Philosophical, Socratic ethics is rational: it is thoroughgoing reason examining experience (facts of life). History is authority-laden.
"How is language with meaning distinguished from nonsense (i.e. language without meaning) in philosophical discussions?" That is the question of "logic of language" (which is Wittgenstein's expression as my jargon).
Reason in Ethics, Authority in Historiography
Topics on this page ...
- Ethics is rational or it is not philosophical
- Kant and Conscience ("... and the moral law within")
- Whom you worship in ignorance. Saving souls. (Francis Xavier)
- "A Christian is one who ..."
- Whom you worship in ignorance. Saving souls. (Francis Xavier)
- Historically conditioned foundations (Hume)
- The Kingdom of God that is not: the kingdom that is "without"
- "This not brother for me" (Who is my brother? "Thinking of others")
- Kant and Conscience ("... and the moral law within")
- Comparative Religion and History (Historiography)
Socratic thinking, and Plato
What is 'Socratic' thinking? (1) To distinguish what one knows from what one only thinks one knows but does not, (2) by testing one's assertions [propositions, theses] both against reason (refutation through discovering contradictions) and experience (induction is experience) as in Socratic dialectic, (3) even if only in discourse with oneself, so that to 'know' means not only being able to give an account of what one knows to others but also being able to give that same public account to oneself.
The aim of Socratic philosophy is not to "see beyond" the facts but to describe what we are able to see of the facts, organizing it in a way that is useful to philosophical understanding but never confusing that organization [or, point of view] with the facts themselves.
By contrast, Plato on the other hand does not give equal weight to reason and to experience, for he prefers his own preconceptions or reasons (Phaedo 99d-100a) to the facts of experience. This is the contrast between criticism and speculation in philosophy. (The thinking of Xenophon's Socrates is not speculative; see Aristotle's distinction between Plato and Socrates with regard to this.)
Ethics is rational or it is not philosophical
A "subjective ethics" would no more be ethics than a "subjective distinction between sense and nonsense" would be a logic.
Kant and Conscience ("... and the moral law within")
Kant, wishing to defend the dignity of ethics [against the eighteenth-century utilitarian thesis that "altruism is merely an enlightened form of egoism"], went so far as to say that its utility [usefulness] should not be taken into consideration at all. Manifest as it may be, it should not, he said, be accepted as an ethical motive [no more than the desire for happiness should be].
The doctrine of the categorical imperative asserts that the commands of ethics are absolute. It is our conscience that reveals to us what is right and what is wrong, and we have only to obey. We carry within us a moral law which gives us the certainty of belonging not only to the world as we know it in time and space but also to the world as such -- the world, that is to say, of the spirit.
(Source: "The Problem of Ethics in the Evolution of Human Thought", delivered by Schweitzer to the French Academy on 20 October 1952, in Jacques Feschotte, Albert Schweitzer: an introduction, tr. John Russell (1955), p. 124.)
The trouble with Kant's "conscience", as with David Hume's "sympathy", is that it's autobiographical and historically conditioned: for if it were true, there would not be countless human beings who do not "carry within them the moral law" as a natural endowment. The notion of common humanity (or, the fellowship of all human beings) which at least for Europe originated with the Stoics, came late in human history, with the Enlightenment, and was very long in being accepted (and even now is given little more than mouth honor, for nationalism still reigns, even tribal racism in some religions).
Schweitzer did not find the idea of common brotherhood among the primitive Africans of the west African, equatorial interior, despite their being "children of nature", that is, [according to the Rousseau's picture] human beings in their natural state, as Nature intended, not perverted in their natures by civilization. The idea of common humanity is indeed "within" primitive man -- however, it does not emerge naturally, but only through his being taught to see or find it there.
Anyone who claims, as did Wittgenstein, that we must be cured of philosophy rather than by philosophy -- must face the facts about man in his primitive state. Man's mind is not born philosophically well but made philosophically ill by civilization. Just the opposite. That is, philosophy is not a dysfunction of Nature. It is, as it were, Nature's attempt to reverse a dysfunction. Man is in his natural state superstitious, tribal and dogmatic. It is the task of philosophy to cure him of that dysfunction, to raise him up from childhood into full manhood.
"Sympathy, compassion, is the source of ethics"
Hume, on the other hand [in contrast to Kant], proceeds empirically in his attack upon the utilitarian thesis. Analyzing the motives of ethics, he concludes that it is sentiment, above all, which governs them. Nature, he argues, has endowed us with the faculty of sympathy ... It is this sympathy which leads us to devote ourselves to others and to wish to contribute to their well-being and to that of society. Philosophy since Hume -- if we leave Nietzsche out of account -- has never seriously questioned that ethics is above all a matter of compassion. ("The Problem of Ethics" p. 124)
Hume referred to those who are without this sympathy as "monsters" [i.e. dysfunctions of nature]. However, given that there is no shortage whatever of such "monsters", there is a fundamental difficulty, if not impossibility, with Hume's thesis.
"We carry within us a moral law"
Like Kant ... so long afterwards, [St.] Francis [Xavier] recognized in the moral law an implicit revelation of God to all men, by keeping which they would obtain light and grace to render God explicit worship and so to save their souls. In that way [Francis] overcame the misgivings of the Japanese about the fate of their ancestors ... [For their ancestors] knew that it was wrong and wicked to commit murder, to steal, to bear false witness, or to break any other of the ten commandments, and their consciences smote them if they did so, proving that they knew the commandments of God without having been taught them except by the Creator of all people". (James Brodrick, Saint Francis Xavier, abridged by the author (1957), xv, p. 263)
Yet when the Catholic missionaries preached in Japan, the three principal sins of the Japanese they denounced were: idolatry (worship of wood and stone other inanimate things rather than "God their almighty Creator, who had drawn them out of nothingness and kept them in existence"), sodomy, and abortion (and infanticide at birth). (ibid. xv, p. 252) But if God himself and alone had taught men "the moral law within", then how could it be that men were vicious rather than virtuous -- why would they act against their consciences: Why was there no internal "smote"?
Whom you worship in ignorance. Saving souls.
Two remarks. (1) Question: what does that Brodrick mean -- "explicit" worship? Isn't it "implicit" worship: "the God whom you worship in ignorance" it says in Acts 17.23: doesn't worshiping in ignorance = implicit worship? (2) Rather than "saving souls", in other words: saving lives, not lives in this world of course, but in the world to come -- "... who would save his life shall lose his life" (Matthew 16.26). That is what the missionaries were devoted with their whole hearts to doing, and why they approved of the Inquisition: heretics lead men, not to eternal life, but to eternal damnation, which is the greatest of all sins (ibid. v, p. 54-55). (In this way, religious tolerance marks the decline, not the ascent, of religious seriousness.) Saint Francis Xavier lived 1506-1552, but "Though his dates are Renaissance he was mediaeval to the core, and confident of his world in a way difficult for us, heirs of uncertainty, even to understand" (Brodrick, Saint Francis Xavier (1957), "Preface"). Is it imaginable what St. Francis Xavier would have made of the Second Vatican Council and ecumenism? I don't think so.
Out here, people flock into the Church in such numbers that my arms are often almost paralyzed with baptizing, and my voice gives out completely through repeating endlessly in their [Tamil] tongue the Creed, the commandments, the prayers, and a sermon on heaven and hell ... (Letter from St. Francis Xavier to Europe, 14 January 1544, in Brodrick, viii, p. 101)
... God moved many persons to become Christians. It was so that in a single month I baptized more than 10,000 men, women and children. My method, on arriving in a heathen village, was to assemble the men and boys apart, and to begin by teaching them to make the sign of the cross three times as a confession of faith in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three Persons in only one God. I then recited in a loud voice the general confession, the Creed, the commandments, the Pater Noster, the Ave Maria, and the Salve Regina.... I put on a surplice for the occasion. All, little and big, then repeated the prayers after me, and that done I gave them an instruction on the articles of faith and the commandments ... Next, I required them one and all to ask pardon from God for the sins of their past lives, and that publicly and loudly, in the presence of heathens who did not desire to become Christians.... When they had finished, I asked them severally, young and old, whether they believed sincerely in each article of the Creed, to which they replied that they did. I then went again through the Creed article by article, asking after each if they believed it, and they answered me, with their arms folded on their breasts in the form of a cross, "I do believe." Thereupon I baptized each one, and handed him his new Christian name, written on a slip of paper. It was next the turn of the women and girls ... (Letter to Europe, 27 January 1545, in Brodrick, ix, p. 129)
"A Christian is one who ..."
I make them repeat the Creed more often than anything else because only a man who believes in the twelve articles has a right to call himself a Christian. (Letter to Europe, in Brodrick, Saint Francis Xavier (1957), vii, p. 89)
[Who a Christian is: three general definitions, from Goethe, Schweitzer, and Wittgenstein.]
Whereas I would say only that no one who does not love God, (who is every truth and good, and the strange (Isaiah 55.8-9) Father who loves us), with his whole heart, and his neighbor, (with no limits to his "neighborhood"), as he loves himself -- "has a right to call himself Christian". Christ did not say that the kingdom of God belongs to those to believe in the twelve articles of the Creed. He does not say that a catechism test opens and closes the gates of heaven, but he does say that failure to forgive, to show mercy, to care for the poor closes those gates. It's very much, that in the Creed as it were Christ is called Master, but then He asks in the Gospel: "Why do you call me Master and not do what I tell you?"
On the other hand, those are my thoughts about those who are already Christians, who have already been taught the catechism in childhood -- i.e. those remarks apply to the word 'Christian' as an adjective rather than, or more than, as a noun. St. Francis has to catechize the people before he could baptize them. And Francis' way must have been effective because, Brodrick says, there are Indian communities that "have maintained the Catholic faith delivered to them by St. Francis [and the other missionaries] through all the vicissitudes of the centuries" (Saint Francis Xavier (1957), ix, p. 129), something which was hardly to their benefit after Portuguese rulers were no longer there to protect them, and indeed even while Francis was in India, 600 Catholic converts were martyred in a massacre in Ceylon (ibid. ix, p. 122).
Who is a Catholic Christian in the strict sense (nel stretto senso) according to the Church? Maybe that shows the distance between St. Francis Xavier and us -- I think "us", if I understand the doctrine of ecumenism and the preaching of Pope Francis I -- although it's true that Catholics recite the Creed at every Mass and that all Catholic priests, if I recall aright what I read, must reaffirm their belief in the doctrines of the Church yearly. (My Catholic handicap is very high, not only in practice but also in belief in doctrine.)
In contrast: Socratic Ethics
For the Socrates of Xenophon, the good is the useful, although these is no absolute good, but only good relative to some use or other [There is no "essence of the good", for the same thing may be good or bad relative to some work or quality] (Memorabilia iv, 6, 7-8), an idea which is not contrary to the Socratic view that "virtue is knowledge". Remember, nevertheless, that for Socrates the good is above all what is useful to "the care of the soul", which means what is useful to an ethical [good or just] human being wanting to "grow daily in goodness". As to compassion, a 'good man' is one who without reservation does good rather than harm, and indeed does not want anyone to suffer harm rather than good (Republic 335e); how that might not entail being actively kind to [compassionate towards] other life is not clear to me [although by 'compassion' here I do not mean an emotion, but a deed that is compassionate]. The only answer to the question "What kind of human being do you want to be?" is "a good human being", the only question being: what is a good human being: what is the good for man? [Note.--By 'soul' (psyche) Socrates meant 'the rational, ethical aspect of the human being', not the Platonic picture of man as part spirit, part body, if for no other reason than that Socrates neither knew that nor interested himself in metaphysical questions.] Notice that nothing is said here about "the foundation of ethics"; that question does not arise -- nor is its sense clear, unless the answer be that the foundation of ethics is found in answer to precept "Know thyself", namely the answer to the question of what specific excellence is proper and unique to man. And that will be: the rational good (rational moral reason), for we are a being, unlike other life, endowed both with reason and a moral sense. (How is it useful to be a good man? How is it useful for a thing to exist in accordance with the excellence that is proper to it, as that is by definition what we mean by 'the good for a thing'. Compare the question "But, after all, why should I want to be happy?") And no, this does not answer Schweitzer's dilemma of the fish and the pelican. But remember what Socrates understood the god Apollo to mean by saying that no one is wiser than Socrates (Apology 23a-b): Philosophy is love of wisdom, not wisdom. It does not answer all our questions. (For example, there are limits of Know thyself. And further, die Wunder sind geblieben: there are the eternal unanswered questions, imponderables.)
Historically conditioned foundations (Hume)
Ethics is not based on -- nor can it be founded on -- compassion or "natural sympathy" because Nature is far too capricious. -- I.e. compassion cannot be counted on; it may or may not be naturally present. Did David Hume [1711-1776] find it so near-universal in his world then, or was he only describing his own heart and the hearts of his noblest acquaintances? Compassion, in fact, has shown itself and very often shows itself to be absent in the human world, mirroring its absence in the animal and plant world. Compassion may need to be learned: a native African named Gustave (in French Equatorial Gabon) told Dr. Jilek-Aall (Working with Dr. Schweitzer (1990), p. 137 ff.) of how he had had to learn compassion (by which I think he meant: seeing and feeling that all men in need of his help are his brothers, and not only the members of his own family and tribe).
After the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries, with their overwhelming demonstration of the willingness of the mass of human beings to serve nationalism (tribalism) rather than common humanity, what can be found to support the notion that "natural sympathy" or "conscience" is the foundation of ethics? At what point must you say that nationalism (tribalism) is too widespread to be simply the preference of a few "monsters"? If so often in history the good man is only found sheltering himself behind a wall like a traveler in a storm (Republic 6.496c-d), then ethics does not have its foundation in "conscience" or "natural sympathy"; but if it has a foundation, it is elsewhere. According to Schweitzer that somewhere must be in what he called "thought" (which in any case begins with reason), not in what is anti-rational. Even before the Second World War he said that --
The nearness of that kingdom of God which is "without" (Luke 17.20-21)
[Unlike earlier generations which might believe that steady progress was being made toward the Kingdom of God, we] having lived through, and still living in, a time of appalling and meaningless events, feel as if a terrible tidal wave had flung us back, far away from the harbor of the Kingdom of God, towards which we now have to start out afresh, rowing hard against the storm and tide, without being certain of really making headway.... [God] sets before us the difficult task of being faithful to the Kingdom of God as those who do not see and yet believe. (Christianity and the Religions of the World, tr. Johanna Powers (1923; repr. New York: 1939, p. 80)
"When as a child I first heard of the Kingdom of God, I was profoundly moved. And always I have carried the thought of the Kingdom of God in my heart. I consider myself happy to be able to serve this Kingdom with thoughts and activities. Someday these thoughts will take root anew in the hearts of men. It is this certitude which gives me the courage to live in this day so terrifying to pass through." (A letter, apparently to the author of the essay, by Schweitzer from early in 1940, quoted by Allen A. Hunter in "The Lion who Laughs -- and Weeps" in To Dr. Albert Schweitzer: a Festschrift commemorating his 80th birthday (14 January 1955), ed. H. A. Jack, p. 63)
"... that nineteenth century progress would continue"
He arrived at Cambridge just before a transition began, in moods of thought, from the hopeful and creative nineteenth century to the cynical and critical twentieth century. Everywhere was bright optimism about the future of the world, which was quite independent of national or political divisions.... Russell wrote afterwards of himself and his contemporaries: "We all felt convinced that nineteenth century progress would continue, and that we ourselves should [i.e. would] be able to contribute something of value." (Alan Wood, Bertrand Russell: the Passionate Skeptic (1957), p. 31)
[Wood speaks of "the Grand Old Men" in England after the Second World War; among them he numbers Russell, G.E. Moore, George Bernard Shaw.] Their early lives had been spent in the serene golden age before the First World War ... the generation after them had grown up in a world of nervous strain and tension, a world full of wars and fears, and recurrent economic anxiety. (ibid. p. 240)
What is the good according to the kingdom of God?
According to Schweitzer's ethics, whatever promotes life is good, whatever harms it is bad. But of what use is that general principle if he cannot say how to apply it in the particular case. For example, when Schweitzer chooses to kill the fish in order to feed the injured pelican which cannot fish for itself, he does not say that this choice follows from his principle, and how can it -- for it certainly does not promote the fish's life. Schweitzer does not attempt to justify his choice; he says that it is subjective and says that all such choices must be (for no life is of more inherent value than any other). But is that any ethics at all? It is not, instead, the absence of ethics wherever choice is subjective. If ethics is not rational [Reason is objective, not subjective], then it is not [a branch of] philosophy. On the other hand, however, is the subject matter of Ethics the guiding principles of Ethics (of how we should live our life) or the particular cases we must face? (But in Schweitzer's example, Reverence for Life does not even give general guidance: whichever choice Schweitzer makes is the wrong choice, because he is forced both to promote and to harm life whichever choice he makes.)
Must ethics have only one principle?
Question: may it not be that ethics is not governed by any one principle, nor has its source in any single notion? Usefulness, conscience, compassion -- may not each of those principles have a role to play in ethics? But may it not be that no one principle or notion belonging to ethics -- is in itself necessary, that ethics has no essence ("how to live our life" is a very, very general, general definition)? May there not instead be many principles, each of which may be "sufficient but not necessary" (because one principle alone may be sufficient as a guide to the ethical life, even in the absence of others which may also alone be sufficient)?
What we want from ethics is knowledge of how to live our life at the service of the true and the good (That is a definition of 'ethics'). But ethics is practical, for as Epictetus said, it is not philosophical to be ready with proofs about what is good if we do not also do what those proofs tell us to do. (Given that ethics is practical, it seems unimportant which notion moves an individual to do what is right. Although no one can do what is right if he does not know what is good (or at least he cannot know that he is doing what is good, none of the notions that helps him towards actually doing what is right is to be looked down on. We are seeking not only the true but also the serviceable.)
[Later thoughts may have amended this discussion now.]
The Kingdom of God that is not. The kingdom that is "without"
... Dr. Schweitzer has devoted a life time to the pursuit of universals that know no national or continental limits: knowledge, truth, beauty, and the spirit of compassion for fellow man. (Adlai E. Stevenson, "An Emissary of Western Civilization" in To Dr. Albert Schweitzer: a Festschrift ..., p. 102)
The most Stevenson could say would be that he wishes those to be the universal highest values. In this world the truth is not more valued than a useful lie, nor knowledge where knowledge would provoke rebellion; as to beauty -- there are two kinds, Dostoyevsky said, and it if far from always the case that the higher kind is valued more than the sensual; and "compassion for fellow man" is unknown by primitive man and even in very well-developed civilizations such as China as Matteo Ricci found it in 1583:
... disinterested charity outside the family circle was incomprehensible ... (Vincent Cronin, The Wise Man from the West: Matteo Ricci and his mission to China (1955), iii)
That traditional way of life seems not to have changed since Ricci's time (although how traditional was it, because it is not Confucian?) In the Western world, universal compassion is the gift of our Christian heritage -- and of Roman Stoicism, if anyone will listen, which Stoicism's metaphysics makes difficult, because philosophical acceptance is not an act of faith -- of Jesus' answer to the question "Who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10.25-37) His answer, namely that we belong to a neighborhood without boundaries, is not a naturally given universal answer -- quite the contrary: sympathy may be limited to class and tribe.
The Christian model (The merciful Samaritan) is not the only one
"John Paul II, in all his journeys to Africa, referred to human rights, to respect for every person, who is created in the image of God and not in the image of the respective tribes ..." (Monsignor Emery Kabongo from Zaire)
"This not brother for me." Who is my brother?
The first stage in the development of ethics began with the idea that ... "thinking of others" should be put on an ever-broader basis. Primitive man thinks of others only within the narrowest limits. He confines himself to those whom he sees as distantly related to himself by blood: the members of his tribe, that is to say, whom he regards as constituents of the same large family. I speak from experience in this.
My patients at Lambaréné illustrate the point. Sometimes I ask a savage of that sort to render certain little services to a fellow-patient who cannot look after himself. He will at once ask whether the other man is a member of his tribe. And if the answer is "No", he will frankly reply: "This not brother for me." Neither persuasion nor threats will induce him to commit the unimaginable action and put himself out for a stranger. It is I who have to give in. ("The Problem of Ethics in the Evolution of Human Thought", in Jacques Feschotte's Albert Schweitzer: an introduction (1955), tr. John Russell, p. 114-115)
But as Matteo Ricci found, it needn't be primitive man only who thinks that way, as even highly civilized people may severely limit their "thinking of others". When Ricci and Ruggieri learned that a poor Chinese had been abandoned by his doctors and "dumped in a nearby field by his despairing parents to die", the two Jesuit missionaries "went out with a litter, found the sick man and brought him back to" their house where "they fed and looked after him", treating him as if he were their own son although they also could not prevent his early death. That was in 16th Century China, a civilization far older than Europe's. (The Wise Man from the West op. cit.)
For Albert Schweitzer, the universal "thinking of others", he told Clara Urquhart, is our greatest European inheritance. It comes to us from Christianity and from the Roman Stoics, I would say.
What is our inheritance from Western Civilization
To those of us who are part of it, Western civilization means an unprecedented freedom and material well-being for the individual.... Too often, we have not exported the best in our civilization -- our heritage of freedom and knowledge. This is what Dr. Schweitzer has done, by devoting his life to spreading and sharing the medical achievements of Western science, the artistic achievements of Western music, and the compassion of Christianity. ... There could be no greater fulfillment of the role of "world citizen". (Stevenson, "An Emissary of Western Civilization", p. 102-103)
Some are disposed to see the worst in Western Civilization while I am disposed to see the best in it. I think that what is good about Western Civilization is unique to it, whereas what is bad (conquest, subjugation) about it is common to all the world's nations (the base instinct of humanity). If "freedom and knowledge" is salvation, then salvation comes through the Greeks, but salvation in it full flowering comes only with the addition of Christianity; both are the sources of European culture, which seems to have come to a halt around the year ...
But Schweitzer thinks differently, because for him the Enlightenment is the source of all that is of value in Western Civilization. He passes over the Classical world, the birth of Christianity, the Renaissance art and architecture, the birth of science, and the age of exploration, as if these were not the deepest roots of the our ethical spirit, although he was, of course, aware that the Enlightenment's belief in "reason alone" -- by which the Enlightened meant positivism (empiricism, deism) -- has done as much harm as it has done good.
[The ethical spirit] has created the humanitarianism which is the origin of all progress towards a superior form of existence.... The power which this spirit was able to exercise was sown in the 17th and 18th centuries. It brought the peoples of Europe, where it manifested itself, out of the Middle Ages by putting an end to superstition, witch trials, torture and many other cruelties and such traditional follies. In place of the old it established the new, causing never-ending wonder in those who witnessed the change. All that we have ever possessed of true and personal civilization, and which we possess still has its origin in that manifestation of spirit. (Noble Lecture, acceptance speech, 4 November 1954, Oslo, Norway. Peace Prize awarded in 1952)
Comparative Religion and History (Historiography)
Schweitzer says that Plato "must somehow have been acquainted" with the ideas of India because of the resemblances between his thoughts and those of Indian thinkers.
There is a certain amount of evidence to show that in ancient times there was more exchange of ideas between India and the Near East than is generally believed. Plato, for example, must somehow have been acquainted with Indian doctrines. Otherwise it cannot be explained how in his philosophy -- as also in Greek esoteric doctrines attributed to Orpheus, the singer -- there appears the negation of life and of the world in connection with the doctrine about the transmigration of souls which is identical with that of India. (Christianity and the Religions of the World p. 36-37)
If I am told that A "must" have taught B, then I want to know who taught A. And if I am told that A did not need to be taught, then I ask why B needed to be taught. A comparison does not prove anything except its own possibility of being made. Proof of origin based on comparison is no proof at all; cf. proof by analogy: an analogy is proof of nothing more than itself. It may at most be persuasion (to a point of view); it is not science.
To apply the methods of Comparative Religion means to study the individual religions, not in isolation, but with the purpose of investigating the mutual influences which they have openly or covertly exercised on one another. (Paul and His Interpreters, tr. W. Montgomery (1912), p. 175)
When "covertly" is added to your list of criteria, you can prove most anything. I deeply distrust that notion, that it is scientific to speak of "covert influences", because then it seems to me that verification can be entirely forgotten about. This happens in "comparative anthropology" where Christian practices are said to have pagan origins, although exactly how that claim is to be verified is never stated: the simple possibility of making comparisons (often quite broad comparisons made without ever asking: Just how similar are these two cases?) is itself regarded as proof, whereas it is proof of nothing more than itself -- namely, the possibility of making these comparisons. That attitude toward proof is superstition, not science.
In particular we ought to be very careful to guard against raising this possibility to a certainty by general considerations ... Certain analogies are not to be denied. The only question is how far these go ... (ibid. p. 176, 188)
But can it ever be "raised to be a certainty" -- i.e. is it logically-grammatically possible -- i.e. is it consistent with our definition of 'objective certainty' as we normally use that expression? What exactly is to be counted as proof? Here is one possibility: an author's preface or footnote giving credit to his sources. That is an example of a definite criterion [and even that criterion requires that the author not simply be putting everything into the mouth of a Socrates or Cato in order to try to add the weight of authority to his ideas], but using indefinite criteria simply results in more or less plausible [or "probable", "likely", and all the other shelters for ignorance to hide in, the dodges for saying "I don't know"] conjectures which we may accept or may not accept -- but they can never be "raised to be a certainty". Historiography cannot claim that it uses the word 'certainty' in a unique way; all it can do is recognize that its 'certainty' is often only 'subjective' ["the weight of the evidence points towards"; cf. civil law] not 'objective' ["proved beyond reasonable doubt" (e.g. miracles, demons, ghosts, magic are not, now, regarded as real possibilities in Western Civilization); cf. criminal law] certainty.
Comparative studies draw conclusions from resemblances. But elsewhere Schweitzer goes from "possible" to "no doubt" (Of course, Zeller does not even show that much caution when blaming the spirit-matter duality in Plato on Orphicism and "the East").
Abstinence from flesh meat was taught by the Orphics and Pythagoreans. It is possible that they were led to do this under Indian influences, to which no doubt are to be traced back also the conception of transmigration of souls in Plato. For in ancient European thought there are no grounds for refusing flesh meat or for the rise of the idea of transmigration. (The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, tr. Montgomery (1931), p. 299)
Every mere 'possible' entails a 'but not necessarily', every 'may' entails a 'or maybe not'. And 'no doubt' means: there is doubt! [as in "Oh! let us never, never doubt / What nobody is sure about!" (H. Belloc)]
Plato, for example, must somehow have been acquainted with Indian doctrines. (Christianity and the Religions of the World, quoted above)
How does Schweitzer make a distinction between what he calls a "must" relationship in Plato and saying that there is no "must" relationship between the thought of Jesus and that of India [or between Paul and gnosticism]? Here is the criterion he uses in this case:
The decisive factor ... is that there is no relation of content between the ideas of Jesus and those of the Brahmans and of Buddha. As a matter of fact, the relation between Christianity and the Indian religions resembles the relation which exists between Christianity and the Graeco-Oriental type of religion. (ibid. p. 37)
That is to say that either there is no resemblance at all or that the resemblance is so slight -- and the differences so great -- that there the resemblance is of no importance. But that is the criterion for ruling out a "must" relationship, not for ruling in a "must" relationship: we are still left with nothing more than "plausible", "probable", "likely".
When does resemblance become a "must" relationship? Schweitzer might ask: where can be found in ancient Greek thought a root for Orphicism and Pythagoras and Plato -- does it spring from nowhere? The question then arises of just how original were Pythagoras and Plato as thinkers. We do know that Plato acknowledges the strong influence of Heraclitus and Parmenides on his own thinking -- because he names them in his work. But in other cases, he says that he has somewhere heard a story or myth (he says can't remember just were), but does not name its author. That may be regarded as -- i.e. one may speculate that it is -- an allusion to Orphicism, but Plato does not say that. And it also does not tell us the source, if any, of the thought of Heraclitus and Parmenides.
The difference between logical and all other types of thinking is that logic always requires logical necessity: any "must" other than logical compulsion amounts to no more than "It seems to me that ..." with notice taken only of the word 'seems'. Of course we would not get very far in life if our thinking were always logical, because most daily life is as it were inductive, and induction is "likely", "probable", "it seems to me", "it will be because". But, on the other hand, is that what scholarship is? Is there such a thing as "inductive knowledge" (as opposed to belief based on induction)? But is induction, in essence, merely speculation, plausibility, "it seems" and "it may be"? Reasons are given (or it is not scholarship), but they are not logically compelling. Yet we do distinguish between good and bad reasons (for belief). If an academic subject is a "community of ideas", then does each have its own list of "rules for reasoning" (as has Isaac Newton's natural philosophy)? What would Schweitzer's rules for historical [critical, scientific] theology be?
The irresponsible use of probability-words
With regard to the resemblance between Paul's thought and the later Stoicism, however, Schweitzer uses the dismissive expression "The resemblance is a question of a mere analogy." (The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle p. 308)
The Oxford Classical Dictionary (2nd ed. 1970), even in its encyclopedic entries, often uses probability-words without any explanation of "Why probable?"
And that leaves the reader in the position of one who cannot imagine an alternative account and therefore imagines that it just "must have been that way" -- i.e. of one who now thinks he knows what he does not know. For a scholar to use probability-words (e.g. 'likely', 'unlikely') without saying why he believes X is more likely than Y, Z, ... (all of which alternatives he at least lists) is irresponsible -- and simply fosters [encourages ] ignorance. Because where one cannot imagine an alternative, "It is likely that ..." becomes simply "It is the case that ..." With time one forgets the uncertainly the word 'probable' carried in the text: the sketch of possible facts becomes a picture of the actual facts.
But "it seems" ≠ "it is". And the historian's "considered opinions", expressed by the formulas "no doubt", "doubtless" and "probably", remain forever opinions: they will never be facts.
The OCD's abuse of comparative-historiographic speculation with regard to ancient customs and religion is so extensive that it shows that the rider, although believing that he is in control of the horse, the horse is clearly in control of him: a possible method has become the required method, and conclusions become not the result of an investigation but instead a requirement of it (cf. PI § 107). I cannot distinguish between 'scholarly' and 'unscholarly' if I do not classify mixing fact with speculation about origins as though that speculation must be the obvious ["really real"] explanation as unscholarly.
Comparative historians are over-willing to turn a "may be" into an "is" -- i.e. a "must be" -- because that is the requirement of their method in historiography, the requirement of their way of looking at things. And thus given that requirement, resemblances which are mere curiosities ("a question of a mere analogy") are a negative result which is no value as an "explanation" (i.e. for their myth-making).
You cannot derive an Actual from a Plausible. You cannot derive an "is" from a "may be" or a "was" from a "may have been".
Has mathematical probability aught to do with an historian's claims of probability? In mathematical physics it can be demonstrated that an Event A will result in an Event B with such-and-such probability: If a coin is tossed, the likelihood of showing one face rather than the other is 50/50 (cf. statistical correlation). But there is nothing corresponding to that in historians' statements about "what probably happened", and yet the same word is used by both the physicist and the historian.
Why 'may' must not become 'is'
The importance of alternative possible explanations: without them in our thinking about things 'may' becomes 'is'.
For example, we were told at school that the reason for Luke's "Blessed are the poor" becoming Matthew's "Blessed are the poor in spirit" is because the community in which Matthew was written (and edited) had become wealthy. Now, that is a possible explanation (historians' hypothesis) -- but are there no others? For example, we might say that, as its Jewish chauvinism shows, Matthew's Gospel was written and edited in and for a Jewish Christian community (in contrast to Luke's Hellenistic Christian community) and the Jewish tradition was to regard having wealth as a blessed condition, and Jesus' "Blessed are the poor", because the kingdom of God belongs to them rather than to the rich, is contrary to that tradition.
Which is the truth? Neither! but both are possibilities only. And more possible explanations should be sought, so that 'may' is never allowed to become 'is' -- i.e. "must be".
History (Historiography) is Authority-Laden
You must always remember that in the study of history, whether we are using secondary or tertiary or indeed primary sources, we are always dealing with the question of authority. Authority is inescapable in every aspect of historical study and research.
If you are going to claim that in some cases there is an historical relationship of interaction or causality, but that in other cases there is only resemblance without any such relationship, then what is of concern to philosophy is that you set rational [objective] criteria for making this distinction -- i.e. for distinguishing the first type of case from the second -- and that the criteria be applied in a thoroughgoing [i.e. consistent] way [in all cases].
If history is authority-laden, then by what criterion should authorities be judged? For example, if it really were the case that Wittgenstein had trusted more in character than in ability, he would have rejected Boswell's study of Samuel Johnson. And therefore you cannot say that because history is authority-laden a person's character is the determining criterion for whether or not they should be trusted as an authority. Although a man's philosophical integrity is important, philosophical integrity is not a substitute for ability [competence, talent].
Albert Schweitzer as an Historian
The acceptance or rejection of particular pericopes is more or less arbitrary, I would say. (Thomas Arnold and "every man his own doctor of divinity")
Plato, Aristotle, and the other thinkers of the classical period of Greek philosophy thought only in terms of the Greek -- the Greek freeman, moreover, who was not concerned to earn his own living. Those who did not belong to that aristocracy they regarded as inferior beings and unworthy of serious attention. ("Ethics in Human Thought" op. cit. p. 116)
General statements like that, which are quite unsustainable except on a very selective reading of Greek philosophy -- for had not Plato asked if Pericles and other statesmen had made the men of Athens better in character, or as if Antisthenes had not been of very "humble birth", Socrates a stone worker (i.e. artisan, not gentleman), as if Phaedo had not been a slave when he began to follow Socrates, as if any man regardless of his estate might not be virtuous, etc. -- call the reliability of everything else Schweitzer writes about history, including in historical theology, into question (or, doubt).
But we must of course always be wary of relying too much on any single source in historiography or history. Nonetheless, Schweitzer is always philosophically interesting.
We must always set criteria for a correct answer - But are all criteria philosophically justifiable?
Someone asks "why according to Augustine is it right that the rain fall on the just and the unjust alike". We know that Augustine, because he believes that the Gospels are the word of God, must say that it is right. But we also know that Socrates, because he believes that gods to do speak falsehoods, must accept that what Apollo's oracle has said is true. So that both Augustine and Socrates accept a precondition: they do not ask "Is the proposition true?" but instead only "In which sense is the proposition true?". Does Schweitzer also do this with his eschatology -- but, indeed, does he not even go further, saying that texts that do not fit his thesis are misrecollections or misunderstandings of Jesus' words -- e.g. Schweitzer rejects texts of Luke (22.19) and Paul (1 Corinthians 11.24-25) on the grounds that "the earliest witnesses, Matthew and Mark, know nothing of a command to repeat the eating and drinking" of the Last Supper (The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle p. 243) -- or later interpolations, e.g. "Never could 'today' stand for 'daily'. Luke, by giving 'daily' (to kath emeran) instead of 'today', shows that he no longer understands the sense of the phrase" (Luke 11.3; cf. Matthew 6.11) (ibid. p. 240) [But why should Jesus repeat the first petition of the prayer ("Let thy kingdom come") in the fourth petition (i.e. "Let it come today")? (And why not 'daily'?)]
The Gospel of Luke agrees in the main with the Gospels of Mark and Matthew. Wherever it goes beyond them it makes us a doubtful contribution, which moreover is without any great significance for the criticism of Jesus and so can be left out of consideration. (The Psychiatric Study of Jesus , tr. Joy (1948), (1958) p. 46)
Somewhere, I cannot remember where, Schweitzer says in effect that even if Luke was written earlier, the content of Mark and Matthew is nonetheless earlier. But I have found that text (it follows) and the reason in this particular instance is a compelling one, as Schweitzer presents it:
More careful study of the documents of later Jewish eschatology revealed the fact that their fundamental conceptions were shared by sayings of Jesus concerning the Kingdom of God and the Messiah. This is specially clear in the records of Matthew and Mark, which in this respect are shown to be the oldest. ("The Conception of the Kingdom of God in the Transformation of Eschatology, an Epilogue by Albert Schweitzer", tr. Coates, in E.N. Mozley (1950), p. 102-103)
I don't know if Schweitzer went too quickly from in SOME to in ALL respects the oldest. Given Schweitzer's reverence for truth, I doubt he became closed-minded after he believed he had found the key to understanding Jesus in eschatology (It is true, for example, that Schweitzer later revised his earlier view about whether the notion of atonement had played any part in the thought of Jesus himself; it seems it did not (The Kingdom of God and Primitive Christianity (1968), p. 125-128)). I would like to read biblical criticism -- if there is any that takes Schweitzer's thought seriously (According to Brabazon the several New Testament authorities he approached said that they knew too little about Schweitzer's work to make any useful comment for Brabazon, and churchmen see that it is of no use in supporting the dogmas of their churches (2000 rev. ed.) p. 129-137) -- has to say about this question of Schweitzer's stance in his choice of sources. Does eschatology become a fixed idea for him, so that he follows his own "key" rather than the truth? That may not be consistent with Schweitzer's character of always being trying to be faithful to the truth, but it might be consistent with the thought of anyone who believes that he has found the key to the truth (cf. Wittgenstein and the logic of language, e.g.).
At school, if I recall correctly, and I may not, we were told that the Gospel according to Matthew is written from a Jewish-Christian point of view. And it is true, that in it Jesus even refers to us as "dogs" ("Do not give to dogs what is holy" refers to us), and says not to preach the gospel to the gentiles (According to Schweitzer, in Jesus' view there are some gentiles among the elect, but God himself will see about them). I think we were also told that the Gospel according to Luke was written from a Gentile-Christian point of view; it is the Gospel that has the story of the merciful Samaritan (where even those who are not of our tribe are our neighbors); cf. 4.16-30. I may not have correctly recalled what we were told at school, but if these Gospels are biased in this way, then marginalizing Luke could seriously affect an account of Jesus.
I have never believed it possible to find the historical Jesus [The New Testament, the Bible, is in no way historiography, because it is already religion, the world through religious eyes: the frame is not removable from the picture. Something like this.]. Not only because of the New Testament's "phantastic Weltanschauung" (Schweitzer wrote to Oskar Kraus, 5 February 1926) [i.e. world-picture], but also because the texts are in conflict, which, if a consistent picture is to be drawn, requires that more or less arbitrary choices be made among (Yes of course reasons can be given, but counter-reasons can also be given). What I have always believed, however, is that an eschatological account like Schweitzer's is the only one that makes sense of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Jesus clearly believed that "this world and all it loves is coming to an end" [1 Jn. 2.17] and not in some future indefinite but now even as he spoke ("The Kingdom of God is in your midst" [Luke 17.20-21]: the transformation of this world is already happening), and that his death would be followed by his resurrection and his return on the clouds as the Son of Man, again not in some indefinite future. But Jesus was of course mistaken: his world-picture was indeed "phantastic" -- and that should have been the end of that world-picture.
But Paul the Apostle and a bit later Catholic Christianity found, what in my view are, various pretexts for the "delay" of Jesus' return. And of course -- It does seem to be "of course", for the continued practice of a religion does come about this way -- once one generation had been converted to the faith, their children and descendants remained in it. And by the time, only very recent times, something useful might have been done with Jesus' picture of the ethical kingdom of God, the Christian churches lost their moral authority in the public life of the West, according to Schweitzer by failing to oppose World War One (It appears -- for I am no historian -- to me to be this way as well). Ignazio Silone recalled the position of the Catholic Church at the time: "We can only pray."
[Cicero thought the Stoics so labored the argument from design] that you would suppose even the gods had been made for human use [De natura deorum 1, 2, 8]. (Will Durant, Caesar and Christ (1944), p. 164)
Which, of course, they were [Which is of course exactly what they were made for]. As was gods = Yahweh, for the gods of the non-chosen races are not really gods but merely demons, the Lord "whose name is unspeakable" [and anyone reading Ezra 9.10-12 may find it unspeakable indeed] = God. And you should not forget this: i.e. that 'gods' and 'Gods' are concepts [-- what I used to call "concept-words" (I think I used to use that expression); they belong to the frame alone, not to the picture; they are part only of our way of seeing what is in the picture --] and like all concepts -- they are tools for our use. Rationalism does not "prove that God exists" -- except grammatically.
Monotheism and Tolerance
On the one hand, if as the Phoenicians had the Jews had assimilated -- i.e. discarded their tribalism for common humanity -- during the reign of Alexander the Great, then the West would have been spared Christianity and the East Islam, and the intolerant monotheism of all three religions ("There is only one god, namely our god, and we alone understand him"). But on the other hand, as the Letters between Pliny the Younger and Trajan show (x, 96-97 or 97-98) -- and indeed as the indictment of Socrates shows, polytheism can be (and in the case of Hinduism often is) just as intolerant as monotheism (or indeed Buddhism). So that even if monotheism had never taken hold there, is there reason to believe things would have gone better for the world? (It's hard to see that it would not have been better off without the Bible's Book of Deuteronomy vii, and the Paul's Letter to the Romans xiii.)
Tolerance cannot be a religious value if religions claim for themselves absolute, exclusive truth. In 1962-1965, tolerance was made Christian by the Second Vatican Council's recognition of individual conscience, a recognition that is foundation of all religious tolerance, as in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The great danger for all mysticism is that of becoming supra-ethical, that is to say, of making the spirituality associated with the being-in-eternity an end in itself. (The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, p. 297)
But is not reverence, however, a religious value -- i.e. can it have a foundation in reason? But were not the philosophers reverent. Of course they were. To the extent that we find existence puzzling, to the extent we recognize its mystery, of course reverence has a foundation in reason (rather than in fear as may be the case in religion). Ethics is the question of how we should live our life -- i.e. of how a man of reason should live. It is a philosophical question -- and in the religions of Judaism and its children, it is also a religious question.
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