Sunday, March 18, 2012

Petrarch vs. Aristotle on Natural Theology

Before proceeding to talk about God on the basis of his own reason, unaided as it was by Scripture, by Christ, or by regeneration, Aristotle should have said what Petrarch said:
“But what can I know or say about all these things, unhappy sinner that I am, dragging about with me the ball and chain of my iniquities? . . . I profess that I am not fit for it, and as much as it is greater, so much narrower, indeed, is my mind, filled with vices.  [Although] nothing is impossible to God; in me there is total impossibility of rising, buried as I am in such a great heap of vices.”  (Trinkaus, The Poet as Philosopher, pp. 76, 87).
Petrarch asked, not playfully, “can there be a wider field, a vaster ground for talking, than a treatise on ignorance and especially on mine?” (Petrarch, “On His Own Ignorance,” p. 47).
When it comes to knowing God, Aristotle should have asked such a question, not playfully, and found in the answer good reason not to write what he did about God.  But he was too ignorant of his own ignorance to notice his shortcoming and its attendant impossibilities.  “Reason advises me to keep silent,” Petrarch said (Petrarch, “On his Own Ignorance,” p. 49).  It would have said so to Aristotle too, had he listened.
To Charles Williams’ poetic question, “Over all altars and all roods/What solitary spirit broods?” the philosophers have no answer.  Or, if they do, that answer is wrong.

1 comment:

Alex Swem said...

Dr. Bauman,

Thanks for the excellent post. Plutarch's words bring to mind a passage in Confucius'Analects. Unfortunately, I do not have Simon Leys' excellent translation with me to quote directly, but to paraphrase: "Shall I teach you what wisdom is? If you know something, say that you know it. If you do not know something, say that you do not know it. That is wisdom."

I hope you are well. Press on!

Alex Swem