The big questions in life can have a tremendous impact on the small ones. While we may not even realize consciously that we have asked them, our answers can change our whole outlook. The question of the meaning of life is like that. We might not ask this question philosophically, but we all answer it practically. We ask it when we wonder, what is the point of going to work today? It orients our views of the world and our goals, our education and careers, our relationships and family objectives. Is the meaning of life to make lots of money; To maximize pleasure; To have lots of friends; to make a difference in the world? Choosing one or more of these answers will set us in different directions than if we have picked other ones.
This is just one of the questions that a Philosophy of Life seeks to answer. The Christian philosophy of life is rooted in the Faith (the summary of which is found in the Nicene Creed – see my previous post introducing this subject). For a brief restatement continue below.
The Faith – The Creed as a Philosophy of Life (Review)
In exploring the Nicene Creed, key (head) verbs stand out as dictating our reading (translated: we believe in; we believe; we confess; we expect). These help us to read the Creed as a comprehensive foundation for a Philosophy of life. I identify four topics under these key verbs. They are first, the Metaphysics; second, the Epistemology; third, the Ethics; and finally, the Aesthetics of the Christian Way of Life (or the Faith).
In a discussion following my first post, a question was rightly raised. Is this philosophy of life I identify derived from the creed, or are they back of the Creed. Back of the Creed means that they are the philosophical assumptions one would have to accept in order to accept the Creed. This is probably the most accurate way to explain it historically.
In practice today, however, I would propose that the Creed, having assumed these philosophical assumptions now requires us to live by them. So perhaps the point is not a practical one, but it is an important one in defending my proposal.
I have created a chart that clarifies each of these points, with a section on the head verb, another on the creedal content, and my description of its philosophical expression.
|Key Verb||Creedal Content||Philosophical Expression|
|Credamus in (We believe in )…||I. one God… and,
II. one Lord… and,
III. the Holy Spirit.
|Metaphysics: The description of what really exists beyond observable nature, (Origins, Nature, Reality, and Goal)—rooted in the Triune God.|
|[Credamus (We believe)]||one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.||Epistemology: Here we have the testimony that gives us confidence that we know what we know—the Faith of the Church.|
|Confitetur (We confess)||One baptism . . .||Ethics: If what we know to be true (Epistemology) is true (Metaphysics), then we should respond to it –the life of discipleship.|
|Expectamus (We look forward to)||I. the resurrection of the dead; and
II. the life in the age to come.
|Aesthetics: Here we have the vision of beauty that guides the desires of believers –the end that is our beginning.|
The Big Questions of Metaphysics – Overview and Definitions
The word, metaphysics, appears to have been coined by Aristotle (384–322 BC). Aristotle was Plato’s star student at the ancient Greek Academy. After his mentor’s death, he founded his own institution, the Lyceum and spent several years as the personal tutor of Alexander the Great. In western history, his influence is so dominant that for many he came known as simply, “the Philosopher.”
Aristotle was a great lecturer and teacher, and he organized summaries of the state of Greek philosophy on a number of topics. In his series of instruction, once he had completed physics (from the Greek φύσις phusis, meaning the order of nature) Aristotle went on to teach τὰ μετὰ τὰ φυσικά (ta meta ta phusika). This phrase meant that which is beyond the physical. But that is not necessarily a great definition of the word as it has come to be used. Aristotle, for example, covered the subjects of “first philosophy,” “first science,” “wisdom,” and “theology” under his metaphysics.
Perhaps the best definition is that metaphysics examines the fundamental nature of reality, seeking to answer basic questions, such as “what is?”, and “what is it like?” (link). Perhaps a fuller definition is to say that metaphysics seeks to understand the ultimate questions of the origins, nature, reality, and goal of what is.
The Big Questions of Metaphysics – Why Do They Matter?
If Metaphysics is understood as pondering the ultimate questions of the universe (link, link), then it has an ultimate value for everything. To take one example, mathematics, metaphysics asks if numbers exist. Our numbers are signs signifying quantity. The Arabic numeral 3, and the Roman numeral III signify three things (perhaps three apples). Now apples exist. So, if we take two apples 2 (or II) and add one more apple + 1 (or I), we find that we now have three apples 3 (or III).
But what about when we are not dealing with apples (or any concrete thing.) Must 2 + 1 = 3? When an engineer calculates theoretical stresses to determine whether a bridge will hold up, is it important that their mathematics is constant? Imagine if he determined that a bridge could endure the strain of X number of stressors, but that number X could mean 2, or 3.
Or consider money. Most of us have salaries paid in dollar figures. We get a piece of paper (a cheque à or deposit slip) that says we have been paid $2000.00. But we don’t have two thousand-dollar bills, do we? The symbol on that cheque signifies the value of two thousand-dollar bills. Do we want that sign to maintain its signified meaning?
Now some philosophers are realists. Like Plato, they believe that numbers are universal truths. They exist, for real, apart from nature. Whether we use an Arabic or a Roman sign to signify them, we are pointing to real numbers. Others are conventionalists, and so on. But it is in wrestling with this metaphysical problem, that we come to understand the stability of numbers. For the sake of our bridges, our aircraft, and our bank accounts (to name only a few areas) we want metaphysical certainty about numbers.
When it comes to the even greater overarching questions of the origins, nature, reality, and goal of what is, metaphysics becomes even more compelling. It answers questions such as:
- Why is there something instead of nothing?
- Why are things the way they are?
- What is really real? and
- Where did I come from?
- Why am I here?
- What is the meaning of Life?
The Big Questions of Metaphysics—the Foundation of the Faith.
For Christians those answers begin in understanding the Triune God, his origin (or eternality), nature, reality, and purpose: We believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth …. God is the source of all, the father of all, and the Creed continues to describe his only begotten Son and the Spirit which proceeds from him. The fact that the source and father of all is a Triune Being, is foundational. The Creed tells us he is Father before it tells us he is Almighty or the Creator.
We are further told that the second person of the Trinity, came down from heaven, for us and for our salvation. The relational God has a relationship with us, and it is a relationship of redemption. The Big Questions for Christians come down to relationships, not impersonal forces. This makes a tremendous difference. What does it mean that this redeeming, relational God who is the ultimate foundation? I break this down in my next post (Part 3).