« Pipes on the Pope | Main | Loyola Classics in the news »

January 18, 2006


T. Chan

i think the correct link is: http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/?p=153? unless updates automatically change the url of previous entries

i think those in the know would agree that the state of Catholic universities and colleges is rather abysmal--there are a few (mostly from the previous generation) pursuing the various forms of wisdom, but in later generations even those considered to be good and orthodox professors usually suffer from over-specialization


I seriously doubt that most of our more famous Catholic Universities turn out graduates with a decidedly catholic outlook. Political Correctness is rampant at Notre Dame, St Mary's, Georgetown, Boston College, Gonzaga, to name a few. You would have to return to the pre-Vatican II years in order to see a scholar who as a truely Catholic Weltanshuang.

Plato's Stepchild

Russell Hittinger hit the nail so hard on the head it rings.

Old Zhou

I like this line:We are dealing with a multi-billion dollar temple at the center of our culture.

Just one example: the University of California budget for 2005-2006 (PDF slide) is just under $20 billion. That is just the University of California, with over $3 billion in research funding last year (57% of which was Federal money).

Being "Catholic" is not going to get you far in this game, in this "temple" at the center of our culture. Not just Catholic, but Christian. A group of evangelical Protestant schools is suing UC because they refuse to accept "faith based" secondary education for admission.

The civil rights lawsuit filed by Calvary Chapel alleges that the 10-campus University of California is trampling the freedom of "a religious school to be religious." UC rejected the content of courses such as "Christianity's Influence in American History" and "Christianity and Morality in American Literature."

In court documents, UC says the free-speech clause of the First Amendment gives it the right to set admission standards. "What we're looking for is this: Is the course academic in nature, or is it there to promote a specific religious lifestyle?" UC spokeswoman Ravi Poorsina says.

The university rejected some class credits because Calvary Chapel relies on textbooks from leading Christian publishers, Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Book. A biology book from Bob Jones University presents creationism and intelligent design alongside evolution. The introduction says, "The people who have prepared this book have tried consistently to put the Word of God first and science second."

UC says such books would be acceptable as supplementary reading but not as the main textbook.

Bird, Calvary Chapel's lawyer, says this is the first case of its kind because California is the only state that rejects giving credit for high school courses and textbooks on the grounds that they put religion over academics. Any decision in the case is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, Bird says.

Religious educators and public universities nationwide have stakes in the outcome, says Charles Haynes, senior scholar on religious liberty issues at the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va.

The case "could have serious implications for religious schools all across the country if the university wins," Haynes says.

UC's policies are "likely to have a chilling effect on Christian schools," he says. "And what about Muslim schools? Are they next? They teach within a Koranic framework. That doesn't mean those kids aren't well-educated."

This multi-billion (trillion?) dollar "temple" at the center of our culture is secular; religious people need not apply (unless they want to keep their religion in the closet).

And yes, I do think that "Catholic scholarship" is pretty second rate these days. And I live in a town which was a "Catholic college town" since the 1930's--ancient on California time scales. I'm sure it used to provide a good, stable, respectable liberal arts education. But since the 1960's, liberal arts has been tossed by endless storms of activism and issues and causes and the curriculum looks like the scattered bits of after a plane crashes into a mountain. They tried to add science, but with no real impact (and much expense). Their cash cow is now an MBA program, and I'm sure very few students are Catholic. Weekday masses in the campus chapel often have no more than five students in attendance. Why bother?

But I think there are good Catholic thinkers out in the fringes. For instance, among monastics and religious involved in hard social issues, in inter-religious dialogue, in music and history, etc. Just look at the work at Solesmes on the history and development of chant and music. But the academic temple has no interest in these things.

Fine with me.

Anonymous Teacher Person

What about John Haldane? Is he not at least on the "B"-team of philosophers? I'm really not well-acquainted with the philosophy scene, but I was under the impression he was at least decently regarded by his colleagues.

Kevin Jones

What about John Haldane? Is he not at least on the "B"-team of philosophers?

Professor Haldane is at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. This dispute is about the American scene.

Most any Catholic who goes into higher education today needs a bit of masochism and a bite-resistant tongue.


In terms of - and this is a crucial point by Hittinger - *identifiably Catholic* scholars at American universities...it is hard to argue with Hittinger. It's pretty bleak.

Certainly there are a goodly number of fine brains employed at "Catholic" universities or who are nominally "Catholic," ones with "notoreity" and infleunce as well. But none could really deserve the name in terms of any integration of Church teaching or tradition into their thought. And that's being very generous with the term.

That was not the case in 1960.

I think there are whispers of a turnaround - at least for a growing "B-Team" - but it's small scale and on the fringes. This temple must be rebuilt from the ground up, I'm afraid.


Hittinger is right on. With a few notable exceptions, the Bench is predominently c-team at best--a mass of mediocrity either CINO, or with a cast of mind sufficiently docile to allow them to navigate the Blasphemies of the Temple Hittinger observes without too much cognitive dissonance without flipping off the rest of the department/faculty when the incoherence and hypocrisy get too much.


Sorry to ask an academic-sounding question, but what exactly is the question that's being raised here? It seems to me that some of the things people are saying in the ComBox aren't on the topic that Hittinger is raising.

It's one thing to ask whether there are any good Catholic scholars. It's another to ask whether there are any good Catholic schools. Still another to ask whether there are any good Catholic scholars in non-Catholic schools. Still another to ask whether there are any good Catholic scholars (in any schools) who are recognized as such by the non-Catholic academy.

Note Hittinger's remark: "Remember, I am not speaking absolutely of objective merit; rather, objective merit combined with what you have picked out in terms of notoriety, influence, etc." Isn't Hittinger suggesting that there are some pretty good Catholic scholars around, but that they aren't having a lot of impact on the present-day academy? That's not the same as doing what some have done, viz., complain that there aren't any good Catholic scholars these days at all.

John Farrell

What Al said. I can't imagine someone today coming even close to what Etienne Gilson was....

John Farrell

..or Josef Pieper...

bruce cole

Yeah, but in the Good Old Days, how many people came close to Gilson?

Tony A

Reminds me of a great quote from Michael Sean Winters in the New Republic about a year ago:

"The [...] problem is one of theological literacy. It is one thing for Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, John Paul's most important theological adviser, to meditate on the virtues of an all-male priesthood, since Ratzinger has forgotten more theology than most of his liberal critics ever knew. It's quite another to have young priests and bishops, educated in intellectually narrow seminaries and without serious immersion in either the Catholic tradition or the languages that constitute it, express grave doubts about female altar servers or Catholic Democrats who take Communion. Meanwhile, the self-declared Catholic "spokesmen" who took to the airwaves in recent weeks to pontificate on the Terri Schiavo case proved unable to give a compelling account of Catholic teaching on end-of-life issues--a teaching more complicated, contested, and rich than the blunt demand not to remove a single feeding tube. The contrast between the situation at the Second Vatican Council in the mid-'60s (when the elegant Latin and theological acumen of Americans like the Jesuit John Courtney Murray startled jaundiced Europeans) and the current moment (when some of the most visible "orthodox" American Catholics shuttle between pro-life protests and Mother Angelica's loopy Catholic cable network) could not be more stark."

He was writing in the context of Lubac's influence on JP2. Provocative, or what?


Why do we need or even want Catholic scholars? Isn't it enough to have scholars who are practicing Catholics? Long, long ago in the 60's at U.C. Berkeley I had a professor, Raymond Sontag, who was then considered a great scholar in modern European diplomatic history. Nothing in his lectures either suggested or denied that he was a Catholic. But the word got around that he was a Catholic because he went to Mass and received Communion at the noon time Mass at the on-campus Newman Center. He was a scholar who was Catholic but I don't think anyone thought of him as a Catholic scholar.

Old Zhou

Dear Caroline,

You ask, "Why do we need, or even want, Catholic scholars?"

I think there are a few facets to this.

(1) I think that in some areas, "Catholic Scholars" are impossible. I really don't think you will find Catholic Scholars in a lot of the academic areas that are clearly immoral or amoral (thinking of research in areas of biological and nuclear weapons, weapons to kill and disable humans with less damage to property, research in contraception methods, or embryonic stem cells, clearly vulgar and dehumanizing endeavors in liberal arts, etc.) Paradoxically, a lot of this immoral or amoral areas of academia are also high profile and big money.

(2) I think that in some areas, "Catholic Scholars" would be good because they could bring a moral perspective "inside" the discussion and development, but they would also tend to be a "pain in the butt" to their non-Catholic colleagues, and thus not be "chosen" for the teams. Areas include much academic economics, government studies, philosophy, arts, as well as sciences.

(3) Maybe "Catholic Scholars" should be content to be outside the mainstream, and do a good job of raising moral, ethical and theological red flags, without any "conflict of interest" from being inside the game.


While the quantity issue -- i.e., the number of Catholics in prestigious posts -- has important implications for our culture, it means nothing as to whether or not Catholics are winning a given intellectual argument. Substance ultimately matters more than numbers. In evaluating the state of Catholic intellectual life, one must go beyond counting how many Catholic professors are out there and consider what is the state of the art response of non-Catholic intellectuals to the arguments the Pope and other Catholics are making concerning, say, relativism, intelligent design/evolution and the threats that utilitarian philosphies pose to human dignity. There may be no way to objectively decide who is "winning" these arguments. But it is the arguments, not the numbers, that matter. The truth has a way of not being defeated (look at the pro-life movement -- no major instituion supports it other than the Catholic Church yet it won't go away). Plus, didn't Christ promise that the Church would endure to end times?

I remember reading a couple of years ago an article by a Jewish professor (I can't remember his name) in Harpers. The author was essentially bragging about how Jews now dominate philosophy faculties and as a consequence Christian ideas are not being taught or advocated. My reaction to this was that the author's way of thinking undercut any claim to intellectual superiority. If the status of a philosophy derives mainly from ethnic/religious make-up of the faculty, it doesn't seem to be much of a philosophy.

Jon W

Another reason is that early formation sucks. <- Incontrovertible fact, btw.

Young Catholics are much more likely to go to public schools, which even when they're good are much more interested in American cultural formation than truly deep, abiding Classical and Christian thought. And when they do go to Catholic schools ... well, I don't know about you, but I haven't been impressed.


Way back when, more Catholics went to Catholic schools where they received an education steeped more in the scholastic and universal classical thought of the ultramontane church. Nowadays, everybody's school's real American like, and that means no smarter than your average bear.

Add to that our adolescent culture and the fact that 75% of high school teachers are no more than glorified babysitters (my second incontrovertible fact), and you've got a recipe for a lot of not very smart nor scholarly Catholics.

Kevin Jones

Another reason is that early formation sucks.

Yep. Most Catholics of an intellectual stripe have to spend a few years studying up to have an understanding of the faith even roughly equivalent to their chosen areas of expertise. And that distracts from further honing their expertise, social life, family life, etc.


Could it be that academic prestige does not carry the cultural weight it did pre-1960. I recently read a transcript of a BBC debate between Bertrand Russell and Frederick Copleston, SJ regarding God and Morality. It was fascinating but dense material. Could such a debate ever happen in a popular venue with our sound byte culture. Granted there are very few Coplestons, Gilsons, or Maritains in our Ivory towers but there are very few academic voices (religious or secular)heard in our culture these days. Pete Singer, Richard Rorty and Noam Chomsky are a few names one hears about on the secular side, but they are hardly the heavyweights of Derrida, Camus, Sartre or Russell. The decline of influential Catholic academics mirrors a decline in influence academics of all stripes. It seems the influence of the academy is increasingly limited to academic circles.

Jon W

And that distracts from further honing their expertise, social life, family life, etc.

Crap. That explains a lot. Maybe it's time to move out of the basement.

Nick Frankovich

Kevin Jones writes: "Most any Catholic who goes into higher education today needs a bit of masochism and a bite-resistant tongue."

That is the succinct answer to Hittinger's observation, in my opinion.

About ten years ago a friend closing in on her Ph.D. (history) at Columbia told me this: A faculty member had just advised her that in fairness to herself she should choose between the Catholic Church and an academic career, because she would find she couldn't have both. She told me she thought her adviser was not anti-Catholic himself but just honest and sympathetic to her dilemma.

I could multiply examples.

There are analogies -- for example, conservative think tanks. One reason they were established is that young scholars who are avowedly conservative have a hard time on the academic job market. You can speculate that it's because they're not competitive, but then you look at the disproportionate influence that conservative think tanks have had on public opinion and public policy and you're left to wonder whether the reason conservative scholars are underemployed in academia is precisely that they are recognized to be highly able and at the same time conservative, which in the eyes of your average tenure committe is probably a combination to be avoided.

For another analogy, look at the controversy surrounding the department of Middle Eastern studies at Columbia. After years of frustration at what they deemed systematic bias in the department, pro-Israel students launched a canpaign to expose the problem. The administration appointed a committee composed of faculty with a known record of anti-Israelism and none with a record of pro-Israelism. (In defense of the administration, you could say that it's not clear that Columbia has any faculty [at least in the humanities or social sciences] who are willing to be identified as pro-Israel, but of course that would only support the grievances of the pro-Israel students.) The committee largely exonerated the department and threw a few bones to the students. The politics of all this was interesting. The student protest reminded everyone of 1968, but their cause was labeled right-wing. If you leaned left, you were likely to side with the administration in its effort to refute them.

Old Zhou

In regard to the general cultural impact of academia, perhaps "college for everybody" since the 1960's, rather than "college for the elite and upper class" of centuries past, has something to do with it. In 1900, you average college graduate was probably already well connected with the wealthy and powerful.

The American Institute of Physics, in lamenting the mediocore quality of many American physics programs in 2003, included some statistics on total Bachelors Degress offered. The endpoints are interesting:

1955, about 250,000 Bachelors degrees granted in US
2000, about 1,150,000 Bachelors degrees granted in the US

The steepest rise was in the 1970's.

There are many, many academic departments that will accept almost anyone for a graduate degree program if they (1) show interest; (2) work hard; (3) pay on time.

T. Chan


Sure there are noted Catholics intellectuals at non-Catholic colleges and universities, for example Robert George--but shouldn't we expect that Catholic schools, out of all places, should have scholars and intellectuals of the same quality, if not higher? But that is surely not the case. One can debate what the impact of people like George is on mainstream academia--but I think it is obvious that most universities, Catholic or otherwise, have whored themselves out for interests other than the pursuit of wisdom.

M. Anne

The quote above from the New Republic... is mis-credited. The passage comes from an article by Notre Dame professor (history) John McGreevy.

Tony A

M. Anne,

Oops, you are absolutely right. My memory was slightly faulty because the Winters and McGreevey articles were in the same issue of the New Republic (4/18/05). Thanks for the correction!

Sandra Miesel

Medieval studies is still fairly rich in Catholics--Mass is standing room only at the Kalamazoo International Congress on Medieval Studies. Some important American Catholic scholars at present would be Barbara Newman and her husband Richard Kieckhefer, and Edward Grant, plus John Bossy and Carlos Eire in Reformation studies. Highly respected in their fields but unknown to the outside world.
But then I doubt anyone here has heard of (now retired)Professor Theodore Brown, diamond spurred honcho among inorganic chemists, National Academy of Science member, and devout Catholic. I had him for class a few times when I was at the University of Illinois.

Sandra Miesel

Medieval studies is still fairly rich in Catholics--Mass is standing room only at the Kalamazoo International Congress on Medieval Studies. Some important American Catholic scholars at present would be Barbara Newman and her husband Richard Kieckhefer, and Edward Grant, plus John Bossy and Carlos Eire in Reformation studies. Highly respected in their fields but unknown to the outside world.
But then I doubt anyone here has heard of (now retired)Professor Theodore Brown, diamond spurred honcho among inorganic chemists, National Academy of Science member, and devout Catholic. I had him for class a few times when I was at the University of Illinois.

Sandra Miesel

Sorry for the double post. Your guardian program is suspicious of me again, Amy.


This thread reveals a lot of under-informed academy-bashing and not enough careful thinking.

If the question is "Are there lots of Catholics whose work is deeply informed by authentic Catholicism and who are highly influential in the secular academy in the U.S.?", then the answer is No. There are some, but not terribly many. No doubt we can blame ourselves for this to some extent, but why be surprised when the secular academy isn't strongly influenced by Catholic thinkers?

If, on the other hand, the question is "Are there lots of Catholics who are doing very good work informed by authentic Catholicism, even though this work is under-influential in the American academy?", then the answer is Yes. Should there be more? Of course there should be--there always should be more. But it's not a total wasteland. Perhaps some of the readers of this blog haven't heard of this work, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Perhaps it doesn't get discussed in the Nat'l Review and such, but serious philosophy and theology seldom do. (I'm not bashing NR, by the way. I'm just pointing out the limits of that sort of publishing.)

T. Chan, you said, "Sure there are noted Catholics intellectuals at non-Catholic colleges and universities, for example Robert George--but shouldn't we expect that Catholic schools, out of all places, should have scholars and intellectuals of the same quality, if not higher?" I think a distinction needs to be made. Do you want people who are "noted" or people who are high-quality? Those aren't the same thing, and they don't always go hand-in-hand, either. (I'm not bashing Robert George, by the way. I'm just drawing attention to an important and very common slip in reasoning--the confusion of "prestigious" with "high quality." The correlation between these two might be pretty high in, say, physics, but in the humanities it can get pretty low.)

Some of my colleagues here at CUA do very good work that doesn't get a lot of attention--especially it doesn't a lot of attention in popular and semi-popular venues. The same could be said of others in other Catholic schools. That doesn't mean it isn't high-quality.

And anyway when was the glorious time when Catholic thought was so very influential in the American academy?


Nor am I bashing Hittinger for suggesting there was a glorious time of Catholic influence in the American academy. He didn't say that, nor did I say he did. I'm just trying to point out that reasonable expectations will be fairly low expectations.

Old Zhou

Hmmmm....CUA's operating budget was $160 million for the year 2004-2005. The University of California goes through that in 3 days. Maybe that has something to do with the difference.

T. Chan

Dr. Gorman,

I think a distinction needs to be made. Do you want people who are "noted" or people who are high-quality?

re: my use of the word 'noted' -- I mean Catholics who are orthodox but nonetheless respected by their secular colleagues for their learned qualities--hence Robert George as an example. I was not talking about the heterodox who have some measure of fame for whatever reason, good or bad.


T. Chan, thanks for your response. I still say there's a difference between being respected by your secular colleagues for your learned qualities and actually being learned. Someone who engages in a trendy kind of research, or whose conclusions line up with currently fashionable views, can be respected as a good scholar when in fact he really isn't; someone whose interests are out of style, or whose conclusions contradict what most people think, will have a harder time gaining respect, even if he's very smart (it's not impossible, just harder, and we shouldn't use the danger that people are prejudiced against us as an excuse for being slackers).

Anyway, apparently you aren't raising the question of whether the Catholic scholars are good at their work. Instead you're raising the question of whether they are respected. Each question is worth raising--they just have to be kept separate.

I think everyone would agree that identifiably Catholic scholars don't garner lots of respect from their secular colleagues--that's to say, some do, but not very, very many.

The next question is: Why? Is it secular prejudice against Catholics? Is it that authentic Catholicism is out of step with the mainstream academy even apart from questions of prejudice? Is it that Catholic scholars actually are pretty lousy?

In other words: Catholics are under-represented in the academy, or anyway they're under-represented at the top. This is evidence of something--but of what? Of the weakness of the contemporary American Catholic mind? Of the weakness of the contemporary academy? (Of both?)

T. Chan

Dr. Gorman--sorry for the confusion

wrt to Catholic schools, when I wrote--
but shouldn't we expect that Catholic schools, out of all places, should have scholars and intellectuals of the same quality, if not higher

I was not remarking on the lack of respect for scholars at Catholic schools from their secular colleagues, but on the quality of most Catholic colleges and universities. It was a concise and packed comment, to be sure. To make all my comments clear--

(1) There are a few Catholic intellectuals at non-Catholic institutions who are rightfully respected by their colleagues, since they are good intellectuals.
(2) Most Catholic institutions do not have intellectuals of this caliber.
(3) There are some Catholic institutions blessed with good scholars and thinkers within philosophy and theology.

My main concern, which I have been trying to express through my comments, is with Catholic universities and colleges.


“I suspect that the early 1960s was the high tide for Catholic influence in (on, through) the secular schools; this was the generation of Catholics who were hired at the best schools, who were near the top of their fields, and who were regarded as ‘Catholic,’” he [Hittinger]writes.

The early 1960s was a special time, what with the first Catholic getting elected President of the US, the universal popularity of Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council making the news on a regular basis. All things Catholic were aspopular, trendy even, as Jackie Kennedy's pillbox hat -- and black mantilla. Little wonder "the academy" was out to hire Catholic scholars. And little wonder it's not today.

What I'm wondering is what happened to all those scholars that got hired in the early 60s?


T. Chan said, "(2) Most Catholic institutions do not have intellectuals of this caliber." OK, so the issue is their true caliber, not whether they get respect here or there.

What T. Chan says is true enough, but then again it's also true of most institutions, period. There are a few thousand--literally--institutions of higher education in the U.S. Most of them lack intellectuals of high caliber--I'd even venture to say that the vast majority of them lack intellectuals of high caliber.

It would be interesting to follow up on something that Old Zhou has brought up a few times, namely, money. Very few Catholic institutions have the resources to compete with the top secular schools. So when your average Catholic school hires someone really first-rate, it then asks him (or her) to work under conditions that make it difficult for him to achieve his full potential. This is a very large problem that won't go away until American Catholics get out their checkbooks and start funding their colleges and universities better.

(On the other hand, of course, not all problems are caused by lack of money.)

One more thing. It's harder to hire smart people if you also insist that they be good Catholics, because the pool of people who are smart + good Catholics is smaller than the pool of people who are smart. If you go for good Catholics all the time, you are going to have to make compromises from time to time (especially if you don't have the money to lure top people to your place). It's not quite so bad if your main goal is to have a solid teaching institution, because it's easier to find good teachers than it is to find good researchers (although both are hard to find!). But if you want "high caliber intellectuals" and you also want them to be good Catholics, then you're fishing in a pretty small pond.

I'm not against "hiring for mission" (I'm in favor of it!). I'm just trying to point out that it might not be as easy as it sounds.


Follow-up #1. In some fields--theology above all, obviously--one can argue that being a solid Catholic isn't something in addition to one's academic qualifications but instead is one of those academic qualifications. In such cases, the sense in which hiring for mission means making compromises is less intense--the people you pass over because they aren't Catholic may be better qualified in certain ways, but in one crucial way, they're less qualified.

Follow-up #2. I think that for "good Catholics" or "solid Catholics" or whatever we say here, we should (at least in many cases) say rather "people strongly supportive of the Catholic mission." Some non-Catholics can do an excellent job of this and shouldn't be ruled out. (There are branches of theology where this doesn't apply so much. But I'm thinking that a first-rate Catholic-leaning Protestant might be a better higher for your English department than an exemplary Catholic who's just not a very good literary critic.)

Plato's Stepchild

"Some of my colleagues here at CUA do very good work that doesn't get a lot of attention--especially it doesn't a lot of attention in popular and semi-popular venues. The same could be said of others in other Catholic schools. That doesn't mean it isn't high-quality."

Agreed. I just noticed Msgr Sokolowski's latest in the Review of Metaphysics. I think a few points need to be made here to at least bring the discussion to focus on a couple of important points.

(1) The 1970's caused immense damage to the formation of lay catholics - especially the seminary formation of secular priests as they imbibed the full fire hose of the Rahnerian project.

(2) The destruction of teaching as an honorable vocation in both upper form high schools (where being a history teacher used to mean having an MA in History and having an intellectual bent) -- this has a knockon effect on the number of serious 4 year Liberal Arts colleges that will hire worthy teachers who do not do a great deal of research. I'm thinking of Jacques Barzun's prescient books Teacher in America and The House of Intellect.

(3) The gutting of Western Civ and the Classics -- again all the way through K-12. Undergrads now come in with so many deficiencies that they need 2-4 years just to get back what many undergrads had back in the 50's and 60's.

(4) The glut in the Humanities has meant that many intellectually sharp Catholics are avoiding academic careers in Philosophy and Theology. What's more they're avoiding the priesthood for reasons to obvious to state. I think FCS has pointed out the serious lack of superstar priest-scholars in some fields is becoming a point of embarrasment. Many seem to go into more promising career prospects in Law, Engineering, Medicine and Political Philosophy.

And, if you really want to depress everyone in the thread, read this speech by Paul Oskar Kristeller. I"m afraid those days are gone for a very long time.


anonymous this time

MG touched on a serious aspect of this subject
a few posts above ("when your average Catholic school hires someone really first-rate, it then asks him (or her) to work under conditions that make it difficult for him to achieve his full potential"). But that problem is bigger that "poor" Catholic institutions over-working young academics. It is a disease afflicting all of academe, secular as well as Catholic (and Catholic institutions love to ape other American institutions and have for a long time). In addition to large teaching loads, there is a ridiculous amount of committee work and, worst of all, an increasingly higher standard for QUANTITY of publications. And then people wonder why so much crap is published in an increasing number of journals (and books, too) which fewer and fewer people have time to read? Like all species of inflation, bad work drives out or de-values good work. If Catholic universities and colleges really want to redeem themselves, they should make a collective effort to get off the merry-go-round. Of course, so should the others.
A related factor is the whoring that Catholic universities and colleges do after technology and on-line education. I know of the incident of the provost of a Certain Catholic Institution of Higher Learning who told a reception of incoming faculty breathlessly, not about this or that academic program that was doing good work, but rather how proud he was that their campus was now rated one of the 100 "most-wired" campuses in America. (Of course, this High Ranking Acadmemic is s Doctor of Education!)


Plato's stepchild's pt. 1 is especially trenchant. The amount of time wasted at faculties of higher learning trying to accomodate/apologize for the detritus of the early to mid 20th century collective insanity places many burdens especially on institutions of limited means.

Add to that the "exigencies" of scholarship (ie. maintaining enough of a reputation amongst the nonsense scholars at secular institutions in case you need to get a job there) and its a wonder anything resembling authentic scholarship gets done.

But both these phenomenon together really just indicate that a scholar whose honest enough about authentic scholarship, the objective limitations on his or her own time and resources as a scholar

(ie. every second spent conducting "dialog"--that's not outright argumentative demolition--with the Peter Singer's, Behaviorists, Marxists, Postmodernists, Deontologists, and Analytics of the world, is time taken away from studying, and passing on something real)

every scholar that's honest about these things, either avoids the profession in the first place, or resigns himself to a niche which has little if any real succour. Many, of our bishops have little use for such Cassandras--and Cassandras or Athanasiuses (Athanasii?) they must be, given the utter bankruptcy of popular, and even high culture nowadays. And given the notion of authentic Catholic Scholarship set out in Fides et Ratio, the bleak environment we face now leaves little room for optimism. Hope, yes. But optimism, no.


"Mother Angelica's loopy Catholic cable network"

Ooooh--mean! I have studied (not just read, studied) Catholic theology, philosophy, moral philosophy, etc. for over 30 years; I've read just about everything ever written by Aquinas, deLubac, von Balthsar, Ratzinger, etc. etc. etc. and I do not find EWTN "loopy" at all.


al, If by "Analytics" you mean analytic philosophers, then I think you're being simplistic if you mean that analytic philosophy is all garbage. Perhaps you aren't really saying that.

Further, demolishing the bad guys and passing on the real truth to the good guys aren't the only two options. There's a middle group of confused people who are exposed to the bad stuff but who could become interested in the good stuff--especially if presented by someone conversant enough with the bad stuff to make the good stuff approachable. Knowing something about both the good and the bad approaches enables one to steer some of the confused people in the right direction. Call this "dialogue" if you wish. I just call it philosophy.

And since the line between the good stuff and the bad stuff isn't always so easy to draw after all, there are even more reasons for at least some people to try to engage contemporary philosophy.

And likewise, mutatis mutandis for contemporary theology, etc.


That seems like a lot of problematizing which ends up producing mediocrity.

Certainly understanding logic is important, and what Analytic philosophy has done there is worthy of notice. However, reading analytic analyses of Thomism, for example, is largely pointless. The reduction of Thomistic, and even moral issues to modal terms violates numerous priniciples of philosophy and theology, which the previous eras commentators well understood.

The same is true of deontological apologetics for Natural Law moral reasoning. Waste of time. Why? Any time spent dialoguing with a deontologist will tell you why--they always reserve the option, as do most with fundamental commitments to a fundamental error, to drop back into their "system" at a moments notice to tell you what other axioms you think are non-negotiable, they think are.

And I think the line between the good and the bad is pretty easy to draw. It just takes courage to do it. Courage to forgo employability, courage to act like Tolkien did to CS Lewis, courage to be thought of as "close minded" or "rigid."



Your understanding of what goes on in analytic philosophy is narrow and under-informed. It's not that the things you object to aren't worth objecting to, it's just that there's so much more going on in analytic philosophy than this.

You wrote, "I think the line between the good and the bad is pretty easy to draw."

If what you mean is that some bad things are pretty easy to distinguish from some good things, then of course you're right, but the point is fairly obvious and probably no one here would dispute it. If what you mean is that it's always, or even just nearly always, easy to distinguish correct philosophy from incorrect philosophy, then you must be quite a bit smarter than, say, Thomas Aquinas. He found philosophy and theology to be quite difficult subjects.

Plato's Stepchild

"Your understanding of what goes on in analytic philosophy is narrow and under-informed."

Perhaps, but I think a serious point underlies the polemical tone and its something John Haldane alluded to in a print interview that the limits of technical scholarship contributing anymore to frontline Catholic evangelization have been reached.

I'm paraphrasing, and would appreciate someone digging up the link.


If the issue is front-line evangelizing, then much of what goes in analytic philosophy won't help directly, just as much of what goes on in the writings of St. Thomas won't help directly. They're both just too technical. It's an interesting and important question what the correct relationship is between high-level philosophy and theology, on the one hand, and preaching and evangelization, on the other hand.

John Haldane, by the way, has been a big defender of the use of analytic philosophy by Catholics, and a big chider of Catholics who want to ignore it or dump on it. (I'm not insinuating that you don't know this, Plato's Stepchild.)


I think this thread only reemphasizes the fact that academia has little influence outside of academia. The argument of the scope of analytic philosophy misses the point. 90 percent of college educated Catholics don't even know what analytic philosophy is. I am sure that there are many highly qualified Catholic scholars in our universities today. Mary Ann Glendon is a Catholic scholar of the highest order, yet she does not wield the same power on culture as someone like Weigel, Neuhaus or even Buchanan. I agree that the Catholic voice is heard in the moral debate. I also agree that this voice is not solely clerical. The bishops do not have the political weight of forty years ago. In response to Hittinger I would say that the university and the academics (catholics and non-catholics) have mirrored the bishop's decline in regards to their relevancy in the public square.


Dr. Haldane indeed does make that point well, as does Fr. Shanley, specifically with reference to "Analytical Thomism".

My specific point, though made broadly, was meant to evoke the Magisterial injunctions given in the previous century of using modal logic in theology and moral philosophy. The prescription to use words rather than symbols or figures for the purposes of categorical demonstration was understood back then, but seems now forgotten.

Underlying these prescriptions is a fundamental perception that Analytic philosophy is deficient in some way, when it pretends to encompass more than simply logical predication. The same is probably true analagously with Deontological thought. If one could properly delimit a subject away from teleology, then it would have some validity. Its just that in the realm of the Moral and Metaphysical this is a simple impossibility.

And positing the posibility of winnowing the wheat from the chaff in such enterprises, or the fruitfulness of it, presupposes that errors can be made in such systems without distorting all the concepts around it.

If someone was trying to reverse engineer the parts of a combustion engine, and decided the valves for the fuel injectors served some other purpose, a myriad of faulty deductions would necessarily follow from this error. The person in question, if they were honest, would be forced to account for the injection of fuel using another system, probably one already in the engine for another purpose. Like dominoes, error after error would compound to accomodate the initial distortion, such that the final theory would be riven with errors, or the "engineer" would have had to give up rigorous deduction at the outset.

What then are we to think of all these "philosophies and theologies" with initial errors at the outset--errors like man cannot be truly said to know anything outside of his mind, or immediate knowledge of that which is purely conceptual is the first instance of knowledge, to which all other "knowledge" must be compared, or we cannot deduce that living is a superior mode of being to simple existence, and knowing superior to living simply?

Endless prattle with those who hold such errors, probably because of the convenience skepticism affords them in their moral lives, is not philosophy. Certainly Plato would not have accounted it thus.

Philosophy is the love of Wisdom, not the love of debate, and that presupposes a "wisdom" which is possible to know, and which satifies solely in virtue of its possession.


And there is something either incoherent, or chauvinist about discounting "front line evangelizing" as something not as intellectually serious, while at the same time accounting dialoging with the Dennett's, Singer's et. al. of the world as the love of wisdom, proper.

Certainly McIntyre and John Rist don't see it this way, and they should know. . . .


But I would concede Plato's Stepchild's admontion against polemicism. Certainly most of these "but you're really not the philosopher" debates, or "but you're really the rigorous academic theologian" debates are really polemicism. And while polemics have their place (street corners, public park soapboxes) usually evidence of polemic is evidence that something more authentically beneficially could be going on.



I don't follow everything you're saying, but it seems to confirm my prior assessment of your knowledge of analytic philosophy.

Your remarks about what you call "modal logic" confuse me. Do you think that modal logic is the same thing as symbolic logic? If so, then that's completely wrong.

More generally: if you think that Analytic Philosophy is some doctrine or method or school of thought, then you're just mistaken. It's really a tradition, i.e., its unity is that of a historical movement, not the unity of a school of thought. It has some good aspects and some bad aspects. There is probably no single teaching or method that all analytic philosophers agree on. Analytic philosophy certainly isn't a system, so the analogy with the engine is a non-starter.

As for the "initial errors" that you mentioned--do you mention these because you think they're typical of analytic philosophy? I'm not sure what to say about the last two, but the first two are views that prominent analytic philosophers have spent lots of time attacking!

"A little learning is a dangerous thing; /
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: /
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, /
and drinking largely sobers us again. "


That seems largely an ad hominem argument, and one from authority at that--the two weakest kinds.

The first seems to be "we'll if my interlocutor says this about Analytic philosophy in specific, then the overall point is vitiated" with the second part being "and my account of Analytics is dispositive."

But since I had the priviledge of reading Kretzmann and others with Fr. Shanley, and seeing what a disservice they did to St. Thomas, and holding St. Thomas with the esteem that I do, I don't find my self sufficiently deferential to the argument from authority.


. . . the obvious corrolary being, if it takes all this time away from the reading of, say, someone like St. Thomas to fully comprehend the merits of Analytic philosophy, a seeming immersion if you will, and we all agree with the Magisterium on the Merits of St. Thomas and the Study of his thought, then how is it possible that this immersion is not a distranction and a recipe for a mediocre knowledge of St. Thomas which was my original point. .



I contrasted evangelizing etc. with "high-level" philosophy and theology. I chose that term 'cos I couldn't think of a better one.

I'm guessing your remark was aimed at what I said. You paraphrased me as saying that evangelizing etc. wasn't "intellectually serious."

I didn't mean that. It definitely is intellectually serious--mortally serious, you might say. But it's not the same as technical and abstract philosophizing and theologizing. The bits of preaching we have left from St. Thomas are rather different from, say, his disputations. The ideas he comes up with in his disputations do, of course, inform his preaching, but the relationship is a little complicated.

So if I offended anyone by giving the idea that evangelizing etc. is for dummies, then I apologize. It wasn't at all what I meant.



I'm trying to see what you mean by accusing me of using an ad hominem argument. If you mean "ad hominem" in the sense that I'm attacking you personally rather than your argument, then I don't think that's correct. I was saying that your attacks on analytic philosophy are based on misconceptions of it. That's not a personal attack, that's addressing what you are saying or at any rate what you appear to be saying. If I say that St. Thomas is bad because he's a materialist, and you say, "Hold on, your understanding of St. Thomas is inadequate here," that's not an ad hominem argument, that's a correction.

But perhaps you mean something else. You wrote, apparently paraphrasing me, " 'we'll if my interlocutor says this about Analytic philosophy in specific, then the overall point is vitiated' ". I'm not sure what this has to do with arguing ad hominem, but never mind that: if you make certain general claims about analytic philosophy, and they are based on a set of specific falsehoods, then you haven't (yet) proven your general claim. But of course your general claim might still be true. Sorry if I didn't express that clearly enough. Your general point is "vitiated" (your word, I believe) if that means "not proven," but it's not "vitiated" if that means "shown to be false."

As for appeal to his authority, is your idea that I'm appealing to my own authority? But I'm not. I'm making claims. Maybe they're wrong, maybe they're right, but I'm certainly not suggesting that others ought to accept them because I made them!

Plato's Stepchild

"I contrasted evangelizing etc. with "high-level" philosophy and theology."

I think "abstract" vs "concrete" or "fundamental" might be better. Or, speculative versus

The larger point that I believe is being made is that our Catholic folk are woefully ignorant of the Classical/Scholastic foundation of philosophy and theology and what can we do to rectify it?

I also think people may be forgetting that Historical Theology or Philosophy are worthy endeavors, sadly spat upon by the world at large.

In short, its a big tent, but the laborers are few. How do we get more laborers and where do we focus their studies?

Plato's Stepchild

Hello to First Things readers.

I think the answer to the problem is simple, but stunningly radical. If you read Jacques Barzun's The House of Intellect and Teacher in America as well as Gilbert Highet's The Art of Teaching and then analyze the debate on the core component of a Liberal Arts education that Harvey Mansfield does in the Claremont Review of Books, you have encountered a large chunk of the problem.

We need to create a large pool of Liberal Arts graduates who can make a living teaching, with only occassional stabs at scholarship. Einsteins don't grow on trees in physics and they certainly don't in the Liberal Arts -- creating special Research Chairs for the gifted, while making it perfectly respectable to do "nothing but teach" will do more to harvest exceptional scholars than the 3 year research till you drop asst professor contract game.

I won't even begin to touch tenure for lay academics at Catholic schools. Haven't you noticed, however, that many of the truly A Level work, even the heterodox stuff, has been done by Priest-Scholars rather than Lay-Scholars?


I agree with Plato's Stepchild that Catholics need to know traditional Catholic thought much more than they do. That's not all they need to know, to be sure, but they do need to know it.

I have the impression that a lot of people in the Religious Ed business think that the average person isn't interested in doctrine and isn't interested in serious (albeit simplified) explication of doctrine. But I'm pretty sure they are wrong about that. My experience is that people actually want to know what the Church teaches--not just what the formulations are, but what they actually mean. And it's not true, either, that people nowadays can't understand allegedly classical conceptions like "nature" and "person." It might be a bit harder to explain them than it was in the 13th century (although I doubt it), but that just means that one has to work a little harder.

I really think that people want to know this stuff. I also think it might be a generational thing. People who are, say, 60 years old seem to have the idea that doctrine was rigid and stultifying. Maybe it was taught that way to them, I don't know. But people my age (40) pretty much weren't taught doctrine at all! We think it's pretty interesting!

Plato's Stepchild

"I have the impression that a lot of people in the Religious Ed business"

Well, I think you've hit the bullseye. What the Church needs is a flood of MA Philosophers and Theologians (Orthodox) whose full time apostolate is nothing but teaching this doctrine. And, sorry, but I know Amy's going to rip me for this one, but I think that means some head crackin' in Diocesan offices.

I don't mean to imply that every Catechist needs to be a multilingual MA, but if that's the expectation of a good private boarding school high school teacher, aren't we kidding ourselves to expect anything less of our adult ed?

To me, we're in the 4th century, and a lot of laity are going to have to suck it up and do some heroic work to keep the light on as the tunnel grows very dark.


Plato's Stepchild,

Why is the A-level stuff done more by priest-scholars than lay-scholars, do you think? If there's a connection with tenure, I don't see it--priests can have tenure too. I take it you think it's more than the simple fact that priests don't have families to look after.

Anyway I agree that more people ought to be allowed to do "nothing" but teach. There can be a problem with such people getting rather ossified and doing nothing new with themselves, but there ought to be ways of handling that problem. And, as I think you're suggesting, it might lead to a smaller number of brilliant publications down the line, as these "mere" teachers mature.

Plato's Stepchild

"I take it you think it's more than the simple fact that priests don't have families to look after."

I'm not saying that lay scholars are a lower form of life, but I do think God grants special graces to the priest (or, for that matter, nun) scholar that blaze the trail for others. The greater amount of time that a religious in an intellectually driven order can spend on an interior life and Mass also have something to do with it, I believe.

The priest gives up a lot by his sacrifice for God's kingdom and his Mystical Body here on Earth and I do think to a certain extent he doesn't consider it a one way trade.

bruce cole

Plato's Septchild: Why are you afraid of Miss Amy?

MG: You are right when you say that people would like doctrine explained to them. And that is what they do not get. And that is what they have not got for A VERY LONG TIME. To oversimplify a wee bit, once upon a time a few generations of Catholics were catechised under the impression they were being taugtht doctrine. But were they? They could (if they paid attention) tell you the difference between prevenient and amazing grace, so they could pass a test. But could they really tell you about the Trinity? What about Christ's nature(s)? What is the Church? Etc., etc. And of course, there was damn little church history, because, dammit, this is America, and the catchism fell from the sky, anyway. So, of course, a generation would come along told, of all things, they they had escaped too much emphasis on doctrine.
I have know a handful of priests who could take that week's readings and preach with substance, and an awareness that the Church didn't begin when the cornerstone of the parish was lain....Only a handful. There's your remnant.


I meant ad hominem in the sense legitimate sense, though usually accepted as the weakest of the arguments, that says that since one's opponent is wrong about one thing, he's wrong about another, or the entirity of what he's saying.

Its a legitimate argument, but not a very strong one.

My original point was that a great number of modern philosophical and theological movements are fundamentally flawed, and so time spent navigating their errors, is time spent away from wrestling with authentic truth.

I don't think I'm ready to concede yet that Analytic philosophy doesn't merit that condemnation, considered as a movement, but let's take another example: Phenomenology.

Some might say Phenomenology is a "historical movement" rather than a system of thought, pitting Heidegger against Husserl, but it does have certain tenets which define the parameters, even if those tenets are simply "for the sake of arguement" delimitations for some of its proponents.

But of this "movement" none other than John Paul the Second, in his final work Memory and Identity, and in the Acting Person says that "Phenomenology" is defective at its heart, because of its refusal to return to the philosophy of being, finding its best expression in the Realism of St. Thomas: "If we with to speak rationally about good and evil, we have to return to Saint Thomas Aquinas, that is, to the philosophy of being."

He goes into great detail about the overarching deficiency of post-Enlightenment philosophies, pointing to the Cartesian turn as the source of the error.

Now if someone as committed to a dialogue with modernity as JPII, and someone who spent as much time enquiring into phenomenology and post enlightenment philosophies comes to the conclusion that a return to the pre-enlightenment philosophies is required, then what does that say about what currently passes for sustained philosophical inquiry in the academy today. Allow me a representative quote: ""In order to illustrate this phenomenon better, we have to go back to
the period before the Enlightenment, especially to the revolution
brought about by the philosophical thought of Descartes. The cogito ergo
sum (I think, therefore I am) radically changed the way of doing
philosophy. In the pre-Cartesian period, philosophy, that is to say the
cogito, or rather the cognsoco was subordinate to esse, which was
considered prior. To Descartes, however, the esse seemed secondary, and
he judged the cogito to be prior. This not only changed the direction of
philosophizing, but it marked the decisive abandonment of what
philosophy had been hitherto, particularly the philosophy of Saint
Thomas Aquinas, and namely the philosophy of esse.. . .Why does all this
happen? What is the root of these post Enlightenment ideologies? The
answer is simple: it happens because of the rejection of God qua
Creator, and consequently qua source determining what is good and what
is evil. It happens because of the rejection of what ultimately
constitutes us as human beings, that is, the notion of human nature as a
"given reality"; its place has been taken by a "product of thought"
freely formed and freely changeable according to circumstances. I
believe that a more careful study of this question could lead us beyond
the Cartesian watershed. If we with to speak rationally about good and
evil, we have to return to Saint Thomas Aquinas, that is, to the
philosophy of being. With the phenomenological method, for example, we
can study experiences of morality, religion, or simply what it is to be
human, and draw from them a significant enrichment of our knowledge. Yet
we must not forget that all these analyses implicitly presuppose the
reality the Absolute Being and also the reality of being human, that is
being, being a creature. If we do not set out from such "realist"
presuppositions we end up in a vacuum."


Or here's how Benedict put it shortly before being elected Pope: "In the epoch of the Enlightenment, there was an attempt at
understanding and defining essential moral norms that would have been valid
etsi Deus non daretur, even in the case that God had not existed. In
opposition to the confessions and in the crisis incumbent in the image of God,
there was the attempt to hold essential moral values apart from the
contradictions, and to seek for them a support that would have rendered them
independent from the manifold divisions and uncertainties of the various
philosophies and confessions. Thus there was the desire to secure the
foundations of community life and, more general still, of the foundations of
humanity. In that epoch, it seemed possible, inasmuch as the great convictions
created at their foundation by Christendom for the most part still stood and
seemed undeniable. But it is no longer so. The search for such a reassuring
certainty which can remain uncontested despite all the differences has failed.
Not even the struggle, however glorious, of Kant was capable of creating the
necessary shared certainty. Kant had denied that God can be cognizable in the
ambit of pure reason, but at the same time he represented God, liberty, and
immortality as postulates of practical reason, without which, coherently, for
him no moral action was possible. Does not the situation of the world today
make us think again that he was right? I would say so with other words: the
attempt, taken to the extreme, to put together human affairs, doing so
completely without God, leads us always more and more to the edge of the abyss
— to the total isolation of man. We must, then, turn the axioms of the
Enlightenment thinkers on their heads and say: even if one does not succeed to
find an acceptable way to God, he ought, nevertheless, to seek to live and to
direct his life veluti si Deus daretur, as if God existed. "


Now I think we must take this as fairly serious grapplings with this very issue: to what degree is a grappling with these inherently deficient "philosophies" the love of wisdom itself?

To what degree is it a distraction?

If the distraction is confused with the "practice" of philosophy itself, then how is that not a recipe for mediocrity?

Plato's Stepchild

"Plato's Septchild: Why are you afraid of Miss Amy?"

Amy is the Mother Superior of Blogdom and is given special Marian Wisdom graces due to her demanding blog/child/work schedule.

I tremble that I will construct a CS Lewis-like rhetoric clad syllogism, and Amy will drive an Elizabeth Anscombe like exception through my argument.

As the old joke goes, CS Lewis never lost an argument until he got married.


Plato's Stepchild

"until he got married."

And just to clarify, I am not a husband of Amy.

bruce cole

Plato's Stepchild: You got Amy traveling in pretty good company there. No doubt you're right. I think that all of us at times should post in fear and trembling and praise her restraint....Or maybe, to continue the Mother Superior analogy, she just thinks of us as blowing off steam at recess!
On a slightly more serious note, I, too, did my time in the trenches of Reigious Ed and it is a Wasteland. So, I'd share her (presumed) pessimism about your corps of MAs out there doing the job that needs to be done, thought it sure sounds good!!!



One of your long quotations ended thus: "With the phenomenological method, for example, we can study experiences of morality, religion, or simply what it is to be human, and draw from them a significant enrichment of our knowledge. Yet we must not forget that all these analyses implicitly presuppose the reality the Absolute Being and also the reality of being human, that is being, being a creature. If we do not set out from such 'realist' presuppositions we end up in a vacuum."

What this says to me is that pursuing certain kinds of philosophy apart from the kind of realism that St. Thomas espouses is a recipe for trouble. But it doesn't say to me that we should study St. Thomas only, or that we should study St. Thomas 90% of the time, or anything like that. It seems to me quite reasonable to suppose that people have different intellectual callings--some will be Aquinas scholars, some will have a grounding in Thomistic realism but try to come to grips with phenomenology or analytic philosophy, or whatever. To reject or avoid non-Thomistic things would be to reject or avoid what John Paul II referred to as "a significant enrichment of our knowledge." We don't want to do that.


Not so. John Paul II distinguishes the method from the "historical movement". The historical movement, as we know from his remarks on Scheler in the Acting Person, he found a wholly unsuitable basis for "philosophizing." The method, though, he describes as something else.

And this is hardly a difficult distinction to observe in practice. The problem, as both pontiff's point out, is to concede the truncation of inquiry--either in principle or by way of granting an opponents preconceptions to try to undermine some of their conclusions.

And we need not be "abstract" about this: the particular non-negociable that JPII identfies is epistemological realism--that we can know the essences of real things in the world, and were not merely reduced to bracketing those things (be they human nature, separated substances or rocks or whatever) and arguing about the formula that surrounds any predication we might make about those things.

So whatever "method" is appropriate--knowing things in the world in non negociable. Not Bracketable. Not superfluous. Not suspendable for the sake of argument--but part a parcel of what philosophizing is.

Now clearly not many secular departments of philosophy are going to accept this non-negociable. Nor should this stop us from trying to "dialog" with, or convince the denizens of those departments the error of their ways.

But that shouldn't delude us about the nature of what rigorous thinking really is. Rigorous productive, fruitful inquiry is not once again pointing out what a depraved bastard Peter Singer is. Its what a rigorous thinker might to do sometimes. But its not rigorous thinking itself. The same is true of the skeptics--hence Kick a Rock.

But that's not the kind of thing that gets you published, nor supports your employment viability at BU or Cornell. And if you let what will get you a job at Peter Singer employin' facilities determine the ambit of your refutation, and its terms, then that's a recipe for mediocrity.


I agree that philosophical movements that reject realism aren't a suitable basis for philosophizing. That doesn't mean that it would be wrong to investigate these movements and try to learn from them as part of one's own philosophizing, as long as one's own philosophizing had some realist basis. These wrongly-based movements can still shed light on things, despite their wrong bases; luckily, few philosophers are so utterly systematic that what they say stands as a whole or falls as a whole.

Actually, I don't think that any philosophical movement is a good basis for philosophizing. Philosophizing has to be based on reality. I'm not trying to be cute, nor, al, am I trying to zing you or to suggest that you would say otherwise. It just seems a point worth bringing out into the open. I'm sure you'd agree that it's possible to go wrong by focusing too much on philosophical texts--even St. Thomas'--and losing sight of the realities themselves, which are what we're really interested in. (One of the pleasures of working in the department I work in is the pleasure of talking to people who study philosophical texts in order to get a better view of reality.)

T. Chan

The Haldane interview?


The relevant quote?
It’s not so much that we need to do more philosophy. I think we need to recover a more natural and simpler style of explanation, less scholastic, less technical, more natural. Also we need to promote that in effective rhetorical modes, using imagination, examples, illustrating, rather than just giving people arguments. That’s why I think things like films, journalism, novels, music are much more important in our world. That’s where people are, that’s what people react to... I think that a 1200 word journalistic essay is a much more effective way of engaging, even educating people, than a long piece of work. We need to keep the arguments fairly simple, but to clothe them in examples, illustrations, and engage people’s imagination.

Plato's Stepchild

"So, I'd share her (presumed) pessimism about your corps of MAs out there doing the job that needs to be done, thought it sure sounds good!!!"

To hedge, yet again, I think a good corp of folks with one of:

(1) MA Philosophy (Thomistic emphasis)
(2) MA Theology (Won't touch the T word here)
(3) MRS or MTS (At an Ex Corde Ecclesiae institution)

have a great deal of opportunity to do great things either in an advanced high school, Diocesan Adult Ed, advanced high school/college placement or 21st century Benedictine Abbey community in contemplating the tradition and then passing on the fruits of that contemplation.

Plato's Stepchild

The Haldane interview?

Yes. That's exactly the one I was thinking of.
Thank you!


T. Chan, thanks so much for finding the Haldane quote! It's very helpful, isn't it? And, to address a concern brought up earlier, the mode of presentation he describes is fully compatible with intellectual seriousness.

Plato's Stepchild wished for an army of MAs in philosophy and theology to spread good ideas around. I think these people would need special training to learn how to present ideas in the way that Haldane describes. Otherwise they'll just say, "Hey you people, here come ten tons of von Balthasar!" and it wouldn't turn out too well.

Plato's Stepchild

"Philosophizing has to be based on reality."

Fides non terminatur ad enuntiabile sed ad rem. (St Thomas Aquinas)

trans - Faith terminates not in propositions but in realities.

Plato's Stepchild

"Hey you people, here come ten tons of von Balthasar!"

Oh pish tosh. If the troops are going to go all wobbly then I want them all to be TOP's who know their Latin and their Aquinas cold.

Its not an Inquisition but it would certainly make everyone pay close attention wouldn't it?

Plato's Stepchild

"I think these people would need special training"

I think they just need to understand the importance of the Augustinian element -- for English speakers great gobs of CS Lewis, Newman, Ronald Knox and then make sure they know their Plato (James Schall, SJ) and they should be find.

btw, no disrespect to DeLubac/Von B folks -- I just have no idea how to catechize through their works yet.

Plato's Stepchild

"That’s why I think things like films, journalism, novels, music"

I think Dr Thomas Hibbs (Baylor) wins hands down in those categories. Remarkable insight he showed in his book about Seinfeld being the height on nihilism in contemporary American culture.

bruce cole

Plato's Stepchild:

Okay, why not flesh out your proposal in a memorandum, send a copy to everybody on the Frappr list, and then to every bishop and every Catholic univ/coll president? Get some friendly organs (OSV, for example?) to spotlight your project. See what happens (seriously).
Two more things. Not afterthoughts. 1)People gotta read. Most catechetical texts reek big time. What do you envision will replace them? 2) For the love of God (literally)please don't forget history. Nothing is more American Catholic, liberal or conservative, than a lack of historical consciousness. If people don't realize who went before them, and how they were formed by the past, they just end up...well, we've covered that.

Kevin Jones

We need to create a large pool of Liberal Arts graduates who can make a living teaching, with only occassional stabs at scholarship. Einsteins don't grow on trees in physics and they certainly don't in the Liberal Arts

I hope this isn't just wishful thinking, like "we need a flying pony."

I do think there's a danger in focusing too much on the university. Thomas Aquinas was a monk first, not a professor at a secular academy.

What ever happened to private tutors?
It is said that Shakespeare spent his missing years tutoring for a wealthy recusant family. Those who don't want to send their kids to those high-priced Catholic schools which are factories for future Charlotte Simmonses might be willing to employ a well-formed young Catholic scholar. Perhaps there are developing efforts towards such a system in the homeschooling movement?


MG, agreed.

Plato's Stepchild

"For the love of God (literally)please don't forget history."

As you requested, sir -- Russ Hittinger on History:


Plato's Stepchild

3. Finally, there was the area of theology, in which clerics in particular excelled: Danielieu, de Lubac, von Balthasar, Rahner, and a host of lesser lights who would still be far superior to anyone we have today; Cardinal Ratzinger represents one of the last of that generation. In this area, it is clear why clerics predominated; for this was before the days when laymen took seminary courses; and theology courses taught in Catholic colleges were primarily catechetical. Simply put, there was no institutional context for raising up a cadre of lay theologians. I do not believe any of us will live to see that happen in our day. "To produce a theologian like Rahner or von Balthasar requires decades of preparation in languages, philosophy, and historical studies. I know of no seminary or secular university in the world that reproduces educationally what the Jesuits of a generation ago routinely gave to their brighter men by the time of ordination. The gestation period for high-grade theological work is perhaps too long for contemporary culture."

--Russell Hittinger

Plato's Stepchild

"The gestation period for high-grade theological work is perhaps too long for contemporary culture"

Finis. No pun intended.

Plato's Stepchild

"Okay, why not flesh out your proposal in a memorandum?"

Proposal #1:

The Soul of the Apostolate by Dom Chautard

Proposal #2:

"Of all prayers, the most meritorious, the most acceptable to God are prayers for the dead, because they imply all the works of charity, both corporal and spiritual."

-- St Thomas Aquinas

Proposal #3:

"The devil knows that he has lost the soul that perserveringly practices mental prayer."

-- St Teresa of Avila

Plato's Stepchild

"The Catholic Intellectual Renaissance earlier in this century made extraordinary contributions in literature, philosophy, and theology. It did not happen by accident. Catholic institutions, as well as the surrounding secular culture of the late nineteenth century, still contained the conditions for a renewal of those disciplines. Today, any prospect for another renaissance of Catholic thought will require a more direct reckoning with the social sciences-both for their diagnostic power and for the reminder that all of the important things have sociological feet."

-- Russell Hittinger


Plato's Stepchild:

I just read this thread after two days of letting it go. What does your reference to me mean? Have you read this blog? I am a defender of church bureaucracy? Of the modern state of CAtholic education in this country or in the West period? Of Chancery culture and bureaucracy? That I am opposed to substance in catechesis?

Yeah, you're right. You've ticked me off. But not for the reasons you predicted.

Plato's Stepchild

"Have you read this blog? I am a defender of church bureaucracy?"

Oh good heavens, not in the least. I was merely being ironic. I have profound respect for your knowledge of DRE and fear that many of us, myself included, who preach "more orthodoxy" and then make prescriptions are overlooking something that those who have been in the field and the war wounds to prove it, know.

So, to sum up, I am not in the least questioning your commitment to orthodoxy, but, rather, the practicality of those of us who comment on your blog actually prescribing a solution that can be implemented given the bureacracy which you and others have run into.

Make sense?

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)