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com> Subject: Masonic Philosophy, an Overview Part 1 of 2 Date: Thursday, March 11, 1999 9:18 PM Another one for your Masonic Education. Ron Blaisdell, PM Capital of Strict Observance No. 66 ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* MASONIC PHILOSOPHY AN OVERVIEW Bro. Robert G. Aberdeen, P.G.St, (1984-05-26) (The original work, presented during the Masonic Spring workshop, Baner, Alberta, in April, 1974, has been revised by the author for presentation to FIAT LUX LODGE OF RESEARCH No. 1980, GRA.) -------------------------------------------------------------------------(Part 1 of 2) There is something going on in your mind right now! If you are wondering "Just what does he mean by that?", then in a broad sense, you are philosophizing! What is Philosophy? We all recognize that it's a manner of thinking, but let's be more precise. About 2500 years ago a Greek philosopher wrote "Men who love wisdom must inquire into a great many matters." The word in his Greek text which was translated into English as "Men who love wisdom" was "Philosophoi". It stems from two root words, both Greek: "philia", which means love or "philos" which means friend or lover, and "sophos", which means wise. The term "philosophy" seems to be much abused and much misused we hear people talk of the marketing philosophy, the political philosophy, the philosophy of this, the philosophy of that. Purists may argue that these uses are incorrect, and they may be right. Personally, I don't really care, as long as the word refers to wisdom. What I do object to is the use of the word to mean or to imply knowledge or information. To have knowledge does not necessarily make us wise. One dictionary defines philosophy as "love of wisdom"; or "the study of the causes or laws of phenomena"; or "the study of first principles". To philosophize is "to search into the reason and nature of things"; or "to reason like a philosopher". A philosopher is defined as "a lover of wisdom"; or one who studies philosophy, or lives according to its rules". I think it should be "one who studies philosophy and lives according to its rules!" What has all this to do with us? As the title of this talk implies, I intend to investigate Masonic philosophy in a general way, without going into it in very great depth. I will attempt merely to provide a layman's background for further thought, for Masons who may be wondering what Masonic philosophy means and what, if anything, they
should do about it. If you've already delved into philosophical inquiry, much of what I discuss will be old hat. If you've read anything at all about the development of western thought, you might be expecting me to expound on - or at least quote from - the famous works of ancient philosophers with names that are, well . . . "Greek" to you. I'm not going to do that because it's not of great importance to us in the context of this discussion. My specific concern is with the value I can derive as a man and a Mason by developing from the tenets and principles of Freemasonry a personal code by which to guide the course of my everyday life. To do this, I must philosophize! What is the philosophy of Masonry? The Masonic Bible contains this description: . . . the philosophical basis of masonry involves the history of its origin, an inquiry into the ideas that lie at its base, an investigation of its peculiar form, an analytical study of its several degrees, and a development of the ideas which are illustrated by its ritualistic eblems, myths and veiled allegories and which speak through its sublime system of symbols. Some time ago I was having supper with a business associate from out of town and since I had been giving the matter quite a bit of thought, I brought up the general subject of philosophy. He commented that philosophy is only of academic interest and that it has nothing to do with the business of earning a living. "It's ancient history," he said, "and only useful as mental excercise." I'm sure he was just putting me on, because to me, philosophy is as modern as the space shuttle and as relevant to daily living as knowing how to drive a car. It touches each of us. Indeed, it directs our entire lives; moreover, it's something we can make conscious use of, with very little effort. What use is philosophy? It aids us to understand the nature and development of our civilization and to realize just where we stand. It both interprets our world and changes it, by changing us. Philosophy is largely a matter of meanings and the analysis of meanings. It insists, therefore, that we learn to view all alternatives. At the very least, it improves our use of language. I'll comment further on that a bit later. First, however, I ask that you consider this explanation of Freemasonry in the second paper in Alberta's Lodge Plan for Masonic Education: . . . certain principles or fundamental truths which have been proven Freemasonry has gathered together or taken those by time to be necessary for right thinking and moral living . . . (and) presents these fundamentals to its initiates for their use in formulating their own personal philosophy of life or establishing their own personal code of moral living. A turn-of-the-century philosopher named William James once remarked that all men have a philosophy, in the sense that every person has general views on the universe and strong commitments to certain inclusive values. These views and values are generally the product of blind custom and a narrowly limited experience. Most people are hardly aware that they do have a philosophy or that their conceptions of the world are built on assumptions and traditional beliefs which may not be valid.
When a man questions, examines and assesses the validity of the cardinal assumptions underlying his traditional beliefs, he may be said to be a philosopher, not merely to have a philosophy. The principles and truths of Freemasonry are presented symbolically in the degrees. Bro. H. L. Haywood, a distinguished Masonic writer, tells us emphatically that One of the greatest purposes of Freemasonry is to set a man to the task of understanding these symbols for himself. You see, Brethren, the symbols can be interpreted for you by others, but no one can understand them for you - you have to understand them for yourself. It's been said that the purpose of Freemasonry is to help the individual man,to improve himself. To make this improvement he must philosophize, that is, he must question, examine and assess the application of the principles which Masonry presents. In spite of all the foregoing we have yet to answer the question, "what is philosophy?" Take heart, even philosophers of renown disagree. They disagree on the ultimate objectives, the proper methods and the legitimate scope of philosophical inquiry, but whatever else you wish to include in the aims of the philosophical enterprise, most philosophers do agree that it does have the task of explaining the meaning of the major concepts we use in understanding our experiences and clarifying the conditions of responsible moral judgment. Responsible moral judgment, is that what we're after? Philosophers have tried many definitions of philosophy: "the study of the universe and man's place in it"; "the quest for knowledge of the first or ultimate principles of things"; "a stubborn attempt to think clearly" and "a questioning of answers rather than an answering of questions". I like that last one, It a questioning of answers". Early in our careers as Masons we are admonished to . . . make a daily advancement in Masonic knowledge." As man advances in knowledge, he invariably discovers new tools for analyzing his accepted world. Often he may begin to doubt the adequacy of previously proposed answers. "The more we learn, the less we know," as they say. Philosophy, then, has come to mean the search for truth, not the possession of it. There are, of course, several branches of philosophy. The ancient philosophers were particularly concerned with the study of the physical world, which we call Natural Philosophy. This branch led to our modern science with its facts and proven theorems. Here we can see clearly that advances in knowledge replaced old answers with newer, more adequate ones. In the field of Logic we can see progress in the refinement of the methods of reasoning. The study of how one attains knowledge is called Epistemology and the appreciation of beauty is called Aesthetics. The study of the first principles of being, the ultimate reality, is called Metaphysics, meaning beyond natural science, and deals with concepts of divinity and life after death (as taught by Freemasonry). Moral Philosophy deals with the principles of human action and conduct. The two last-mentioned branches, Metaphysical and Moral Philosophy, seem to encompass what we call Masonic Philosophy. We are concerned with beauty, but in the Metaphysical sense, as a representation of the design of Deity.
In the twelfth paper of our Lodge Plan for Masonic Education the teachings of Masonry are discussed. We are reminded that Masonry is dedicated to the Great Architect of the Universe and that . . . this philosophy of masonry, like all else in its teaching, is not set forth in written creeds or in any other form of words; the the Mason must come upon it for himself and put it in such form as will satisfy his own mind. Now, that statement may seem hard to believe, at first. We can understand that each of us must "put it in such form as will satisfy his own mind," but with our vast libraries filled with thousands of Masonic books and papers, how can we say that Masonic philosophy and teachings are "not set forth . . . in . . . words"? Let's consider words, for a moment. Words and language are the tools of philosophers. Wittgenstein (1889-1951), an influential philosopher, put forward what some people considered to be a radical thesis. He said, "The problems of philosophers arise in consequence of fundamental errors in the use of language." Language is the instrument we use in the formation and communication of ideas and is therefore of central importance to philosophy. The difficulty is that when you transmit a thought, you use words which are clear to you but which may not hold exactly the same meaning for your listener. He tends to understand your words in his own terms of reference, not yours, and distortion creeps in. You may recall the party game in which one person whispers a prepared story to another; he in turn passes it on to the person next to him and so on until it comes back to the originator, who writes it down for comparison. The result usually differs a great deal from the original, often to the point of hilarity, to the delight of all as both versions are read aloud. This distortion is compounded by our natural tendency to add coloration by using words metaphorically, emotionally and pictorially. You might describe a dear friend of yours as being firm in his convictions, but to someone else, he's nothing short of pigheaded. Both descriptions mean that your friend is not easily influenced. Another difficulty that leads to confusion is that the accepted meanings of some words change with the passing years. Language is ever fluctuating: it is, after all, a product of culture and therefore subject to cultural change. The words we use in communicating thoughts, ideas, feelings, are imperfect tools and are often vague or uncertain in definition. Every philosopher since the days of Socrates and Plato has struggled with the problem of the precise meaning and definition of words, which we call Semantics. Dictionaries frequently give several meanings of a word and these meanings are usually obvious from the context in which the word is used, but many words are indefinite and ambiguous. What is "religion", an organization or a spiritual impulse? What is "love", and how do you "make" it? How do you assign a precise meaning to "mind", "reality", "justice", "happiness", "truth", "God"? Unfortunately, the key terms in philosophy are such as these. We can and do argue indefinitely over misunderstood statements because of our errors in the use of language. But, when one undertakes a study of philosophy or engages in a philosophical discussion, he must take care to stay within one meaning of a term, without limiting that term to that single meaning forever.
The authors of the rituals which we use probably chose their words and phrases with great care in order to convey their meanings with utmost clarity. Certainly the rituals have changed over the years but still many Masons of today have difficulty in comprehending what our forefathers found so obvious. When we begin to learn the work, many passages seem difficult and lacking in continuity. But as the original meanings sink in, they become clear and fluid. The principles of Freemasonry are there, in words and symbols. It only remains for us to study them, to view them from all angles, to categorize them and put then, in usable form: to come to understand them for ourselves. Let's review our progress in this review of Masonic Philosophy. We've defined philosophy as a search for ultimate truth in the sense of wisdom, not merely knowledge or information. Truth is one of the fundamental principles of Freemasonry, but we never clearly explain what we mean by truth. We'll talk about that a bit later, but you can see the reason why we say, in the Lodge Plan for Masonic Education, that Masonry's teaching method . . . makes a Mason study and learn for himself, forces him to search out the truth, compels him to take the initiative, as a grown man should, so that the very act of learning is in itself of great educational value. When the candidate comes to our door he already holds general views on the universe which guide his actions, but those views may be based on assumptions and beliefs of dubious validity. By a careful study of Masonic principles his views and values may be improved and, we hope, he will because of this become a better person, To discover the real meaning of Masonry,the secret of the Masonic art, the dedicated Mason must philosophize on its teachings. We've said that those teachings seem to be primarily concerned with the guiding influence of a Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul, and with the necessity of morality. Let's examine those concerns more closely. Freemasonry is devoted to Brotherhood in the sense that all men are brothers under the Fatherbood of one Supreme Being. Our Brotherhood, then, has a spiritual basis, a commonality regardless of religion or creed. To ensure that commonality, we require that our initiates believe in the existence of one God and the immortality of the soul, and that God's will has been revealed to man. Is it important whether we believe that the Holy Book of our Faith was authored by God or that it was authored by men who were inspired by God? I'll leave that to you, but the book on our altar is at the centre of our Lodge and at the centre of Masonry. Masonry begins and ends every undertaking with prayer. Our candidates are received into the Lodge in the name of God and immediately after the reception we invoke the blessing of Deity. We ask, among other things, that the candidate ". . . may be the better enabled to display the beauties of true godliness What do we mean by "true godliness" and what is meant by the "beauty" of it? After the first invocation, the candidate is asked in whom he places his trust. To avoid the embarrassment of an incorrect response his guide usually whispers the required answer i,n bis ear, There has been some argument that to do so is improper. Perhaps his guide should whisper "If you place your trust in God, say 'in God'," thus leaving the candidate to make the decision. He might otherwise answer
"I trust in my own ability to wiggle out of tight spots, but if all else fails, I would put my trust in God." Should we ' accept a qualified answer? I'll leave that to you, as well, and although the answer may seem evident, remember that we must learn to view all alternatives. In the Charge to the Newly Initiated Candidate we recommend that he contemplate the Volume of the Sacred Law, charging him to regulate his actions by the divine precepts therein and to learn from them his duties to God, to society and to self. There are other charges in our Constitution which we are directed to read at the making of new brethren or when the Master shall order it, yet very seldom are they read. These are commonly called the Ancient Charges, the first of which is Concerning God and Religion. They all deserve the contemplation of Masonic philosophers (as I hope you consider yourself to be) but since we're discussing spiritual matters, let me quote from the first: Man looketh at the outirard appearance, but Cod looketh to the heart. A Mason is, therefore, particularly bound never to act against the dictates of his conscience. Let a man's religion, or mode of worship be what it may,he is not excluded from the order, provided he believe in the Architect of heaven and earth, and practice the sacred duties of morality. Here we find the spiritual and the moral closely interlinked. We seem to be instructed to try to understand and respect the creeds of others without bias or prejudice. The Charge continues: Masons unite with the virtuous of every persuasion, in the firm and pleasing bond of fraternal love; they are taught to view the errors of mankind with compassion, and to strive, by the purity of their own conduct to demonstrate the superior excellence of the faith they may profess. Doesn't that seem to contradict the previous instruction? It depends on the meaning you apply to the word "faith". Faith can mean "the truth which one believes", that is, one's own personal religion, or it can be given the broader meaning of "trust in the Great Architect of the Universe". Do you see the importance of precise meanings and definitions of words? Let's consider another aspect of the last quotation - "Masons unite with the virtuous of every persuasion. . ." Here we have a qualifier in the word "virtuous". The corollary is that Masons do not unite with men who believe in God, unless they are also virtuous, May we not then ponder the purpose of providing lessons of virtue only to the virtuous? "The lessons of virtue . . ." as we say in the General Charge, ". . . are carefully imbibed by the workmen." According to one dictionary, a virtuous man is already "pure in thought and deed" and is "living a good, upright life." Pure means "free from moral or physical defilement." Is not a thing either pure or impure? The Charge concludes: Thus Masonry is the centre of union between good men and true, and the happy means of conciliating friendship amongst those who must otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance. end of part 1 of 2
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