Monday, October 15, 2012

Clark's Lectures 5

I was fortunate enough to go to New York this past weekend and obviously wanted to see the public library, but I had no idea I'd discover that they had a copy of Gordon Clark's thesis for his doctorate at UPenn. Unfortunately, it was only a fragment of it, as the rest of the pages seem either to have been torn or fallen out at some point - there were perhaps 20 of the original 50 pages. Nevertheless, what I read impressed on me how much Clark must have developed his personal philosophy over time, even though it was obvious that Clark then was an able philosopher, fluent in multiple languages and ancient philosophies. At any rate, it was a pleasant surprise to find it, and I hope others will enjoy these few points he made that I transcribed:

History, Textual Criticism, and Skepticism

The opening sentence to his thesis was as follows:

Page 5: "Save us, we pray, from those who have so entombed themselves in the dark and damp of antiquity that they no longer appreciate the light of the present day; but save us all the more from those who go blithefully on their way in utter disregard of the lessons the past can teach."

The point of his poetic remark is well-taken but, if taken strictly, is stated a little imprecisely. The past doesn't teach. Its utility lies in its capacity to occasion ideas in our minds as to what is truth. I think I have addressed this issue here, but perhaps a further comment on a statement by Clark will be helpful:

Page 10: "In the case of Aristotle we are not dependent on fragments, for we have his complete works; we are perfectly familiar with the usages of his language; the only difficulty is textual and whoever bases a skepticism in textual criticism asserts that not only nearly all philosophy, but nearly all history as well, before the Renaissance, it forever unknowable. This is a reductio ad absurdem. We can with tolerable certainty ascertain the exact working of Aristotle, but to understand his thought we need also to know the arguments and discussion of previous arguments men which were the motives to his solution. Are these unknowable? My answer would be, try and see."

I thought it was ironic that Clark should have logically followed the implications of textual criticism so closely only to derive a conclusion opposite to what should be drawn from his philosophy of Scripturalism, viz. it is indeed the case that nearly all history is unknowable, since textual criticism often presupposes an empirical methodology. This is not a reductio ad absurdem to the individual who believes that man is efficiently illumined by God, though not necessarily apart from experiential stimulation. Of course, it would be silly of me to heavily criticize a man's early writings when it is that man whose theology I consider myself occasioned to be so indebted.

The Thesis

The purpose of his thesis, Empedocles and Anaxagoras in Aristotle's De Anime, was to determine how trustworthy Aristotle was in his historical interpretation of the philosophies of his forebears', with particular attention to Aristotle's treatment of Empedocles and Anaxagoras. He was well aware that his conclusions were tentative due to the focused nature of his thesis, but he believed that similar studies would solidify his generalizations:

Page 6: "What would be necessary for the final verdict on Aristotle would be a series of such theses, treating each philosopher referred to in each of Aristotle's works. Only after such an induction could generalizations be made. But how easy it is to anticipate the generalizations without going through the induction is perhaps only too well illustrated in the following pages."

Page 7: "The firm belief in the final truth of his own system led him to examine others through Aristotelian spectacles."

Page 46: "It appears, therefore, even in the little so far covered that A. is as trustworthy as any historian can be expected to be."

It is too bad that the majority of the pages between these last two statements were missing, as it is otherwise difficult to reconcile them. Perhaps he meant that although a historian cannot be trusted as an objective, unbiased source of information, he can be relatively charitable. But at least this shows Clark seemed to recognized a distinction between incomplete and complete induction and that his work falls under the former category.

Theological Statements

As much of Clark's thesis concerned itself with finding out what Empedocles, Anaxagoras, and Aristotle taught, there is less of the author's own opinion than may be desired. But this is proper, and it leaves me with only a few more interesting statements:

Page 45: "Now obviously to argue from a man's theism what his psychology ought to be is rather precarious."

I do not believe Clark would have considered this idea to be so obvious later in his life. But again, Clark was only 26 or 27 when he wrote this, so it is not strange that over the next 55+ years of his life that he would change his mind on a few of his beliefs. He apparently changed his mind on the infinitude of God as well (cf. The Incarnation, pg. 62):

Page 46: "The knowledge of an infinite mind, which is not the result of a learning process peculiar to finite minds, may be compatible with impassibility. Yet the more we insist that God is unchangeable, the less we understand how he recognizes temporal events as having happened or as about to happen."

This last statement is profoundly true, reflecting my current struggle to understand God's immutability in relation to time. As Clark changed his mind, I may very well change mine. But it is good to share a God whose truthworthiness is unchangeable.

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