The Meaning of Heresy

The word “heretic” has become synonymous with unorthodox with an insinuation of cult-like behavior. But look at the etymology of the word:

HERESY – “In ancient Greek, the verb ‘hairein,’ meaning ‘to take,’ gave rise to the adjective ‘hairetos’ ‘able to choose’ and the noun ‘hairesis’ ‘the act of choosing.’ In time the noun developed the extended senses of ‘a choice,’ ‘a course of action,’ ‘a school of thought,’ and ‘a philosophical or religious sect.’ Stoicism, for example, was a ‘hairesis.’

So a heretic is someone who makes a choice, and heresy is a belief or action that is chosen. Originally the term was not pejorative though it did become that when wielded by a group that called themselves The Apostolic Church (community). Beginning around the start of the first century CE, the group, claiming to know the pure teaching of the twelve apostles of Jesus, began to use the term ‘hairesis’ for other beliefs about Jesus. The word ‘hairesis’ was appropriate because the Apostolic position was that their doctrines were the original Christian teachings and all who disagreed had chosen a contrary (and thus erroneous) doctrine. The Apostolic Church’s chief opponent was the Marcionite Church (after its founder Marcion) which taught that Jesus was sent by a different god than the god known as Yahweh and believed that they were the true followers of Jesus’s teachings. An intellectual battle between the Marcionite and Apostolic churches lasted for several centuries and the Apostolic Church prevailed. Since history is written by the winners, the Marcionites were declared “heretics” and condemned as not just people who chose a school of thought but people who choose an evil path.

The Apostolic Church was the forerunner of the Catholic Church, which claimed the Apostolic doctrinal authority. The latter inherited the habit of declaring doctrinal opponents “heretics” and the model of dealing with heretics. As the centuries past the methods of dealing with heretics evolved leading to official intolerance, excommunication, and the Inquisition.

It is important to realize that heresy begins with a choice – a choice to think for one’s self. And intellectual freedom is not often accepted by the powers that be – then and now.

Posted in Philosophy at-large, Philosophy of Religion | Leave a comment

Double Positive

During a lecture the Oxford linguistic philosopher J. L. Austin made the claim that although a double negative in English implies a positive meaning, there is no language in which a double positive implies a negative. To which Columbia University philosopher Sidney Morgenbesser responded in a dismissive tone, “Yeah, …right.”

Posted in Quotes | Leave a comment

Long Forgotten, if Ever Remembered

Philosophers should be judged not by the quantity of titles behind their names
but the quality of thought behind their ideas.

It is interesting to note how most of the great philosophers in history were not in the academy, not trained in or an employee of any academic institution. Kant was the first and almost undeniably the greatest of the professional philosophers, and commencing after him we see a continual decline in philosophical quality.

I think of these thoughts often sitting in my office within a musty stone building of an ivory tower academic institution and I wonder if that holds me back.

Posted in Philosophy at-large | Leave a comment

Kant’s Categories

In conversation recently, someone suggested that Kant’s categories of understanding could be described as algorithms that organize sense data. An algorithm, the someone said, is defined as “a procedure for solving a mathematical problem in a finite number of steps that frequently involves repetition of an operation” (2003 Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary) and that this describes what Kant’s categories do.

I agree with the definition but not that this describes Kant’s categories. The categories are not algorithms but a set of a priori concepts that structure our perceptions and provide us with the semblance of order that defines human perception and cognition. The reason I steer away from using “algorithm” in the context of Kant’s epistemology of intuition and categories is because algorithms are procedures for solving problems. Kant’s synthetic a priori categories aren’t procedures in that they are prior to any perception and transparent and transcendent to perception. They don’t actually solve problems but provide the cognitive metaspace for perception and reasoning to occur. Where algorithms fit into Kant’s epistemology is at the level of his syntheses of apprehension, reproduction, and recognition where rational repetitive procedures are followed to make further sense of the products of our understanding.

Posted in Modern Philosophy - 1600-1800 | Tagged | Leave a comment

Atheists at Work

Atheism, Conversion, and Class is an interesting article, but look at the angry user comments. The atheists are once again falling over each other trying to make the most snide and condescending comment about people different from them. Amazing how much they sound like religious zealots.

Basically, the atheist argument is: “hey, author, you can’t say atheists think we’re smug and superior to theists, atheists ARE superior to theists.”

What you see there in the atheists’ comments is the same rehashing of the same old tired atheist strawman arguments: “theists think differently than me therefore the theists are irrational.” Add “…and therefore condemned to hell” and you have religious fundamentalism. Here is the most bald expression of that strawman argument from “balrog221″: “Born Atheist 100% start from that point. Raised, coerced and bullied into belief or pretended belief 100% of theists.” Though the writer apparently doesn’t realize it, that proposition is of the same structure as “all non-Christians are immoral sinners.” Both are completely irrational fallacies. And of course the ultimate atheist bromide: “The sooner we all realize religion is what is wrong with the world the better off we will all be.” Not a shred of evidence offered in support of that, but they assume they are preaching to the choir. Sorry, pointing out how irrational atheists are just like irrational theists again.

Seriously, atheists, stop acting as childish and irrational as the religious zealots you claim you aren’t at all like.

Posted in Bad Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion | 1 Comment