Archives for posts with tag: Speculative reason

Civilization Is A Conversation

The popular philosopher Stefan Molyneux ( often reminds his audience that “civilization is a conversation. ” I read about the same idea before in a blog article by John C. Wright ( about the Great Books. A philosopher himself, as well as a novelist, Mr Wright is an alumnus of St. John’s College of liberal arts. I gather the school’s Great Books program was inspired from the writings of philosopher Mortimer Adler on “The Great Conversation” and his editing work for the Encyclopaedia Britannica Great Books series.

According to classical philosophers and other classical writers who had to know philosophy as a general foundation for their field, philosophy and science, literature and arts, civilization in a word, is a great conversation, and philosophy is its common language. It began to spread from Greece some six centuries before Christ.

Metaphysics, or philosophy properly so called, is the conversation about the fundamentals of everything that is or may be, especially the “why”, the causes. The “how” is more particularly the domain of empirical sciences and mathematics.

Ethics is the part of philosophy that examines the use of practical reason, or moral conscience. Why is there a sense of right and wrong? Why is conscience attracted to the good and repulsed by evil? Why is happiness connected to the good? These are some of the main questions of moral philosophy.

The moral questions are of course paramount also to religion and theology. Philosophy is the greatest achievement of the human mind unaided by faith, since it derives its information from the senses, external and internal. But the self-revelation of God being at the same time the revelation of man to himself (e. g. John 2:25), the Judaeo-Christian revelation is a very reliable source of information for philosophy, particularly for natural theology (or theodicy) and ethics.

Christian theologians, philosophers, and authors of literary or scientific writings were the ones who kept the conversation ongoing and timeless. It is timeless because philosophia perennis, the common philosophy of humanity (as philosopher Jacques Maritain would say), known also as Aristotelian-Thomism, or classical theist philosophy, is true in all essentials and those essentials are not subject to time. True philosophy is therefore capable of organic, continuous development upon this perennial basis.

Up to the 1960s, every generation educated by learned masters had access to the great works of the past and to a common philosophical framework. Scholars and writers could thus contribute to build on and transmit the intellectual and moral treasure of civilization, the treasure of human wisdom.


Conversation Slows Down

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The following is a slightly expanded version of my comments under the thread “The Empire of Lies”, an essay from John C. Wright (February 13, 2016).

“Either there is truth or there is not.”

After this opening line, Mr. Wright proceeds to demonstrate that the statement “there is no truth” is impossible and self-destroying, an absurdity even if only for the sake of argument. Such an argument is sustained solely for expediency, for moral reasons, in order to pass vice for virtue, virtue for vice, and evildoing for good works. In short, nihilism.

The origin of such extreme moral outlook is sin unacknowledged, unrepented, and conscience stifled accordingly. As Jacques Maritain explained, when we sin, the will (or the “reason of the heart” as Blaise Pascal would put it) listens to emotions and sentiments and averts its inner eye from the sound principles of the practical intellect, that is, the truth as seen by the conscience. By blurring objective truth about the objective good, the will is generally able to trick a poorly formed conscience into taking an evil for a good, or a lesser good for a greater good, or evil means as expedient to attain some good.

But the guilt remains. To evade the guilt efficiently, there is no other way than to attack the principles, the axioms themselves (identity, reason for being, finality, causality, etc.), and ultimately the transcendentals above the principles: no objective beauty, goodness or truth, thus no moral obligation.

Now, what is truth? The shortest and simplest definition is: Truth is the conformity of the mind to things. An honest search for truth makes licit almost any question. For example, the question “Either there is a God (or gods), or there is not” implies that the human mind might be able to discover the truth, or accept the revelation of truth.

If there are things, there is a God, because nothing contingent can exist if there is no necessary being which is the first cause and reason for being of everything else. Hence the same reasoning applies to truth: if there is something, there is truth in the same measure that things do exist and are good and beautiful, and at least partly knowable.

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I wrote the following page a few years ago to accompany GKC’s article “Philosophy for the Schoolroom” included after. It was an answer to a friend’s comment acknowledging doubt as a normal scientific attitude. As a cradle Catholic I never really saw a divide between faith and reason but it seems it has to be explained even to a pious Catholic convert. It was probably a remnant of former agnosticism or Protestant fundamentalism, or both. The philosophical comments inspired from Maritain were written more recently and reworked until now.

 Faith and reason

There is a widely spread state of mind pretending that faith and reason exclude each other and that being skeptical on everything is a fundamental scientific attitude. But, on the contrary, doubting everything is not at all scientific thinking. Science has to question everything. especially its postulates, but a true scientific mind does not doubt everything in the first place. I learned this from the works of French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain. Then I read recently the following article by G. K. Chesterton.
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