‘Philosophy’ Category

William Ames’s Holy Logic

April 15th, 2014 Posted in 16th Century, 17th Century, Eminent Christians, Philosophy, Puritans

By Ryan Patrick Hoselton

One of the few things I remember from my freshman philosophy class is learning about the syllogism. The syllogism is a logical tool used to deduce a conclusion from a major and minor premise (for example: A: All students wear red. B: John is a student. C: Therefore, John wears red). You’ve probably seen it before, but have you seen it used as a formula for holy living?

The Puritan theologian William Ames (1576–1633) believed that the syllogism—when used rightly—offered considerable moral guidance, for it contained the “force and nature of conscience (I.3).”[1] Ames defined the human conscience as “man’s judgment of himself, according to the judgment of God of him (I.1).” The syllogism provided the means for the conscience’s operation of accusing, excusing, and comforting the moral agent. It consists of three elements:

  1. The Proposition: The proposition fulfills the role of the major premise. The Latin term Ames employed is synteresis, meaning a source for principles of moral action.Ames also referred to the proposition as a “light” and a “law.” God’s will and commandments furnish this “storehouse of principles.” While nature can often lead men and women in moral living, God’s revealed will is the only perfect rule of conscience, illuminating mankind’s moral duty (I.4–7).
  2. The Witness: the witness, which Ames also termed the “index,” “book,” “review,” or “assumption,” functions as the minor proposition. The witness is a subjective statement about the self for the purpose of considering one’s moral condition in reference to the proposition. It measures the moral agent alongside the law. The moral state of the human will is compared with the standard of God’s will (I.21–25).
  3. The Conclusion: the conclusion, also referred to as the “judgment,” derives partly from the proposition and partly from the witness. In the conclusion, “God’s commandment and man’s fact are mutually joined together.” The conclusion passes the sentence, or “application,” of either comfort or condemnation for the man or woman in light of the major and minor premises (I.28–32).

In sum, “in the Proposition God’s Law is declared, and in the Assumption, the fact or condition of man is examined, according to that Law; so in the Conclusion, the sentence concerning man is pronounced according to his fact…by virtue of the Law that hath been declared” (I.28).

Ames provides two examples. The first delivers accusation but the second comfort:

1. [A] “He that lives in sin, shall die”
[B] “I live in sin”
[C] “Therefore, I shall die”

2. [A] “Whoever believes in Christ, shall not die but live”
[B] “I believe in Christ”
[C] “Therefore, I shall not die but live (I.3)”

For Ames, the objective of the syllogism was to assist men and women in assessing their moral condition in light of God’s commandments and in conforming their wills to God’s will. Ultimately, it shows us how desperately short we fall, pointing to our need to rest faith in the Christ who followed God’s will perfectly.


[1] William Ames, Conscience with the Power and Cases Thereof (London, 1639). You can access the text at this link.

 

Ryan Patrick Hoselton is pursuing a ThM at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, KY with his wife Jaclyn, and they are the parents of one child.

Truth will out!

November 23rd, 2010 Posted in Philosophy

Truth will out. And though the disciple of Jesus wants it to be now, she can wait, by grace, for the eschatological day of reckoning. Be wise, therefore, soldier of Jesus: love the truth, and never fear to own your faults, foibles, and failings. Don’t be like the world: covering the truth with veneer and lacquer. For truth will shine through.

Who Is This? Philosophical Questions, Truth & the Saints

February 2nd, 2008 Posted in Philosophy

What prevents human reasoning from proving the existence or non-existence of God?

Human logic and reasoning are flawed and not infallible and are shaped by all kinds of reasons that do not accord with Reason. We are like people then trying to speak about something that lies outside of our complete ken—or like Plato’s cave dwellers.

But I shall never forget that day in the fall of 1972, when, in my first year of university, I sat down to prove the existence of God with pen and paper. I was new to the halls of academia and I was filled with the love of philosophy and philosophical books and the love of words and reasoning. I had gathered a small cache of books, maybe twenty–in them my world of thought was confined. And I often regretted that one day I would die and could peruse those books no more. Little did I know what awaited me that golden autumn. For that day, there in a room in a house off Richmond Street in London, Ontario, where I was boarding with a very elderly couple, before I could put pen to paper, I knew…I knew God existed. Oh, my world was changed. He existed.

I did not yet know him as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who is as burning fire, the God of glory revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. But I was being turned from the confines of human reason to Truth above. I was starting on that road–rather, he was taking my hand down that road–that would lead to a church pew in Stanley Avenue Baptist Church, Hamilton, Ontario, where I heard the Gospel really for the first time and a one-room apartment in Toronto on Dundonald Avenue, where the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, my Maker, revealed himself in the fire of revelation and I came to the point where I could say, without any philosophical hesitation, Christianus sum.

I then knew, as I had never known before, the limits of reason and why I was alive and I was given a reason to live forever. To enjoy his presence and to bathe in his glory with the saints of his Church: philosopher saints like Augustine and Anselm and humble saints like Augustine’s mother Monnica.

“Who is this that hangs there dying while the rude world scoffs and scorns
Numbered with the malefactors, torn with nails, and crowned with thorns?
‘Tis our God who lives forever mid the shining ones on high
In the glorious golden city, reigning everlastingly.”
(William W How)