Far from matching its common caricature as a meaningless consideration of abstract academic speculations, genuine philosophy touches the very core of human experience, dealing with questions and themes central to every life: Is there a God? Which is at the ultimate root of reality, reason or blind chance? Is death the end or is the soul immortal? What is the good life, and what is happiness? How should political institutions be structured so as best to promote human flourishing?
The importance of these questions, and of the habits of mind by which we investigate them well, explains why not just great philosophers but also great statesmen of the past, such as the American Founding Fathers, were educated so thoroughly in philosophical dialectic, in the Platonic and Aristotelian/Scholastic traditions of rigorous logic and subtle distinction-making. Unmoored from a sound worldview and outlook on the most fundamental questions, the search for solutions to the world’s problems—hunger, violence, oppression, disease—risks becoming fruitless and, at the hands of shallow and nihilistic philosophy, even pointless.
Wyoming Catholic College thus offers a traditional Philosophy curriculum which has as its goal “the search for ultimate truth,” the modern world’s neglect of which was lamented by Saint John Paul II in his encyclical Fides et Ratio (§5), in which he explored the themes of faith and reason and the discipline of philosophy in man’s journey. To succeed in this search, it is important to study the proper subjects in their proper order: logic, the philosophy of nature, the philosophy of man, ethics, politics, and metaphysics.
The Philosophy curriculum does more than survey divergent viewpoints that have been expressed over the centuries. It carefully examines and reflects upon our common human experiences, recognizing that it is through dialectic and demonstration that universal principles may be intuited and true conclusions about reality can be reached. The primary author in the sequence is Aristotle, whom St. Thomas Aquinas simply referred to as “the Philosopher,” Dante as “the master of those who know,” and Blessed John Henry Newman as “the great Master.” In the final semester, the perennial philosophy is set alongside seminal works of modern philosophers, both to assess their deficiencies and to appreciate the new insights they bring.
This course introduces students to the science of logic, the fundamental prerequisite to the study of philosophy. The chief part of the semester is devoted to the three acts of the intellect, apprehension, assertion, and deduction. Students consider the nature of the intellect’s act in grasping concepts and naming them, and the distinction of univocal and equivocal speech that follows upon this, treating at some length the equivocity of being and its highest genera through a study of Aristotle’s Categories. Next, the act of assertion or predication is considered, and then the formation and use of syllogisms and deductive reasoning. In the last part of the semester, students study the application of these concepts to the principles of demonstration and reasoning and to the pursuit of knowledge through the philosophical act.
|Aristotle||Categories; On Interpretation, Prior Analytics, and Posterior Analytics, selections|
|St. Thomas Aquinas||Commentary on the Posterior Analytics II.19|
|Pieper||“The Philosophical Act”|
This subject is often called the “general science of nature” because it investigates and establishes the general presuppositions of the three major sciences of biology, physics, and chemistry, which study material beings from more particular vantages. In this course, students study ens mobile (mobile being)—that is, material things insofar as they change, which is the most obvious truth about them. We differentiate between substantial and accidental change, reason to the ultimate principles that explain change, grasp the distinction between potency and act, relate nature, art, and chance to one another, compare absolute and hypothetical necessity, probe the four kinds of causes (formal, material, efficient, and final), and seek out the definition of motion.
|St. Thomas Aquinas||Commentary on Physics III 1–3; On the Principles of Nature|
|Plato||Timaeus and Phaedo, selections|
The focus of this course is living material beings, especially their pinnacle, man. What is the definition of life and what are the activities of living? How are living things different from nonliving creatures and machines? What is a human being? How does man differ from other animals? Related topics include the external and internal sense powers, the passions, the rational powers of intellect and will, the unity of body and soul, and the immortality of the human soul.
|Aristotle||On the Soul; Parts of Animals, selections|
|St. Thomas Aquinas||Commentary on Aristotle’s On the Soul; Compendium theologiae 78–90|
|Baldner, De Koninck, George, Johnson, Kass, Talbott, Tallis||Selected essays|
Having considered the nature of man in PHL 201, we move on in PHL 301 to a consideration of the proper action of man that follows upon his nature. Ethics is the study of human acts as they are ordered to the full flourishing of man on the natural level. Since happiness (under one name or another) is the ultimate end sought by all, ethics deals perforce with the question: What is happiness and how does one attain it? This inquiry necessarily leads to related topics, such as mistaken notions of happiness, the moral and intellectual virtues and their corresponding vices, justice, friendship, and the natural moral law.
|St. Thomas Aquinas||Summa theologiae I-II, selections|
Politics is the study of man as a “social animal” who forms political bodies—cities or states—ordered to the common good (or, when corrupted, to private goods at the expense of truly common goods). Politics deals with questions such as: What are family, society, and state, and how do they stand vis-à-vis one another? What are the various forms of government and their relative strengths and weaknesses? What constitutes good or bad rulership and citizenship? To help us answer these questions, we will study a number of historically influential and philosophically paradigmatic approaches to answering these questions—those of Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau.
|St. Thomas Aquinas||On Kingship; Summa theologiae I-II.90–97|
|St. Augustine||The City of God, selections|
|Locke||Second Treatise of Government|
|Rousseau||Discourse on the Origin of Inequality|
Metaphysics is the study of being as being. The metaphysician seeks to know the ultimate principles of everything that exists, exploring such topics as the analogy of being and the sciences of being, the derivation of the many from the one, the principle of non-contradiction, the primacy of substance, the division of being by act and potency, and the distinction between existence and essence, seeking above all to know the First Cause from which all finite being emanates, and something of this Cause’s attributes. In addition to metaphysics’ scientific, timeless character, it has had a long and complicated historical development—ancient, scholastic, modern, and post-modern—theunderstanding of which is vitally important for retrieving and reassessing the classical tradition in modern times.
|Aristotle||Metaphysics I, II, and IV|
|St. Thomas Aquinas||On Being and Essence, Prologue to Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics|
|Descartes||Meditations on First Philosophy, Discourse on Method|
|Gillespie||“The Theological Origins of Modernity”|
|Gilson||The Unity of Philosophical Experience|
|Hegel||The Philosophy of History, selections|
|Hume||Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, selections|
|St. John Paul II||Fides et ratio, selections|
|Kant||Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics|
|Nietzsche||On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense|