1. Isn’t this site kind of presumptuous? Who are you to say what the gospel says about philosophy?
We sometimes ask ourselves the same thing. We’re average-Joe members, not authorized representatives of the Church. That’s why we called this site ldsphilosopher, rather than ldsphilosophy. We are simply Latter-day Saints who happen to be philosophers, and we’ll share our perspective as LDS philosophers. We’re not trying to claim that our conclusions are the only LDS conclusions. Will we get it right 100% of the time? Maybe not. Are we representatives of the church? No. But we love to think and we love to learn, and we love to share what we’re thinking and learning.
2. Why did you make a website devoted to philosophy?
The brethren have said that every member needs to bear his or her testimony, and Elder Ballard said that includes on the internet:
The challenge is that there are too many people participating in conversation about the Church for our Church personnel to converse with and respond to individually. We cannot answer every question, satisfy every inquiry, and respond to every inaccuracy that exists. … All other faithful members of the Church, … may I ask that you join the conversation by participating on the Internet, particularly the New Media, to share the gospel and to explain in simple, clear terms the message of the Restoration. Most of you already know that if you have access to the Internet you can start a blog in minutes and begin sharing what you know to be true. … We are living in a world saturated with all kinds of voices. Perhaps now, more than ever, we have a major responsibility as Latter-day Saints to define ourselves, instead of letting others define us. ((M. Russell Ballard, “Using New Media to Support the Work of the Church,” LDS Newsroom, newsroom.lds.org, accessed 17 Jun. 2008. For a news report that includes clips from this talk, see this YouTube video.))
We decided to accept Elder Ballard’s invitation and start a blog in order to share our testimony in a language that we love—philosophy. We chose the language of philosophy because that is the language a lot of the opposition to Church and its teachings speak.
2. Isn’t it spiritually dangerous to get involved with philosophy?
It’s true that the word “philosophy” is often used negatively in gospel contexts. The only occurrence of the word in the scriptures is a warning to “beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy” (Col. 2:8). And a quick search of “philosophy” on the Church website includes several warnings like this one:
The historical abominable church of the devil is that apostate church that replaced true Christianity in the first and second centuries, teaching the philosophies of men mingled with scriptures. It dethroned God in the church and replaced him with man by denying the principle of revelation and turning instead to human intellect. ((Stephen E. Robinson, “Warring against the Saints of God,” Ensign, Jan 1988, p. 34.))
Note, though, that these warnings say to beware the philosophies “of men” or “of the world,” not philosophy altogether. We believe most philosophy out there is part of the “philosophies of men.” But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any truth to be found in philosophy. C. S. Lewis wrote,
If all the world were Christian, it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now—not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons and to betray our uneducated brethren who have under God no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist if for no other reason, because bad philosophy must be answered. The cool intellect must work not only against cool intellect on the other side, but against the muddy heathen mysticisms which deny intellect altogether. ((Quoted in Richard Williams, “The Restoration and the ‘Turning of Things Upside Down,” AMCAP Journal 23(1), 1–30.))
In other words, there’s a lot of bad philosophy out there, and it’s leading people away from Christ. We believe that it is our Christian duty to respond to these bad ideas, and to do so in the language of philosophy. We believe that for every bad philosophical idea, there is an alternative perspective that is in harmony with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The reason philosophy is so dangerous is because these alternative perspectives aren’t given a voice. John Taylor explained that we should follow and advance the philosophy of heaven:
Man, by philosophy and the exercise of his natural intelligence, may gain an understanding, to some extent, of the laws of nature. Earthly and heavenly philosophy are two different things, and it is folly for men to base their arguments upon earthly philosophy in trying to unravel the mysteries of the kingdom of God. ((John Taylor, The Gospel Kingdom, comp. G. Homer Durham (1987), p. 73; quoted in L. Tom Perry, “Learning to Serve,” Ensign, Aug 1996, p. 10.))
In other words, not only are we fully aware of the dangers of philosophy, this is why we’re spending so much time with philosophy. We want to differentiate, to whatever extent we can, between earthly and heavenly philosophy. And, when we can, we want to provide alternatives to traditional philosophy that are rooted in revealed truth.
3. Don’t only overly-intellectual, unspiritual people study or use philosophy?
Actually, many faithful Latter-day Saints have studied, enjoyed, and found good use for philosophy. Joseph Smith used a philosophical term, summum bonum, in the Doctrine and Covenants, implying that he was at least acquainted with some areas of philosophy (D&C 128:11). Elder Gerald N. Lund of the Seventy explained and used several technical philosophical terms in his Ensign article “Countering Korihor’s Philosophy” in order to more effectively get across his points. Truman G. Madsen, a well-known LDS author and speaker, is an emeritus Professor of Philosophy at BYU. The more familiar you get with philosophy’s concepts and terms, the more you will notice that presidents of the Church are familiar with it and respond to it, and not always negatively.
4. Why over-complicate simple truths with the technical vocabulary of philosophy? It seems to obscure the truth rather than explain it.
President Spencer W. Kimball noted the merits of learning and employing the technical jargon of academic fields when explaining the gospel:
Your double heritage and dual concerns with the secular and the spiritual require you to be “bilingual.” As scholars you must speak with authority and excellence to your professional colleagues in the language of scholarship, and you must also be literate in the language of spiritual things. We must be more bilingual, in that sense. ((Spencer W. Kimball, “The Second Century of Brigham Young University,” BYU devotional, 10 Oct. 1975, speeches.byu.edu, accessed 17 Jun. 2008.))
Earthly institutions, such as education, governments, and science, are always based on some kind of philosophy. President Kimball urges us to improve the way those institutions work by shedding the light of the gospel on them, and he said that one step in that process is learning the language and concepts that underlie those earthly institutions. Neal A. Maxwell has also encouraged Latter-day Saint scholars to become a “link and bridge between revealed truth and the world of scholarship,” with this caveat: “The LDS scholar has his citizenship in the kingdom, but carries his passport into the professional world—not the other way around.” ((Neal A. Maxwell, “Some Thoughts on the Gospel and the Behavioral Sciences,” BYU Studies 16, 589-602.))
For one example of the effective use of philosophical terminology, see Elder Gerald N. Lund’s Ensign article “Countering Korihor’s Philosophy.” He found it particularly useful to explain and use several technical philosophical terms to make his point. He explains, “First, though, it will help to look at some philosophical terms used by contemporary philosophers. Doing so will help us see the deviousness ‘and the attractiveness to the carnal mind’ of Korihor’s teachings (which were Satan’s teachings).” ((Gerald N. Lund, “Countering Korihor’s Philosophy,” Ensign, Jul 1992, p. 16.))