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Introduction to Philosophy and Faith

with Father Francis Selman       

"When we are unwell we go to the doctor. The purpose of a doctor is to make us healthy again but in order to achieve his aim he has to spend a large amount of time studying disease. In a society like that of Great Britain today, more people listen to the doctor than the priest. In other words, people are more concerned with the health of their body than with the health of their soul. Not that our physical health is of little importance: after all, wen Jesus was on earth he cured countless people by the miracles that he performed. But Jesus Christ did not just come to alleviate physical suffering: he also came to preach the truth. Likewise, every Christian has a mission, given with baptism, to profess and proclaim the truth. But in order to do this, he also has to refute error. This requires one first to know about and understand various forms of error. Also many of the criticisms of, and attacks on, the Christian, especially Catholic faith come from reason and have, therefore, to be patiently answered and refuted equally by reason. This is why it is useful, and even necessary, for a Christian to know something about philosophy. We are even enjoined to do this by Scripture itself: St Peter tells us to 'be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you' (1 Pt 3:15). The first example of someone using the reason of philosophy in preaching the Christian faith is Saint Paul arguing with the Athenian philosophers on the Areopagus in acts, chapter 17. One of the Fathers of the Church, St Gregory Nazianzen, said that attention to logos (reason) is fitting service of the Logos (the Word). And Blessed John Henry Newman said that the gift of faith does not dispense us from using our minds. God clearly means us to use our minds, since our contemporaries rightly expect us and the Church to have answers to various questions but we do not find the answers stated in Scripture. To give just one example: the Bible tells us that the world was created by God but many people think that it is the result of chance: we have to show by reason that the world cannot just have come about by chance and why, therefore, it has been created. This use of reason is philosophy. Philosophy also helps us to reflect more deeply on what has been given to us in revelation for our faith. As philosophy literally means the love of wisdom, the study of philosophy can also be part of the love of Christ, whom St Paul called 'the Wisdom of God' (1 Cor 1:30).

With these words of introduction in mind, I propose to give a simple outline of philosophy in 12 talks. Each talk will last under 10 minutes. We shall start with Plato and Aristotle, who provide the foundation of all philosophy; third will be St Augustine. From the Middle Ages I shall take St Thomas Aquinas and William Ockham. We then come to modern philosophy, starting with Descartes, followed by David Hume, Immanuel Kant and Hegel with Karl Marx. In the 20th century, I shall look at the Existentialists on the European continental side, and at Bertrand Russell and Wittgenstein on the side of philosophy in the English speaking world."