This is the blog of the faculty of the Ave Maria University Philosophy Department. We post our philosophical reflections on perennial and contemporary questions as well as on Departmental and University news and other topics of interest.
About a year ago, the website PhilosophyOfReligion.org started a series called “What is philosophy of religion?”. They have asked various philosophers of religion to contribute answers to this question and have posted these on the site.
Just how tight-knit of a group are the “New Atheists”? Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens (RIP), Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris are the most well-known purveyors of the New Atheism. There are others, of course, who are also thought to belong to the club: Lawrence Krauss, Jerry Coyne, and Victor Stenger, for example. But Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, and Harris are usually understood to constitute a special club within the club, if you will. They alone, among other worthies, have been dubbed the “four horsemen of the non-apocalypse.” Yet, there may be signs that two of the remaining three horsemen may be heading for a break-up.
Philosophy, or “the love of wisdom,” is the systematic study of the most fundamental reasons for things by the light of human reason. Because it studies the most fundamental reasons, philosophy is set apart from the particular natural sciences, each of which can only probe as deep as the basic reasons within that particular discipline. Because philosophy studies these things by the light of human reason, it is set apart from theology, which relies essentially on truths revealed by God. Finally, because philosophy investigates things in a systematic way, it differs from “bull sessions” or “shooting the breeze.” True philosophy is rigorous and precise.
Philosophical questions include: Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the meaning of life? What are the basic laws of thought? Why should we do what is right? What can we know with certainty to be true? Does God exist, and what is His nature? Do human beings have genuine freedom? Is the human soul immortal?
By “the light of human reason” we understand not the human reason of an individual but rather human reason as exemplified in an intellectual tradition. No one thinks solely on his own; everyone is part of a school or movement, whether he knows it or not. At Ave Maria University, we situate ourselves within the Catholic philosophical tradition, because of its harmony with the Catholic faith; because of its proven soundness and fruitfulness; and because of its aspirations to synthesis and its openness to truth in general.
1. What do John Cleese (comedian), Kathryn Jean Lopez (journalist), Ethan Coen (movie director), Harrison Ford (actor), Peter Lynch (investment manager), Steve Martin (comedian), Elie Wiesel (author), Karol Wojtył a(Pope), T.S. Eliot (poet), and Steve Jobs (entrepreneur) have in common? Answer: They all majored in philosophy.
2. Did you know? … All the sciences were originally called “philosophy.” For centuries, science was known as “natural philosophy”, that is, philosophy as directed at nature. Philosophy is the trunk of the tree of knowledge, and every branch of knowledge has sprung forth from it.
3. The Catholic Church has always strongly encouraged the study of philosophy. “The Church cannot but set great value upon reason’s drive to attain goals which render people’s lives ever more worthy. She sees in philosophy the way to come to know fundamental truths about human life. At the same time, the Church considers philosophy an indispensable help for a deeper understanding of faith and for communicating the truth of the Gospel to those who do not yet know it” (Pope John Paul II, encyclical, Fides et Ratio).
John Haldane (St. Andrews) will give a lecture next Wednesday, Feb 19, at 7pm, in Demetree Auditorium, on the topic, “Pillars and Foundations of Western Society.” The lecture is meant to be a reply to Robert George’s idea of “five pillars of a decent and dynamic society.” Those interested in George’s idea might consult a video of his own lecture on that subject here. (Or if, like me, you can speed read, and would rather read a text in 3 minutes than watch a lecture for 50 minutes, you may find that here. It turns out there are three pillars of a “decent” society and two more for a “dynamic” society in addition.)
The following day Haldane will lead a colloquium for the Philosophy Department on the topic, “Problems for Virtue Theory.”
A pictorial representation of Haldane’s life and career, and a list of his many honors, publications, and accomplishments, may be found on his university website here. Besides being an eminent philosopher, Haldane is one of the leading Catholic “public intellectuals” in the UK.
Here are two versions of a poster I’ve designed. Please vote to let me know which you think best. By “best” I mean: best conveys the ferment of intellectual and cultural activity at the university which is a consequence of so many people visiting and wishing to visit.
The first is meant to show the “superabundance” of visiting speakers; the second is meant to highlight some of the better known speakers.
Last week I mentioned the “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” colloquium that the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, California is convening in July. You can now register for the colloquium here.