Freedom from Authority, Freedom from Dogma
The weight of received views is set on us in childhood, passed on to us from mankind's childhood.
Topics on this page ...
- Plato and the historical Socrates
- Leibniz and saving pantheism
- Short Remarks and Philosophical Queries
- What manner of thinker was Albert Schweitzer?
Context: these are logic of language remarks, which is Wittgenstein's expression but as my jargon asks: In philosophy how is the distinction between sense and nonsense in language preserved or created?
"Never to silence thought"
To be prepared for confirmation I was sent to old Pastor Wennagel... He wanted to make us understand that in submission to faith all reasoning must be silenced. But I was convinced -- and I am so still -- that the fundamental principles of Christianity have to be proved true by reasoning, and by no other method. Reason, I said to myself, is given us that we may bring everything within the range of its action, even the most exalted ideas of religion. And this certainty filled me with joy. (Albert Schweitzer, Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, tr. C.T. Campion (1925), Chapter 3)
Plato and the historical Socrates
Note: this continues the discussion Is it possible to know the historical Socrates? (Aristotle gives ways to distinguish Plato's thinking from Socrates' (with respect to ethics and metaphysics, and with respect to Heraclitus' influence on Plato), although not so much from the thinking of Xenophon's Socrates.)
Plato's Apology is just that, Plato's apology, and not as some translators title it "Socrates' Defense". For even if Plato was present at the trial and heard the defense that Socrates himself presented, it does not follow that Plato simply recorded in the Apology what Socrates' had said. For Plato never hesitated to put his own ideas in Socrates' mouth (although it should be noted that the Socrates presented in the Apology holds some views that are quite contrary to Plato own views; cf. death in the Apology versus in the Phaedo). Further, even if Plato did undertake to create an historical record of the trial in the Apology, when he undertook to write his account could not Plato have added his own arguments to the arguments Socrates had himself made at the trial, in order to make what Plato believed to be the strongest defense of philosophy -- and thus present his own understanding of who Socrates was and why Socrates was important?
That supposes that Plato really was present at the trial, for he says that he was not present when Socrates drank the hemlock in the short weeks following the trail. Question: would Plato have left the city of Athens rather than visit his teacher everyday in prison and be there at his end?
The Undue Weight of Authority
One question found in Schweitzer's book Paul and His Interpreters is this, that if the Apostle Paul did not write the Pauline letters (or did not write all of them), then why are these letters that he did not write ascribed to Paul? Why did Cicero ascribe his essay "On Old Age" to Cato the Elder? Cicero tells us (and quite frankly): in order to lend weight to Cicero's own words.
And why did Plato and Xenophon put their own thoughts into the mouth of Socrates; was that not also to lend those thoughts weight -- to get them listened to (assured a hearing) and taken seriously? As his translator Marchant says, Xenophon could hardly have been present at all the discussions he records (and a few of them, it has to be said, are rather commonplace, and some are clearly Xenophon's own invention, as e.g. when in his Memorabilia he even has Socrates discuss the conditions for the "the pleasantest and the most beautiful" house or temple). And how much of Plato after the Apology (if indeed that work makes the attempt) even tries to faithfully present the thoughts (or even the personality) of the historical Socrates?
It may be that Plato's Phaedo really does record the events of the death of Socrates. However, how could the doctrine that is set forth there be the thought of Socrates' rather than Plato's own doctrine, which is based on "soul-matter" dualism and is foreign to the way of thinking of Socrates and of the Socratic schools? If the Apology can be trusted (and if it cannot be, then what can be?), the historical Socrates does not even know what death is and whether it is to be feared (29a); the word 'soul' to him means nothing more or less than a man's ethical personality. Plato's notion of the body as a tomb from which the soul is freed at death belongs to Orphism (according to Eduard Zeller); it was not Socrates' view of the body, nor the view of Stoicism (for which all things are "matter") which was derived from Socrates and Antisthenes and Diogenes the Cynic.
So if Paul did not write letters ascribed to him or if he did not write all of them, then they may have been placed in his mouth in order to lend weight to them. Likewise, the second letter of Peter may have been put into Peter's mouth in order to lend weight -- i.e. authority to the real author's or authors' words. And the same may apply to the speeches Jesus makes in the "Gospel according to John". Because apparently in the ancient world, perhaps obviously in the ancient world, doing such things was not regarded as a form of irreverence, nor indeed of dishonesty, just as plagiarism was not regarded as theft.
This might be compared to the ancient potters in Asia who signed their works, not with their own names, but with the names of potters of the past. Those signatures, historians say, were not a form of forgery but rather of humble tribute to past masters. (This of course does not mean that forgery was never any potter's intent, no more than misrepresentation was never the intent of classical Greek, Roman and early Christian writers.)
What is "spirit"?
It is anachronistic to call either the Socratics or the Stoics "materialists". Because they made no such distinction between "spirit" and "matter": Socrates took no interest in metaphysics and for the Stoics the soul was "material", just as was the body. What, by the way, is "spirit" when it's at home -- some invisible type of matter ['invisible' ≠ 'immaterial'], and what is "matter" when it's at home? Where there is no concept 'spirit' that contrasts with a concept 'matter', then to speak of dualism is to utter "sounds without sense" -- i.e. undefined language, nonsense. If the logic ("grammar") of a word requires an antithesis and there is no antithesis, then the word is without meaning. (To say "What is spirit? Not matter. What is matter? Not spirit" is to make nothing clearer. A or NOT-A, if 'A' is undefined, then so is 'NOT-A'.) We must, at least I think, avoid anachronism -- in this case, trying to force a distinction on the minds of philosophers that was not there -- if we want to see their thought aright, or at least to understand their thought -- if that be possible -- as they saw it (Not as if they had, or as if anyone must make that distinction).
What is spirit? To begin at the beginning, there is a word 'spirit', which is to say, spoken sound, ink marks, and now the question is, What, if anything, gives that word meaning? What, if any, is its use in our language?
When I was a boy we used the expression 'Holy Ghost' (The Belgium priest in Haiti who prepared us for First Communion belonged to the Holy Ghost Fathers). Then they told us to use the expression 'Holy Spirit' instead, as if the change from 'ghost' to 'spirit' made something clearer. But if those words are not synonymous -- indeed, if 'spirit' ≠ 'ghost', then what if any meaning has the word 'spirit'? Indeed it has none. A 'ghost' is an 'invisible body' (whether in the narrowest or broadest sense, as a diffuse body, e.g. a 'body of gas').
If I understand the Apostle Paul, and I may not, he does not, or cannot [What kind of possibility is this? Logical: an unavailability of concepts (inability to imagine alternatives); or Ideological: a selection of one set of concepts (pictures) based on, well, whatever it is based on (e.g. religious scripture), and the rejection of other sets], or does not want to conceive -- i.e. picture -- "the soul" as separable from a body, even if the resurrected body is not to be, in his words, a "fleshy body" (because such a body is subject to disease and death, as well as, Paul says, wrong-doing: "Who will save me from this body of death?" he asks).
The human body is the best picture of the human soul. (PI II, iv, p. 178g)
That is what the Greek shades in Hades were, shadow-like bodies. That was how they were depicted -- and how else should they have been. That was the Greek view of things, as opposed to Plato's spirit-matter dualism (which, according to Zeller, Plato imported from Eastern religions, although I do not see why he could not have taken it from Pythagoras, for if the East could teach itself, then so could Pythagoras have taught himself).
What, after all, would a disembodied soul be but a nightmare existence: deaf, blind, dumb, unable to touch, taste or smell. That would be true "death in life". It is not that the body is a tomb (Gorgias 493a, Cratylus 400b), but rather that if the soul were separated from a body that disembodiment would be the tomb of the soul. Furthermore, it is not the body that is a tomb for a person who is ill, but only a diseased body that is a tomb: a person who is ill does not desire to leave their body, but for their body to be returned to health, not for their body to "release" their soul into God knows what type of existence. It strikes me that the picture of a disembodied soul has not been thought out.
There is not even a picture to title "disembodied soul". Not that this would trouble Plato, on whose account the soul is simply another thing that is not seen with the eyes nor felt with the hands; it is invisible and intangible, as are the Forms:
SOCRATES: Do we recognize such a thing as absolute uprightness ["absolute justice"]?... And absolute beauty and goodness ["absolute good"] too? [And absolute tallness and health and strength?]
SIMMIAS: Of course.
SOCRATES: Have you ever seen any of these things ["any of them"] with your eyes?
SIMMIAS: Certainly not. (65d)
SOCRATES: ... I am assuming the existence of ["an"] absolute beauty and goodness and magnitude and all the rest of them. If you grant my assumption and admit that they exist ...
CEBES: Certainly I grant it. (100b-c)
(Plato, Phaedo, tr. Tredennick [with bracketed renderings by Jowett])
"Do you agree?" in this context surely means "Do you believe?" But this isn't a question of belief (What is being discussed is not a more or less probable hypothesis), but of whether Plato's "picture" of absolutes (e.g. "absolute tallness") is or is not useful to the understanding of anything, e.g. to understanding the grammar of the word 'tall'; how do we actually use that word? Not that Plato does not know that, of course. He is not making grammatical remarks with his "picture"; he is not suggesting a rule for using the expression [combination of words] 'absolute tallness', for example.
The spell of "Apostolic Authority"
What men looked for in Paul's writings was proof-texts for Lutheran or Reformed theology; and that was what they found. Reformation exegesis reads its own ideas into Paul, in order to receive them back again clothed with Apostolic authority. Before this could be altered, the spell which dogma had laid upon exegesis needed to be broken. (Paul and His Interpreters, tr. W. Montgomery (1912), p. 2)
[Johann Salomo Semler (fl. 1760-1786) is] the creator of historical theology.... the Halle professor explains again and again what is to be understood by a "historical" method of exegesis. He demands that the New Testament shall be regarded as a temporally conditioned expression of Christian thought, and examined with an unprejudiced eye. [Comment: dogma is prejudice -- i.e. pre-judgment in contrast to post-judgment.] (p. 4)
[Johann Gottfried Eichhorn in his Historical and Critical Introduction to the New Testament (1814) denies that the two letters to Timothy and the letter to Titus were written by the Apostle Paul.] ... Eichhorn concludes that "someone else has put himself in Paul's place" ... (p. 8-9)
Comment: Of the doubtful conversations Xenophon records, might these conversations not be seen as Xenophon doing what the author or authors of those three Pauline letters is said to have done, namely, put himself in Socrates' place and asked himself what Socrates would have said or would say in such-and-such circumstances.
"And when they agreed with this also"
The following illustrates Socrates' method of always obtaining step-by-step agreement when arguing out a question (Xenophon, Memorabilia iv, 6, 14-15).
Again his dictum about houses, that the same house is both beautiful and useful, was a lesson in the art of building houses as they ought to be.
He approached the problem thus:
"When one means to have the right sort of house, must he contrive to make it as pleasant to live in and as useful as can be?"
And this being admitted, "Is it pleasant," he asked, "to have it cool in summer and warm in winter?"
And when they agreed with this also, "Now in houses with a south aspect, the sun's rays penetrate into the porticoes in winter, but in summer the path of the sun is right over our heads and above the roof, so that there is shade. If, then, this is the best arrangement, we should build the south side loftier to get the winter sun and the north side lower to keep out the cold winds. (ibid. iii, 8, 8-9)
To put it shortly, the house in which the owner can find a pleasant retreat at all seasons and can store his belongings safely is presumably at once the pleasantest and the most beautiful. As for paintings and decorations, they rob one of more delights than they give."
For temples and altars the most suitable position, he said, was a conspicuous site remote from traffic; for it is pleasant to breathe a prayer at the sight of them, and pleasant to approach them filled with holy thoughts. (ibid. iii, 8, 10)
For the Socrates of Xenophon, the beautiful = the good = the useful.
Sheltering behind an authority
If so many utterances of Jesus are hovering before Paul's mind, how comes it that he always merely paraphrases them, instead of quoting them as sayings of Jesus, and thus sheltering himself behind their authority? (Paul and His Interpreters p. 43)
Note: the "if" above is "if, as according to the biblical scholars writing circa 1864-1897 ..." One such (sc. Alfred Resch), writing in 1888, suggests that there was a "written Gospel on which Paul draws" for "otherwise unrecorded sayings of Jesus" (p. 42), a Gospel which we neither possess nor have any evidence for the existence of (other than, according to this scholar, the Letters of Paul themselves). Schweitzer calls this an "hypothesis" (both that such a Gospel ever existed and that Paul drew from it). However, to me it looks like rather wild speculation rather than an hypothesis -- because so far as we actually know, no such Gospel ever existed, and therefore to account for the known data in this way -- is that the scientific approach? (Schliemann's real existence of ancient Troy was an hypothesis, because he set a criterion for testing it, namely, archeological digs in the Troad. To say that Paul includes sayings of Jesus in his Letters, but then to offer no way to verify or falsify that assertion, that is to suggest a picture that is not an hypothesis, is it not? Saying that only seem to be from Jesus also only seem not to be from Jesus; where there is only seeming, there is no truth or falsity (cf. PI § 258))
Now, this a very important philosophical idea -- namely, sheltering behind an authority -- although I want to discuss something different than Schweitzer does here; because in Schweitzer's example, the authority of Jesus, the Lord (Master), really would be justification to other Christians of Paul's religious views (I don't know if it was ever Paul's concern to show that his views were the same as or at least consistent with Jesus' teachings). But there are no masters in philosophy -- and it is philosophy -- that is, philosophizing, and not merely trying to give a true account of some philosopher or other's views (which is only the concern of the historian of philosophy), that I want to talk about.
"Sheltering oneself behind an authority, or simply, behind authority." That is something that Schweitzer in his writings never does, neither in philosophy nor in theology -- namely, try to shelter behind someone else's words -- i.e. to place his own thought beyond criticism (as if citing an authority removed the need for any or for any further justification) -- invoking the words of someone who might be mistaken for an authority -- "mistaken", because in philosophy there are no authorities (or, better, the only authorities in philosophy are the arguments which are presented. In Plato's words: "Refute and be refuted": ideas have had their day in court only when they have been subjected to cross-questioning. Reason alone, according to some, or reason checked by the evidence of experience, according to others, is the only maestro di color che sanno in philosophy).
Question: do I ever (or even often) shelter behind Wittgenstein? Do I quote him with the assumption that he has thought the matter through so thoroughly that I can rely on his written or spoken summary-testimony? (Ipse dixit -- Himself said it, and that is the guarantee of its truth that is needed. So the ancient followers of Pythagoras, it is said.)
Plato has Socrates say, "... if you will take my advice, you will think very little of Socrates, and much more of the truth" (Phaedo 91b). That is, you should think less about the person of Socrates, as if he, rather that the truth, were the authority, and more for the argument, which aims at discovering the truth and which alone is the only authority in philosophy. (Neither Pythagoras, nor Parmenides, nor Heraclitus, nor Socrates, nor Plato, nor Aristotle, nor Zeno of the Stoa is il maestro di color che sanno.)
But then, of course -- why does Plato put his own arguments in Socrates' mouth, if not precisely because Plato wants his own words to carry the weight of the authority of Socrates on his death bed, to shelter behind that authority? Do I cite Wittgenstein as an authority (as if his words were a philosophical full stop)? "You will care less about what Wittgenstein said and more about whether you can justify what he said." But, other than for the sake of giving credit where it's due (That is, if the idea is his, it is proper to acknowledge this, and if he has expressed an idea better than you can yourself, to quote him), why cite Wittgenstein at all? As an "authority to further support" your argument? But there is no such thing in philosophy.
What are you trying to shelter behind an authority from? In philosophy you only try to "shelter behind an authority" in a idle effort to avoid having to think the thing all the way through for yourself. Obviously, simply wanting what a philosopher has said to be true cannot make it true.
Leibniz and saving pantheism
That a thinker like Leibnitz could reach the miserable conclusion that though this world is, indeed, not good, it is the best that is possible, I have never been able to understand. (Out of my Life and Thought, tr. Lemke (1990), Epilogue, p. 242)
Suppose we think of G.W. Leibniz (ghost) as trying to save pantheism ... And I thought at first, "Leibniz does not say that this is the best of all imaginable worlds, only that it is the best of all possible worlds", because like Plato's Artisan-Architect ("demiurge"), Leibniz's God does the create the universe out of nothing but only organizes the stuff (physis) that already exists.
But on the other hand, maybe we only think that because we do not consider what the ramifications would be if we changed even one law of nature -- [Wittgenstein revised this to "laws of physics" and, as M. O'C. Drury explains in his discussion of what a scientific theory is, that seems correct -- but in another context. In the present context what signifies is that no one disputes the reality of the regularity of naturally occurring events, and so 'laws of nature' seems the appropriate expression] -- or if we made an exception to one of the laws of nature (and our imaginations would then demand that countless exceptions be made). What would become of the uniformity of nature if we begin making exceptions? Doesn't nature already seem capricious enough to us, faithfully obeying its laws in a most amoral way. What if nature became completely unpredictable? Would we want that? because it would mean existing in chaos, and man is free only when he can predict and direct what comes next.
If instead of making exceptions, we changed even a single law of nature, might not the whole structure of law fall apart into utter, primordial chaos. Was not Stoicism correct to feel awe at the uniformity of nature? Is not feeling awe at gods (even if, like human beings, the gods are ethical personalities, unlike Nature which is impersonal) the primitive view, the view of "the world" that belongs to the childhood of mankind? The Stoic physics is not, of course, modern scientific physics; it is metaphysics, where awe properly belongs. [According to the physicist James Jeans, we shouldn't be surprised even at the existence of life in our universe, despite its existence having a probability of almost zero; and perhaps he is correct that we should not feel surprised that in the fullness of time every possibility may be realized. But the feeling of awe at the universal reason -- i.e. the uniformity, the law of nature -- that governs the universe is something quite different.]
The trouble is that even if Leibniz can save pantheism in this way -- i.e. by showing that his God is both provident and good, for He has made for us the best of all possible worlds, the best that could be made given what He had to work with, not the best that we, thinking of this, that or the other particular, might wish to be different or imagine might be better, but the best possible whole, the best possible system of natural laws ... Even if Leibniz accomplishes all this, the trouble is that although the God of Leibniz may be good, He is not what we usually mean 'God'. For normally by 'God' we mean something all-powerful, omnipotent, not limited in any way in what He can do, not limited to making only the best possible world rather than simply the best of all worlds, imaginable and otherwise, not limited by the material available to Him -- and in the case of pantheism the material would be God Himself.
If that was what the historical G.W. Leibniz [1646-1716] had in mind -- and I don't at all remember what he actually had in mind with his pre-existent monads, or whether his thinking was at all pantheistic, for his picture does not require that he have been -- i.e. if saving pantheism was what Leibniz had in mind, then I would not dream of denigrating his idea, although I do not believe that it really solves the problem, which seems to be irresolvable. (Of course, the problem lies in the grammar of our word 'God', with a picture that we have ourselves created and chosen to accept. But, then, that last remark does return us to this point -- that the only necessary limit to the discovery of a solution is "concept-formation", or in other words, a gifted human imagination. Philosophy does not come to an end with any thinker.)
Voltaire's Dr. Pangloss
It seems to me that in Leibniz's conception, the "best of all possible worlds" has nothing to do with Providence, but only with natural law and uniformity of nature (God has arranged the monads in harmony). That is Leibniz (ghost) of course, because the truth is I don't know.
But Voltaire's Dr. Pangloss could be a caricature of the Stoic Chrysippus ("Observe well, that the nose has been made for carrying spectacles; therefore we have spectacles. The legs are visibly designed for stockings, and therefore we have stockings."). In Candide (ca. 1759), tr. unknown, Chapter 22, Candide says to the Paris scholar: "Sir, you believe, no doubt, that all is for the best in the physical and moral world, and that nothing can be otherwise?" cf. Chapter 10, where Candide has said "that one has reason to be a little uneasy at what passes in this world, with respect to both physics and morals"; Chapter 16: "Ah! if Mr. Pangloss had seen nature without disguise, would he have said whatever is, is right?"
"What! is that the great philosopher?" said Martin. Candide replies, Yes, that is "Master Pangloss, the most profound metaphysician of Germany". Candide: "Well, my dear Pangloss ... did you always think that things in this world" -- The philosopher has spoken of "the concatenation of events in this universe" ("All the events in this best of possible worlds are admirably connected. If a single link in the great chain were omitted, the harmony of the entire universe would be destroyed." (Chapter 30)) -- "were all for the best?" Pangloss: "I am still as I always have been, of my first opinion ... for as I am a philosopher, it would be inconsistent with my character to contradict myself; especially as Leibnitz could not be in the wrong; his pre-established harmony is certainly the finest system in the world ..." (Chapters 27, 28)
Maybe we could say that although this is the best possible world, it was not the best possible God who designed it. Leibniz's God is not, in that sense, the God of St. Anselm ("That than which nothing greater can be conceived [i.e. imagined, described]"). For a perfect God would not be limited by pre-existent monads as to which world it was possible for Him to "create" (i.e. design). It is said that St. Anselm invented "ethical monotheism", because of course "that than which there is nothing greater" must be in all respects good, including in all His works which must all be to the good. That, I think, would be the God of Dr. Pangloss ... as well as of Hegel.
"Whatever is, is right" (Chapter 16) -- Was that what Hegel (1770-1831) meant by -- is it not the implication of -- "What is real is rational, and what is rational is real"? It may not be "right" in the sense of perfect, but "right" because every event is a step along the path to inevitable perfection. In that way too, whatever is, is desirable? (Voltaire died when Hegel was eight years old.)
Short Remarks and Philosophical Queries
Note: Words that follow "Query" are Internet searches that were misdirected to this site and to which I have replied below.
Query: undefined words fallacy.
Surely an argument that contains an undefined word or words should not be "valid" (and this might be called the undefined word fallacy) ... and yet it seems that in formal logic it can be valid. What is meaning of the words that compose the "propositions" p,q,r? Either there are no such words or, in the case where p,q,r do "stand in" for actual natural language propositions, there is no way for anyone examining the argument to know what those words are; and, in either case, words and their sense or lack of it are irrelevant. Formal logic only cares about "the logical form" of the argument (as if philosophy should -- as if that were an advance -- divorce logic from sense and nonsense). This is related both (1) to the question of a proposition's sense being prior to the question of that proposition's truth or falsity, and (2) to Stoic logic's concern with truth rather than with form. The word 'valid' in formal logic ≠ [does NOT have the same meaning as] the word 'true' in natural language.
The query above, however, coming from the Philippines, may well concern instead this question in philosophy of geometry: Why do we call them "undefined terms" when we in fact define them?
Query: metaphysics, philosophy of Wittgenstein.
Wittgenstein nowhere defined 'metaphysics'; I wrote a Classification of Metaphysical Statements, but is that what Wittgenstein meant; perhaps one of the things he meant. But in so far as the concepts 'metaphysics' and 'the mystical' are connected, it is not.
Maybe have already said elsewhere everything I have to say about this (although what I wrote there was exploratory and doubtless needs to be revised with further thought). The account of language meaning in the Philosophical Investigations (i.e. Logic, to divide philosophy into three parts, as the Stoics did) does not logically mandate (if one is not to talk "nonsense" (TLP) or utter undefined combinations of words) "passing over in silence" either Ethics or Physics (i.e. metaphysics). We have Wittgenstein's "Lecture on Ethics"; this belongs to the transitional stage after returning to Cambridge, but most of it could have been presented later. That is, Wittgenstein did have something to say about the other two-thirds of philosophy -- the most important part according to his letter to Ficker; he did not have (logic-of-language did not force him) to remain silent about them. Why did he? Either there is a reason, or it was simply because "Wittgenstein was a very singular man" (Russell) (or, as a recent book  has claimed, that he was mentally ill). I believe it was the first, but I'm not sure what that reason was. Did he think talking about life's meaning did more harm than good? I would like to know what Drury would have said about this, if asked about it exactly as I have posed the question.
I think I could say that my interest is using the tool that I have from Wittgenstein, namely, Logic, in order to concern myself with Ethics and Physics (as in the Stoic division [or, partition]). If, that is, Ethics and Physics have as their true goal an understanding of life's meaning. A rational understanding (not Wittgenstein's anti-rational [tolerant of superstition] one). [Not that logic of language and the art of reasoning is not fascinating in itself of course; but Logic isn't just a game either.]
What manner of thinker was Albert Schweitzer?
For him, profundity of thought is very largely to be measured by its simplicity or "elemental" quality. (George Seaver, Albert Schweitzer: the Man and His Mind (1947), p. 206)
By 'elemental' is meant 'fundamental' ("as in the elements of Wittgenstein's logic of language"), but that word also suggests the force of the natural elements (storms, seas, things like this), which are not only profound but also make a deep impression on the mind (and move the heart).
Schweitzer's position is an entire reversal of the accepted view. [That is, a reversal of the view of "Rationalistic theology [which] makes reason, assisted by "revelation", the organ for the apprehension of spiritual truth. But it mistakes the nature of revelation [Seaver says]. It takes revelation to be ... information about the purposes of God and the destiny of man imparted through the pages of sacred books."] He [Schweitzer] is a free-thinker who takes his stand upon the intellectual integrity of the older Rationalism, when thought was free and unentangled with the yoke of bondage to any dogma; he starts, that is, without any presuppositions or assumptions save the facts that are immediately present to consciousness, or can be ascertained by rational enquiry ... (ibid. p. 301)
To the rational historian, the Bible is simply a book like any other -- that is, it must stand or fall to reason and the evidence. cf. the motto for the present page: "I was convinced -- and I am so still -- that the fundamental principles of [religion] have to be proved true by reasoning, and by no other method." And by no other method. My comment: The doctrine "believe in order to understand" belongs to an eternal childhood for mankind; it is like Abraham's faith" -- i.e. the unquestioning obedience of a child. Schweitzer, however, does not think like a dogmatic (divine) theologian; he thinks as a philosopher does. That is the manner of thinker he was.
In the following, Schweitzer would say that Seaver is "abusing language" with his high-blown rhetoric about him. but here the ideas of "elemental" and "free-thinker" are brought together at the end of Seaver's biography-study:
... the thought which holds the clue to the riddle of life's meaning and mystery, must be the simplest thought conceivable, the most natural, the most elemental, and therefore also the most profound. To find it one must needs be an explorer. And Schweitzer is before all else an explorer, a spiritual adventurer, an intellectual pioneer. (p. 311)
What does it mean, to be an "ethical personality"?
If men can be found who revolt against the spirit of thoughtless, and who are personalities sound enough and profound enough to let the ideals of ethical progress radiate from them as a force ... (From My Life and Thought, tr. Campion, "Epilogue" [(1949) p. 241], quoted by Seaver, p. 311)
When in 1961 Schweitzer said goodbye to Dr. Louise Jilek-Aall, who had been a doctor at his hospital, his last words to her were: "If you continue to work diligently at strengthening your personality, you will become a successful healer of men." (Working with Dr. Schweitzer (1990), p. 199)
But Dr. Aall gives the impression of not having understood the first part of Schweitzer's conditional; in what she writes about his statement, she focuses entirely on the second part "... you will become a successful healer of men". But as I understand him, if I understand him aright, it was the first part of his statement that Schweitzer wanted to communicate to her. It was an important part of Schweitzer's view of things, that being a strong personality is important, that we should each of us work to strengthen our personality, principally our ethical personality. So that ideas "can radiate from [us] as a force" for good in the world. Then we can be "healers of men".
Most of us, however, neither are nor ever will be strong personalities. And therefore, if our thinking tends to the Medieval point of view, we may be drawn to the words found in The Imitation of Christ, "Love to be thyself unknown and counted for nothing." That is, if you cannot be a force for good, then at least do not be a force for evil, and therefore you should withdraw from the world. But Schweitzer was not a Medieval thinker. Instead he wrote:
... I have always held firmly to the thought that each one of us can do a little to bring some portion of [the misery in the world] to an end. (My Life and Thought, "Epilogue" [(1949) p. 240-241], quoted by Seaver, p. 311)
Which saying is more in the spirit of Jesus' ethic of active love as the love of the kingdom of God? With his eschatological world-picture, "the kingdom of God is in your midst", but for us, who cannot share that world-picture, the variant translation "the kingdom of God is within you" seems the only serviceable one.
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