Outlines of answers for the three mid-term exam questions.

Nature of Reality (Q# 1 or 2, depending on which test sheet, green or white, you had)

Explain the distinctively different understandings of reality held by the Classical, Classical-Christian, and Epicurean traditions.

The Classical understanding of reality, that is, Classical ontology, maintained that all natural things have a purpose, a final cause in Aristotle’s terms. The idea that the different parts of the world are harmonious and fit together, like a sheath and a sword, is the teleological view: every natural thing exists for a cosmic purpose. Everything has a nature or essence. Those purposes can be known through the use of reason.

 For Classical-Christians, too, the world is purposeful or teleological. The purpose of each thing in the world is determined by God the Creator. In distinction to the Classicals, Christians maintain that the existence of each thing also depends upon God’s support: everything that exists depends on God for its existence. A cosmic order, or eternal law, in St. Thomas’s terms, permeates all of reality. Classical-Christians, however, do not agree that the purpose of everything can be discovered by reason alone. The eternal law is ultimately knowable only to God.

The Epicureans agree with three-quarters of the Classical conception of the four causes: everything that exists has matter, form, and efficient causation—either nature or man made it. The key difference is that nothing has a natural purpose. What anything is can be completely explained in terms of matter, form, and efficient causation. Epicureans do not have a teleological ontology.

God and Nature (Q# 1 or 2)

Explain the distinctive Classical-Christian, the Classical (Stoic), and the Gnostic understandings of the relation between God and nature/the cosmos.

The Christian understanding is that God created the cosmos, the natural world. God is not part of the world: the world is not God. God is above nature—He is supernatural or transcendent. The cosmos is good, but not divine. God created the cosmos according to a divine plan or intention. Christians have a teleological cosmology.

The Classical writers, and particularly the Stoics, maintained that the cosmos, the natural world, was itself divine: the cosmos is good because the cosmos is God. Thus, God is immanent—He is part of the world. This is a pantheistic view of God, not a transcendent view. God’s principal characteristic is reason or rationality. The world is an orderly place, knowable by reason. The Classical cosmology is a teleological cosmology.

The Gnostics argued that a god—Yaltabaoth, according to the Apocryphon—made the world, and that Yaltabaoth is transcendent or above the natural world that he created. The world is also rigidly ordered according to the will and plan of Yaltabaoth, so the Gnostics have a teleological cosmology. Gnostics differ from Christians and Stoics, however, in maintaining that since Yaltabaoth is deformed and bad, the world he created is deformed and bad. Gnostics differ from Christians in maintaining that Yaltabaoth, the creator god, is not the ultimate or highest god. The highest god, the Monad or the ineffable spirit, transcends Yaltabaoth’s world: the Monad is even more radically transcendent than the Christian god, Yahweh. The Monad or supreme god neither made nor supports the world in which we live. 



Ancient, Epicurean, and Classical Cosmologies. (Q #3)

a. Contrast the Epicurean and ancient cosmologies. The Epicurean view of the world, according to Lucretius, is that it is inanimate, made up entirely of matter in motion with no cosmic purpose of design. Like everything else in the world, man is simply a configuration of atoms. The gods, being real, are also configurations of atoms: they are physical beings existing somewhere in space. Contrasted to Eliade’s account of primitive cosmology, the world of human experience is totally profane.

The ancient view of the world is that it is animate: alive. According to the Frankforts’ account of primitive man’s understanding, the world is understood to be a “thou,” a “you,” and life is a constant personal interaction with other living beings. According to Eliade, primitive man also experienced moments—objects, places, times—that were totally strange and terrifying, revealing a “totally other” dimension of reality that primitive man considered sacred or holy and worthy of worship and reverential fear.

b. Contrast the Classical and the ancient cosmologies. Though both the ancients and the Classicals (particularly the Stoics) viewed the world as animate, their views were not otherwise identical. The ancients, according to the Frankforts and Eliade, did not consider the whole world divine, though they recognized sacred parts of reality within the world. Their recognition of the willful spirits within the world also ruled out a divinely ordered, harmonious world governed by a cosmic order.

The Classical view of the world was a teleological view: the cosmos was a harmonious, purposeful being with a cosmic order or design. For both Aristotle and, particularly the Stoics, the cosmos—the world in which we live—is itself divine or sacred, and we are part of that divine order.

Bonus point calculation:

The first two questions each had three quotes to identify by author, title, and tradition. There were potentially two initial points for each correct identification of the author, the title, and the tradition. Thus, each quote was worth up to six initial points; each question up to eighteen initial points. The bonus points or penalties are based on how many points out of the eighteen initial points you received:

18, 17, 16 = +3 bonus points

15, 14, 13 = +2 bonus points

12 and 11 = +1 bonus point

10, 9, 8     = 0 bonus points

7 and 6     = -1 bonus point

5, 4, 3       = -2 bonus points

2, 1, 0       = -3 bonus points


Grade Calculation:

There were three questions, each worth potentially 34 points. I use the standard 90% = A-, 80% = B-, and so on valuation. Thus:

A   = 34, 33, 32, 31 points

A- = 30

B+ = 29

B  = 28

B- = 27

C+ = 26

C  = 25

C- = 24

D+ = 23

D  = 22 or 21

D- = 20

F  = 19