Journey From Wonder to Wisdom: Philosophy

What does the word philosophy mean? In any important endeavor, it is important to define one’s terms. Philosophy will always be important because man is a rational animal. We wonder about the truth of things, the nature of things, the essence of things. This wondering within each person is the beginning of the journey to wisdom.

Philosophy comes from two Greek words, ‘philos’ meaning love and ‘sophia’ meaning wisdom. Together it is the love of wisdom. Wisdom concerns knowledge of universal causes. Chemists have great knowledge of chemistry but can be lacking in wisdom. Knowledge is necessary to wisdom but it is not its full meaning.

A complete meaning of something asks the ‘why’ or ‘purpose’ of it. Why does carbon exist at all is not a question chemistry is concerned about, though some thoughtful chemists are. Why is there ‘being’ or ‘something’ rather than nothing is a philosophical question. This is a general question about all things, not just about a specific creature.

Philosophy, as opposed to sophistry, is rooted in the pursuit of truth. Philosophy loves wisdom and is attendant to the inquiry with precision. This is what makes philosophy hard and demanding. There is a common misperception that Philosophy is easy because it seems as if we do it frequently. Rather, Philosophy done well has a systematic process. With our fallen natures, we rebel against this orderly study and settle for opinion or sophistry.

Sophistry on the other hand uses word-craft to manipulate other people. Knowledge derived in part from philosophy is used to obtain something from others. Good philosophy is oriented to happiness both for oneself and others. Sophistry is oriented to the self and exploits others.

A good philosophy using a systematic approach helps man to pursue wisdom more readily. Philosophy is not merely a survey course of studying what others have thought. No, the goal is to encounter thinkers who thought well, think through their thoughts, and make them our own. Properly conducted survey classes can steer discipuli to those philosophers who thought more clearly than others. Ultimately, this exercise gives us knowledge of truth through the great gift of our intellects, given to us by the Creator.

Philosophy resides in our natural reason, and thus is available to everyone. Philosophy does not presuppose faith, in fact our greatest philosophers were pagans, but it is a wonderful aid to faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church uses Aristotelian Philosophy, which is embedded in Thomas Aquinas, not because of archaic Hellenistic custom but because this philosophy accurately represents the nature of things. Faith is shown to support good philosophical pursuits. Theology does not trample philosophy underfoot.

Medieval Philosophers called philosophy the ancilla theologiae or the ‘handmaid of theology’. Theology does not need philosophy to establish credibility. Theology’s truthfulness rests on the Source of all Truth, God Himself. Revealed truth comes from God directly. Philosophy cannot reason to the Trinity or to ex nihilo.

One of philosophy’s roles in theology is to preserve and defend it from errors. Sound philosophy clarifies theological realities. The exposition of the twelve pillars of the Apostle’s Creed relied on such philosophical notions as consubstantial, person, and nature. The Incarnation introduced a precise and substantial consideration of what it means to be a Person. The ramifications of what constitutes personhood are experienced today. The debate about abortion is one clear example of the confusion about personhood.

A key component to wise ancient thinkers was the notion of friendship. Friendship in conjunction with the study of philosophy was the best way to approach the topic. Bouncing ideas off other wise ponders reduced error and made the journey more satisfying. Communio, which is fundamental to the human person, is also fundamental to human pursuits. It is true, Ratzinger will note that faith is essentially a result of a faith community, tradere. One receives the faith from another, it is not manufactured solo. This contrasts with philosophy, which can be a product of individual construction. I posit sound philosophy is also rooted in community. Like Sam & Frodo, when confronted with a serious and arduous journey, such as from wonder to wisdom, good friends are necessary.

Thus, my blog does not divide philosophy and theology from each other. Whenever possible, I use one to illuminate the other. They are not equal in stature as theology rests on God and philosophy rests on man. The Incarnation and Ascension of Christ elevates humanity. Christ did not discard His humanity as a shell to be rid of after death. It was glorified. So too human reason, if done under the gaze of the Source of Truth, is elevated and can lead one from wonder to wisdom.

+ Conversion of St. Paul

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