Category Archives: Philosophy

The Goal of Education

“What are philosophy and theology, and why are they crucial to a young person’s education today?”

From ‘Why Study Philosophy and Theology?‘ by Peter Kreeft:

‎The Goal of Education

Considering the trillions of dollars spent on universities by parents, governments and foundations, it is amazing that most of the people who go there (the students) and most of the people who pay for them (the parents and the government) never even ask, much less answer, this question: What is the purpose of the university? It is the most influential institution in Western civilization, and most of us don’t really know exactly why we entrust our children to them.

The commonest answer is probably to train them for a career. A B.A. looks good on your resume to prospective employers. That is not only a crass, materialistic answer, but also an illogical one. ….a student should study to get high grades to get an impressive resume to get a good job, to finance his family when it sends his kids to college to study, to get high grades, et cetera, et cetera.

This is arguing in a circle. It is like a tiger pacing round and round his cage in a zoo. Is there a better answer? There is if you know some philosophy. Let’s look.

Probably the most commonsensical and influential philosopher of all time was Aristotle. Aristotle says that there are three “whys,” three purposes, ends or reasons for anyone ever to study and learn anything, in school or out of it. Thus there are three kinds of “sciences,” which he called “productive,” “practical” and “theoretical.” (Aristotle used “science” in a much broader way than we do, meaning any ordered body of knowledge through causes and reasons.)

The purpose of the “productive sciences” (which we today call technology) is to produce things, to make, improve or repair material things in the world, and thus to improve our world. Farming, surgery, shipbuilding, carpentry, writing and tailoring were examples in Aristotle’s era as well as ours, while ours also includes many new ones like cybernetics, aviation and electrical engineering.

The purpose of the “practical sciences” (which meant learning how to do or practice anything, how to act) is to improve your own behavior in some area of your own life. The two most important of these areas, Aristotle said, were ethics and politics. (Aristotle saw politics not as a pragmatic, bureaucratic business of running a state’s economy, but as social ethics, the science of the good life for a community.) Other examples of “practical sciences” include economics, athletics, rhetoric and military science.

The third kind of sciences is the “theoretical” or “speculative” (contemplative), i.e., those that seek the truth for its own sake, that seek to know just for the sake of knowing rather than for the sake of action or production (though, of course, they will have important practical application). These sciences include theology, philosophy, physics, astronomy, biology, psychology and math.

Theoretical sciences are more important than practical sciences for the very same reason practical sciences are more important than productive sciences: because their end and goal is more intimate to us. Productive sciences perfect some external thing in the material world that we use; practical sciences perfect our own action, our own lives; and theoretical sciences perfect our very selves, our souls, our minds. They make us bigger persons.

Realist Philosophies of Plato and Aristotle

Plato (left) and Aristotle (right) philosophizing.

Realism is a position that principles (like justice) and entities (like cats): 1. exist in reality, and; 2. are knowable by the intellect (Realism is basically articulated common sense).

The difference between the ‘Extreme Realism’ of Plato and ‘Moderate Realism’ of Aristotle is in the entities (things, especially living things, like cats and eggs and people).

Plato thinks that principles like justice are: i. universal, and; ii. transcendent (i. universal, because it’s the same one principle behind many concrete just ‘things,’ like just people or just courts of law, yet; ii. transcendent, since such principles doesn’t intrinsically belong to who they are; for example, ‘just’ people can turn in to ‘evil’ people – the just-ness transcends their humanity).

Because of that, Plato thinks that transcendence (ii.) must be the case with the essence or nature of entities too. However, Aristotle thinks the more common sensical thing and says that, even though their nature is universal (i.) within a species, entities have their natures within them (not ii. – cats all possess the nature of a ‘cat’).

So, if the Platonic focus is more transcendent and other-worldly. Aristotle would bring in perhaps a more pervading sense of highlighting transcendence and nature of things from within the concrete. I think good Realist philosophy upholds both in their respective areas, but, either way, admitting that such principles and entities exist (and are knowable) is a very good start in authentic philosophy.

Introduction to Death

This post may be more properly called the Introduction to the Problem of Death.

Death, as we know, is a horrible thing: why would God allow it?

In a debate with an atheist, the objection was raised that it is absurd to think that deaths in cases such as those in the recent Christchurch earthquake could be compatible with a benevolent God who would intervene to save some people.

Part of the difficulty would be the same problems faced from the presuppositions of philosophical materialism and their implications, one of which would be the finite nature of all embodied things. If human existence is limited to the material, of course it would seem that a benevolent God would have to intervene in order to safeguard people from an ultimate demise.

However, often, I would posit, the issue is not so much with the objective case at hand, but with the projections of such a philosophy and world view. Once the material-tinted glasses are put down, it might be seen that the difficulty is somewhat negated. As Socrates (who is, of course, a preeminent and pre-Christian Greek philosopher) states in Phaedo:

And the true philosophers, Simmias, are always occupied in the practice of dying, wherefore also to them least of all men is death terrible.

Although Platonic dualism is, as I understand it, not compatible with Catholicism, such a philosophical insight into the formal aspect of a living entity does touch on the truth of the possibility of life apart from the material part.

I would suggest that, if this is taken into account, the problem of death begins to resolve itself, at least at the philosophical level (psychological is another matter).

Values v.s. Virtues

Many common errors today are the result of a failure to distinguish between values and virtues, or between things which are relative and things that are universal.

‘Values’ such as ‘open-mindedness’ and ‘tolerance’ are, unlike virtues, relative. While it would be good to be ‘open-minded’ with regards debatable or uncertain matters, it would be foolish not to decide on a matter after a thorough investigation. Likewise, being ‘tolerant’ is good in certain matters, but not in others (like abuse cases). Thus, such values are not universally applicable, and so should not always be held, but are relative to the circumstance. Virtues, on the other hand, are universal. It is always good to practice prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, no matter what the situation.

‘Liberals’ often take certain ‘values’ and apply them as if they were virtues, but they are not. This is why their namesake itself is a relative ‘value’ – one cannot equally liberalize economy and sexual abuse, for example. To be liberally ‘tolerant’ of these two areas equally is to be woefully irresponsible and unjust.

The same criticism can be applied to ‘conservatives’. Conservation, again, is a relative term; it is not universally a good thing. Again, to conserve the environment and chattel slavery equally would be an woeful injustice.

What applies to Catholics is to seek after its namesake – the things which are catholic, or universal; after ‘principles’, which are unchanging. This is what it means to be ‘ortho-dox’, to adhere to ‘right-speech’, to touch on what is true in all places and in all time. It does happen that ‘conservation’ touches on this, since Tradition (with capital “T”) is part of the revealed faith, alongside Scripture and the Magisterial teaching authority of the Church. However, the central concern is still to be ortho-dox – to think out of, and seek after, what is “right”, according to true and authentic faith and reason, rather than to be concerned about relative values – with the universality of the virtues mentioned above, and especially also of faith, hope and charity.

Who needs enemies with self-refuting statements like these…

“It is true that there is no truth, and it is absolutely the case that everything is relative.”

These are the kinds of underlying premise and thought-patterns underlying the contemporary cultural milieu. Yet, there is something very strange going on behind the veil… yes, the strangeness of a madman, even.

It is often the case that evil is self-defeating. A cheater compromises his own integrity before he does the system; a murderer kills his own soul before he does his victim, and; Satan is defeated by his own act of crucifying the God-man.

What evil does for goodness, error does for truth; before undermining other truths, it defeats its own foundation, be it the statement itself or the very basis for rationality. If everything is relative, then so is that statement. If there is no truth, then such a truth-claim is also impossible.


This post is a reflection on the Once Upon an A Priori…. post over at theMandM ‘blog.

Assent to the Cross and to Love

 

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

John 15:9-11

As a being who is both spiritual and material, consisting of both body and soul (CCC 362-368), one is bound to experience the paradox of having angelic and animalistic parts to himself. Part of this is in experienced, to some degree in our struggle with temptation, but most profoundly in suffering, and especially in suffering involving love – we are able to donate (give) ourselves to the other in ways that are truly human and spiritual, yet this opens us up to hurts that would not have come otherwise, when a genuine form of love is spurned, not understood, or, worse still, abused. When this happens – especially in childhood – one can recoil into oneself, and stop loving, for the fear of being hurt.

Yet this is not conducive to one’s flourishing and fulfilment, especially in one’s destiny and ultimate purpose of living – to give oneself for the sake of the other. In Scriptural terms, the same is outlined in the two greatest commandments, the fulfilment of all law: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength”, and, “[y]ou shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31). These are the greatest and guiding principles for our lives.

What, then, can one do to fulfil the aim of our lives in such a sorrowful state, of recoiling in on oneself? One in this state is afraid to love and so, in compensating, one is also prone to resorting to lower loves, which, divorced from the order of the higher love, is sinful and damaging to authentic love. In such an instance, it is often not enough to simply be told that one must do this and that – in fact, it can be downright unhelpful and unproductive. In fact, the point of reference must be changed. It is not primarily what we must do – since it is in relation to others that we operate, often in fear of further hurt, it is in reference to the ultimate Other that we must perceive all others and, yes, ourselves also. What we must do is secondary – it comes out of what is first, which is the contemplative gaze on the the One, our reference point.

As Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity testifies, “[w]e shall not be purified by looking at our miseries, but by gazing on Him who is all purity and holiness.” And He makes Himself available to our sensible dimension in the person of Jesus Christ. By gazing at the crucifix, and realising the call on all the Baptized to imitate Him in the cross, (Romans 6:4-8), denying oneself so as to live with Him in His resurrection, we come to face sufferings and self-denials not in a passive state, as a victim, but with our assent and will, to accept it for the sake of Him who calls us to imitate Him, in His love for us, and so as also to remain in His love (John 15:9-11).

However, this dimension is but one side. We must also accept not as divine vengence, but as a mark of filial love, for in this, we are made adopted children of the Father who loved us with an everlasting love (Romans 8:11-17). Accepting the cross is to accept one’s lovableness in Christ (since this is earned not by us, but by Christ), and love itself. This is necessary to accept first, since one cannot give what one does not have – if one does not realised or cannot accept that he is eternally loved, one cannot love neither the infinite God nor persons made in His image and likeness.

And so, the crux is as follows. If God is the author of reality, and thus the ultimate measure of all created realities, we do not regard merely human standards as the final word, nor any immediate reality in front of us, since it is limited in every way by space, time, and dimension. The purpose of our lives can be realised in, firstly: a) accepting the cross God gives us; b) and yet in joy, since we must also accept that, in the cross, we are worthy to be loved (since God is the judge of that – not us nor any other created persons). Out of this, firstly, we can deny ourselves the temptations of sin, in order to remain in the love of Christ and so, in Him, as beloved children of the Father who loved us into creation. In the same movement – and most importantly, as the primary aim and purpose of our lives – we can begin to love God, and our neighbour for the love of Him, with the totality of our being, to give ourselves with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength to God.

It is in this paradox – to accept the cross is to accept love – that one can find true rest, willing (actively with one’s whole being, and not in passivity) both the suffering of the cross and, at once, the consolations from being worthy of love in Christ’s sonship (which we likewise accept with equal strength and totality – naturally giving us spiritual joy), one can uphold harmony in one’s own being, in the spiritual and material reality of one’s existence as human being.


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