Author Archive: Helen Bell

Socrates & Descartes

Socrates believed that there was a god who placed him on this earth to examine life by challenging and questioning anything and everything.  Socrates was thrown in jail because he expressed his beliefs and many people did not agree with him.  He was considered aggressive and dangerous to the people in power.  Crito attempted to convince Socrates to escape from prison, but Socrates argued against it saying, “…the most important thing is not life, but the good life” (Crito 48b).  Socrates meant that it is important to do more with life than just live.

Socrates believed that one should only value the opinions of experts in a given subject area, not the majority of people (Crito 47a).  The good opinions are those of the people who have expertise in that specific field.  The opinions of the majority of people (who are no experts) should not be paid any attention because they are not valid.

Another belief of Socrates was that one should obey the laws of the government in place, and that one should never do wrong.  Socrates shared this belief with Crito when he asked, “…if we leave here without the city’s permission, are we mistreating the people whom we should least mistreat?” (Crito 49e)  The answer to this question is yes because had he run away, he would not only have broken the law, but he would have also communicated non-verbally that it was okay to disregard the ruling of the court because he felt it was unfair.  Socrates believed that when a person is wronged, that person should not do wrong in return.  Even though the judge and jury that tried Socrates may have been corrupt, he believed that the laws were just.  Escaping from the prison would go against his agreement to live as a citizen under the rule of the government, so Socrates remained there until his death.

Socrates held on to his convictions until his death, never straying from what he believed in.  On page forty-one of the Apology, Socrates expressed that he viewed death as either a dreamless sleep with a total lack of perceptions or a relocation of the soul to a better place (Apology 40c).  This viewpoint on the subject of death surely made it easy for Socrates to accept death.  According to Socrates’ statement, people should not be afraid of death because they will either live again in a better place, or they will just sleep, having no idea that they have died.

René Descartes was born in France in 1596, and educated by the Jesuits. His main areas of interest were in physics, astronomy, and optics.  Descartes made the famous statement, “Cogito Ergo Sum.”  In Meditations on First Philosophy, this statement was translated from Latin as saying, “I think therefore, I am.”  This statement declares that thinking proves existence.

Descartes used hyperbolic doubt to arrive at the conclusion that thinking proves that one exists.  On page thirteen of Meditations in First Philosophy, Descartes says, “…I realized that once in my life I had to raze everything to the ground and begin again if I wanted to establish anything firm and lasting in the sciences” (Meditations in First Philosophy 17).  Descartes explained that he could not trust anything without establishing that it was definitely true, so he began his deconstruction of the convictions that people held by doubting everything.

Descartes biggest reason to doubt the convictions that people held was that an evil genius existed, having a powerful mind that counteracted God’s goodness.  Descartes said that the evil genius was always trying to deceive him.  Descartes soon came to the conclusion that the evil genius could not deceive him if he did not exist in the first place (Meditations in First Philosophy 25).  From this point, Descartes had determined that he was a mind, or a thinking thing, because he was the one being deceived.  Then, Descartes thought of another idea.  How could he doubt something if he did not exist?  From this question, he drew his second proof of existence.  He doubts therefore, he must exist.  The fact that Descartes doubts and the fact that he exists as the mind that is being deceived proved that he existed.

Descartes then began his third meditation, on the topic of God’s existence.  The common conviction was that God existed, so Descartes began by inquiring if there was a God and if it was possible for him to be a deceiver (Meditations in First Philosophy 36).  On page thirty of Meditations in First Philosophy, Descartes said, “…there remains only the idea of God.  I must consider whether there is anything in this idea that could not have originated from me” (Meditations in First Philosophy 45).  This statement allowed Descartes to use the common conviction that God is perfect to prove that God existed.  Descartes asked how he himself could exist with the idea of God’s perfection in him if he himself was not perfect.  He then came to the conclusion that the idea that God was perfect must have been created by someone who was perfect.  God must exist because he is the only one who could have created the idea of his own perfection (Meditations in First Philosophy 51).

René Descartes’ reconstruction project was meant to reconstruct the convictions that people hold more solidly by offering proof that they were true. Descartes thought of convictions that people held, like perceptions about external reality, perceptions about internal reality, mathematical properties, and God’s goodness.  Then, he came up with reasons to doubt each conviction, like sensory deceptions, dreams, alternate universes, and the evil genius.

When Descartes reconstructed the convictions that people held, he proved that each conviction was true.  In Meditation Two, Descartes used the example of wax to prove that the perceptions about external reality were true.  He made observations as he watched wax burn and change form as it melted.  Descartes noticed that the wax changed so rapidly and had so many dimensions that it could not possibly be a figment of the imagination (Meditations in First Philosophy 31).  Finally, Descartes stated that bodies (wax included) are not imagined, but perceived by intellect (Meditations in First Philosophy 34).  These two statements were proof that external reality existed.

In Meditation Four, Descartes says, “For every clear and distinct perception is surely something, and hence it cannot come from nothing…Therefore, the perception is most assuredly true” (Meditations in First Philosophy 62).  This statement means that every perception that a person has is something because that perception cannot come from nothing; everything must come from something.  This realization proved that perceptions about internal reality were true.

In Meditation Five, Descartes proved that mathematical properties were true using the example of shapes, numbers, and movements in his mind.  He said that when he first discovered the truth about shapes, numbers, and movements, he felt as if he had known of them before and was just recalling them (Meditations in First Philosophy 64).  Descartes said that mathematical properties must be true because when he thought of a triangle in his mind, he knew the properties of the triangle and what it looked like for certain.

In Meditation Six, Descartes used human health to prove that God exists.  He said that the human body had natural sensations that occurred within the body that were dependent upon specific actions affecting the body (Meditations in First Philosophy 87).  Descartes used the sensation of thirst as an example.  He said that when a human needs water, the body naturally produces a sensation of thirst.  Descartes then concluded that God must be good because he created humans with natural sensations that allowed them to maintain their health (Meditations in First Philosophy 88).

Learn Your Philosopy

Jean Paul Sartre

Learn Your Philosophy


In On the Genealogy of Morals, Friedrich Nietzsche attempts to find the significance of the values people hold; he describes a value as a guideline for existence. Nietzsche determines that there are both positive (life-affirming) and negative (life-repressing) values.   He also says that people can be evaluated using either a moralistic evaluation (good vs. evil) or a physiological evaluation (good vs. bad).  Nietzsche then categorizes all people into three categories: the nobles, the slaves, and the priestly.

The noble can be characterized as spontaneous, active, and naive.  The noble sees everything as a challenge that will give him the opportunity to assert himself further.  He lives by the quote, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  Nietzsche evaluates the noble moralistically.  He says that the noble creates his own values based on what feels good and what feels bad.  Activities that are self-assertive feel good to the noble, and activities that are self-repressive feel bad to the noble.  When the noble establishes his own values, he does not rely on outside influences, like opinions or recognition from other people.  The noble is truly independent and is associated with strength.  Unfortunately, he is very individualistic and full of himself, and therefore, is lonely.  There is no true example of a noble in existence.

The slave is the opposite of the noble.  He can be characterized as intelligent and clever; these attributes compensate for his physical inability to assert himself.  Nietzsche evaluates the slave physiologically.  The slave upholds self-repressive values as good; he believes in selflessness.  For the slave, compassion, generosity, selflessness, and philanthropy are examples of what is good.  Reaction is what is evil to the slave.  The slave is led by resentment.  He blames others to make himself feel better, especially the noble, to whom he imposes guilt.  The slave is the definition of a follower; he cannot make his own way because he needs constant reassurance.  The slave has a mass mentality, meaning that he feels most comfortable in numbers.  An example of a slave is a member of a church because church members follow the guidance of a priest.  The slaves are crucial to the priestly individuals, who need them to maintain their leadership role.

The priestly individual is a leader who needs followers to function.  The priestly individual develops life conditions that are void of both pleasure and enjoyment, which is why they are also known as ascetic priests.  The priestly individual wants to assert himself in order to get recognition for his work.  His power is completely based on a feeling of dependency.  Without followers, the priestly individual cannot be a leader.  The priestly individual lives by the ascetic ideal, meaning that he believes in postponed enjoyment.  The best example of a priestly individual is a priest.  A priest convinces his followers that they must absolve their sins in order to get into Heaven, in an attempt to make them dependent upon him.  He preaches that the worldly things we lack now will be ours in the future, when we enter the kingdom of God.

Man is condemned to be free because he did not create himself (Sartre 23).  Man is born into the world with an absolute freedom.  Because man is absolutely free, he is solely responsible and accountable for what he does and what he does not do; this is the meaning of being human.

Freedom gives man the ability to choose one thing over another.  On page twenty-three of Existentialism and Human Emotions, Sartre states, “If existence really does precede essence, there is no explaining things away by reference to a fixed and given human nature.”  This statement means that because of man’s responsibility, there are no excuses for either action or inaction.  Man cannot blame his pre-determined human nature for the way in which he acts because pre-determined human nature does not exist.  At every moment, man must establish his own values by which to live his life.  The values that he creates to live his life by, and the actions that he takes or does not take, form his identity.

The existentialist believes that God does not exist.  This idea ties in with the statement that we are condemned to be free because the absence of God makes man forlorn.  Man is abandoned; he is left alone to live his life.  He feels that there is no escape, and he is right in thinking so.  Absolute freedom is the only dimension of existence that man cannot escape.  Our inherent freedom, allows for the power of choice.  This means that no desire, no matter how strong, can affect us without us allowing it to.  Man always has a choice.

On page fifty-nine of Existentialism and Human Emotions, Sartre says that “most of the time we flee anguish in bad faith.”  The existentialist belief is that man attempts to avoid anguish through self-deception, which Sartre considers to be “living in bad faith”.  Man’s absolute freedom creates anguish because man cannot escape the burden of total responsibility.  Sartre’s belief is that man is responsible for the whole world, not just himself (Sartre 52).  This idea of absolute responsibility suggests that each human is responsible for all other humans, and makes man feel the need to act in the best way possible.  If man is always responsible for everything, even the most trivial activity can create stress, which is the main cause of anguish.  In order to deal with his anguish, man chooses to try to escape his feeling of responsibility.

Man attempts to escape his feeling of responsibility through self-deception.  He does this by creating excuses to rationalize what happens to him, which is very hypocritical.  For example, a teenager gets into his car and drives without putting a seatbelt on.  He is then hit by another car and dies.  It is later determined that had he put his seatbelt on, he would have lived.  The family of the teenager will obviously feel the pain of loss, but it is their choice as to how to deal with their pain.  The teenager is fully responsible for not putting on his seatbelt.  The teenager’s family can accept the fact that their son made the wrong choice, or they can blame the other driver for hitting their son, which would be considered “living in bad faith.”  Freedom allows man to choose how he deals with anguish.  He can choose to be self-deceptive and “live in bad faith,” or he can choose to accept his responsibility.

Existentialism has been charged with promoting desperate quietism, but it actually promotes quite the opposite. Desperate quietism is feeling the need to act upon something, but also feeling that there is nothing you can do, and therefore, not acting upon anything (Sartre 9).  Existentialism runs contrary to quietism because existentialism is about action and engagement.  The statement that “existence precedes essence” is the foundation for existentialism (Sartre 16).  It means that you are what you do and that there is nothing at the base of human existence but freedom.

Quietist philosophers believe that there are no positive theses that they can make about anything (Wittgenstein 1).

Sartre uses that example of a paper-cutter to describe what existentialism is not in order to better clarify what it is.  He says that if we already have an image in our minds of what the paper-cutter should be, we can only produce it (Sartre 13).  Then, in order for the paper-cutter to be good, it must match the image in our minds.  This prevents creativity.  Existentialism disagrees with this idea because it implies that there is a higher-being that created the image of the paper-cutter in our minds and that humans are not free.

Existentialism promotes the idea that man is absolutely free.  Man’s absolute freedom gives him the power of choice, which can never be taken away.  Desperate quietism is about a lack of action, while existentialism is about taking action.

Dying and Rising in Baptism

Dying and Rising in Baptism


Thomas Aquinas, a theologian, once described a sacrament as an outward sign of an inward reality instituted by Christ to give grace (Murphy 1). Baptism is the first of the seven sacraments recognized by the Roman Catholic Church and is also one of three rites of initiation into the Roman Catholic Church. In the early years of Judaism, water was used as a method of cleansing believers who had become unclean through a variety of actions (Hyatt 255). For example, after a man discharged semen, he was considered unclean; this man would then need to be cleansed through a purification process, which happened to be performed with water. Peter Kreeft, a philosophy professor at Boston College and the author of the book Catholic Christianity, writes that water was used for purification because it is the source of life (309). He explains that because water is a foundational element upon which life was formed, everyone and everything is drawn to it. Kreeft believes that water has the ability to rejuvenate the human soul and that it symbolizes the divine life.  

This initiation process using water, which came to be known as baptism, began to be used in the Jewish faith for two main reasons: (1) to remove impurities from believers and (2) to prepare believers to live a new life with God (Hyatt 256). Three witnesses would watch as the believer was completely submerged into the water. Baptism joined the individual into the faith, and was therefore meant only for true believers who desired to dedicate themselves to a life with God. The Qumran sect of the Essenes, whose concept of baptism was almost exactly like that of the Hebrews, stated that no person was to be baptized unless he had first repented for his sins because the purification process would fail; this is because anyone who had broken the laws of God was considered impure (Hyatt 259).  

Christian baptism evolved from these aforementioned forms as a right of initiation into the Church. John Paul, who was certainly influenced by the Essenes, if not the Hebrews as well, was a preacher who had been baptizing believers into the Christian faith before the appearance of Jesus Christ. Some scholars believe that baptism became widely accepted in the Church because Christ allowed John Paul to baptize him; evidence suggests that Christ accepted baptism as a way to purify a person spiritually (McBrien 588-589). According to Peter Kreeft however, although all sins, such as original sin and personal sin are forgiven in baptism, the human proclivity to sin remains (Catholic Christianity 308).

It was at this time that the idea of death and rebirth in baptism first appeared. John Paul believed that baptism symbolized both the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the death and resurrection of the believer (Hyatt 265). In a certain sense, the believer did not merely imitate Christ, but rather became Him. Consequently, in Christ’s dying and rising, the believer died and rose as well. Paul believed that baptism somehow created a mystical union between Jesus Christ and the believer, meaning that once it was forged, Christ would be with the believer at all times (Hyatt 265). Upon competition of baptism, the believer arose to new life with God and became a disciple of Christ. This entered him into the community of the Church, having wholly devoted himself to following the Word of God.

In his article Baptized into Life and Death, Paul Mallia said, “When the Christian works or suffers, hungers after an ideal or alleviates the hardships of poverty and sickness, strives for human progress through the mill of daily duty or through a bold and risky venture, he is not alone” (425). Through baptism, believers receive new life in Christ, meaning that Christ is now a part of them forever and for always. This wonderful effect of baptism can be seen as a spiritual transformation that transfers grace and calls upon the Holy Spirit to aid the believer in his daily life (Catholic Christianity 308). When the believer is enjoying life, Christ is there. When the believer struggles, Christ is there. Christ’s presence provides the comfort that the believer is not alone; Christ experiences that which the believer experiences.

Another positive effect of baptism can be traced to Lumen Gentium, in which Pope John Paul VI, wrote, “The eternal Father, by free and hidden plan of His own wisdom and goodness, created the whole world” (1). This means that each person is put on Earth for a reason. Each of us was created in the image and likeness of God, and He has a divine plan for all of his children. In some way, each individual is supposed to be performing God’s work. God refuses to leave man in the broken state that Adam and Eve unknowingly thrust upon the human race. Because of his immense and everlasting love, God consistently lends a hand to all those who need him. He guides all of mankind toward Him, toward His love, toward true fulfillment (Lumen Gentium 21). True freedom is attained only when believers know God. The only way to learn of God’s divine plan and participate in it is just that – to know God. This is done by listening to Him and growing in the Christian faith. Baptism, as a rite of initiation into the Church, is therefore a necessary requirement to fulfill one’s true purpose.

Paul Mallia believed that the human condition of death and sin that Adam passed on to the entire human race hinted at a gift that was to come; that gift was Jesus Christ, who was given by God, out of His vast love, to pay for the sins of the human race (426). Man continues to sin, creating an imbalance in justice. According to Lumen Gentium, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to Earth, sent by the Father, to save mankind by offering the promise of eternal life (9). As part of his salvific mission, Christ suffered, was crucified, and died on the Cross. Man does not have what it takes to satisfy justice, so Christ sacrifices himself for the sake of man. Through his death and resurrection, Christ protects man from definitive evil and definitive suffering.    

God can only be accessed through Jesus Christ, which means that the believers must know Him. Through His birth by Mary, God is humanized as Jesus Christ. The Incarnation brings God within reach of the community of the faithful and creates a relationship between God and His children through the human suffering that Jesus Christ shares in.

According to Mallia, baptism and this formation of a relationship with Jesus Christ is absolutely necessary because man is a body of sin without Him (427). Mallia believes that humans tend to gravitate toward sin because of the human condition which was passed down by Adam. He asserts that Jesus Christ is the answer to this problem. Christ’s death and resurrection destroyed sin and death, which allows the believers an opportunity to be saved. Upon being baptized, we share in Christ’s death and are reborn with Him into new life. This progression symbolizes the love the Father has for the human race, having given his son for the sake of man. In the religious text Catholic Christianity, Peter Kreeft described baptism as the most radical life-changing event in your supernatural life (307). In essence, we die to the old form and are born into a new form. We experience internal changes that we may not understand, but rest assured we are never the same again.

Robin Scroggs and Kent I. Groff, authors of Baptism in Mark: Dying and Rising with Christ, claim that when a person is baptized, he is stripped of his garments and baptized into death. However, they state that only Christ actually dies. They maintain that the act of stripping off the garments symbolizes the substitution of Christ for the believer (542). Scroggs and Groff reason that man cannot possibly die like Christ, and therefore, Christ must die in our place. Following the disrobing and immersion into water, the believers are blessed through the use of the Trinitarian Formula, anointed with holy oils, like Chrism, enrobed in white garments, and given candles (McBrien 815). The immersion or being washed over with water signifies death, and the baptism brings about new life. The white garment signifies the new purity of the believer, while the candle represents the believer’s new life of holiness.

The believer’s death in baptism is intimately related to Christ’s Paschal Mystery; for Christ, taking upon himself all the sins of the world; for the believers, taking upon the elements of suffering in our daily lives leads to our participation in the Paschal Mystery as well. Saint Ambrose once stated, “Baptism comes from…the cross of Christ, from his death. There is the whole mystery: he died for you. In him you are redeemed, in him you are saved” (Kreeft 311). Jesus Christ died on the cross and ascended into Heaven. Man can never fully understand how this occurred or why they were saved, but the bond created by Christ’s actions will remain with us forever.  

Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection in baptism is not experienced just one time. Just as Jesus Christ died on the cross and was resurrected, man dies and rises daily. Speaking to Christ’s disciples, Saint Paul explains this idea by saying,

“I die every day—I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you

in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely

human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, Let us

eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (The Resurrection of the Dead ).

Saint Paul is saying that like Jesus Christ, we must die and rise before we can live. This means dying to the old life, and being reborn to a new life with Christ. This idea does not only apply to baptism though. Everyday, Christians must choose to accept the challenges of being a believer in the risen Lord and strive each day to draw closer to Jesus Christ. This is the promise made by the believer at baptism. The mission of the Church is to spread the Word of God and expose people to Him, in the hope that people convert to Christianity (Redmptoris Missio 1). The covenant created at baptism calls the believers to learn about God, and to spread the Good News. The believers were given the opportunity by God to share in his life and to be saved; therefore, the community of the faithful has the responsibility to assist the Church in guiding others to God. People have the right to know of the gift that the baptized have already received and to freely approach it.

Baptism is not only one of the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church and one of the three rites of initiation into the Church, but it is a profound gift as well. As with many gifts, it comes with intrinsic responsibilities. Baptism has the amazing ability to create a bond between Christ and his faithful followers, allowing them to share in His death and resurrection and instilling in them His likeness, while also cleansing them of their sins. The baptized are then accepted into the community of the Church and called to participate in evangelization, in order to guide others toward the Christian faith too.

Works Cited

  • Hyatt, J. Philip. “The Origin and Meaning of Christian Baptism.” Encounter 21. (1960): 225-268. 6 Mar 2010.
  • Kreeft, Peter. Catholic Christianity. SF, CA: Ignatius Pr, 2001. 307-314.
  • Mallia, Paul. “Baptized into Death and Life.” Worship 39. (1965): 425-430. 8 Mar 2010.
  • Murphy, Micah. “What Do You Adore?.” In Layman’s Terms. N.p., 12 Feb 2010. 29 Apr 2010. <>.
  • Paul II, John. “Redemptoris Missio.” Conciliar Decree Ad Gentes. St. Peter’s, Rome, 1990. 1-22.
  • Paul VI, John. “LUMEN GENTIUM.” Dogmatic Constitution of the Church (1964): 1-26. 12 Apr 2010.
  • “The Resurrection of the Dead.” THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV®. 3rd. Biblica, 1984.
  • Scroggs, Robin, and Kent I. Groff. “Baptism in Mark: Dying and Rising with Christ.” Journal of Biblical Literature 92.4 (1973): 531-548. 6 Mar 2010.


Brahm’s Requiem

Brahm’s Requiem

Brahm's Requiem

Requiem can be defined as a Roman Catholic mass where prayers are offered to the recently deceased.  A German Requiem, op. 45, was written by Johannes Brahms.  This requiem was unlike any requiem seen before, and was influenced by not only his childhood, but also Martin Luther, a Protestant reformer.

A German Requiem, op. 45, was completely different than any other requiem mass the world had ever seen or heard.  “The traditional Roman Catholic liturgical text for the Requiem mass is a prayer for the dead, filled with images of the horrors of the Last Judgment” (Peters 10).  Brahm’s Requiem was different because it contained text taken from Martin Luther’s German vernacular translation of the Bible.  It was Martin Luther who said that the purpose of a funeral should be to declare the hope of resurrection, and express it in musical form (Leaver 617).  In Brahm’s eyes, the purpose of this revamped Requiem was to comfort the living people, who were dealing with the death of their loved one.  The standard Requiem contained many horrific images of death, and provided no comfort whatsoever to the mourners of the deceased person.  Brahm’s Requiem conveyed a message of hope, while offering the parties in attendance relief from emotional distress. He is said to have written the Requiem in the memory of his mother, and Madame Schumann, his mentor.

Brahm’s Requiem was structured as a seven movement arch.  The whole piece was based on balance.  The first movement, The Living are Blessed, was extremely similar to the final movement, The Dead are Blessed.  The second movement, Morality of Both the Living and the Dead, was similar to the sixth movement, Earthly Homelessness of Both the Living and the Dead.  Once again, the third movement, Personal Reflection Addressed by the Living, was similar to the fifth movement, Personal Comfort Addressed to the Living.  The fourth, and peak movement in the arch, was Heaven-For Those Who Have Died and Those Who Have Yet to Die (Leavers 633).  This movement provided the listeners with a feeling of solace.  Basically, the whole Requiem was based on symmetry, and was very cyclic.

Brahms A German Requiem

Brahms A German Requiem

Brahm’s Requiem was probably influenced by his childhood and his Protestant heritage.  Brahms was born in Hamburg, Germany, an area with strong German Protestant traditions.  Another factor that may have affected Brahm’s Requiem was the fact that Brahm attended a Protestant school to prepare him for confirmation.  While he was there, he learned a lot about the Bible from Martin Luther’s teachings (Leaver 639).

Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1833.  Growing up in area with strong Protestant traditions, and attending a Protestant school to prepare for confirmation surely shaped his views on religion and prayer.  A German Requiem was Brahm’s greatest creation; it was a service for the dead that provided comfort and hope.  This went against the standard of the time, which was a Requiem filled with violent images of death, hardly what mourners would want to attend.