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Katie van Schaijik

The role of philosophy

Nov. 19, 2009, at 2:01pm

Speaking of admirable summations:
I am sometimes asked by fellow Catholics for clarification about the role of philosophy in renewing the culture. Shouldn’t we spend our time and energy “announcing the Good News” or engaging in apologetics or supporting pro-life causes or caring for the poor or teaching catechism classes at the parish? Are not all of these things more directly Catholic, so to speak, and more urgently needed in our society? Isn’t philosophy comparatively inessential, impractical, and even perhaps a bit self-indulgent—like an extremely elaborate game of sudoku? Fine for a little intellectual stimulation, or okay if you hope to earn a living as a professor, but not really a serious, concrete help to the world?

A paper recently sent to me by John Crosby, titled “God and morality,” (which we hope will be the theme of an upcoming reading circle gathering at our house) gives a succinct, helpful answer to this question.

Let us examine this conflict between Christians and atheists about the relation of morality to God. And let us examine it in such a way as to engage the atheists in debate. This means that we cannot continue to draw on Christian sources, such as scripture and Vatican II, for atheists do not recognize these sources. It means that we have to turn to philosophy; only as philosophers can we engage atheists in debate, and give reasons which will challenge them. JP 2 said in FR: “Philosophical thought is often the only ground for understanding and dialogue with those who do not share our faith.” But the recourse to philosophy is not only for the sake of engaging the atheist; it is also for our sake, that is, for the sake of us understanding with precision what we hold and do not hold about the dependence of morality on God. Only philosophical reflection can enable us to achieve this clarity.

And the same is of course true about all the deep and serious questions about life.


aelizabeth • Nov 19, 2009 - 2:54 pm

something new to think about.

Matthew Chominski • Nov 24, 2009 - 4:05 pm

Wonderfully true.

Joan Drennen • Dec 29, 2009 - 8:48 am

I am so personally grateful for the clarity that philosophy brings. I can’t imagine operating without its groundngs.
Thank you for your fine tuned thinking and wrestling (true work!) with the selections you bring to the Linde. Work that bears much fruit!

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