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Philosophy consists in comprehending, so far as human power permits, the realities of things as they are in themselves… The power of human understanding does not encompass the reality of the divine Essence: All that man can hope to achieve is to comprehend the attributes of the Divinity, the light of which is manifest and resplendent in the world and within the souls of men. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 255.
If you had to pick one philosophy that best fits your outlook on life, what would it be?
I would say I’m a Humanist, like Camus–but not an Absurd Humanist. Or maybe I’m an Existentialist. I’m definitely an Analytic Philosopher, the most modern flavor. I love the philosophy of the Rational Soul and Rational Mind, which combines the thinking of the Rationalists, the Empiricists and the Romanticists. I guess, if you combined them all, I’d call myself a Spiritual Philosopher. In a way, all of these schools of thought have led me to the real purpose of all philosophy–to determine, describe and detail the meaning of life.
The Baha’i teachings would call that the love of God:
Modern philosophy began with the Frenchman Rene Descartes (1596-1650), who wrote and expressed the idea that since he could think, he could question his own thinking—and that he therefore must be human, with a mind, existing in the phenomenal world of nature. As human beings in this material world, Locke said, we’re born “a blank slate.” Rather, from a Baha’i perspective, we’re each born with a purpose: “to know and to love God,” according to the Baha’i writings. Therefore I agree with Leibnitz (1646-1716), that “God created the best possible world” for us to learn about Him.
I understand David Hume’s and the other empiricist’s point (1711-1776), about material existence–that all we can know is what we experience. But that does not take into account the mind of man and his inner powers, like imagination and thought. Rousseau was right on target when he made the leap to believe in the “innate goodness of man.” Perhaps, though, we could understand the dichotomy between innate human goodness and the evil men do by realizing that all people have dual natures:
Man is intelligent, instinctively and consciously intelligent; nature is not. Man is fortified with memory; nature does not possess it. Man is the discoverer of the mysteries of nature; nature is not conscious of those mysteries herself. It is evident, therefore, that man is dual in aspect: as an animal he is subject to nature, but in his spiritual or conscious being he transcends the world of material existence. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 81.
Voltaire’s ideas (1694-1778), on civil liberties and social reform helped inspire the French and American revolutions. His writings on reason superseding nature influenced the church and church doctrine, yet he remained a firm believer in the Deity. In fact, religious belief informed the thinking of all the early philosophers, because of its power to change people’s hearts.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), the great German philosopher who built a bridge, or tried to, between the two modern camps of rationalism and empiricism, with his idea “that all knowledge comes from the senses but is filtered through our rational minds,” altered current thinking and revolutionized the debate. Kant realized the difference between how things really are and how things are experienced by human beings. This has become self-evident, with the advent of the scientific method and the remarkable discoveries science continues to make. Religion has also provided the guidance to use reason and science for moral purposes, just as all of the great philosophers have included God-being in their treatises and philosophies.
The bottom line in my own thinking on philosophy to this point—it evolves progressively, logically and rationally, just like science, religion and existence itself.