10 March 2009

Fragments of Studying: Part I

I'm studying for a history exam (Western Heritage Since 1600, essentially an intellectual history course based on literature and political theory). The test is on Thursday so I thought now might be a good time to start thinking about it. Oh procrastination, how I love thee. In any case, as I review the documents, I'm running across some interesting thoughts on faith: in reason, in tradition, and in divine revelation.

Some excerpts and personal musings:

"Whatever authority . . . antiquity may have, truth should always have more, although newly discovered, since she is always older than all the opinions that we have had of her. It would be showing ourselves ignorant of her nature to imagine that she may have begun to be at the time when she began to be known."
-Blaise Pascal

"Disciples do owe unto masters only a temporary belief and a suspension of their own judgement until they be fully instructed, and not an absolute resignation or perpetual captivity."
-Francis Bacon

"Antiquity deserveth that reverence, that men should make a stand thereupon, and discover what is the best way, but when the discovery is well taken, then to make progression."
-Francis Bacon

These quotations represent one tendency, that which leans toward rational innovation. To these writers, certain spheres of knowledge will continue to expand infinitely. Each successive generation will therefore discover something new about physics, astronomy, or letters. Truth is there waiting for us to search her out; though our forefathers may have made great leaps, we should not consider ourselves constrained by their accomplishments, but rather inspired to build upon it.

Moreover, these men say that you ought to demand personal proof of a thing before believing it. Supposed authorities can make mistakes and paint the facts wrong. As a result, our generation may well conclude something different, because our experience points to a new and correct solution, where theirs was too limited (by technology or inclination, perhaps) to perceive the truth. Heliocentric solar system, anyone?

This mindset gets you a long way in science and the like. But it can also can make you skeptical of divine revelation and tradition, due to its emphasis on personal experience. So it requires balance with another perspective . . . Part II on its way tomorrow.

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