Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Philosophical Canon

Edward T. Oakes, SJ, has just posted a charming, witty, and insightful article on the First Things blog on the philosophical canon.

Among other fascinating questions he asks: How on earth did someone as verbally obtuse as Hegel get on to the "must read" list? Why is Descartes impossible to ignore while Cartesians are impossible to forgive? What qualifies an author or work as canon material? Why should we be familiar with the philosophical canon?

It's a fun read, though long, so get a cup of coffee first. But it is also especially appropriate for St. Dominic's day, since the latter half focuses on Thomism and the relationship of faith and reason. Enjoy.


W. said...

I love the title of the blog ... and the content too. Will be sure to link to this site.

While I did enjoy the article by Fr. Oakes, SJ, I did have some qualms with it, though they do not necessarily detract from his overall point. If interested, you can read them here. And don't worry, my disagreement is coming from someone trying to be faithful to the thought and spirit of St. Thomas.

Erika Ahern said...

Thanks, w. I appreciate your comment about Fr. Oakes painting "with too broad a brush." This is the constant bog of blog--how to summarize briefly without leaving out the necessary nuances. Blogs don't do nuance so well.

The one point you make with which I'd take issue is the following:
"Many "modern" philosophers were Christians or believers in some sense. One attempted his project to further support the faith (Descartes), another said that philosophy needed Christianity (Hegel), and another was even a bishop (Berkeley). The "modern" project is, in one sense, an attempt to deal with the larger metaphysical or epistemological issues using reason and whatever could be appropriated from scientific reasoning (therefore not relying upon faith-based arguments). They were not explicitly or for most even implicitly hostile to religion."

The "modern" project is, as you say, an attempt to deal with the larger issues by use of reason--understood as hard, scientific reason. I'd add the nuance: while some were not explicitly hostile to religion, almost all were based on principles that excluded the possibility of intelligibility outside of reason's own parameters.

That is, the modern project--including Descartes, Hegel, and Berkely--is more than willing to "use" religion in order to get what it wants: a new order of thought based on reason alone and without reference to the elusive transcendent.

Then, when religion has served that purpose, it is discarded either to the realm of irrational fancy or individual devotion. Both dustbins are inimical at least to the Christian faith (though perhaps not all faith systems).

mom said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the Oakes article -- it gave me an electric thrill when I came to his fourth way of looking at philosophy, THOMISM. Hows come you didn't mention who it was who tipped you off on the article?