Finite and Infinite: A Philosophical Essay

Finite and Infinite: A Philosophical Essay

Finite and Infinite: A Philosophical Essay

Finite and Infinite: A Philosophical Essay

Excerpt

Anyone who wishes to introduce the name of God into a philosophical treatise is confronted with the awkward choice between speculation and ecclesiasticism. As to the former, surely no one desires a further addition to the private theologies of individual philosophers, who, having discovered that God is the last emergent struggling into existence or something else not previously remarked, turn to the belief of all these centuries with the apostolic words, 'Whom ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you.' Yet if on the other hand we recognise that theologies are not made by philosophers but by men with a different gift, we seem condemned to a servile ecclesiasticism (to accept the term which philosophers like using in this connexion). Our conclusions will all be given before we start, and we shall be simply finding exterior reasons for religious faith.

The dilemma is an awkward one. But we may hope to avoid the worst faults on either side if we take up the traditional theology without having decided either what area of its extent is capable of direct philosophical support, or what degree of strength and demonstration that support can attain. It is generally recognised that there are some metaphysical questions which must be settled if we are to vindicate the significance of any theological statements whatever of the traditional type. And we can approach these questions without committing ourselves to the discussion of issues that never could be philosophical, because of their dependence upon contingent facts of the historical order; and, again, without committing ourselves to the perfect demonstration of even one basic theological proposition. We may find that we can only show its possibility or probability. We have, then, to be ready to draw the ancient line between rational and revealed theology, though not necessarily in the ancient place, nor with the ancient optimism about the strength of demonstration in the rational branch.

Still, it is rational theology that we have on the one side of the line; that is, it is a philosophical enquiry and not something else, and one can, with due humility, hope that philosophers will interest themselves in it, and find nothing to be shocked at in its procedure. This does not mean that we shall use no philosophical principles but those which are now most in fashion. Philosophical doctrines are in some degree the function of the philosophers' preoccupations; and philosophy has been for half a century looking so hard in another direction that it would be naive indeed to attempt now the nineteenth-century trick of leading philosophers into explicit theology up the garden path of their own presuppositions. Perhaps they were never much inclined to tread it, or if they did, perhaps the theology it led to was little like the genuine thing. But now we know very well, and the philosophers best of all, that the presuppositions are not there. We shall have, then, to see on what additional principles rational . . .

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