Saturday, October 25, 2008

Authority: The Beginning of Philosophy

Observe, this is the beginning of philosophy, a perception of the disagreement of men with one another, and an inquiry into the cause of the disagreement, and a condemnation and distrust of that which only seems, and a certain investigation of that which seems whether it seems rightly, and a discovery of some rule, as we have discovered a balance in the determination of weights, and a carpenter's rule in the case of straight and crooked things. This is the beginning of philosophy. Must we say that all thins are right which seem so to all? And how is it possible that contradictions can be right? Not all then, but all which seem to us to be right. How more to you than those which seem right to the Syrians? why more than what seem right to the Egyptians? Why more than what seems right to me or to any other man? Not at all more. What then seems to every man is not sufficient for determining what is; for neither in the case of weights or measures are we satisfied with the bare appearance, but in each case we have discovered a certain rule. In this matter then is there no rule certain to what seems? And how is it possible that the most necessary things among men should have no sign, and be incapable of being discovered? There is then some rule. And why then do we not seek the rule and discover it, and afterward use it without varying from it, not even stretching out the finger without it? For this, I think, is that which when it is discovered cures of their madness those who use mere seeming as a measure, and misuse it; so that for the future proceeding from certain things known and made clear we may use in the case of particular things the preconceptions which are distinctly fixed.

- Epictetus' Discourses II.11

There's no real need to belabour the point that Epictetus is making: we need a single rule and authority from which to proceed, especially in times of disagreement.

He seems to have hit the nail on the head for the Synod.

A large number of "philosophers" will, in the absence of some authority, resort to what "seems right to the most people." A tyranny of the masses. Rule by the lowest common denominator.

This is insufficient and Epictetus argues that what is necessary before disagreement can be resolved and philosophy begun in earnest is a common, objective authority. Once such an authority and measure (canon) is discovered, he asks the question I ask myself every time I go to a circuit conference and have to deal with pastors who don't share the Book of Concord as an authority: "Why, having found such a rule, would anyone vary from it?!"

What is Epictetus' solution to our Synod's woes? Begin with a common authority and do not deviate from it once you have agreed that it is a reliable guide.

ASIDE: I used to naively think that we HAD all agreed that the Book of Concord is a reliable guide, but obviously that isn't the case; some were apparently insincere in their UNCONDITIONAL subscription and remain so today. If there is one thing classical philosophy drives home it is this: you cannot have meaningful discussions with liars and sophists, because they are not seeking the truth, but only playing word-games.