Levinas and Two Ways of Approaching the World

Emmanuel Levinas was a Lithuanian Jew who lived from 1906 to 1995, and studied under some of the most influential thinkers in Europe. He later moved to France and authored one of the most exciting and original philosophies of the 20th Century. He lived for a time as a prisoner of war during World War 2. After the war he responded with force against what he saw as the movement of western philosophy.

In Contrast with Western Philosophy

What is Western philosophy? Western philosophy traces its ancestry to ancient Europe, to countries such as Greece and Rome. It is the philosophy that you and I are already familiar with. It permeates our thoughts, ideas, and even how we make sense of the world. In Western philosophy, truth is generally considered to be the unchanging, foundational principles of the Universe. Philosophy itself is thought to be the method of reducing the flux of everyday experience to a set of static principles. For Western philosophy, there is no loss in this “reduction,” because we are making the world intelligible, or reducing the chaos we find in experience to unchanging unity.

In simple terms, in order to be truth, it has to be true everywhere, all of the time. Mathematical abstractions are the perfect example of Western truth. The equation c2 = a2 + b2 seems to be true everywhere and everytime, regardless of the particular circumstances, and thus Pythagoras and subsequent Greek philosophers regarded it as truth. Thus, for Western thinking, all things that are dynamic, that are in motion, and that change can be accounted for by the few things that fundamentally do not change. The few things that are always the same govern or explain the many things that are in flux.

A perfect example of this Western way of thinking is Continue reading

Mormon Creation Narratives and Creation by Evolution

I once heard it said when I was a young undergraduate that the creation accounts – particularly that of Abraham – fit very well with evolutionary accounts of creation. A casual read of Abraham seems to confirm this: earth, void; waters divided from earth; plants come up from the earth; fish and fowl; beasts of the earth; man. This sort of progression would make sense from an evolutionary perspective – creation evolves from simple to complex.

But add Moses’ account into the mix and things become a little dicier. Continue reading

Rationality Redefined

[This is a “reprint” of part 1 of a series I posted on my home blog, ldsphilosopher.com]

Early Greek philosophers saw reason as the conduit through which human beings could access the unchanging certainties of the cosmos. This perspective actually makes some sense. We may age, wither, and die, but the Pythagorean theorem remains unchanged through time. The conclusions of rational thought were seen as the bedrock truths at the bottom of our swiftly changing world.

This understanding of human reason implies that rational people will converge on the same ideas. An interesting, subtle, but extremely important side effect of this point of view is expressed aptly by John Locke: “All that is voluntary in our knowledge, is the employing or withholding any of our [rational] faculties. … But they being employed, our will hath no power to determine the knowledge of the mind one way or another.” Thus, the conclusions of rational thought are inevitable.

Modern philosophers have, to some extent, rejected this ancient perspective on rationality. Instead, reason has been seen as Continue reading

The Restoration of All Things

Many of us compartmentalize our lives in a way that would seem strange to scholars of past centuries. We talk about our religious lives and our academic lives as though they were two separate things, divided in a way that protects one from the effects of an error in the other, as a bulkhead on a ship may protect other compartments from being flooded by water. However, this modern separation of our academic and spiritual life is a very recent development. I believe that the division between spiritual and secular knowledge is a false distinction, and, as Richard Williams has pointed out, found nowhere in scripture.1

Continue reading

Science is Not Based on Faith

I was intrigued by Joe’s recent post and the hubbub of comments that ensued, so I decided to weigh in on a tangent to the issues Joe and a number of commenters raised. The issue is this: In pointing out the unsecure footing of the scientific worldview, critics sometimes claim that scientists have faith in science just as religious persons have faith in God. Continue reading

Emergence, Chaos and the Meaning of it All – Finding Significance in the Natural World, Part 1

[This is a re-post from my personal philosophy blog. Check out my blog HERE.]

There are many things which are simply difficult not just to understand but to know at all.

Though I tried my best and still did horribly in my biology class in community college, there was one concept that I gleaned which I’ve found myself thinking about as of late. The concept is “emergence” or “emergent properties.” In general, emergence has to do with a system giving rise to properties which are not directly traceable to the component parts of said system. On the physiological level, emergence refers to secondary traits emerging unpredictably from the combination of various primary traits. In genetics, the primary traits are those which can be deduced from genes, and the secondary, emergent traits are those which come about from the combination of several of the primary traits. Continue reading

W(h)ither Metaphysical Speculation

Our grand business undoubtedly is, not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.” -Thomas Carlyle “Signs of the Times”

There has been an interesting conversation going on at New Cool Thang concerning the nature of God’s brain. Among the issues being discussed is whether God’s brain stores memory — or whether any brain stores memory at all. The idea that information is “stored” in the brain is very prevalent in Western culture and likely owes its origins to the advent of computer technology and theories of memory storage coming out of cognitive psychology. Continue reading