe about God ultimately determines what we say about God, and even how we feel about God. Everyone has a theology.

But from where do we get our theology? Or said in another way, what informs our theology? Is experience the only place that we derive our theology? How do we know that God is loving, and faithful? Do we build our theology only on experiences, or do we build them on something else? This is what I want to explore.

In this blog, I have attempted to clarify what theology is. Now I want to briefly explain and explore the primary source of all Christian theology.

Scripture
The Scriptures, also referred to as The Bible is the primarscripturey source for all theology. The Bible is absolutely essential to Christianity, for without the Bible, Christians would know nothing about God.  Talking about God would be a pointless endeavor. This is why Christianity has a doctrine known as Special Revelation. Special Revelation means that God has purposely revealed himself to humanity. In Christianity, the belief that God has made himself known in a special way stands as one of the most critical of all theological beliefs. If God has not made himself known, then theology is not possible. Therefore, the Bible is God’s self-disclosure. The doctrine of special revelation is the very foundation on which we can build a theology.

To illustrate the importance of special revelation, I want to write about another aspect of God’s revelation. In Christianity, there are two types of revelation. I have already explained what special revelation is, so I would like to explore another aspect of God’s revelation known as General Revelation.

God’s general revelation is written about in the Bible. In Psalm 19 it says “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”

In this biblical passage, the author is telling us that something about the creator can be discerned from the created order. God has revealed himself in a general sort of way.

It is agreed upon by many Christian theologians that humans would of had a hunch that a god existed, even if God had never given us special revelation. Had God never revealed himself, there would still be something discernable in the created world that hinted to his presence.

But that’s it.

Without special revelation (also known as particular revelation), we would not be able to talk much about matters of theology. We wouldn’t know that God was loving, nor that he was everywhere. We would not know that he was a savior, and we would most certainly not have a clue that he was tri-personal (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

That is why special revelation is one of the most important doctrines in all of Christian Theology.

I have divided this blog into two parts because there are yet some more sources of Christian theology that I have not explained yet. You might be wondering “other than the Bible, what other sources do you need?” That’s a good question, and I intend to answer that in part 2 of this blog. There are actually 4 sources (one of which I have already hinted at) that Christianity has recognized as being valid sources of theology.

What is Theology?: Part 2

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What Is Philosophy?

What is Philosophy?

Have you ever wondered what the meaning of life is? Have you ever stopped to wonder to yourself “how do I know what is true, and how do I know that I know?” Perhaps you have even questioned whether or not other persons are figments of your own imagination, or maybe even wondered if you existed. These are philosophical questions that have plagued humans for a very long time. How does one begin to answer these questions? Is there an answer to these questions?plato bust

What is Philosophy exactly? Philosophy comes from two Greeks words: Philein, to love, and Sophia, wisdom. Therefore, a Philosopher is a lover of wisdom. A Greek philosopher by the name of Socrates (469 B.C.-399 B.C.) once said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Historically, Philosophers have asked deep questions regarding truth, knowledge, beauty, and goodness. A working definition of Philosophy that I enjoy using myself is “thinking deeply and asking tough questions about reality.”

For my present purposes, I would like to briefly systematize and briefly explain 3 different branches that Philosophy can be divided into.[1]

  1. Epistemology
  2. Metaphysics
  3. Values

Epistemology- How can I know?

One of the most helpful illustrations that one can use is of the movie The Matrix. In this science fiction movie, the world has been taken over by a bunch of machines that have enslaved human beings in order to use them as a source of energy. Human beings are plugged into the Matrix and experience a simulated reality, where everything the human being experiences is just a mere simulation, and the human does not know that their sights, sounds, smells, and tastes, are merely illusions foisted upon them by a giant super computer. No one knows that what they are living is a sham until someone from outside the Matrix breaks into this virtual reality. One of the more memorable lines in the movie is the one asked of the main hero, Neo. Neo is asked “Have you ever had a dream that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?”brain in vat

Epistemology is the branch of Philosophy that attempts to develop a theory of knowledge. Questions like “How can I know”, and “Can I know that I know,” are dealt with in this branch of Philosophy. How do we know that we are not plugged into a Matrix? How can I be sure that my experiences are not projections of a machine that I am hooked up to? These are questions that are dealt with in Epistemology.

What is knowledge, anyway? How do we know that what we have is knowledge, and how does one come by it? In Epistemology, an important notion known as justification is addressed. In other words, if what I have is knowledge, than how can I be justified in my beliefs? What are my justifications for why I believe what I believe?

All these questions are addressed in Epistemology, and theories are proposed in order to explain and defend how we come to know, and how we can know what is really real.

Metaphysics –What is real?

This is my favorite branch of Philosophy. While in Epistemology we can ask “How can IPlato&Aristotle know what is true?” here in metaphysics we can ask, “Is there such a thing as truth?” Metaphysics comes from two words: Meta, beyond, and Physics, that which is physical. In other words, Metaphysics deal with questions regarding ultimate reality. What is reality, and what kinds of things exist? Do humans have souls?  Is there such a thing as beauty, or is beauty a human construct? Is reality made up of only physical things, or are there such things such as supernatural beings?

An important question that is addressed in Metaphysics is “is reality real?” What do I mean by that? Asked in another way, is reality independent of my senses, or is my reality dependent on my senses? Suppose for a moment that there was not a single human being that existed; that there was no one who could touch, taste, smell, think, see, or hear. No one. Would there still be an external world? Would the universe exist? Perhaps, as some philosophers think, all of reality is a figment of our imaginations. If there was no one to sense the world around us, then perhaps it wouldn’t exist. Or, is reality an objective sort of thing, independent on its own, with or without human beings? This has been a debated issue in the history of philosophy.

One of the biggest questions addressed in this branch of Philosophy is whether or not a god exists. In fact, this may be one of the most ultimate questions to be asked in all of philosophy because it has implications that effect all branches of philosophy.

If a god exists, then which one? Allah? Yahweh? Is there more than one god? Can we even think of god as being personal, as in the western religions, or is “god” properly defined as an impersonal force, such as it is defined in the Eastern worldview. Maybe there is not a god, and perhaps there is no such thing as a supernatural world. Modern day science seems to have relegated the supernatural into the old dustbin of medieval history, and those who are committed to atheism tend to deny that supernatural entities exist at all. Perhaps ultimate reality is made up of only physical stuff.

These kinds of questions are the sorts of questions that are asked in Metaphysics and the answers that some have proposed have enormous implications for our lives.

Values- How should I Live? What is Beauty?

This branch of philosophy can be divided into two parts:

  • Ethics
  • Aesthetics

Ethics deals with personal and corporate behavior. In other words, questions such as “How should I live my life,” and “how should society be governed?” are dealt with here. This is the branch that deals with political theories. These theories can have an immediate effect on how we live our lives.ethics-and-compliance

Ethics address some of the most pressing questions that we face in our lives, and the answers we give not only affect us individually, but affect our whole society. Below are some contemporary issues that have some bearing on our lives today.[2]

1. Suppose that you are a member of the French Resistance in WWII. The Nazis have been rounding up Jews in order to take them to the concentration camps. Because of your moral convictions, you decided to hide as many Jews as you can in your cellar. Suppose further that the Nazi Gestapo suspect you of hiding Jews, and they invade your home, asking you whether or not you are hiding Jews in your home. What do you say? Do you tell the truth and lead the Gestapo to your cellar? Or do you lie, even though you believe lying is wrong. How you answer this question depends on your ethics.

2. Since 1973, abortion has been legal in the United States, resulting in the abortion of over 50 million babies. While many of our states have laws that make it a crime to abort a child at the late stages of pregnancy, other states rule it a crime at very early stages of gestation. Is this incoherent? When does it become wrong to abort a baby? The recent case of Kermit Gosnell brings up an important question. Why is it wrong to kill a baby after it has been birthed, but it is not wrong to abort a fetus at 15 weeks? Other questions may be asked. Does a mother have the right to terminate her pregnancy? Does not the unborn baby have rights? These are important questions, and people disagree as to the answers because everyone has an ethical theory, even though they may not be aware of it.

The second division we come to in this branch of philosophy is Aesthetics. Everytime someone says “that is beautiful song,” or “that woman is beautiful,” they are making an aesthetic judgment. But what is beauty? Is beauty subjective; based upon personal tastes? Or is beauty an objective feature? And what about art? How do we decide what is good art and bad art? Are there objective standards for aesthetics criticism?

What is art? Who decides? Below are two pictures from some very famous artists. The first is well known. It is a painting by Claude Monet (1840-1926).

claude monet

This second one is by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968).

Marcel Duchamp fountain

Are there objective standards that establish what can be considered “art” and what can not? If there are no standards, then can my chicken scratch on a piece of paper be considered art; comparable to Michalangelo’s David?

In this branch, paintings are not the only focus. Music, movies, and literature are all considered in this branch, which makes this branch one of the most interesting fields of philosophy.

So here’s a summary of the branches of Philosophy.

  1. Epistemology
  2. Metaphysics
  3. Value

Philosophy is an exciting study, and is very rewarding as well. Learning to think philosophically can help us become intellectually mature, and helps us to integrate our thoughts into a coherent worldview. How can it help us to do that? Let’s look at one more example to illustrate this.

Let’s look at the example of abortion. Is abortion right or wrong?

Your answer will depend on the answer that you might give to other questions, such as “what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong?'” Are categories such as “right” and “wrong” objective; unchanging, and binding on all people at all times? Or are moral categories based upon human construct; societal conventions that change depending on the culture and period of human history? If right and wrong are objective features of reality, then how? In other words, if morality is not built on societal conventions, then where do they come from? Are right and wrong eternally self existent things, or is right and wrong based upon the commands of a god? If they are based upon a god, then how can we be really sure that he exists?

And yet some more questions regarding this issue. What distinguishes a fetus from a human person? Is there a difference between the two? Do humans have souls, and if they do, when does a soul enter a human body? If a fetus has a soul, then does that make it human? What does it mean to be human, anyway? Can we even know the answer?

As we have seen, we have asked questions that fall into all 3 of the philosophical branches, thus showing that they are intertwined.

Everyone has a philosophy. In a very real sense, everyone is a philosopher. We all have a worldview that interprets the world around us, and becoming more philosophically inclined can give us the tools we need to become intellectually consistent, and better, well-rounded individuals.


[1] These divisions have been borrowed from Cowan and Spiegel’s book “The Love of Wisdom.

[2] Cowan and Spiegel

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