A Little Book for New Philosophers: Why and How to Study Philosophy, by philosopher and apologist Paul Copan was, for this aspiring philosopher, an inspiring thrill ride across the landscape of the possibilities, power, and joys of doing philosophy. In fact, my esteem for Copan, who I formerly perceived merely as an apologist, skyrocketed as I read his erudite, compassionate, guileless, and winsome prose. The opening and closing chapters were both highpoints, starting and ending this booklet with an inspiring and impactful bang! In the opening chapter, he discusses the many reasons why we should study philosophy, and the real-world impact ideas have, despite the perpetual practical question of “what can you do with a philosophy degree besides teach?” In the subsection Philosophy can strengthen our theology, Copan introduced me to the discipline of Analytic Theology, and instantly, I felt like I had found my intellectual home. I never knew how to bound it or what it was called, but now I do!
His second chapter, Philosophy as Loving Wisdom, further pulled me into the vortex of the beauty of philosophy as I relished in the idea that philosophy is not just about ideas, but about love for ideas, and for wisdom and truth, rather than endless discussions without ever arriving at truth (1 Timothy 1:4). I really appreciated his defense of philosophy against the mistaken religious objections to it, some based on the misunderstanding that the Bible condemns philosophy, as opposed to just bad philosophy (cf. Colossians 2:8). In reality, Copan argues, we all have a foundational philosophy, or world view, even if we have not consciously examined it. Studying and developing it rather than ignoring it, he argues, is a much wiser choice for the Christian. In fact, to say you have no philosophy is not only untrue, it is a philosophy in itself! He counsels:
Furthermore, the philosophical underpinnings by which we operate – whether explored or unexplored – reflect our deeper heart commitments. As the philosopher J. G. Fichte noted, our philosophies (or world views) are not merely intellectual and detached – what he called “a dead piece of furniture.” Rather, they are animated by our soul. They are deeply personal, bound up with who we are at our core. (Copan, 2016, p. 32)
His additional characterizations of philosophy as systematizing and “hard thinking” only increased my appreciation for and gravitation towards philosophy, since I am a self-professed “systemetizer,” hence my current position as a Business Systems Analyst in software development.
Copan performs a brief but sufficiently deep overview of philosophy as it has applied to faith and religion historically, starting with Paul’s knowledge of and inclusion of stoic philosophers in his preaching. As a personal critic of the doctrine of the innate immortality of the soul and the doctrinal implications and possible falsehoods that it may lead to in Christian theology, I appreciated Copan’s discussion of Pelikan’s claims that the doctrines of God’s immutability and the immortality of the soul come from Greek philosophy, and have “slipped into accepted Christian doctrine” (2016, p. 61).
Of course, now I have to find an affordable version of Pelikan’s five-volume The Christian Tradition, which Copan recommends as necessary background! (Pelikan, 2008) Other philosophical problems he discusses nicely are the problems with naturalism and logic as opposed to theism, as well as the difference between innocent ignorance and “culpable ignorance,” where we have access to the truth but are unwilling to honestly explore it. Scary stuff!
His differentiating between intellectual knowledge and “filial knowledge” of wisdom makes the pursuit of philosophy even more attractive, and parallels the difference between knowing about God and knowing God in a love relationship. It is lamentable, but perhaps expected that such an intellectual endeavor as philosophy can lead many into heads full of knowledge and empty hearts, just as religion can. He emphasizes this point in his chapters on how to study philosophy, by prioritizing the virtues of humility, kindness, and charity towards others, and that this should be a transformative endeavor, not just an informative one. The potential of being part of the community of philosophers was also presented as an appealing opportunity – not a community of intellectual and professional one-upsmanship, but one of humility where the love of seeking wisdom in relationship with others of like mind could take place seemed like a utopian dream to me.
His mention of doubting wisely, and the role and responsibility of pastors to “counsel the doubtful” really struck a chord with me, since I have worked for years on a book to instruct people on how to deconstruct their faith should they search for integrity lead them that way (see www.leavingfaith.com). To “have mercy on some who are doubting” (Jude 22) seemed like a clarion call to me. If fact, when he finished with the idea that for many, philosophy is a calling, I felt like a child at recess jumping up and down shouting “pick me, pick me!” and I could not be more struck by and drawn by the message of this book. May God have mercy on this middle-aged sophomore and draw me into service in philosophy!
Copan, P. (2016). A Little Book for New Philosophers: Why and How to Study Philosophy. IVP Academic.
Pelikan, J. (2008). The Christian tradition: A history of the development of doctrine – volumes 1 – 5. University of Chicago Press.