Sunday, August 12, 2012

We are all Philosophers

The relationship of reason and faith, of philosophy and theology, has had a controversial history. However, in Christian thought, for the most part, the two approaches to understanding the truths pertaining to God were seen as compatible. Even the non-Christian philosophy of Aristotle helped to shape the thought of St Thomas Aquinas as he pondered how best to express the truths of the faith. For Aquinas, the two approaches, though distinct, were related and necessary for a true knowledge of God. He saw no contradiction between faith and reason, faith being dependent on supernatural revelation, and reason being dependent on natural revelation. Even today, undergraduate study in philosophy is required to enter a graduate school of theology,

In the Catholic Times' column Walking with Philosophy, the writer briefly discusses the philosophic contributions of the German philosopher and mathematician G.W. Leibniz (1646-1716), who summed up the study of philosophy as the pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty. When the mind is focused on discovering the  nature of existence, of being, it is pursuing truth; when focused on discerning the ultimate nature of humanity and answering the ethical questions that naturally follow, the mind is pursuing goodness; when discerning the reasons why the physical senses and the feeling sense find delight in certain objects and experiences of life, the mind is pursuing beauty.

Since we are all involved, to some extent, in these pursuits, we are all philosophers, the professional philosopher simply being a person whose life is devoted to finding answers to the perennial questions of life. Those who saw themselves as carrying forward the traditional truths and values as presented by the philosophers of the past, as Leibniz did, were considered upholders of a perennial philosophy that stretched back to the beginnings of philosophy.

This search for truth, the philosophic quest, will exist as long as we have human beings on earth who will go beyond appearances to find the principles, and who will go beyond the temporary and passing events to reflect on the nature of things. This pursuit is universal and essential.

For Leibniz, searching for truth and living the good and honest life cannot help but lead to the search for beauty.  As a mathematician, he discovered calculus independently from Newton, and he was equally comfortable discussing problems of energy in physics, and attempting as a diplomat to help resolve differences during the religious reformation and upheaval in Europe, making him an ecumenicist--all interests that came naturally to him because of his philosophical interests, which in turn developed because of his interest in living a true and good life.

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