on 2 November 2013
Beginning with Socrates, Leszek Kolakowski takes us on an only moderately painful journey through the thinking of such eminences as Heraclitus, Aristotle, St Thomas Aquinas, William of Ockham, René Descartes, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Bergson, et al.
First let me say I have never studied philosophy, being rather afraid of it, and it seems with good reason to me now, having, over the course of three days, tried to understand some of the thinking of these great thinkers. Much of their reasoning and disputation is bound up with the question of the nature of God. As an atheist, this was not what I wanted to read about, but it really cannot be avoided. God is unfathomable, or else God is everything. Am I real? Are you real? According to what rules do some say that God is real, while others deny it? In Philosophy (is it real?)it seems to me that since we cannot change what has happened in the past, the existence of God is predicated on the question of Faith immutably, and forever. But since I am an atheist, I cannot even consider the existence of God, by virtue of my lack of belief. I am debarred.
Some philosophers wish to deny the existence of good and evil, since, if God is everything, and God is good, everything he allows must be good by definition. This massive edifice, encompassing our world and everything in it, is all powerful, all knowing, all seeing, etc. I'm going to defy this, in my own puny mind and raise the question of evil. God has allowed it to thrive, therefore, the paradox of good and evil has to be wished away in the flimsiest way possible, it seems to me. It was not until I reached the thinking of John Locke, that I felt any relief at all from the thickly laid traps of God's existence in the human mind. Locke placed limits on what can be known. They are narrow limits, but they free us from the cant of religious belief and all the confusions it raises. We cannot know some things. Locke, the ascetic: "...did not lament... the powerlessness of human reason when confronted with the metaphysical questions other philosophers had considered important and soluble."
"Our minds are like a clean slate, a `tabula rasa'. This claim led some of Locke's followers to conclude that all humans are equal from birth, that none is better or worse. He advocated the adoption of a general rule which is worth remembering: that we should believe nothing with greater conviction than is warranted by the evidence for it.... Since the Church is an association which we enter freely, and no institutions of the state have any authority in religious matters, we may not persecute people who think differently from us in such matters."
What I wanted was a humanist reason to continue philosophising, but none were considered. Nevertheless, imperfect and faulty though my own reasoning is, I continue to rely on it rather than abrogate my relief to God. Though I cannot thank him, as I'd like to do, for John Locke.