TOP 10: Corrections to Peter Kreeft’s Contemporary Philosophy List!

Rembrandt, because I didn't want to use Raphael.

Rembrandt, because I didn’t want to use Raphael.

There are plenty of interesting things on Brandon Vogt’s website. They certainly have given me plenty of food for thought.

For example, I deeply appreciate the G.K. Chesterton video he posted not too long ago. It gave me a new, if somewhat idiosyncratic, vantage point on the always troubled Christian-Muslim relations here (join the conversation).

Brandon also recently posted a list of books that was recommended to him by none other than Peter Kreeft. Kreeft is a wonderful popularizer of classical philosophy and theology. Ancient Athens and Medieval Christendom are where the Boston College philosopher feels most at home. I’d like to argue later that he’s a little bit iffy when it comes to more recent philosophy.

The footnotes in the Summa of the Summa are indispensable.

The footnotes in the A Shorter Summa are indispensable for beginning to understand the Aristotelian-Thomistic idiom. My copy is all marked up. This book is well worth your time.

To see what I mean, take a look at the Medieval lists Kreeft compiled below:

Medieval Philosophy, Basic List:

Medieval Philosophy, Additional List:

"But surely that than which a greater cannot be thought cannot be only in the understanding. For if it were only in the understanding, it could be thought to exist also in reality," say Anselm in the Proslogion. And really, I can't think of the better list than the one given by Kreeft here.

“But surely that than which a greater cannot be thought cannot be only in the understanding. For if it were only in the understanding, it could be thought to exist also in reality,” says Anselm in the Proslogion. And really, I can’t think of the better introductory medieval list than the one given by Kreeft above.

The ancient and modern lists in Brandon’s post are just as solid as this medieval one.

So, I was shocked to read the following list of “contemporary” philosophical texts recommended by Kreeft:

Contemporary Philosophy, Basic List:

Contemporary Philosophy, Additional List

Even the author of Orthodoxy is surprised by this rather unorthodox list.

Even the author of Orthodoxy is a little shocked by this rather unorthodox list of “contemporary” philosophers.

I agree with the choice of Sartre, Marx, and William James for the basic list. Then again, The Varieties of Religious experience is a much more fundamental William James text for both philosophy and the study of religion. In fact, it’s one of the texts that brought serious study of religion back into the mainstream of academic culture. Varieties is still the departure point for most work done in religious studies. It’s the one book you must agree with, or quarrel with.

Pascal belongs in the modern list, whereas C.S. Lewis does not belong at all. Lewis is a first-rate popularizer, but he does not belong on a list of basic or supplementary “contemporary” philosophical texts. This means I’ll have to nominate two replacements for the basic list of contemporary authors. Actually, make that three, because Nietzsche is much more deserving of a position on such a list than Sartre.

  • Nietzsche: You might as well dive into the Nietzsche Reader if you want to understand his influence on key modern thinkers like Sartre, Heidegger, but also upon contemporary theology. The selections in this collection are first rate and Hollingdale writes a mean introduction.
  • Heidegger, Being and Time: Pure and simple, it’s the most important philosophical treatise of the 20th century. What’s even better? Heidegger borrows half of his concepts from theology–and then tries to unsuccessfully conceal them. You may not ignore this book and I must finally read it in its entirety!
  • Henri de Lubac’s The Mystery of the Supernatural is, hands down, the most obvious replacement for Lewis. This tome is perhaps the single most influential theology book of the 20th century. It helped to disentangle theology from modern philosophical adulterations of Thomism. De Lubac shaped the agenda for both Vatican II and the critiques of its implementation with this book and several others.
The Mystery of the Supernatural has influenced you even if you know nothing about it.

The Mystery of the Supernatural has influenced you even if you know nothing about it.

Mill is probably the only second stringer on Kreeft’s additional list that deserves to definitively remain there. We can feel the deleterious effect of his philosophy upon every aspect of our lives. The others, not so much.

Kreeft seems to go on an unjustified binge of analytical philosophers whose books are not terribly important. Chesterton is a figure on the fence–there really are more important books out there, but his philosophical standing is on the rise. So let’s say that leaves us with about four replacements:

  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations: Wittgenstein totally revamped the conclusions he reached in the influential Tractatus in the Investigations. What’s more, he has played an important role in reinvigorating theology as Fergus Kerr has argued in his Theology After Wittgenstein, which, by the way, contains one of the most creative and convincing arguments against abortion.
  • Gabriel Marcel, The Mystery of Being, which is divided up into Volume I and Volume II. This unjustly ignored mid-century Catholic existentialist philosopher might turn out to be more pivotal to the history of philosophy than some of the other thinkers mentioned in these contemporary lists. His influence is so ubiquitous, especially among Catholics, that it’s invisible.
  • Kierkegaard, A Kierkegaard Anthology: Kierkegaard, because if you haven’t wrestled with Kierkegaard, then you haven’t wrestled with modern philosophy (and the opportunities it holds for theology).
  • Hans Urs von Balthasar, Glory of the Lord volume I: This book inaugurated a series of reflections that brought beauty back into the fold of both theological and philosophical reflection. It’s in a virtual tie with the de Lubac book I mentioned in the main list for “contemporary” philosophers. On another day, they could switch sides. Karl Barth’s The Epistle to the Romans could also substitute for either one of these books given its immensely positive historical influence.

Now that’s more like it!

As you can see, we’ve culled out most of the analytical philosophy, which is the philosophical and existential equivalent of a glorified New York Times crossword puzzle.

However, if you insist on reading some philosophy of language then you must buy American. Charles Sanders Peirce has been called “the American Aristotle” by Fr. Oakes in a First Things piece that can be found here. It’s best to dip into his selected philosophical writings.

Viola!

Viola!

Finally, Pierre Hadot’s Philosophy as a Way of Life is a book that anyone interested in the discipline must read. It will totally transform your vision of what ancient philosophy was and what philosophy ought to be.

Don’t miss out on the other TOP 10 booklists on this blog: one on religious living poets, one on living religious novelists, one on books about heaven and hell, and finally, one on recent theology books.

Before you get too deep:

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Famous Atheists Who Weren’t Atheists 2: The Christianity of Camus

like atheism

like atheism

Albert Camus was nearly as unfaithful as Jean-Paul Sartre . . . to atheism.

This should not be especially surprising to any semi-conscious reader of his novels.  Despite his good existentialist intentions Camus could never really get beyond good and evil.  Most of his literary works collapse under the weight of trying to cover up their origins in, and direct debts to, classical Christian doctrines, especially Original Sin.

It’s as if he keeps trying to roll a rock to seal off the tomb, only to find it rolled away every darn morning.  Just look at the plots of The Fall, The Plague, and The First Man and tell me God shouldn’t sue for copyright infringement upon the biblical narrative.

The connections go even deeper as a recent memoir reveals.  The book is entitled Albert Camus & the Minister.  It is written by the (Methodist) minister, Howard Mumma.  Mumma hailed from Ohio and met Camus, was actually hounded by him, during a stint as guest minister at the American Church in Paris.

The two talked about Christianity constantly and it got to the point where Camus asked to be re-baptized, only to be turned down. Today’s Methodist ministers are nothing like the hardcore Methodist ministers of yesteryear!

Camus was still actively courting the Christian faith when he was cut down in a car accident.  We don’t know how things would have turned out if Camus had lived, however, as this book recounts, he thought he was heading for a reversion.  Actually, he was already there.

I don't believe in an interventionalist God.

I don’t believe in an interventionalist God (see video below).

Famous Atheists Who Weren’t Atheists: Sartre’s Crossover

This story will leave you confused.

This story will leave you confused.

Almost everyone will agree that Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) is rightfully recognized as a major figure of 20th century atheism.  Fewer people will agree about his stature as a philosopher.  Even fewer people will testify to the staying power of his novels and plays, although he still inspires some good poetry written against his philosophy.

However, it’s still not general knowledge that Sartre was not only unfaithful to Simone de Beauvoir, but also to atheism.  With the help of his secretary Benny Levy (no not that one) Sartre wandered into Judaism late in life.  And so the late-late Sartre said things like these:

“The Jew lives. He has a destiny. The finality towards which every Jew moves is to reunite humanity . . . It is the end that only the Jewish people [know] . . . It is the beginning of the existence of men for each other.”

Edward Said had an encounter with the Sartre-Levy duo and wasn’t entirely impressed:

“Lévy (then still known as Pierre Victor) seemed to Said to be: ‘a sort of station master, among whose trains was Sartre himself. Aside from their mysterious interactions at the table, he and Victor would occasionally get up; Victor would lead the shuffling old man away, speak rapidly at him, get an intermittent nod or two, then the pair would come back.’ When Sartre made a platitudinous closing statement that failed to mention such burning issues as the Palestinians, disputed territories or Israeli settlements, Said assumed it had been written by ‘the egregious Victor’ himself.”

Read more about Sartre’s Judaism here.

Just to make things even more confusing, carnivaleseque, and Rabelaisian, Sartre wrote a Christmas play, in which he gushed about Jesus, when he was interned in a German POW camp.

 

Sartre walking away from atheism.

Sartre walking away from atheism.

 

  

 

Understanding Simone Weil’s Quest for the Absolute

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“France offered a rare gift to the contemporary world in the person of Simone Weil.” –Czeslaw Milosz

The Notre Dame Press overstock sale continues until mid August; like I can wait that long to lay waste to our savings.

In the end I settled on Beyer’s Recovering Solidarity, Fritz Bauerschmidt’s (of Hillbilly Thomist fame) Julian of Norwich and the Mystical Body Politic of Christ (Don’t miss Mark McIntosh’s classic study from the same series about von Balthasar entitled Christology from Within–not on sale, but well worth the cover price and more), and Morgan’s book about Weil’s writings on science and love, Weaving the World.  

Not a spectator sport.

Not a spectator sport.

During my first scan through the list of books on sale I somehow missed Matthew Levering’s theology of reading the Bible (only the cloth edition is on sale), which is essential reading. The usually stale Library Journal gives it a refreshingly glowing review:

“Levering compellingly argues for the legitimacy of a type of biblical interpretation once prevalent among the Fathers of the Church and medieval theologians, one that includes a participatory encounter with the divine. . . . Written from a Roman Catholic perspective, the volume will appeal to anyone interested in biblical interpretation. While directed toward scholars, the book is nonetheless accessible to the intelligent lay reader.”

Finally, I also purchased the essay collection The Christian Platonism of Simone Weil, which features essays by some of our greatest living theologians, people like David Tracy, Cyril O’Regan, and Louis  Dupré.  If you’re not familiar with Weil then here’s what Czeslaw Milosz, one of her first translators, said about her and his own friend Camus, all the while taking potshots at that villain Sartre:

“Violent in her judgments and uncompromising, Simone Weil was, at least by temperament, an Albigensian, a Cathar; this is the key to her thought. She drew extreme conclusions from the Platonic current in Christianity. Here we touch upon hidden ties between her and Albert Camus. The first work by Camus was his university dissertation on St. Augustine. Camus, in my opinion, was also a Cathar, a pure one, [‘Cathar’ from Gr. katharos, pure] and if he rejected God it was out of love for God because he was not able to justify Him. The last novel written by Camus, The Fall, is nothing else but a treatise on Grace — absent grace — though it is also a satire: the talkative hero, Jean-Baptiste Clamence, who reverses the words of Jesus and instead of ‘Judge not and ye shall not be judged’: gives the advice ‘Judge, and ye shall not be judged,’ could be, I have reason to suspect, Jean-Paul Sartre.”

Speaking of Louis  Dupré, I also noticed he has a book, The Quest of the Absolute, forthcoming from NDP.  Here’s what it promises:

“This eagerly awaited study brings to completion Louis Dupré’s planned trilogy on European culture during the modern epoch. Demonstrating remarkable erudition and sweeping breadth, The Quest of the Absoluteanalyzes Romanticism as a unique cultural phenomenon and a spiritual revolution. Dupré philosophically reflects on its attempts to recapture the past and transform the present in a movement that is partly a return to premodern culture and partly a violent protest against it.

Following an introduction on the historical origins of the Romantic Movement, Dupré examines the principal Romantic poets of England (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats), Germany (Goethe, Schiller, Novalis, Hölderlin), and France (Lamartine, de Vigny, Hugo), all of whom, from different perspectives, pursued an absolute ideal. In the chapters of the second part, he concentrates on the critical principles of Romantic aesthetics, the Romantic image of the person as reflected in the novel, and Romantic ethical and political theories. In the chapters of the third, more speculative, part, he investigates the comprehensive syntheses of romantic thought in history, philosophy, and theology.”

Waiting for  Dupré.

Waiting for Dupré.

 We’ll close with a quotation from Simone Weil, which both serves as a brief introduction to her quest for the absolute and demonstrates her continued relevance:

“For the past two or three centuries there is a belief that force is the sole master of all natural phenomena, and, at the same time, that men can and should establish their mutual relationships on justice, as determined by reason. This is a patent absurdity.

It is not conceivable that everything in the universe be absolutely subject to the empire of force but that man can avoid it, while he is made of flesh and blood, and his thought drifts along with perceptual impressions.

There is only one choice to make. Either one must perceive another principle besides force at work in the universe, or one must acknowledge that force is also the sole master of human relations.”

Random fact for trivia night: I bet you didn’t know it’s rumored Samuel Beckett was riffing on the title of Simone Weil’s essays, Waiting for God, when he came up with the title of his most famous play.