Years ago when I was studying Philosophy at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, the only realization at the time is that my course of action to be enrolled in this school was simply a “means to an end”; that these studies would help me satisfy any effort at finally completing a degree. As days at the DSPT turned into weeks, which turned into semesters, there was finally a point that the “means to an end” did not seem to farewell with my own experience with the study of Philosophy. I was beginning to understand something, even though it was a tiny glimmer. It was a sense as if it was being revealed. This sense of awakening in knowledge, which would grow and take hold of both my ability to reason, and my love for truth, which would slowly become part of my being. That much I believe was me, the rest I give to God’s blessings.

My school’s motto was a Latin phrase “deus providebit,” which translates, “God will provide.” Right off the back this phrase represented to me (and it was my own reflection at the time), a theological implication that God is involved only theologically. But as I grew in my studies, I realize that to relegate theology as the only means to discover God, however innocent, would be a serious privation of the person and the search of truth, and therefore the search for God. How can I come to know, if I don’t understand how these courses will help me see God?

To put in perspective, let’s look at this course of thought, which became very clear to me: “I walked in not knowing, and have graduated knowing that I do not know.” So how is this good?

To answer how it is good, I must anchor what I said to the things which are clearly for me, the argument which best serves the relationship between faith and reason and theology and philosophy. So what then is the purpose of Philosophy? Can it serve to be good or is it ‘a’ good? Perhaps if we visit that last statement, “and have graduated knowing that I do not know,” I will attempt to shed a glimmer of light of why I believe it is so.

The courses at the DSPT in Berkeley were designed to fulfill requirements, that when completed, leads the student to a degree in Philosophy. And having done that, the student (in this case the seminarians of the various religious orders enrolled at DSPT, would share immersion as that of the Dominican Friars, into theological and pastoral studies). This would prepare them in all aspects of their program right into the priesthood. In my case, it led lay students who were not seeking religious vocations, to the same ratio of the Dominican tradition. To some end, I suppose, I too would have been be prepared for the priesthood given this rote. But this is not finally the point of this thought. The point is why Philosophy? And with all the sorts of readings which were expected of its students to complete, the DSPT faculty has for certain supported its curriculum with current scholarship in all the areas of Philosophy one could imagine, i.e., Philosophy of Nature, Aristotelian Logic, Ancient Philosophy, Medieval and Contemporary Philosophy, Ethics, etc., so that education in Philosophy would satisfy the rigor expected of its Dominican Friars leading to theological studies.

Then something happened. At the end of each course there was a way I looked at the world around me, and I realized that I would think about things with interest. For example I became protective of words which would be used to describe something common, when it would otherwise be best used to describe the highest form which, in my training and understanding of the world, is God. Words like “good,” “perfect,” “awesome,” “highest,” and many similar terms, seem only fair to keep away from things which we experience daily. Like food. The use of words to describe finite and material objects such as food or cars appear vulgar. It was as if I took the red pill.

But Philosophy does not end with examining the world around us and of the things which we occupy our thoughts. It also contributes to the way we handle ourselves as well as others. It is exactly in this way which we can discern all that is possible in the discovering of our place in this world and with God. So the question then remains to be answered: Is Philosophy good? For all of us? It seems a legitimate view point is if Philosophy strives to uncover truth which is hidden or unrevealed, and it causes our belief to change how we view or handle one another, and that we hold the dignity of the person above our own needs and desires, then it is good. It must therefore be an objective moral good.

I happened upon the following article and am sharing it here in case folks have not seen it. It touches on the idea of Philosophy handling human tendencies such as that which is iracible and concupiscent.


Philosophy as antidote to anger and fear

By Thomas Van

At the Huffington Post, Michael Shammas has written an excellent blog piece calling for a renewal of philosophy education in high schools. American politics is increasingly characterized by fear, anger and bitterness; according to Shammas this is caused at root by “the iron certainty we grant our opinions.”

Why philosophy? Because the study of philosophy, the “love of wisdom,” creates and nurtures thoughtful minds, minds that can — as Aristotle suggests — entertain a thought without accepting it. With a philosophic worldview, a Republican who despises any tax increase or economic stimulus could at least consider the notion of tax hikes or Keynesian economics. A Democrat facing antithetical ideas could do likewise. Thought rather than anger could become the default response to opposing worldviews.

Indeed, philosophy can do a great deal to lessen the anger that is growing like a cancerous tumor in modern America.

In addition, Shammas argues, philosophy helps us to learn virtue and, as Socrates said, makes us realize how little we truly know—which would replace irrational anger and fear with humility and curiosity. Philosophy leads us to ask the ultimate questions about truth, justice, suffering, the afterlife, all of which most people in our society are afraid to consider.

While only faith in Jesus Christ can ultimately save our society, it seems reasonable to believe that the widespread study of philosophy would make our nation’s politics, at least, more rational and discourse-friendly.

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