God, Philosophy Universities: Why Philosophy Matters

I recently read, “God, Philosophy, Universities” by Alasdair MacIntyre, a philosophy professor at Notre Dame. In it, he examines the development of the Catholic philosophical tradition and calls for a renewal of philosophy that addresses real, human questions and which reigns in the university ideology-run-astray that all disciplines have nothing to say to each other and that philosophy is generally irrelevant.

This post is the first in a series in which I will present quotations from the book with a few thoughts. So, here goes:

“The warring partisans on the great issues that engage our culture and politics presuppose, even when they do not recognize it, the truth of some philosophical theses and the falsity of others. If we are to evaluate their claims, we had better know something about philosophy and, if we are Catholic Christians by faith and commitment, something about Catholic philosophy.” (Intro. P. 1)

“Plain persons in our society think of philosophers as very different from themselves—and about the professional teachers of philosophy in contemporary universities they are manifestly right. Yet the obvious differences between the two…should not be allowed to obscure the relationship between questions asked by philosophers and some of the questions asked by plain persons. All human beings, whatever their culture, find themselves confronted by questions about the nature and significance of their lives: What is our place in the order of things?…How should we respond to the facts of suffering and death? What is it to live a human life well?” (9).

Basically, philosophy really does undergird everything from political positions, to arguments, ideologies and ideas for how to structure society and our relationships with others, ourselves and of course, with God.

Yet, MacIntyre says (and I agree), we tend not to recognize this. Instead, we think of philosophy as something that doesn’t matter. The tragedy of this is that such an attitude makes us incapable of understanding, analyzing, criticizing and consciously choosing from the plethora of philosophical opinions out there today in the public square. Ie, what is Republicanism really based on? or Democracy? or secularism? or charity? or liberty? Are these ideas right? Are they completely right?

Additionally, a failure to examine these ideas and understand them critically makes us unable to see beyond the rigid and small categories that they create. Ie, could there be something besides Republican or Democrat? Is there a way of viewing society that is neither capitalist nor socialist?

These are examples drawn from public affairs, but I think they suffice to illustrate the point.

Our debate and dialogue is impoverished because as a culture we tend to reject the tools required to really take ideas apart and understand them–that is, philosophy.

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