I view Kreeft’s comparison of the various instruments of knowledge and truth as functioning as a stimulating analogy.
Here’s that instrument to discipline comparison outlined. Logic’s relationship to philosophy is like
- telescopes to astronomy;
- microscopes to biology; and
- math to physics.
In all of these academic fields, it is possible to engage in the discipline itself without specifically using the instrument. For example, ancient people practiced astronomy long before the telescope was invented, and studies in biology went on for many centuries before the microscope was designed. Similarly, it is possible to observe the general effects of physics without the formal use of mathematics, just as a person can ask common sense philosophical questions about life without appealing to the formal aspects of logic. Even the great philosopher Aristotle, who is credited as the “father of logic,” referred to logic as a “tool” or “instrument” (Greek, organon). However, the use of these amazing instruments—whether actual artifacts (telescope and microscope) or pure conceptual realities (math and logic) discovered via the human mind—produces an increase in information and knowledge that is seemingly exponential. Both the amount of data and the depth of potential understanding is exceedingly increased by the use of the instruments. And the more skilled you are at using the instrument, the better you are in your given discipline.
It is very important to also acknowledge that logic’s relationship to philosophy is in another way profoundly unlike the other examples in the comparison. In a critical sense, logicians would insist that to significantly think, speak, and act requires an appeal to, and dependence upon, the laws of logic. Logicians have powerfully shown that the laws of logic are unique in that they are ontologically real, cognitively necessary, and irrefutable.2 Broadly defined logic is a tool of philosophy, but in a stricter sense, logic or the laws of logic make rationality itself possible. Astronomers, biologists, physicists, and philosophers all depend upon the laws of logic to make their lives and studies intelligible. So, like all analogies, this comparison has obvious limitations.
Lenses or Pathways
Another engaging way of thinking about Kreeft’s analogy is to consider replacing the word instrument with the words lenses or pathways. In a sense these apparatuses allow their users to see or envision whole new worlds or to open doors and pathways to new dimensions of understanding. For philosophers, the laws of logic serve to ground intelligible experience, and for physicists the universe seems written in, and explainable by, the language of mathematics. This equipment, or conceptual framework, allows for a transformation of human sight and comprehension. How incredible and valuable is that?
Thus, while there are times I feel my work as a philosopher is out of step with my science colleagues, this analogy helps me to keep in mind that as Christian scholars in very different disciplines, we are all using our prize instruments to hunt and gather the knowledge and truth that God has revealed in his infinite wisdom as Creator and Redeemer.
Reflections: Your Turn
What do you think of Kreeft’s analogy? How do the artifactual instruments differ from the instruments of conceptual reality? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.