Comment at American Creation on Strauss and the Problem of Belief

Sorry I didn’t get back to you on this earlier, JR – although what I mainly have to say is that I think we handled the question about as well as we’re going to handle it on that other thread. My main point is that a remark about philosophers isn’t the same thing as a philosophical remark, and that considering it philosophically is different from considering it in terms of, say, intellectual history. Strauss took a certain position on philosophy v revelation or Athens v Jerusalem, and it’s a position both on the practice of philosophy and on the essence of philosophy or of the truth. The two positions within the one position are intimately connected and even mutually defining, but they are not the same: What philosophers are “paid” to do, or what the accepted uses of the role of “philosopher” are, and what philosophy is or should be, or what we could confidently state about what philosophy is or what is philosophy, might be very different things. As for what a philosopher can believe, Strauss’s position on the essence of philosophy amounts to a belief that it is a practice in denial of belief. A true philosopher cannot believe in God, and cannot believe in the absence of God, because a true philosopher questions all belief and so in effect questions belief itself. So, except for the sake of making a kind of sociological point or a point about common speech – in which the vagueness of the god concept is overlooked, as though everyone somehow knows what everyone else means by the word “God” – he might as well have said, “No philosopher believes,” and left it there: “Belief in God” would be a redundancy, properly speaking: The problem is a willingness to accept revelation at all as authoritative or possibly authoritative, as prior to and determinative for its own interpretations, which, to the extent they are philosophically serious interpretations, interpretations which philosophy would be capable of taking seriously, would be interrogations at least admitting the possibility of doubt, offered in the mode and from the standpoint of possible falsification, which for the true believer is unacceptable: blasphemy, poisoning the minds of the young, and so on.

Source: American Creation: Sully is Back


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