Possibly also known as the question of which comes first, epistemology or metaphysics?

My worldview is conservative Protestant.

Any resources are welcome that delve into this.

  • If by "foundations" you mean : a set of "tools" apt to analyze the most basic and general concepts, then YES. If yu mean that with the help of philosophy you can prove some general "theological truths", then the answer is NO. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jan 4 '17 at 20:20
  • If, on the other hand, you mean that with the help of theology you can prove some general "philosophical truths", then the answer is YES. – user3017 Jan 4 '17 at 20:24
  • Why are you presuming that one needs to be the foundation for the other at all. Neither construct the other because neither conclude anything concrete, both are just discussions with no widespread or necessary agreement on the answers, there is nothing of "foundation" in either on which to build. – Isaacson Jan 5 '17 at 7:55

I would consider it a false dichotomy. Philosophy, as defined, is love of knowledge. Theology speaks of mysticism. Knowledge is based on perception of reality re-enforced through evidence. Theology relies upon faith. The two are separate and distinct in their nature. As far as epistemology and metaphysics, if you are confused as to which comes first, it's no wonder you are confusing theology with philosophy. Metaphysics deals with the nature of reality, and that nature can only be determined and determined accurately through direct observation of either the object one is seeking to understand or by observing objects relevant to the deductions and inductions being made about some as-yet-unknown or still abstract hypothetical object. Epistemology then deals with the study of the manners by which the knowledge of metaphysics is obtained, interpreted and understood.

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    Thanks for the answer and welcome to philosophy! You might consider exploring a little further why you find this answer persuasive; maybe indicate what research could confirm it? – Joseph Weissman Jan 4 '17 at 22:27
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    Theology doesn't require theism – Mr. Kennedy Jan 5 '17 at 1:04
  • Ok, fair enough - but it's still a false dichotomy as one is the study of made up bullshit, and the other is the study of knowledge. (or at least supposed to be in the latter case) The best you could say is that theists studying theology try to emulate the epistemological methods of philosophy in attempt to add more validity to their bullshit. – Scott Jan 6 '17 at 16:54

To take a different approach to answering your question, to give a contextualization to the distinction in concept between theology and philosophy, consider that the origins of philosophy and the aspects of religion that concern truth (explanation of worldly events via the action of divine entities) have quite specific divergences in thought and practice that distinguished the two movements very early on. Between Epimenides and Parmenides there's a change in context of discussions of truth and agency that show why epistemology and metaphysics are co-posited simultaneously and are at once distinct from religious narrativization.

In a great study called Les origines de la pensée grecque by Jean-Pierre Vernant and another great later book by Marcel Detienne called Les Maîtres de vérité dans la Grèce archaïque a picture is painted of the material and social conditions of life that create for the first time in the world a concern for Aletheia under this peculiar condition of frameworks (rules) of thought instead of being tied to the utterer as it was even still at philosophy's beginnings with religio-mythical thought.

What distinguished the poet and muse's truth from Parmenides's was the strict call for non-contradiction. The theogonies and magicoreligious discourse on the other hand were tied to worldly power of Kings, Priests, Seers and the Muses whose mnemonics of verse encapsulated the "truth" of historical or present reigns and desired social order essentially. In Hesiod e.g., it is literally the Muses who have the priviledge of "speaking the truth" (alethea gerusasthai).

One could say that even today, theological discourse plays a similar function of establishing a priviledge with particular utterers appointed to "speak truth" on behalf of the divine which is not the place of man to question really or interfere.

But in this subtle movement away from religious discourse the very idea of truth becomes transformed from being associated with two diads --Aletheia/Lethe and Aletheia and Dike-- so the social function of preserving truth in memory or letting it slide into oblivion on the one hand and the function of truth being equivalent to divine justice on the other-- to be instead secularized from the necessity for paregoros and paraiphasis as a field of persuation, which became institutional necessities after the Hoplite Reform (of which there are many great histories written). It had the consequence of unseating magicoreligious discourse at the sole arbiter of aletheia. Truth becomes something needed to be managed es meson --from the center or by the community. Thus spawning the rise of sophists, rhetoricians, philosophers etc and their combat for prominence. When truth becomes a "common" concern you need rules, consistency and eventually an objectivity separate from the person that speaks it.

Thales's metaphysics is not related to a cosmogony but rather to a type of geometric attempt at deductive reasoning. Parmenides's is equally secular in relation to his Greek peers. So this is a longwinded way of saying that they don't really any parent-child type of relationship to each other. Socio-political conditions created philosophy as facilitated by concrete events in history.


In his Discourse on the Method, Descartes began his argument with doubt; he then arrived at his famous Cogito ergo sum, and it was only later that he spoke of his certainty in God's existence. Many assume that this sequence reflects the chronological order of his epistemology. However, it's been persuasively argued that this was not the case at all and that the certainty of God was something that Descartes' doubt could never dispel; rather, it was what made possible his certainty with respect to all of his other conclusions:

"[If] we are supernaturally illuminated by divine grace, we cannot but embrace those mysteries by dint of our absolute confidence that they have been revealed by God." (AT VII 148, CSM II 105)

"Even the principle which I have already taken as a rule, viz., that all the things which we clearly and distinctly conceive are true, is certain only because God is or exists and because he is a Perfect Being, and because all that we possess is derived from him: whence it follows that our ideas or notions, which to the extent of their clearness and distinctness are real, and proceed from God, must to that extent be true." (Discourse of the Method, Part 4)

It terms of the logical order of his argument, this implies that divine illumination provided the premises for which he could arrive at conclusions with certainty. Concerning this, Lydia Jaeger writes:

"So what is left of the project to ground all knowledge on an immanent foundation? Down to the very basis of the Cartesian system itself—the 'I think, therefore I am'—all reasoning is shown to be dependent on the transcendent: without God, even the most obvious obviousness, as it were, should not win our acceptance, and we are left to sink in the most debilitating scepticism." ("What Place is there for God in Cartesian Doubt?")

With this in mind, the following observations can be made with respect to the relation between theology and philosophy:

  • The most important subject matters of philosophy are all addressed by theology.
  • Revealed truth is more adequately suited for answering many philosophical questions.
  • Faith and divine authority provide the firmest foundations for certainty.

The Subject Matter of Philosophy

In the introduction of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant mentions some of the primary concerns of philosophy and the fact that, for the most part, the truth of these matter lies in the "supersensible sphere":

"And just in this transcendental or supersensible sphere, where experience affords us neither instruction nor guidance, lie the investigations of reason, which, on account of their importance, we consider far preferable and as having a far more elevated aim than, all that the understanding can achieve within the sphere of sensuous phenomena. So high a value do we set upon these investigations, that even at the risk of error, we persist in following them out, and permit neither doubt nor disregard nor indifference to restrain us from the pursuit. These unavoidable problems of mere pure reason are God, freedom, and immortality." (Critique of Pure Reason, A3/B7)

Perhaps more than anyone, Kant demonstrated the limits of natural reason to be able to discover the nature of such subject matters. Theology, on the other hand, addresses all of these philosophical questions as Cornelius Van Til pointed out:

"The six divisions of systematic theology—theology, anthropology, Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and eschatology—are all included in our theory of reality or metaphysics. Philosophy deals with no concepts that theology does not deal with." (Survey of Christian Epistemology)

The Superior Adequacy of Revelation

Augustine also recognized the problem that the truths we need to know lie beyond the reach of our senses, so the Scriptures are the only authoritative source for coming to such knowledge:

"This Mediator, having spoken what He judged sufficient first by the prophets, then by His own lips, and afterwards by the apostles, has besides produced the Scripture which is called canonical, which has paramount authority, and to which we yield assent in all matters of which we ought not to be ignorant, and yet cannot know of ourselves. For if we attain the knowledge of present objects by the testimony of our own senses, whether internal or external, then, regarding objects remote from our own senses, we need others to bring their testimony, since we cannot know them by our own, and we credit the persons to whom the objects have been or are sensibly present." (City of God, Book 11, Chap. 3)

In contrast to revealed truth, Thomas Aquinas argued that demonstrative arguments alone are not adequate for establishing the truth of certain matters:

"In support, however, of this kind of truth [demonstrative arguments], certain probable arguments must be adduced for the practice and help of the faithful, but not for the conviction of our opponents, because the very insufficiency of these arguments would rather confirm them in their error, if they thought that we assented to the truth of faith on account of such weak reasonings." (Summa contra Gentiles, I, Chap. 9, 17)

Descartes also recognized the insufficiency of such argumentation:

"I think that when truths depend on faith and cannot be proved by natural argument, it degrades them if one tries to support them by human reasoning and mere probabilities" (to Marsenne 27 May, 1630, AT I 153; CMSK III, 26)

On another occasion, Descartes made a clear distinction between the insufficiency of natural reason and faith which we only obtain by God's grace:

"One should note that what is known by natural reason - that [God] is all good, all powerful, all truthful, etc. - may serve to prepare infidels to receive the Faith, but cannot suffice to enable them to reach heaven. For that it is necessary to believe in Jesus Christ and other revealed matters, and that depends upon grace." (to Marsenne, AT III 544; CMSK 211)

Epistemology of Faith

The best treatment of the epistemology of faith which I have ever found is that which was carried out by Herman Bavinck. In that work, he investigate the nature of certainty, concluding that it provides a much firmer basis, as it must, that what natural reason could ever hope to provide:

"Believing and knowing are not distinct in the matter of certainty. The certainty of faith is as firm as that of knowledge. Indeed, the certainty of faith is the more intense of the two it is virtually unshakeable and ineradicable. For their faith people are prepared to sacrifice everything, including their life." (Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, pg. 577)

"Believing itself is no proof for the truth of that which is believed. There is a huge difference between subjective certainty and objective truth. In the case of faith or belief, everything depends on the grounds on which it rests. [...] It is the Spirit of God alone who can make a person inwardly certain of the truth of divine revelation." (Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, pg. 578-579)

These conclusions are to be expected, since philosophy is the love of wisdom, and God is the only true source of wisdom.

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    I read here the same vicious circle as Kant's in his Canon of Pure Reason: If we presuppose the existence of God (via faith), we can easily derive some things like e.g. the reality of the highest good etc. But the highest good (and other things) and the need of God thereof are the only theoretical reasons for the reality of God. Therefore, without faith, the whole argument crumbles. In addition I would argue that it is strange to argue with texts more than a milennia younger than written philosophy for monotheistic (also a rather young idea) theology to reveal truth spelt out by philosophy. – Philip Klöcking Jan 5 '17 at 14:48
  • @PhilipKlöcking. Faith does not involve presupposing anything; it's just a means of apprehending what is already available for knowledge. Just as you have faith in your senses to give evidence that you're sitting at home, for example, you might conclude that you are in your homeland. If you claim that trusting your senses leads to circular reason, all knowledge rests on such circularity. – user3017 Jan 5 '17 at 15:03
  • I do not see how your comment contradicts mine. It even works if I grant you your understanding of the concepts. The circularity does not rely on the faith part, but on the "from God, other things, God as source of all these things" part (esp. Descartes). Apart from that, I would like to distinguish between belief and faith here, as this distinction is a classical one and helpful in metaphysics exactly to enable us to think about possible differences between knowledge/reality and "mere chimera"/illusions/made up things (I do not want to argue for any position regarding theism here). – Philip Klöcking Jan 5 '17 at 15:12
  • @PhilipKlöcking. God provides us with knowledge through faith. Similarly, our senses provide us with knowledge about the world. This knowledge may serve as the premises for arguments. As long as the source of our premises is independent from our arguments, the reasoning is not circular. However, in the case of God's revelation, those premises provide a greater source of certainty than that of any other source of knowledge. – user3017 Jan 5 '17 at 15:20
  • It is circular the moment all knowledge about (the reality of) God is through faith as well. That's the main point why even back in the 1780s, Jacobi had been heavily criticised for the philosophical standpoint that we need to resort to faith to overcome scepticism. – Philip Klöcking Jan 5 '17 at 15:31


Theology is study of deity & philosophy is love of wisdom (read: respect for obtaining knowledge). Note as well that the history of philosophy is not philosophy. While many philosophers may be theists, philosophy and theology are quite distinct - same as theology is distinct from theism. Also, respect for obtaining knowledge is not a prerequisite for any area of study as study may very well be solely for the purpose of confirming what is already purported, believed, presumed, etc.

You might enjoy these works:

"The Elimination of Metaphysics Through Logical Analysis of Language"
by Rudolf Carnap

"The Elimination of Metaphysics"
by A. J. Ayer
Chapter 1 from: "Language, Truth and Logic"


This depends on the definition of "foundation" at hand. If one uses this term to refer to the historical development of both fields, then both have helped and contributed to each other hand-in-hand, at which point your question becomes equivalent to that of the chicken and the egg.

If, on the other hand, one uses this term to refer to the inclusion of one in the second, where the second "builds upon" the first, so to speak, then since there are aspects of one not in the other, neither is included in the other, so the answer to your question is neither.

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