image of Socrates thinking

Philosophy: an exercise of the intelligence

(Originally published in the B.C. Catholic)

“What am I doing here…?” A mother answers she is here to take care of her children by working at home, or outside the home, or both. A father explains that he works to support his family, secure an income, and a future for his children. Ask a student, and she’ll say to complete her studies….to get her university degree… The answer changes after the children are grown up, after a degree is obtained…as the years go by. After a husband’s wife has died, when a woman’s husband has left her, the answer for many becomes less clear… “What am I doing here?”

If I ask you to stop and think about it, “Why are you here?” What would you answer? For people who are not used to pondering these sort of questions, looking for an answer may be somewhat disconcerting? If we stop and think: How do I know something is true or good? Who are the people who matter to me in my life? What does it mean to be happy? What are my responsibilities if I love someone? What role does society have in shaping my values? How do I know there is a God…?

There are those who avoid these questions distracting themselves with television and on-line chats, or keep themselves busy with the pursuit of pleasure in different forms, finding no time to reflect because they refuse to stop and think. Little time for children, and even less time for parents…ultimately, there is no time for God. The danger our society imposes on us is to stop thinking -- just “live and enjoy”! There is nothing wrong with merry-making, but a person who refuses to reflect is something of a “moron.”

Such questions have been asked for centuries? Thinking and enquiring are part of our human morphology. A person whose life is committed to enquiry, searching for answers is a philosopher. Someone once told me that philosophers are “trained to think” -- but this does not mean that a philosopher has all the answers, either. As Socrates maintained, the “wise man listens,” and so, the philosopher listens, observes, reflects, and finally, formulates the fruit of his reflection. When we ask questions, listen, and reflect, we are doing what philosophers do, seeking truth and goodness.

Christianity draws from Philosophy to better understand and articulate the Christian faith. In fact, Jesus, Son of God, was born at a time and in a part of the world where Greek philosophy was widespread influencing morals and politics. Greek philosophers attempted to understand human nature. The impact of Greek metaphysical concepts served to shed light on being, truth, goodness, oneness, and the beautiful. The importance that Philosophy has, or “reason,” in our faith journey is expressed with authority in Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical, Fides et Ratio. Also, at the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI presented his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, which draws specifically from Greek ethics when talking about love at the level of human experience. More recently, Archbishop Michael Miller in his lecture, The Church’s “Common Doctor,” Aquinas and the Contemporary Catholic University, clearly articulated the relationship between faith and reason by turning to St. Thomas Aquinas and the role Aquinas played in helping us understand the relationship between faith and reason.

Philosophy through the centuries has sought to answer fundamental human questions, and to offer a deepened understanding of the Christian faith. Beginning with pre-Christian philosophy in the Graeco-Roman world, moving through the different periods of philosophy from late Antiquity to the Medieval, and finally Modern philosophy, reason has been fundamental in shedding light on the significance of human experience. A metaphysical reflection on human experience leads the individual to God. Ultimately, Philosophy shows that absolute Truth and Goodness have their source in God.


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