Re: Fact Free Science?

Tom Pearson (
Thu, 06 Nov 1997 14:08:08 -0600 (CST)

At 02:21 PM 11/6/97 -0500, George Murphy wrote:

> Science & theology must make use of clear thinking &c, & in that
>sense I have no objection to these statements. But philosophy is a tool
>& can't supply the facts & assumptions it needs by itself. Note, e.g.,
>Kant's idea that Euclidean geometry is a necessary part of the way we
>understand the world. In theology, the idea that we must build on
>philosphy has been quite damaging to Christian thought, for it has led
>people to think that the Christian God must be forced into the
>impassible, unchanging, "perfectly simple" &c categories of the Greek
>philosophical tradition. Cross & Trinity (e.g.) then become problems
>which have to be solved or embarassments to be papered over instead of
>fundamental data concerning God to which philosophy must adapt.
> George Murphy

Not to pick a fight here, George, but one of the advantages of
studying philosophy is that it can serve as an aid in identifying the
intellectual antecedents of positions people take. Your own comments
suggest that you have a kind of Lockean empirical notion of philosophy, in
that facts & assumptions are "given," while philosophy can only serve to
sort and classify this data as it is furnished by experience. But there are
other ways to look at this. Indeed, it seems to me that I would have no
idea how to recognize any "facts and assumptions" if I did not already have
some philosophical concepts and categories by which I could grasp such
things. If I am a "blank slate," of course, then those facts and
assumptions just show up there without my doing much of anything. But I
think it is hardly likely that we are blank slates, and I think it is hardly
likely that "fundamental data" is absorbed in some pristine manner,
uncontaminated by prior philosophical reflection. It appears far more
likely to me that the fundamental data adapts to our antecedent
philosophical templates, rather than the other way around.
The same is true of theology. How could we possibly understand such
things as the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, or any Theology of the
Cross, unless we had some prior understanding of the philosophical concepts
of person, unity, agency or sacrifice?

Tom Pearson

Thomas D. Pearson
Department of History & Philosophy
The University of Texas-Pan American
Edinburg, Texas