The Critical Need for Philosophy

COMMENTARY: Philosophy has today lost its sovereignty and has been replaced by phraseology, such as ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusivity.’

Portrait of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Portrait of St. Thomas Aquinas. (photo: H. Stanley Redgrove / Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

Philosophy is completely dependent on philosophers, though the love of wisdom is not limited to those who write books and teach philosophy. This is both a necessity and a misfortune. 

We learn from even a superficial study of the history of philosophy that, in general, those individuals known to the world as philosophers proved to be unreliable trustees of their lofty subject. They were handicapped by a desire to say something new, an eagerness to please, a willingness to conform to the latest fashion, and a love of money.

Hence, their philosophies were tainted by attitudes that are ruinous to a sound philosophy. Consequently, philosophy earned the reputation as being nothing more than one person’s opinion. Thus, philosophy lost its universal status and became anyone’s private property.

G.K. Chesterton says, in his essay “The Revival of Philosophy — Why”: 

“The best reason for a revivial of philosophy is that unless a man has a philosophy certain horrible things will happen to him ... struck down by blow after blow of blind stupidity and random fate, he will stagger on to a miserable death with no comfort but a series of catchwords.”

Was the master of the paradox exaggerating when he penned these words? When we look at the present situation, it appears that he was not. Today philosophy has lost its sovereignty and has been replaced by phraseology. It has become, Chesterton goes on to say, “the unconscious acceptance of the broken bits of some incomplete and shattered and often discredited philosophy.”

The pro-abortion mantra of being “pro-choice” is a mere fragment of a whole philosophy. It recognizes the reality and legitimicay of choice, but it is severed from its object. One can choose evil as easily as good. To say that we should “choose choice” is a form of philosophical paralysis. Choice is about choosing something. As mere choice, it is woefully incomplete. It is, one might say, the sound of one hand clapping.

Disciples of Ayn Rand are avid supporters of her philosophy of individualism and hold that everyting she said is true and nothing anyone else has said is true. Supporters of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg have claimed that “there is no truth without Ruth.” This is a statement that is true but only grammatically and not philosophically. 

For totalitarian demagogues, philosophy is nothing more than a political fabrication. Philosophy, however, is neither phraseology nor politics. Catchwords are catchy merely because they catch on. But they fall out of fashion just as easily.

In today’s world, two words in particular have gained widespread popularity despite the fact that no one could possibly find any merit in either one of them. 

“Diversity” is presumed to stand alone as an acceptable and congenial philosophy. It is Utopian in its unfounded belief that people of different backgrounds or ethnicity or race can be happliy brought together and live in mutual peace. History tells us otherwise. Diversity of itself does not imply unity. Without an integrating factor that holds things in place, diversity is like an array of pearls without a string to keep them from falling apart. Diversity, like choice, is merely a frgament of a philosophy. And yet, it reigns supreme and has enjoyed the protection of political correctness. No one really wants “diversity” any more than he would want mayhem.

Closely allied with “diversity” is “inclusitvity.” Both these single-word pseudo-philosophies suffer from the same problem, lacking a harmonious principle of integration. Including everyone, Quakers and Nazis, feminists and rapists, the police and the mafia, and black panthers and white supremicists, is neither desirable nor workable. It is, in fact, total nonsense. While including everyone is a nice dream, given the actual sitation, it is clearly unrealistic.

Trying to live a life limping along on a fragment of a philosophy describes one of the “horrible things,” as Chesterton notes, that can happen to a person. Hence the need for a philosophy that has the qualities of being realistic, coherent, and for all ages.

There is such a philosophy, but it is rejected simply because of its association with the Catholic Church. It is interesting to note that St. Thomas Aquinas adopted much of the philosophy of the pagan Aristotle. He was criticized by ranking members of the Church for this (though subequently exonorated). 

The Church makes it clear that philsophy is neither theology nor is it something that the Church invented for the purpose of imposing it on its members. As the great Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain has remarked, “philosophy ... is founded on evidence alone [and] lives on reason alone.” Therefore, philosophy is for everyone. It is not sectarian nor is it imposed on anyone.

Various popes have strongly recommended the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. However, these exhortations in no way claim to prove the validity of his thought. They are approvals, not proofs. Yet they are important insofar as they provide the intelligent person with the confidence that Aquinas’ thought represents: a true, though not closed, philosophy. 

The popes have endorsed something that they find worthy in itself. Unfortunately, this is a distinction that the world finds difficult to accept. There is the occasional breakthrough, nonetheless, when a thinker, such as Maritain, Étienne Gilson, Josef Pieper, Peter Kreeft and others, come to realize the objective value of St. Thomas’ thought.

Philosophy is for the world, not of the world. It is a pattern of thought that originates not out of desperation, but emerges from the humble and open mind that is enchanted by the mystery of being.


If we consider the arts, what present philosophers can rival Plato, Aquinas, or Aristotle?

What Was Then and What Is Now

COMMENTARY: ‘We all want progress,’ writes C.S. Lewis, ‘but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.’