A. Ancient Philosophies
1. Plato (Greek) (Born 428 – 347 BC) Plato established a school of philosophy in Athens known as the Academy. Plato wrote what were called dialogues, which were discussions between several individuals with differing philosophical beliefs. He believed and taught what was called idealism. He believed that we couldn’t gain knowledge of things through our senses because they are constantly changing. According to Plato, the knowledge of good was the object of all inquiry and the desire for happiness was within all men. However, men did not find happiness because they did not behave virtuously because they did not have the knowledge of what was morally right. For Plato, man’s basic problem was a lack of knowledge.
- The Bible teaches that man’s basic problem is not one of knowledge but his sinful nature and unwillingness to obey the will of God (Rom. 3:23; Rom. 6:12-14).
2. Aristotle (Greek) (Born 384 BC) Aristotle was a pupil of Plato in his Academy for approximately 20 years. He later established his own school of philosophy called the Lyceum. Aristotle believed that happiness did not lie in pleasure but in virtuous behavior. Virtuous activity to him was living in between the two extremes found in life. For example: Courage is the balance between cowardice and foolhardiness. He believed that the greatest happiness of all was the contemplative use of the mind. He believed that all things in nature have some overall purpose and that finding your purpose in life would bring you happiness.
- The Bible teaches that man’s greatest happiness is found in knowing, trusting, and following the Lord (John 17:3; John 13:17; Prov. 16:20).
3. The Stoic philosophy was founded in approximately 300 BC by Zeno of Citium, Cyprus. He believed that all things occurred by fate and taught that it was futile to try and change circumstances to conform to our desires. He taught that a wise man will “follow nature” and fit their desires to the pattern of events in life. In other words, a wise man makes the best of what he could not change. The Stoic believed that you should spend your life seeking to cultivate virtue, the greatest good.
- The Bible teaches that man can change his circumstances and the outcome of his life by the choices he or she makes in obedience to God’s revealed will. That God will then bless a person’s life and can take the worse of circumstances and turn them around for good (Rom. 8:28; Is. 61:3; Joel 2:25).
4. Epicurean philosophy was founded by Epicurus of Athens (Born 341 BC). (Hedonism) Epicurus believed that pleasure was the only good thing in life. He taught that not all pleasure was good. Extremes would bring pain to your life. The highest pleasure he taught was physical health, experiencing pleasure and peace of mind. He believed that man had two great anxieties in that robbed him of his peace of mind: the fear of deities and the fear of death.
- The Bible teaches that enjoyment and pleasure in life is fine as long as it is in accordance with God’s Word (Gen. 18:12; 1 Tim. 6:17; Ps. 16:11). Solomon found that to seek happiness by enjoying sinful pleasure would only bring emptiness to the soul (Ecc. 2:1). The pleasures derived in life from sin would only be temporary and bring death (Heb. 11:25; 1 Tim. 5:6).
5. Skepticism was founded by Pyrrho of Athens in approximately 320 BC. He believed that our senses deceive us and therefore, no accurate knowledge could be known. Therefore, we should make no judgments of any kind concerning truth and treat all things with indifference.
- The Bible teaches that truth is found in the God of truth who has revealed His will in His Word. This struggle in man to find truth is why Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Jesus taught that truth, good, and evil could be known and that you can walk in the truth and experience God’s goodness in this present life (John 3:20-21; John 8:31-32; John 18:37).
B. Medieval Philosophies
1. Scholasticism dominated the world from 1000 to 1400 AD. The scholastics used logic and deductive reasoning to determine their beliefs and reconcile theological and philosophical questions. The scholastic method was primarily based in the teachings of Aristotle training a person to look at every side of a question logically and rationally. Noted scholastics were Peter Lombard, Peter Abelard, the Archbishop of Canterbury St. Anselm, and Saint Thomas Aquinas.
2. The greatest criticism of scholasticism was the belief that human reason could solve any problem.
- The Bible teaches that man’s knowledge is in part and that no man can know the entire depth of the wisdom and knowledge of God because we are finite creatures and He is infinite (1 Cor. 13:12; Rom. 11:33). Man must determine his beliefs based on the teachings of Scripture alone and not arrogantly think that he can figure out everything using reason (Matt. 11:25; Rom. 1:20-22). However, God wants us to use our reasoning skills, in fact, God requires that we do so (Is. 1:18). But, human reasoning is not the end of any question. God’s thoughts must have the final word on the question of mankind.
C. Modern Atheistic or Naturalistic Philosophies
1. Rationalism - This belief system began in the 1600s, which taught that reason was superior to experience as a source of knowledge. Rene Descartes, Voltaire, and Thomas Paine led this movement, relying on reason rather than faith to understand man and his destiny. These men believed that reason was the source of all of man’s advances and they blamed the Catholic Church and it’s restrictive policies that had hindered man’s progress.
- The Bible teaches that man through “his own” wisdom did not know God (1 Cor. 1:21).
2. Empiricism - (John Locke (1690), David Hume (1740s), and Bertrand Russell (1900s) - This philosophy emphasized the importance of experience and sense perception as the source and basis of knowledge. An empiricist rejected the idea that pure reason, biblical authority, or political authority should decide issues in life. John Locke believed that there are no innate ideas. He believed that every person is born with a blank piece of paper and that a person’s experiences become the source of all ideas and all knowledge.
- The Bible teaches that the source of all knowledge begins with the fear of God (Prov. 1:7). The Bible is the sole authority for faith and conduct in life (John 17:17). The conscience of man is where God places innate understanding of right and wrong (Rom. 2:15).
3. Utopianism - The first thought of a utopian or perfect society was envisioned in Plato’s Republic written about 375 BC. Since that time many have written discussing the possibility that if we simply had the right social and economic structures that we could have harmony and prosperity. During the Enlightenment period (1600s) those who believed in the innate goodness of man took up this belief.
- The Bible teaches that there will never be a perfect society here on earth until Christ comes again to live and reign here for a thousand years (Mark 14:7; Deut. 15:11; Jer. 23:5; Rev. 20:6).
4. Transcendental philosophy - (Immanuel Kant) late 1700s - He tried to bring about a synthesis of rationalism and empiricism. He criticized the traditional arguments for the existence of God. He argued that they are all in error because they make claims that go beyond the possibility of experience and thus go beyond the powers of human reason.
- The Bible teaches that man’s mind is finite and God’s understanding is infinite (Ps. 147:5).
5. Utilitarianism - (Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill) - In 1823 John Mill formed the Utilitarian Society, which believed that the ultimate goal in life was the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. This happiness was to be found in seeking pleasure. Today this philosophy is also known as hedonism.
- The Bible teaches that there is nothing wrong with pleasure in itself. God has created man to experience pleasure and enjoyment in life, but it is not the goal of life, only the result of obeying His commands (Gen. 18:12; Deut. 23:24; 1 Tim. 6:17). If a man makes pleasure his aim in life he will experience spiritual death inside himself and become a poor man (1 Tim. 5:6; Prov. 21:17).
6. Dialectical materialism – (Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels – Middle 1800s) - Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto and believed that only material things are real and that all ideas are built on an economic basis. He believed that private ownership of the chief means of production was the root of all class struggle between the ruling class and the workers. He believed that history was the record of class struggles that would bring a revolution and the ultimate triumph of the workers that would bring about a classless society where the chief means of production would become publicly owned.
- The Bible teaches that the basic reason there is hostility among mankind is because of sin, selfishness, and pride (James 3:16; Prov. 28:25). Christ promises to bring love, giving, and peace (Rom. 5:5; Luke 6:38; Eph. 14-15).
7. Naturalism - (Charles Darwin) - 1850s to present day). Although many earlier philosophies were based on the concept that God did not exist, the supposed evidence given in Darwin’s Origin of Species moved this philosophy greatly forward. Darwin’s belief in natural selection and the survival of the fittest has encouraged people to believe that man has evolved from a single celled organism, to complex animal creatures, and then to man without the aid of a supreme God. In other words, everything that exists can be explained by natural causes. If this is true, then there is no God and no absolute truth.
- The Bible teaches that God exists and He has given us His truth (Gen. 1:1; John 1:1-14)
8. Pragmatism - (Charles Peirce, William James, and John Dewey) theorized from 1870s through the early 1900s that whatever works best is right. These men sought to take the methods of science and apply them to philosophy. They believed that truth could be determined by how an idea affected a person’s conduct.
- The Bible teaches that Christians are to be idealists because they judge actions not by what works best, but by what ought to be done based on the objective commands of God (Rom. 2:5-11).
9. Nihilism – (Fredrich Nietzsche late 1800s) – Nihilism rejected all authority or any principle of faith. Most nihilists believed in revolution and the need for a new social order. Nietzsche proclaimed himself a nihilist because he attacked all accepted ideas or beliefs. Nietzsche declared that God was dead and continually criticized Christianity and it’s beliefs. He believed that there were no absolute values or truth. He believed that man’s basic drive was his “will to power,” the desire to gain power over his own passions and to use these passions in a controlled way.
- The Bible teaches that God is not dead but very much alive and ready to be a very real part of anyone’s life that will receive Him (John 1:12). Jeremiah predicted that one day people would say that God was dead, however, God declared that He was very much alive (Jer. 16:14-15).
10. Existentialism / Humanism - (Jean-Paul Sartre – Mid 1900s to present day) - He believed that there are no objective truths or standards, that God didn’t exist, and therefore, every man must make their own personal choices to establish his or her own values. He believed that man was at the center of his own existence and his or her own choices determined the kind of person they would be. Sartre’s ultimate goal for himself and mankind was that we should seek to achieve what he called “perfect self-sufficiency” by becoming the cause of one’s own existence. However, he argued that this goal was actually unattainable.
- The Bible teaches that God does exist and that He must be at the center of man’s existence if anyone is to experience the joy and meaning of life (Gen. 1:1; Gal. 5:22-23).
11. Multi-culturalism – Present day philosophy - This is a belief system that is based in the fact that morality is relative because there are no absolute truths. Thus all cultures are morally equivalent, none being morally better or worse than another, with each culture only reflecting its own history and beliefs.
- The Bible teaches that certain cultures and nations were a moral abomination to Him and that they were destroying their own people (Lev. 18:19-30).
12. Pluralism – Present day philosophy - The belief that there are multiple perspectives on an issue, each of which contains part of the truth, but none of which contain the whole truth.
- The Bible teaches that there is but one truth and that God has sent His Son to reveal the truth to all mankind (John 14:6; Matt. 11:27).