The Philosophical Apprentice

“Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person.” Albert Einstein

Archive for the month “December, 2012”

Logic New and Old (Update)

William Randolph Brafford has proffered more thoughts on the difference between modern logic and the traditional variety  (See the original post here). He writes that

After some correspondence with philosophically educated friends, I can say that the first question that would pop into a mathematician’s mind — why not simply symbolize Aristotelian logic in a modern form? — is beside the point. The issue is the difference between the interpretations that tend to accompany the systems. They metaphysical concerns of logicians in the time of Aquinas were indeed different from those of many modern logicians, just as Kreeft says. And at a certain level, this is very important. I’m just not convinced that this level is the level of everyday use, or, if it is, then I suspect the effects are so diffuse that we should counteract them, not by rejecting a useful tool, but rather by robust metaphysical arguments and a sort of logical multilingualism.

What I like about this latest post from Brafford is that he offers some resources for further study recommended to him. Brafford writes

But enough rehashing of my own position. What I’d really like to do is point readers to some resources I’ve had recommended to me and found helpful:

  • The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s article on Aristotelian logic is fairly friendly to non-philosophers. (“It is hard to capture in modern English the underlying metaphysical force in Aristotle’s categorical statements.”)
  • Reader “HT,” along with another friend, recommended an essay by Peter Geach called “A History of the Corruptions of Logic,” which is a rollicking good read.
  • Martin Cothran is offering a more in-depth defense of traditional logic in a series of blog posts.
  • There’s an example-laden defense of term logic in Fred Sommers’s introduction to George Englebretsen’s Something to Reckon With, though I’ve only been able to get my hands on an excerpt.

Most of these look really exciting and without a doubt I am going to have to move to a deserted island real soon so I can read them. I especially liked what I read from the George Englebretsen book. You can see the except here.

All of this thinking about logic has me wondering if genus and species in logic have any relation to genus and species in biology? It would seem that traditional logic would support essentialism in biology?


Putting the Theology Cart before the Philosophical Horse

My job has been keeping me extra busy lately and I haven’t had a lot of time to sit down and think about philosophy as much as I would like. However, I do, at the very least, try and stay on top of all the philosophy that populate my RSS reader. One of my favorite blogs  is Dominicana which is a is a publication of the Dominican Students of the St. Joseph Province of the Order of Preachers, who live and study at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. The Dominicans are one of my favorite communities and if I lived anywhere near a chapter I would seriously try and join.

To return to the point, the Dominicana blog does a good job of updating their content everyday and their entries are invariably well-written. A case in point is the 18 December entry “The Christian and the Cave by  Br. Mannes Matous, O.P.. It’s an entry much like the one I featured yesterday that covers the relationship between faith and reason and the importance of philosophy for the study of theology.

Matous writing about the requirement that priests in formation require several years of philosophy notes that the

typical response to all this is that philosophy helps you to think critically and that a good philosophical background is necessary for a good theological education. And I could not agree more fully. But one additional perk is that philosophical arguments often serve as great analogies for the Christian life.

In the rest of the entry Matous make a good case for his larger point that the philosopher liberated from Plato’s Cave is in a sense much the same as a Christian Evangelist in that both are motivated by a love for their neighbors.

But it  is Matous’ minor point that I’d like to touch on because I know the truth of it from my own experience.  Since theology programs are much more common in some circumstances than philosophy programs I once decided to start a master’s degree in theology with the intention to come back to philosophy when I could. However, I quickly learned that the material I was studying, particularly in moral theology, did not seem to gel with me. I don’t know if the other people in my classes had this same problem or not but I believe they may have been accepting the material dogmatically. They must have been learning it dogmatically because, speaking for myself, I lacked the tools to evaluate the arguments and the claims and I suspect most of the others in the class did as well.  I struggled along until one day a classmate of mine, after I confided my troubles to him, informed me that I was going about it  the wrong way and that you had to study philosophy first. I knew he was right and since philosophy was what I really wanted to begin with anyway I didn’t see any reason to continue on with my theology program. Still I wonder whether the poor grounding in philosophy (good philosophy in the vein of Aquinas anyway) might be responsible for a lot of the theological silliness plaguing the Church today.

“The healing of man and culture will ultimately come about through a restoration of the unity between faith and reason”

Brian Jones, a grad student in philosophy at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, recently had a wonderful article on the role of philosophy in the New Evangelization up on the Crisis Magazine website . One of the things that attracts me the most about Thomism is that it straight forwardly asserts that there are truths we can know about the world around us. Jones writes that

St. Thomas Aquinas taught that the truths man could know are not just the heritage of the philosophers, but of anyone that is born into the human race. Philosophic truths are often based upon what one already knows through his experience of the world around him. One need not be a professional philosopher to discover this. In fact, being a professional philosopher could be detrimental to this realization. The certitude of man’s confidence in knowing the world outside of his own mind, and the confidence that what we know about the external world is actually true, is the great patrimony of perennial philosophy.

Throughout the article Jones argues that faith and reason are distinct and of a  ‘different order’ yet indissolubly linked since they proceed from the ‘same source’.  This is an important truth and one I think would go a long way in helping to bridge the divide  between science and religion and healing the rifts brought about in today’s culture wars.  Toward the end Jones has a great  line that I wish I had written

The healing of man and culture will ultimately come about through a restoration of the unity between faith and reason.

Read the whole thing here.

Logic old and new

I’ve been avidly following a debate that has arisen recently over the respective merits of modern symbolic logic versus traditional logic. Peter Kreeft started the whole affair with an article Clashing Symbols The Loss of Aristotelian Logic & the Social, Moral & Sexual Consequences. in Touchstone Magazine.

I haven’t read it yet but between the article’s title and what I’ve read of Kreeft’s book Socratic Logic, I can safely conclude Kreeft is fairly hostile to modern symbolic logic. In response,  William Randolph Brafford has published  a rejoinder defending symbolic logic which can be found on the First Thoughts Blog.  

Martin Cothran, the author of several popular books on traditional logic, has jumped into the fray as well. He has two responses which can be found here and here.

Personally. I am very sympathetic to both Kreeft’s  and Cothran’s  positions. I have enjoyed studying traditional logic very much but have found symbolic logic baffling and esoteric. In truth, I just don’t know enough about modern logic to make a qualified judgement on the matter. However, I do plan on reading the books that Cothran mentions in his posts as well as continuing my studies in both branches of  logic.

Aquinas for the Modern Age

3 A.M Magazine recently posted an in-depth interview with John Haldane, a Scottish philosopher who has brought Aquinas into dialogue with modern analytic philosophy. It’s a  great read.

For more on Analytical Thomism see here.

Think Again

I seem to have been the last person in the world not to have heard of Coursera. Yesterday I was at wok and I ran across a colleague on an on-line forum discussing the critical thinking course Think Again that he was taking from Coursera. I thought it sounded like a great idea so I enrolled in the course and have been pleasantly surprised, so much so, that I enrolled in the Introduction to Philosophy and the Introduction to Logic course which will be offered starting next year.

I am hoping that the course will be the answer to my logic learning blues. In addition, I am hoping coursera will eventually offer more courses in philosophy.

For more about Coursera see here.

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