A Student’s Guide To Philosophy, by Ralph M. McInerny
In reading this book I was struck by the pro-Catholic nature of the author of the book, who forthrightly admitted he was a Thomist and whose defense of philosophy made it clear that this book is defending a Hellenistic view of Christianity. While I stand a bit far removed from the author when it comes to matters of philosophy , this book was certainly an interesting and worthwhile one to read, to be sure, and it demonstrates that there is a lot to be gained from having a strong understanding of the history of philosophy. Even as someone whose relationship with philosophy is more than a little bit ambivalent can recognize the fact that all of us are philosophers whether we know it or not, and that ancient philosophy, by beginning with what human beings knew in general, is a far better guide to emulate than contemporary philosophy with its endless attempts to be (post)modern. The author engages in a winsome discussion of philosophy as a discipline and as a way of thinking and also provides as lot of suggestions for further reading, which make this book a very worthwhile guide to its (mostly young) readers.
At less than 100 pages, this book is definitely a short one. Yet it is certainly a thoughtful and worthwhile one for all that. The author begins with an introductory note that broads the span of philosophy beyond that which most people realize, before discussing such matters as the pursuit of wisdom. He discusses how we come to insight and understanding as well as the role of common sense, as uncommon as it may be, in that endeavor. He discusses the debate between Plato and Aristotle and their various acolytes through the ages, and discusses the confused certainties of philosophy and the way that sophistry has traditionally been confronted. After this comes a look at philosophy in the age of science, the troubling results of the fact/value split in so much of modern philosophy, and the relationship of philosophy and religion. After a short discussion of why the author is a Thomist there is a lengthy bibliographical essay that provides the reader with many books to read on philosophy as it relates to the ancient and contemporary world, all of which should make the wise and thoughtful reader of this book very knowledgeable about philosophy.
I find myself feeling deeply ambivalent about this guide and about several others I have read in this series, relating to the Catholic mindset of the authors. To be sure, I consider conservative Catholics as worldview allies when it comes to many political and social matters, but I find myself deeply hostile to the approach of Catholicism regarding progressive revelation and nonbiblical magesterium. As a result, this book is one that I consider worthwhile in terms of encourage the reader to find worthwhile sources about philosophy through the ages, but also find the book somewhat troubling in its desire to promote a Catholic mindset, which I am not as fond about. Yet this ambivalence is still worthwhile, as one can consider it worthwhile to know about a worldview without feeling positively about it simply because it is so important to understanding the world in which we live and what led us to this point. The author wisely argues that understanding history is important, although it is likely that he expects to be writing to those who have a higher view of his own perspective than I would, which I suppose is a common issue when it comes to authors of books.
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