The Study of Philosophy

Hi guys. I’ve recently been interested in venturing into the study of philosophy. It looks like a fun albeit dangerous and difficult discipline, though the insights I would draw from its study would likely be profound and useful. I think it’s clear to my why I want to do so: to develop myself personally, to instill intellectual discipline, to enhance my skills in rational argumentation, and defend the Faith, especially because I believe that Catholicism is the One True Faith and that the deposit of faith handed to us by the apostles should be safeguarded through scripture, tradition, and the reasonable interpretation of both. Reading the tracts here in and the intelligent discussion in the forums has made me realize that the doctrines of Catholicism are very well-supported by reason and well-thought-out (maybe I shouldn’t say “thought-out” because it is revelation after all, but you get what I mean).The wisdom of the Catholic Church assures me that she is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

That said, again, I want to venture into the study of philosophy (and maybe theology later on, but I think it is the duty of every Catholic to be a theologian to a degree). I have already started with Plato’s Dialogues and will read The Republic afterwards. I want to focus on ancient and medieval philosophy so I would read the works of Aristotle, Cicero, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Nicholas of Cusa later on. But I also want to have a firm grounding in social and political philosophy, and as a student of political science, I’ll be reading Niccolo Machiavelli, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Montesquieu, Karl Marx, Hegel, Arendt, Foucault, Derrida, and even Zizek. If I have the time, I might read Immanuel Kant, Heidegger, and works on Eastern Philosophy if I have the time. I’ll be sure to take college courses on philosophy.

How should I go about with my study of philosophy without endangering my faith? I’m impressed by how priests who go through years of studying philosophy do not fall out of, but rather are strengthened in the faith. I plan to safeguard my faith by continuous prayer and reception of the sacraments (as well as frequently visiting these forums :D) but how do I make sure that my studying philosophy won’t say, drive me insane or make me go heretic or apostate (God forbid). I realize that philosophy can be potentially dangerous for the faith, but it can be immensely useful as well (oh the uncertainty is killing me). I know that I need to have an open mind if I am going to study it but I fear that my faith, weak as it is without the grace of God, would fail me. Thoughts? :slight_smile:

Do it vice versa. Get your degree in Theology, at a Catholic College, which will mandate your successful completion of Philosophy basics as well as offer further classes in Philosophy.

Philosophy is the search for truth.

“Well, that’s obvious, empther. Why do you waste my time telling me something I already know?” :mad:

Because my statement must be considered carefully.
It’s often said: “People don’t let facts get in the way or their beliefs.”

Approached with the wrong attitude, philosophy can confirm people in wrong beliefs! :eek:

So many of the “great” philosophers fell into this trap. They start out with an idea, and build a whole philosophic system to support it.

The atheists especially will not admit they could be wrong. They don’t want to believe there is a God to whom they are accountable. So they will quibble to the end of time to cast doubt on Acquinas’s irrefutable proof of God from the obvious fact that there could not be an infinite past.

Around the 1920s, young Bishop Sheen was studying in London. A philosopher there became famous writing a book called, “God and Time”, or something like that. He claimed God was an evolviing God who grew greater all the time. The King of England gave him a medal for writiing this book! :eek:
Sheen went to see this guy and pointed out that if God wasn’t infinite he wouldn’t be God, and you can’t go from finite to infinite etc etc. The man admitted he’d never thought of it that way. Sheen asked if the man had ever read the works of Acquinas?
He answered, “No, and I don’t think I will. You become known in this world not through truth but through novelty, and my theory is novel.” :bigyikes: :banghead:

St. Thomas Acquinas was humble. He borrowed much of his philosophy from Aristotle whom he always referred to as “The Philosopher”. Acquinas’s work has never been equalled to this day.

Start with Acquinas. Then you can have a good time seeing the fallacies of other philosophers. :wink:

If you are going to be so thorough about it I’m afraid you’ll have to add Nietsche to your list. Maybe it was just a mistake that you missed him. You should also probably pay attention to the Realist-Nominalist debate, and the whole Problem of Universals. That brings in people like William Ockham. Then if you are really brave, and really patient, there’s postmodern philosophy.

Also, let me recommend by begining with G.K. Chesterton. He wasn’t a philospher of the sort you are talking about and in the end I think his approach is incomplete, but if you want to avoid losing your faith in the midst of the study of all these errors (and truths) I think coming at the issues from a solidly common sense Chestertonian starting point would be a great idea. I recommend Orthodoxy and St. Thomas Aquinas in particular in this regard.

Definitely study philosophy. I think it is best done formally at a University. Majoring in philosophy was the second best thing I ever did so far in my short life! Second to accepting Jesus as my Lord.

I was thrown to the wolves in my undergraduate at a secular University (May 2011 graduate) when I studied philosophy and minored in religious studies. Ultimately, my faith was strengthened and I’m glad I was challenged at every turn. In the philosophy department my advisor was a staunch agnostic and there was a militant atheist professor, but other than that the 4 others were a deist-type, a Catholic, a pantheist/deep ecologist and an Aristotelian. It was quite the mixed-bag…nothing too hostile of course. The majority of students were either atheist or evangelical.

I would echo the sentiments of others on this board–read Chesterton! I also believe that–to a degree–you will end up believing what you already intended to believe from the outset. Someone once said that metaphysics is a sure way to have bad reasons for what one was going to believe anyway. Nonetheless you will think clearer, improve reading comprehension, and most assuredly come to love God more!

If you are worried about losing faith during this journey, you ought to chat personally with those who have done the same! Good luck!:thumbsup:

I agree with the previous advice given: Start with Aquinas. You will get the greatest benefit and take the least risk to your soul that way. St. Thomas offers the surest path which will strengthen you both spiritually and philosophically.

I will agree and disagree with people here.

Yes, study philosophy and don’t worry. As long as you have a strong prayer life and never lose sight of the sacraments you will be fine… how could you not be? Pray for patience and understanding at every turn. There will be times when you do not understand some argument that entails a conclusion contrary to the Catholic Faith, but be patient. So far, all of the apparent contradictions against the Faith I’ve encountered are just that–apparent! That does not mean that I understand all the truths of the universe or ever will… often times there is a lot of room for mystery (the good kind), but it does mean I am usually pretty good with finding the error. Now if I can only focus more on the good, the true, and the beautiful and learn to control myself in discussion. That’s saint material there, some of the qualities of Aquinas.

I will recommend what I have done. I started reading Copleston’s History of Philosophy. It’s a history and is very detailed, but I stuck through a lot of it and have come out with many insights. Sometimes Copleston gives his own position but he is always careful in making the distinction between his views and the philosopher in question. This allows one to play with the positions and philosophize. Truly, if one were to read Copleston’s book as mere history one would be board out of his mind!

I don’t recommend jumping into Aquinas unless you read books that talk about him and present his arguments to the modern reader. Why? Because there is a vast amount of Aristotelian metaphysics that one has to grasp before one can start to understand what Aquinas is talking about, let alone defending his arguments from the many silly objections it attracts. In college I had a class on the history of ancient philosophy. It provided me with enough Aristotelian terminology and tools to give Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae a try–and it was not easy by any means.

Things are better now, and while I am no Aquinas expert, I can start to understand his 5 ways and point out errors in objections to them. Basically, there is a language barrier between Aquinas and Modern Philosophy–the terms that have the same spelling do not often have the exact same meaning. I’m not saying that you will not learn many things if you just dive into Aquinas’ texts (you most certainly will!) it will just require a ton of effort on your part–and if you pray you just might be given the perseverance needed.

Good luck!

PS>I recommend the book The Last Superstition by Edward Feser. If you can understand the material in that book it will go a long ways to baptizing you into Aristotelian and Thomistic metaphysics. And as a bonus it is geared towards you and is a fun read, at least I thought so.


I personally am quite fond of D.Q. McInerny’s books of philosophy. They are wonderful. They have strengthened my faith, of course I am studying for my Master’s in Sacred Theology so it helps too with my degree.

I didn’t read your post well enough before responding – obviously, you’ve already gotten started with your study and you have a study plan in mind. So your question really isn’t about what to study but rather this:

How should I go about with my study of philosophy without endangering my faith?

Prayer, spiritual reading, devotional meditation, self-denial, trying to practice virtues …
If you do those things generously, then you can do well. Philosophy can be viewed like mathematics or science in many areas. But when it’s the topic of our destiny and the existence of God, you have to be ready to put faith above human reason.

Being guided by a priest or religious spiritual director is a good idea also. That person will help you see if you’re drifting off of the Faith.

The priority is the Faith. As St. Thomas realized after his direct mystical experiences of God – all of his prior writings he considered as “straw”.

Philosophy necessarily is filled with speculations and unproved hypotheses. You can’t put 100% faith in them, even for the greatest Catholic philosophers.

We’ve received a precious gift of Faith – that’s the “pearl of great price” that we have to protect and preserve. We have to invest that gift also and bear fruit.

Always consider this also … if you spend, for example, 20 hours a week reading heretical or atheistic authors (with the best intention), how much time did you spend worshiping Our Lord (in prayer, at Mass, at Eucharistic Adoration), honoring the saints, etc?

St. Jerome received a mystical punishment in a dream one time and was judged for having put too much time in reading pagan authors.

Suddenly I was caught up in the spirit and dragged before the judgment seat of the Judge; and here the light was so bright, and those who stood around were so radiant, that I cast myself upon the ground and did not dare to look up. Asked who and what I was I replied: “I am a Christian.” But He who presided said: “Thou liest, you are a follower of Cicero and not of Christ. For ‘where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’” Matthew 6:21

So, be careful. Judge your own motivations. Are you doing it for reasons of pride and self-love? Or are you following what you believe is God’s will, for service to God?

If you keep asking that and praying about it with humility, you can study just about anything and accomplish a lot.

Great post, by the way.

Just wanted to say that I agree that philosophy does have speculations and unproved hypotheses. But more importantly, there are also necessary truths that you can know with certainty (ie. demonstrations in the scholastic sense). And to put (theological) faith in demonstrations would be a kind of category error.

I think that one of the most beautiful things about philosophy is being able to study its history and start to see, although dimly, the truth shining as a silver thread woven into all the verbage that has been spilled throughout the ages. Although sometimes it is extremely difficult to find that thread through a philosopher’s confusion.

One of my greatest aha moments, was when I started to see a way to start with the simplest of observations, that change exists, and from that be able to justify quite soundly the traditional aristotelian thomistic metaphysics. Start to see, mind you.

Thanks. Those are great insights also. :thumbsup:

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