In a speech published in the Journal of Discourses, John Taylor is speaking of his mission to Europe and describes some of his experiences he had whilst in France. One of those was in reference to a light cake, that he says one could eat all day and never be filled. Some one later asks him what this cake is called and he says that it is fried froth and that philosophy is like fried froth, something that can never satisfy the appatite and leads one to be constantly eating and never being filled. Very much like the people described in Malachi, the people who shall run to and fro but shall never find what they are looking for. This statement from John Taylor seems to imply that philosophy is an idle pursuit and one that can never bring satisfaction. However, is this in reality the case. I contest that philosophy is quite what John Taylor said it was, and that there is much that can be learned from philosophy and that it can provide substance that helps us as we strive to get closer to Christ. The key question then is what role does philosophy have in mormon culture. Is it something to be feared, embraced, or mingled together? This question I shall seek to look at over the next few blog entries.
The scriptures tell us that we should “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” (2 Colossians 2:8) Paul then seems to be telling us that philosophy should be viewed with caution, that it is something that can distract us from Christ. I think here it is useful to look at the etymology of the word philosophy. The word philosophy comes from two greek words sophia, and phile. Phile is a word we find in many other words such as bibliophile. It simply means love of, or lover of. Sophia is a term that means truth or wisdom. The combination of the two gives us the meaning lover of truth or wisdom. If we are to take the above scripture literally then it would seem to be saying that we should beware of loving truth and wisdom. This surely can not be what Paul intended as wisdom and truth are two virtues that he later encourages us to to seek after.
Paul was saying that we should beware of the philosophies of men. Of the philosophy that is based on mans own wisdom and knowledge. It should be pointed out that Paul does not tell us to avoid philosophy at all cost, but simply that we should beware or more accurately be aware, or be alert to the fact that mans traditions and philosophies derived from man’s own reason and knowledge are capable of deceiving us. This is not a danger that is only found in the discipline of philosophy but one that faces all of us. By avoiding philosophy it is not the case that we aren’t doing philosophy, as we are all doing it, just that we are doing it badly. We are basing our wisdom and way of seeing the world, on thinking that hasn’t developed the methodological rigour that philosophy can give us. If we are blindly thinking without proper analysis then we are capable of deceiving ourselves through our own philosophy and vain traditions that Paul admonished us to be aware of. I think that this is one of the greatest dangers in the church is that we do folk philosophy we dabble a little in it, and then we use it, not realising that this is capable of deceiving us. A maxim often said in church is that we should avoid mingling scriptures with the philosophies of men, this is not to say that it is mixing scripture with philosophy, but with the theories and knowledge that we have found through our own philosophy, one that hasn’t been tested or inspected and as such is dangerous when mixed with scripture. Philosophy and the study of it gives us the intellectual tools that are needed to methodological evaluate knowledge claims, and to access and understand truth. Philosophy trains the mind to think for itself, philosophy does not destroy faith but helps one find their own faith based on their own thinking and not depending on the faith and thoughts of others. It is this dependancy that Paul is telling us to avoid. Most of what we receive in church is someone’s own philosophy mixed with scripture, what Paul then is telling us is that we should be aware of trusting in what that person tells us, as by doing so it is capable of leading us astray.