The Branches Of Philosophy And Their Importance From A Christian Perspective
In the former and first part of this series, we saw that thinking well and cultivating one’s intellectual life is a virtue, according to the Bible and the historical tradition of Christianity. Now we’ll shift to the more practical and applicative issue and examine how philosophy can aid one to order and use their reason properly.
There are many beneficial tools that philosophy can supply us with. One of these tools (and perhaps the most useful) is that of distinctions. Philosophy is divided into different branches which – when properly understood – can help us to sort out our thinking into proper categories. Many errors in reasoning come from a misunderstanding and misuse of differing categories.
First, let’s look at four of the most important and well-known branches of philosophy and see what kind of issues each deal with. Following each short description will be a few specific issues that are of importance, specifically for Christians.
1. Logic: The study of proper reasoning.
(1) How does one properly support a claim / conclusion?
(2) What constitutes a strong argument?
(3) Are there different kinds of arguments appropriate for different occasions / purposes?
(4) What do errors in reasoning look like?How can we avoid them?
2. Epistemology: Theory of knowledge.
(1) What is knowledge?
(2) How do we gain knowledge?
(3) What is the difference between belief, knowledge and truth?
3. Metaphysics: Theory of reality.
(1) Does God exist?
(2) Does the soul exist?
(3) What is time? Is God in time or outside time?
(4) Do humans have free-will or does God determine all events?
4. Ethics: The study of morality.
(1) What is goodness?
(2) What is evil?
(3) Is morality binding on all people at all times, or is it relative?
(4) Why does morality exist? What is it’s source?
As we can see, many of the issues that philosophy seeks to deal with interact with those that Christianity as a world-view seeks to answer. Not only does philosophy deal with these same questions, but it also gives us tools that aid us in answering such questions properly.
For example, it would seem obvious (at least to me) that someone who uses only their feelings or emotions to guide how they come to decisions about these matters is not using a proper or effective method to gain knowledge about what is true.
Philosophy can give us some of these proper methods. Although the discipline of Logic deals heavily with such a venture, other philosophical disciples – like those already discussed – offer essential tools as well. It’s very easy to get access to an introductory study of Logic (just ‘Google’ it!), so the next few parts of this series won’t deal with basic logic – although I highly suggest reading and learning basic logical concepts. Instead, we’ll look at two specific disciplines (epistemology and ethics – see above) and helpful distinctions that are made within those categories.