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Philosophy 101 Meets Socrates, by Peter Kreeft

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 Contents - Nov 2005AD2000 November 2005 - Buy a copy now
Editorial: A remarkable Catholic parish
National Press Club: Cardinal George Pell on the dictatorship of relativism - Cardinal George Pell
News: The Church Around the World
Sister Miriam Duggan: the Church's response to AIDS - Anh Nguyen
Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist: areas for remedial action identified - Peter Westmore
Thomas More Centre: Fifty years from Shadowlands: Childhood memories of the world of C. S. Lewis - Msgr Peter J. Elliott
Call to Holiness: Contemplating the Eucharistic Face of Christ - Christine McCarthy
Letters: Myths exploded - Nola Viney
Letters: Church Music - Chris Wilson
Letters: New Zealand visitor to Brisbane - Leo Leitch
Letters: Gnostic gospels and the Da Vinci Code - Fr G.H. Duggan SM
Letters: Example needed - Betty Griffin
Letters: Basic differences to overcome - Dr Arnold Jago
Letters: SSPX response - Timothy Hungerford
Letters: Vatican II and Benedict XVI - Jim Howe
Books: The Incredible Da Vinci Code, by Frank Mobbs - Michael Gilchrist (reviewer)
Books: Philosophy 101 Meets Socrates, by Peter Kreeft - Bill Muehlenberg (reviewer)
Books: Stem Cells, by Norman M. Ford and Michael Herbert - Kerrie Allen
Books: More good reading from AD Books
Reflection: The concrete character of Christianity - John Young

by Peter Kreeft.
(Ignatius Press, 2002, 149pp, $22.00. Available from AD Books)

Peter Kreeft has taught philosophy for over forty years. He is also a Christian. So what does philosophy have to do with Christianity? Or as Tertullian put it long ago, what does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?

Well quite a bit really, according to Kreeft. For example, both are, or should be, concerned with truth, or the discovery of truth. Both are concerned about going beyond appearances and getting at reality.

Thus Kreeft thinks philosophy, properly understood and practised, can be a real aid to the believer. This book is an introductory primer to philosophy, or more specifically, to doing philosophy. Kreeft thinks that Plato/Socrates may have been our greatest philosopher, and his works make for an excellent entry point to philosophy.

Kreeft concentrates on three dialogues that exemplify Socrates' method and manner: the Apology of Socrates, the Euthyphro, and the Phaedo. Kreeft enjoys using these dialogues as they do not just talk about philosophy but they actually show us philosophy in action.

The Apology is the main text focused on. In it Kreeft tells us forty different things about philosophy and the philosophical method. As we all know, philosophy is the love of wisdom. It differs from mere knowledge, and God is its source. While God has wisdom, man pursues it. In this Socrates and biblical religion are on common ground.

Moreover, the quest of philosophy is not for truth as found in the physical sciences, but moral and eternal truths, as found in religion. Moral questions, like "What is justice?", cannot be answered by the physical sciences.

A key issue raised in the Euthyphro is the connection between God and goodness. Can we be good without God?

The two options presented are, 1) that God chooses what is good (Euthyphro's position), and 2) that God is subject to what is good (Socrates' position). Of course Christians tend to say that this is a false dilemma, and argue for a third position, that God's goodness is coterminous with his nature. Position one seems to make God arbitrary, and position two seems to make goodness greater than God. But the third option fully equates goodness with God. What God commands is good because it is in accord with his own good nature.

The last work examined, the Phaedo, is the story of the death of Socrates. It is also the argument of Socrates for why life extends beyond the grave, for why the soul is immortal.

Timeless truths

To refer to the earlier discussion about historicity, Kreeft reminds us that while Christianity cannot survive without Christ, philosophy can survive without an historical Socrates. Even if he is just the creation of Plato's pen, his timeless truths live on.

It was Alfred North Whitehead who once said that the European philosophical tradition "consists of a series of footnotes to Plato." No one can improve upon the greatness of Plato/ Socrates. His greatness and wisdom live on. Thus there is so much we can learn from Socrates, so much we are indebted to.

He is not the equivalent of Christ, but he bears many similarities, as Kreeft points out throughout this book - although there are real shortcomings to Socrates. His insistence on the importance of the soul was as valuable as his denial of the importance of the body was flawed.

Believers need not be ashamed of nor afraid of philosophy. In its proper form, it leads us to truth. In the Christian tradition, God is truth, so that in a fallen world, external revelation is needed to supplement internal inquiry.

But is it possible that God can use pre-Christians like Socrates to teach us much about life and even Himself? Kreeft thinks so, and this book goes a long way in showing Christians how to appreciate the beauties of philosophy.

In other books in this series, Kreeft shows the dark side of reckless philosophy (as in his discussions about Sartre and Marx). But here we learn of the good purposes which philosophy can serve.

Bill Muehlenberg is National Vice-President of the AFA.

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Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 18 No 10 (November 2005), p. 16

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