James Spiegel. Philosophy. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, July 11th, 2014. 48 pp.
5 out of 5
The author James Spiegel is a Christian and a professor of philosophy and religion at Taylor University. I’m glad that the editors and publishers for the Faithful Learning Series picked a guy qualified to write this booklet on a Christian view of philosophy as an academic discipline. Spiegel surveys how the trajectory of philosophy has shifted in recent historical context starting with Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga. Plantinga and other Christians philosophers like him have contributed not only to the defense of the faith but even in the field of philosophy itself. The change in the field of philosophy is quite radical as the author noted that not too long ago the philosophy of Positivism was assumed by society at large to be philosophically sound and physicalism was in vogue. Spiegel’s work gives readers a quick and helpful survey on epistemology, philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion and moral theory. In what follows below I will share what I found helpful and then some words of constructive criticisms.
I liked how the author summarizes things clearly without making them simplistic. I enjoyed his discussion about epistemology and Plantinga’s critique of Classic Foundationalism in an easy to understand way that lay people would appreciate. In a similar fashion readers will also appreciate Spiegel’s discussion on the philosophy of the minds; he writes about the problem with physicalist’ view of human nature and strict identity theory that equivocate the mind being the same thing as the brain. Spiegel shares some great philosophical insight to bear such as the “Chinese room” argument and philosopher Thomas Nagel’s argument that physicalism fail to account for the subjectivity of consciousness (20-21). By far the section that I learned the most from is the discussion on moral theory since it discusses contemporary philosophers of ethics that I haven’t heard of before. It made me realize that this is an area I can grow in, in terms of being abreast with philosophers and not just read only theologians discussing ethics. The book ends with a good section in which the author shares what are areas that the next generation of Christian philosophers can build and improve upon. I enjoyed that, it was something different from the other works in this series.
Readers must also be warned that not all the philosophers mentioned are not Reformed or biblically sound. I mentioned Reformed since this is published by a Reformed publisher. The problem is most prevalent in the section on the problem of evil in which names like John Hicks and prominent open theists such as William Hasker and David Basinger were mentioned. Of course there’s only so much the author can do in a little book but I think some warning is in order. Overall the book is quite optimistic in its attitude and I share in that general optimism concerning the recent direction of philosophy but I wished the author could have talked about the dangers that bad philosophy poses which can impact one’s theology detrimentally. As Spurgeon once said, sometimes one Christians are engaged in discernment the choice is not between what’s right and wrong, it is a choice between what is right and almost right.
Overall it was a good book and I highly recommend it. It is actually one of the better works in the Faithful Learning Series.