Philosophy

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"Philosophy" is from the Greek roots for love (philos) and wisdom (sophia).

I doubt very much that there is a single definition of philosophy that all philosophers would accept. It is an indisputable truth that "people disagree," and philosophers are people. What follows here is my own effort to express my philosophy of philosophy in as simple terms as I can manage.

The love of wisdom knows no bounds. Philosophy treats of all that is and is not, whether it is physical or metaphysical.

Philosophy defines and categorizes all human disciplines (e.g., logic, mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, metaphysics, epistemology, ontology) and every discipline may have its own philosophy (philosophy of logic, philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of biology, etc.; these are often called meta-logic, meta-mathematics, meta-biology, and so forth).

Every person is a philosopher

Whether we know it or not, we all possess a vision of ultimate reality that guides every decision we make. We have an answer for the question, "Who do you think you are?"

Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being." This may be too harsh. Many people live good lives without giving much thought to their own philosophy. Not everyone is equally gifted with the kind of introspection that is necessary to spell out the first principles of thought. An intuitive philosophy may be all that they need to live justly and love well.

Philosophy is useless is a philosophical statement. We must not allow philosophy to interfere with science is a philosophy statement. Philosophy is bunk is a philosophy.

Need for names of ideas

Jargon is essential in all walks of life. We cannot distinguish one thing from another without a name to help us to distinguish what thing we mean in any particular sentence.

So, too, we need some name for each idea that we want to focus on, characterize, or explore. The labels we pin on our ideas do not exhaust the meanings we intend, but they do allow us to tell one idea from another so that we can compare and contrast one thought with another thought.

Philosophers have been thinking about thinking in the West since the earliest days of Greek culture, roughly seven centuries Before Christ. The vocabulary of the Western tradition is immense, and it has spawned huge jungles of conflicting ideas about everything under the sun, and a few other things besides.

I will try to talk about as few terms as possible. When I use an unusual term, I will try to explain how I understand it. I am well aware that other philosophers would use other terminology or would give different meanings to the vocabulary that we have in common. Such is life! I can only use my mind in the way that is characteristic of me; I am not capable of being a different person than I am. My mind is my chief philosophical instrument, and it is in my mind that I conduct various and sundry thought-experiments that interest me and that sometimes seem to be fruitful. As Martin Luther is said to have said in a very different context, "Here I stand. I can no other."

physical reality
The physical world is what we can see, hear, taste, touch, or smell; what we can know by the technical extension of our senses through the use of instruments such as microscopes, telescopes, radio receivers, interferometers, and the like; it is the realm of things composed of matter and energy that are found in the space-time continuum.
metaphysical realities
"Meta" is a Greek prefix that means "beyond." The question addressed in metaphysics is whether there are any realities that lie beyond the physical universe: God, angels, demons, saints, Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, grace; truth, justice, beauty; particular ideas and truths by which we guide our thinking.

The ideal of pure reason

For me, my goal when thinking philosophically is to do my level best to shut out what I think I know from Revelation and to focus solely on what reason can disclose about the whole of reality, both physical and metaphysical. This is an exercise in self-restraint, and I may fail in this enterprise. My motives for seeking the truths that can be found philosophically is always religious, because I am a religious man. I cannot exclude the possibility of God's grace acting on my mind as I search for truth, because I am not God, nor can I directly observe God or His actions on and in my mind. I cannot see the boundary between my action and God's actions, so, when all is said and done, I cannot guarantee the purity of my reasoning about what is and is not, or what can and cannot be said about what is or is not.

Handmaid of Theology

All priests are required to study philosophy before doing their seminary theology. The Church believes that God has given us our intellects directly and personally as a spiritual power. In and of itself, our ability to reason from one idea to another or from one reality to another is good. God is the source of all truth, and no truth discovered by reason can ever be in conflict with the truths known from revelation. The great medieval theologians called philosophy "the handmaid of theology," because the great truths of the faith cannot be explored or explained except by the use of reason, which is the specialty of philosophy.

Philosophy provides us with power tools that can be used for good or for ill. We can learn the form of a sound argument and avoid the pitfalls of common logical fallacies. We can develop our powers of critical thinking so that we restrain ourselves from hasty generalizations and accept only those ideas that have a solid foundation. Good philosophers develop a taste for truth and a love for truth that serve the development of the gift of wisdom.

Because it is intrinsic to philosophy to ask what we can know by the use of our intellects as they interact with the physical world, some philosophers close their hearts and minds to God's revelation, which tells us things that we cannot know by thinking about the universe. Such philosophers are in enmity with the Church.

Some modern philosophers take relativism as a self-evident truth. Their approach to knowledge--really, their rejection of the very concept of knowledge--cannot be harmonized with the teachings of the gospels.

The Church cannot function as a teacher if it cannot call on philosophy to help it define terms, distinguish various kinds of realities, and identify the principles of the natural order. Nature is God's first book; revelation, the second book, builds on the first.

Grace builds on nature

God is the author of both the natural world and the supernatural dimensions of reality.

We cannot see God directly, nor can we draw a strict boundary between nature and grace.

We have a few bright lights to guide our thinking aright, but there comes a point at which we can only gaze in wonder on what God has wrought.

Philosophy is directed to the natural world and the light of reason. It helps us to recognize some boundaries between grace and nature. Without an adequate philosophy of nature, we cannot grasp the glory of God's revelation of supernatural mysteries.

Catholic Philosophy

Peter Kreeft

Dr. Kreeft is one of the most rational men I know.

He takes an elfish delight in finding order in the elements of the Deposit of Faith.

He is the father of five children, and has written around 80 books and countless articles that show how faith and reason work hand-in-hand to fill us with the knowledge of God's love for us.

Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J.

I despaired the first time I read Insight. It seemed to me that Lonergan had said everything that needed to be said about the nature and limits of philosophical inquiry.

I have read Insight six or eight times since, each time coming away with the same impression that it is a remarkably coherent account of what can and cannot be said in philosophy.

I do not like Method in Theology, although I have tried and tried to be fair to it because of my love of Insight. One of my remote book projects is to write Insight in Theology. May God have mercy on me, but I believe that I can surpass the Master on this topic.

Norris Clarke, S.J.

Norry was one of my greatest teachers. He was filled with the gift of joy. To the end of his days, he remained as simple and as direct as a child, even though he could and did split hairs with the best of the Thomists.

Norry published my first paper in International Philosophical Quarterly, after writing an introduction to it when my efforts failed to satisfy him. I still start all of my articles with the thought that I should disclose the purpose of the article in the first sentence, as best I can.

Joseph Donceel, S.J.

Joe was a Transcendental Thomist, a living heir of Maréchal's efforts to sift Kant and separate the wheat from the chaff.

One day in class, Joe asked whether anyone would be willing to read 20+ articles in French by Gaston Isaye, S.J., one of his teachers. Isaye never pulled all of his work together in one place, and Joe had collected all of his articles in order to do a synthesis for his teacher. I volunteered, and Joe saw that the article was published in International Philosophical Quarterly. For introducing me to Isaye, for challenging me to put my high-school French to good use, and for being the godfather of my first essay, I am eternally grateful.

Joe began every class with a prayer that began, "O great mystery of being!" That phrase has become a regular part of my own prayer life to this day.

Tibor Horvath, S.J.

Tibor was a mystical Hungarian. I struggled to understand what he was trying to say, both because of the depths of his insight and his heavy Hungarian accent. He founded and edited The Journal of Ultimate Reality and Meaning. I have taken "ultimate reality and meaning" as the leitmotif of my understanding of both philosophy and religion.

A host of others

Random list without reasons: Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal, Newman, Pieper, William Wallace, Blondel, Maritain, Gilson, and Grisez.

John Henry Newman and Michael Polanyi

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