Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Thinker in the Street Corner

The importance of having some acquaintance with good philosophical skills and the ability to think philosophically can't be understated.

Philosophy is essentially common sense with a technical vocabulary to enable one to discuss the finer points. Well, good philosophy anyhow.

And that's precisely what the problem has been for the past four hundred years. Philosophy has become something for the birds. It has no relation to what the man-in-the-street thinks. "All that crazy stuff philosophers philosophize about" and it's a forgivable thought for much of it has been capable of such characterization.

This is brilliantly summarised in the chapter on "The Approach to Thomism" in G K Chesterton's book "St Thomas Aquinas." Please don't jump over this quote. Chesterton is priceless reading.

"Since the modern world began in the sixteenth century, nobody's system of philosophy has really corresponded to everybody's sense of reality: to what, if left to themselves, common men would call common sense. Each started with a paradox: a peculiar point of view demanding the sacrifice of what they would call a sane point of view. That is the one thing common to Hobbes and Hegel, to Kant and Bergson. to Berkeley and William James. A man had to believe something that no normal man would believe, if it were suddenly propounded to his simplicity; as that law is above right, or right is outside reason, or things are only as we think them, or everything is relative to a reality that is not there. The modern philosopher claims, like a sort of confidence man, that if once we will grant him this, the rest will be easy; he will straighten out the world, if once he is allowed to give this one twist to the mind."

If that's just wheting your appetite please also read this which follows shortly after (actually read the whole book):

"I am not, like Father D'Arcy, whose admirable book on St. Thomas has illuminated many problems for me, a trained philosopher, acquainted with the technique of the trade. But I hope Father D'Arcy will forgive me if I take one example from his book, which exactly illustrates what I mean. He, being a trained philosopher, is naturally trained to put up with philosophers. Also, being a trained priest, he is naturally accustomed, not only to suffer fools gladly, but (what is sometimes even harder) to suffer clever people gladly. Above all, his wide reading in metaphysics has made him patient with clever people when they indulge in folly. The consequence is that he can write calmly and even blandly sentences like these. "A certain likeness can be detected between the aim and method of St. Thomas and those of Hegel. There are, however, also remarkable differences. For St. Thomas it is impossible that contradictories should exist together, and again reality and intelligibility correspond, but a thing must first be, to be intelligible." Let the man in the street be forgiven, if he adds that the "remarkable difference" seems to him to be that St. Thomas was sane and Hegel was mad."

1 comment:

Stephen said...

yes I have noticed that they have stocked some material by Sr Joan "Shit-stirrer" as well.