God and Early Modern Philosophers

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It seems I've been too long since last I read Keith Burgess-Jackson's blog. He quotes from the introduction of John Hare's recent book about how historians of early modern philosophy ignore and minimize the Christian roots of these philosophers' thoughts. (And yes, this is the son of atheist Richard Hare, a complete disgrace to the meta-ethical lack of moorings his father raised him with.)

He says Kant, Leibniz, Descartes, and even Hobbes are victims of this disgust for theological reasoning behind philosophical views. I must say that I've experienced this firsthand. I took Jonathan Bennett's last class at Syracuse on Locke and Leibniz, co-taught with William Alston for the Locke portion. John Hawthorne sat in on the Leibniz portion. The class I remember had all three there. Bennett made some ridiculous comment about something that supposedly followed from what Leibniz said, and I remember recoiling with surprise. My first thought was "only if you assume God is in time!" When I raised my hand to say that, Bennett responded derisively that I was bringing in an issue within philosophical theology best left to theologians. Yet Alston had been nodding as I said it, and I asked John Hawthorne afterward if he thought I was right, and he also seemed to agree with me. Even my Mormon classmate, who very much opposes divine atemporality, agreed with me.

I enjoyed and benefited greatly from Bennett's teaching in that class, and I'm grateful that he allowed me in given a highly selective process for admissions into his last class ever. Still, I get the sense that he's one of many historians of philosophy who want to pull these philosophers from their theological base. I have to say that Nicholas Jolley (who later confirmed to me that Leibniz did indeed think God to be atemporal) and Bonnie Kent, two other historians of philosophy whose teaching I experienced during my coursework here (but now both at U.C. Irvine, curse the place!), don't do this, and Alston and Hawthorne also don't (although it's less notable for them, since they're both theists). It's not surprising that someone wanting to see if philosophical ideas can be kept without theism will try to get the arguments or views going without such a basis, but it's unfair to the thinker to take the views out of context when the context is crucial to the view as that philosopher intended it.

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