The Shifting Experience of Self   /   Spring 2011   /    Book Reviews

The Surprising Camaraderie of Philosophy and Theology

Nicholas Wolterstorff

Main Reading Room, Library of Congress, by Carol M. Highsmith; flickr.

In the Introduction to God, Philosophy, Universities, Alasdair MacIntyre observes that three convictions led to his writing the book: “an educated Catholic laity needs to understand a good deal more about Catholic philosophical thought than it now does”; “Catholic philosophy is best understood historically, as a continuing conversation through centuries”; and the institutional settings in which philosophy is practiced, especially universities, shape the “philosophical conversation, both to its benefit and to its detriment.” 

This explanation of why he wrote the book raises the question of whether there is any point to non-Catholics listening in on what he has to say to his fellow Catholics. I think there is. First, the book culminates in a lament about the current state of philosophy and the university and a vision of what they might be instead; we should all take this lament and this vision seriously, whatever our religious or nonreligious convictions. Second, for those philosophers who are theists but not Catholic, developments in the Catholic philosophical tradition often prove directly relevant to their own work. And third, for those of us who are Christian philosophers of a Protestant persuasion, Augustine and Anselm are not just forebears of the Catholic philosophical tradition but our forebears as well, and Aquinas, Scotus, and Ockham are not just early figures in the Catholic philosophical tradition but also early figures in our tradition. 

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