When I began the study of philosophy, most philosophers were deeply interested in the problems of religion. Indeed many of them had taken up the study, as I did myself, largely as a means of clearing up religious difficulties. Religion has now drifted from the centre to the periphery of philosophical interest. The younger men who have been brought up in linguistic or analytic schools of thought are likely to look upon the traditional Christian dogmas as meaningless. If they do not so regard them, they commonly take them as superstitions natural enough in a pre-critical age but no longer to be taken seriously.
I hold neither of these views. The verifiability theory of meaning by which theology and metaphysics were to be disposed of as meaningless has not stood up well under examination. And though I can only agree that much traditional dogma is heavily charged with superstition, I do not think it is adequately dealt with by assigning it to a pre-scientific era or by citing Frazer or Freud. Catholics like Gilson and Maritain, Protestants like Kierkegaard, Brunner, and Barth have brought too much learning and acuteness to the defence of their creeds to deserve such treatment, and these creeds continue to commend themselves intellectually, emotionally, and practically to large numbers of thoughtful minds. Views so held and so advocated should receive a respectful hearing from philosophers. Such a hearing I have tried to give them.
This book has had a long and somewhat abnormal gestation. In 1948 I was invited to give the William Belden Noble Lectures at the Harvard Divinity School, and I took as subject ‘Present-Day Leaders of Ethical Thought’. Before these lectures were ready for publication I was invited to give the Gifford Lectures at St Andrews in 1952–53. Before this series of twenty lectures had been revised to my satisfaction, I was invited by the American Philosophical Association to give the Carus Lectures for 1959. All this left me deep in manuscripts and with a rather complicated set of liens upon them. Through much shuffling of paper on my part and untiring patience on the part of my sponsors, three books have now emerged. I can only hope that they have gained in quality by not having gone more promptly to the press. Harvard permitted me, for purposes of publication, to incorporate my Noble Lectures with the Giffords. St Andrews permitted me to detach the epistemological side of my Giffords for use in the Carus series, where it was clearly more appropriate; and I promised in return to round out the theological side of my Giffords into a volume that could stand by itself. The three volumes, Reason and Analysis, Reason and Goodness, and Reason and Belief make a sequence in which I have tried to sketch the office of reason in the theory of knowledge, ethics, and religion respectively. They all continue a line of reflection begun many years before in The Nature of Thought.