History of philosophy I: ancient philosophy


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Fides quaerens intellectum omnia explicat.
1. Choose five of the philosophers we studied and write a brief evaluation of the way they conducted their courses, as if you had been one of their students. Include not only what you learned from them, but the effectiveness of their teaching style.
2. What accounts for the pre-eminence of St. Thomas Aquinas among the philosophers of the Middle Ages? Why is he called “the Common Doctor”?
3. Comment on the general perception that the history of medieval philosophy contains an ongoing and unresolved tension between the neo-Platonic/Augustinian tradition and the neo-Aristotelian/Scholastic tradition. Do you see this as an advantage or a liability for the progress and development of philosophy?
4. Is Christian philosophy, as it was worked out in the Middle Ages, the only adequate and valid way to philosophize? Why, or why not?
5. Viewing the medieval period within the larger context of the history of philosophy, would you say that the controversies and rivalries that frequently agitated intellectual life in the Middle Ages did more to advance or to retard philosophical development?
6. It has been maintained that a morally upright life is closely related to the way philosophy is practiced (i.e. that there is a close correlation between truth and goodness). Is there evidence of this factor in the division that began during the Middle Ages between thinkers who try to harmonize reason and faith and those who try to separate them? Or is that a purely intellectual issue?


1. What knowledge that we gained in the previous history course (Greek and Roman antiquity) was principally relevant for our studies in this second course? In particular, why did it take Aristotle’s influence so much longer than Plato’s to penetrate the subsequent history of philosophy?
2. If our main concentration in this course was on St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, why did we give so much attention to other schools and thinkers? Why do we need to know, for example, what were the main centers of philosophical life not only in the V and XIII centures, but also in the VIII, X, and XV?
3. With respect to Aquinas, what mainly accounts for his achievement? Why did it take so long for his contributions to become widely recognized in the history of philosophy? How did St. Thomas teach? What did he expect of his students?
4. With respect to Augustine, why was he an “instant hit” and become established as the foremost philosophical authority for a thousand years? What impact did this have on St. Thomas’ formation?

5. What is Scholasticism and how did it arise in the history of philosophy? Explain the Scholastic method of inquiry. Is it the same as Thomism? Is it the same as philosophical realism? Why do our institutional studies depend so heavily on Thomism?

6. If the modern Popes and so many leading philosophers of the XX century found in Thomism the greatest achievement of the philosophical mind, why did its influence begin to decline even during the lifetime of St. Thomas and take so long to reappear in the universities?
7. How did the connection between faith and reason develop during the Middle Ages? What brought them together? What caused their separation? What happened to philosophy when they worked closely together, and when they separated?
8. Besides Augustine and Aquinas, we recognized the eminence of six other major philosophers. What mainly characterizes the contributions of Anselm, Albert, Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, and Dante? Why do historians also give importance to Averroës and Ockham?
9. Who were these men, when were they active, and what is their significance for medieval philosophy?—Origen, Isidoro of Seville, Boethius, Pseudo-Dionysius, Alcuin, William of Moerbeke.
10. Why were so many of the medieval philosophers “controversial”?—most notably Peter Abailard, Siger of Brabant, William of Ockham, Meister Eckhard, Averroës. Did the controversies and rivalries that developed during the Middle Ages advance or retard the development of philosophy?
11. How is the quest for truth related to love for the good in medieval philosophy? What were the specific contributions of Augustine, Bonaventure, and Dante in understanding that relationship?
12. When and why did logic replace metaphysics as the main concern of philosophers? What were the consequences? How did nominalism arise from this development?
13. Explain the significance of the problem of universals in the history of philosophy? The problem of illumination?
14. Did these learned men become saints because of their work in philosophy or in spite of it?—Justin, Augustine, Anselm, Albert, Aquinas, Bonaventure, Duns Scotus. Can we derive any lessons from this?
15. Did the following saintly men fail to be canonized because of their work in philosophy or in spite of it?—Origen, Boethius, Dante. Can we derive any lessons from this?
16. What, finally, is the main lesson philosophy learned from the men of the Middle Ages? Why is it sometimes maintained that the Middle Ages have not yet ended?


Roseaire Conference Center June 6-19, 1999
Professor John Gueguen

This course deals with modern philosophy from its beginnings in the fifteenth century to the early nineteenth century.

As an introduction, it describes the most characteristic features of modern philosophy and culture (including the twentieth century), which in a general way struck a humanistic chord composed of several related elements. These included a close consideration of man as the centerpiece of the world and along with it insisted upon the independence of man and of science from ecclesiastical influence, broad expressions of freedom and of human rights in political life, and the supreme value of human reason. Another element gave a disproportionate value to the centrality of man; this led to an immanentist anthropocentrism and insistence upon an absolute autonomy which led to a series of ruptures between man and God, reason and faith, nature and grace, freedom and authority. These were to have harmful consequences in subsequent history.

After this introduction, the course takes up the cultural impact of humanism and the thought of Renaissance figures, such as Nicholas of Cusa, who consciously inserted an anthropological emphasis into traditional theology.

Turning to sixteenth-century thought, the course analyzes the flourishing of scholastic philosophy alongside the beginnings of a crisis of skepticism in metaphysics and ethics; this was to continue into the seventeenth century in the form of boundless intellectual liberty.

The modern scientific revolution is also considered, as the primary cause of a crisis in the traditional philosophy of nature and of knowledge, which opened the way into the typical themes of modern thought. DESCARTES tried to introduce a novel philosophy by employing a method of absolute certitude in order to provide a firm foundation for the sciences and to overcome skepticism. This rationalist philosophy was further developed by Malebranche, Spinoza, and Leibniz, and criticized by authors such as Pascal and Vico. The philosophical empiricism of BACON, HOBBES, LOCKE, BERKELEY, and HUME proposed the senses as the principal subject for critical analysis, an anti-metaphysical orientation that led to devastating consequences for man, both in ethics and in politics.

In the eighteenth century, the main topic is the Enlightenment, which presented in a particularly vivid way the radical autonomy of reason and a corresponding critique of traditional religion. The critical philosophy of KANT deserves special attention, for it represents an original synthesis of the intellectual ideals of the enlightened man along with an attempt to provide a new grounding for philosophy, science, ethics, and freedom.

The best-known representatives of what was called romantic philosophy--a criticism of the Enlightenment--were the idealist thinkers, Fichte, Schelling, and HEGEL. Although they sought to overcome divisions caused by the insistence on absolute autonomy, these thinkers were unable to avoid absolutizing the person and reason. Thus Hegelian philosophy opened the way for historicism.

PROLOGUE: John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 45-46

C. The Drama of the Separation of Faith and Reason

45. When the first universities brought theology into a more intimate contact with other branches of learning, St. Albert and St. Thomas recognized both the organic link and the legitimate distinction between theology and the secular disciplines as autonomous but mutually reinforcing fields of research; in the later Middle Ages, however, an increasing separation between them led to a division into exaggerated rationalism independent of faith and meant to replace it altogether, and an exaggerated fideism which mistrusted reason even to the point of denying rationality.

46. In the subsequent development of Western philosophy, strong currents opposed to Christian Revelation arose from these radical positions and reached their apogee in the nineteenth century: idealism transformed the contents of faith into dialectical structures fully accessible to reason; atheistic humanism replaced faith, which it regarded as alienating to the human spirit, with new socio-political religions and the disastrous totalitarian experiments they engendered; positivism, beguiled by technological progress, succumbed to the temptation of a quasi-divine power over nature and man, rejecting at the same time metaphysical and moral criteria; nihilism, seeing everything as fleeting and provisional, rejected the possibility of attaining permanent truths and forming lasting commitments, and offered in their place immediate sensual gratification and ephemeral experiences which still attract many of our contemporaries.


class 1 (June 6)

reading: Walsh (1990), pp. 1-5.

reading: Casarella (1999); McInerny (1998); Cessario (1999); Di Noia

(1999); Young (1999), pp. 6-19.

class 2 (June 7)

reading: John Paul II (1998), espec. sec. 1-6, 45-48, 80-91; pp. 20-36.
class 3 (June 8)

reading: Sheen (1925), pp. 37-54.

class 4 (June 9)

reading: de Torre (1997); Gilson-Langan (1963); pp. 55-61, 72-85.

class 5 (June 11)

reading: Congdon (1986), Barrett (1986); pp. 86-103.

class 6 (June 12)

reading: Adler (1985), pp. 104-113.

class 7 (June 14)

reading: Chesterton (1910), Berdyaev (1935); pp. 114-132.
class 8 (June 15)

reading: Guardini (1956), Kolakowski (1988); pp. 133-155.
class 9 (June 16)

reading: Dupre (1994), Guerra (1994); pp. 156-170.

class 10 (June 18)

reading: de Torre (1997); John Paul II (1980); (1998), especially sec. 28-

35, 43-44, 57-63, 75-79, 100-108; pp. 62-71, 20-36.

Adler, Mortimer Ten Philosophical Mistakes: Basic Errors in Modern Thought

New York: Macmillan, 1985

Barrett, William Death of the Soul: From Descartes to the Computer

New York: Doubleday, 1986

Berdyaev, Nikolai The Fate of Man in the Modern World

Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan, 1961 (1935)

Chesterton, G. K. What’s Wrong with the World

New York: Sheed and Ward, 1956 (1910)

Congdon, Lee “Unscientific Postscript,” The World and I (July, 1986), 458-463
de Torre, Joseph M. The Humanism of Modern Philosophy

Manila: Univ. of Asia and the Pacific, 1997 (1989)

Dupre, Louis “The Modern Idea of Culture: Its Opposition to Its Classical and Christian Origins,” Modernity and Religion, ed., McInerny

Notre Dame: Univ. of Notre Dame, 1994

Gilson, Etienne, and Thomas Langan Modern Philosophy

New York: Random House, 1963

Guardini, Romano The End of the Modern World

New York: Sheed and Ward, 1956

Guerra, Francois-Xavier “The Paradoxes of Modernity,” Modernity and Religion, ed., Ralph McInerny

Notre Dame: Univ. of Notre Dame, 1994

John Paul II, Pope “St. Thomas Aquinas in Our Time” (1980); Appendix in de Torre
Kolakowski, Leszek Metaphysical Horror

Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988

Sheen, Fulton J. God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy

Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1958 (1925)

Walsh, David After Ideology: Recovering the Spiritual Foundations of Freedom

San Francisco: Harper, 1990


A Seminar at Northview University Center, January 10-12, 1992
Notes of John Gueguen
Some preliminary questions: Why do so many young people turn away from Christianity and refuse to let it influence their lives? What makes them constantly and restlessly pursue what is new or newer, and to discard what is old or older? Why is there such an extreme consciousness of a need for liberation, or emancipation by so many discontented elements of our society? Is impatience a necessary consequence of progress and discovery in the natural sciences? Can we discover why modern intellectuals think of human well being in terms of imperfect and perfect structures, or patterns of organization?
Some answers given by Jacques Maritain in two lectures at the University of Notre Dame, October 8 and 10, 1956:
I. The fear of death, as the most terrible of things, as the most irrational, mysterious, and destabilizing of experiences.

A longing for immortality, as perverted by atheistic assumptions: that one should seek refuge in a world spirit capable of conferring immortality within history through a constantly developing dialectic.

Human reason can achieve total victory when nothing irrational remains to oppose it. (Hegel was the greatest irrationalist in the history of philosophy, and at the same time the most “rational.”)
II. Misunderstanding or misinterpreting freedom (something to be conquered and overcome).

Singularity, personhood, and freedom are expelled from the individual and placed within a greater whole. They become real only beyond the individual--in a structure devised by the mind (the State).

III. Freedom as the realization that my interests are represented by and contained with the interests of the State—the highest and most complete freedom as unification with and submergence in the State, as escape from my own particularity.

The State as supreme objectification (externalization) of the Spirit; nothing can be superior to it. It is divine (self-subsisting). There is nothing holier than the Law of the State. Only the State saves.

IV. The roots of this idea are in Hobbes and Rousseau, but only Hegelian philosophy is religious from its very foundation (an immanent religion, which eliminates transcendent religion). It kills true religion because the spiritual is captured by the temporal (“bad divinization”).

Theology is taken over by philosophy; the State absorbs the Church.

The most imponderable matters are brought within the control of the Legislator’s mind. It creates its own savior. Man attains perfect freedom by becoming divine, the Emperor of the world, of history.
Idealism is the logic of modern intellectuals:

(1) The world as it is has radical defects and is therefore totally unacceptable (the total critique);

(2) I can see in my mind a paradise,utopia, the perfect way to organize the world.

(3) In order to replace the actual world, all that is necessary is to find a way to implement my idea of a perfect world order.

This kind of thinking is rooted in a jealousy and hatred of God. The Creator is blamed for a bad job of it, and the intellectual imagines himself as a new and better creator. The Self is equipped with superhuman powers of insight.

Idealism collapses the distinction between actual being (in fact) and logical being (in reason); what is real is rational. Logic absorbs metaphysics; being becomes nothing.

Contrast this with philosophical realism:

(1) The world as it is has many defects, along with its good features, but there are good reasons for them and one must strive to work within the limitations.

(2) One can surely imagine many ways of improving things.

(3) It is good to try to improve the world, so long as one doesn’t imagine that it is possible to eliminate all its imperfections.

The realist tries to understand what the Creator has done and what He has permitted us to do.
For the modern intellectuals, philosophy is conceived of as a system that is intended to create structures (effective machinery of policy and power). They see it as task-oriented; something is to be done (constructed). Example: Comte’s system of positive philosophy; its application (pragmatism) by his disciples (James, Dewey).
For the classical realists, philosophy is inquiry; instead of making statements, it asks questions (something is to be understood). Structures are necessary, but they are seen as provisional, experimental, temporary expedients.


Roseaire Conference Center, June 5-17, 2000

Professor John Gueguen

Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 47-48

47. Recent cultural shifts have tended to marginalize philosophy and reduce it from universal wisdom and learning in quest of life’s meaning and ultimate goal in the contemplation of truth, to one among many fields of knowing directed by subjective and utilitarian motives to the pursuit of pleasure or power. Twenty years ago (in Redemptor Hominis) the drama of present-day human existence was shown to contain a danger that the very works of human genius—of intellect and will—would turn against man and burden him with fear of new forms of servitude.
48. While the recent history of philosophy reveals a growing separation between faith and reason, on closer scrutiny we also find in it seminal insights which can lead to the discovery of truth if pursued by a rightly tuned mind and heart—for example, analyses of personhood, freedom, time, perception and experience, especially the experience of death. When faith and reason are deprived of each other they take futile side-tracks: reason misses the newness and radicality of being; faith risks withering into myth and superstition….

Introduction. (class 1)
This final segment of the history of philosophy attempts to present in 20 classes an understanding and evaluation of the principal philosophical currents which arose around the beginning of the 19th century in the aftermath of idealism and continued to develop throughout the 20th. Inevitably, the course will be selective in its focus upon thinkers and ideas judged to be most significant for us in the West today. Within the broad outline of the historical record (what has been thought, and by whom), emphasis will be placed on explaining those elements which have contributed the most to true understanding and which therefore have the most promise for the new millennium.

The recent history of philosophy has been characterized by extreme diversity among hypotheses, positions, and reactions and by the proliferation of ideologies. Particular emphasis has been placed on logic and linguistics, anthropological questions, and the search for new methods of philosophical analysis. Toward the end of the 20th century these developments culminated in “post-modernism,” a sharp critical and culturally evolutionary reaction to most of the principles previously defended by philosophers. This atmosphere of doubt and denial has had the effect of permitting a strong reaffirmation of the proper sphere of rational inquiry—most recently by Pope John Paul II in Fides et Ratio.

On balance, this culminating study of the history of philosophy affords a clear overview of the 2,500-year career of man’s conscious search for the whole truth about the world and his place within it and above it. The ancient tradition of a realistic philosophy which accepts the evidence of perceptible reality and is open to transcendent knowledge, human spirituality, and the higher plane of Christian revelation, can now be seen in its full significance within the whole panoply of philosophical currents and methods.

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