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Catholic Philosophers, What Have We Done With Our Baptism?

Raphael. The School of Athens.
(Raphael. The School of Athens. Source)

Pardon my ignorance, but I'm looking for a good Philosophy textbook. Perhaps you could help me with this "Open Source Thomistic Philosophy Textbook Project"?

1) Why would we need a good Philosophy textbook?

1.1) Mankind needs all the wisdom it can get. A good Philosophy textbook would not instantly wipe out hunger, pollution and war on this Earth, but it would be a step in the right direction. All men who have been educated to act in accordance with reason (i.e. wisely) have a tendency to eliminate as far as it's possible hunger, pollution and wars. But Philosophy is the discipline which studies wisdom and how to transmit it to men. Therefore Philosophy can help us reduce hunger, pollution and wars.

1.2) Our civilization sees trees, but often not the forest. The many particular sciences attain limited and partial aspects of reality, but they cannot understand the whole or its meaning. This is one of the tasks of the "General Science", also known as "Philosophy".

1.3) Reason is under attack by superstitious beliefs. Some people think Reason has long blown away the ghosts of superstition. I claim that unfortunately, the metaphor looks a lot more like a poor exhausted Reason, still trying to outrun the innumerable hyenas of superstition. Many people simply believe Reason cannot attain scientific truths. (See also "Public Enemy #1: Religious Obscurantism"). Only Philosophy can defend its own principles, as well as the principles of all the particular Sciences.

1.4) Inaccessible wisdom is not wisdom. In theory, with all that has been written, you should be able to just "download the Internet", read everything, separate the wheat from the chaff, then make a consistent system with what is left. Except that is not a feasable solution for ordinary people who tend to work for a living, and who also tend to be mortal. But an approximation of this solution is possible for a group of highly-motivated, skillful philosophers, who can then capture their efforts in an accessible textbook.

1.5) Apologetics is compromised without Philosophy. It's a bit like a door lock which is useless without its matching key. The Catholic religion meshes divinely with the Science of Philosophy, but if Philosophy is disfigured or ignored, the "door" remains closed for many people.

1.6) Polemics is compromised without Philosophy. Many of the teachings of the Catholic Church that are attacked these days are not even religious teachings (God's existence, our spiritual soul, the immorality of abortion and same-sex unions, etc.). Without a good grounding in Philosophy, we can't defend the Church very well.

1.7) Such a project might have a snowball effect. Maybe such an initiative could be an example, not only for philosophers who are not Thomists, but for other disciplines in general. The dialog between philosophical schools and between Philosophy and other disciplines might be facilitated. Common declarations could be developed, and matters in dispute as well as the various points of view concerning them might be described.

1.8) Apparently, such a textbook doesn't yet exist. If you know of a good Philosophy textbook satisfying the criteria listed in Section 2 below, please contact me!

2) What would this Philosophy textbook look like?

In a way, I'm frustrated because Biology students have a nice, well-recognized one-book overview (Biology, 6th Edition, by Campbell and Reece), whereas there doesn't seem to be an equivalent for Philosophy students. In my opinion, a good Philosophy textbook would be:

2.1) Thomistic. Saint Thomas Aquinas is not the Gospel, but the "general structure" of Thomism will always remain valid, as well as being able to accept all new scientific discoveries. See among others the essay " Why Saint Thomas Aquinas?"

2.2) Up to date. Saint Thomas Aquinas didn't know about computers, space exploration, genetic engineering, the Heisenberg Principle, and so on. I'm not advocating a "dusty" Thomism which forgets that Saint Thomas himself wasn't afraid of innovating.

2.3) Complete. Of course, one textbook can't contain everything strictly speaking. But it should discuss all important questions of Logic, Philosophy of Nature, Metaphysics, and Ethics.

2.4) Authoritative. This textbook would be generally recognized as "pretty good" by current Thomistic philosophers, and also recognized by priests and Bishops as being a good Philosophy textbook. The enormous "Acknowledgments" section of books like Biology, 6th Edition, or Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine make me drool with envy. This is made worse when they are compared to many books written by "Unabomber" philosophers who say things like: "Everybody before me has totally misunderstood Aristotle", etc.

2.5) Concise. Physically, this textbook must be one volume, not a bookshelf-filler. Not only does this permit students to actually carry it in their backpacks, but it also means it has to "get to the point" in less than roughly two thousand pages.

2.6) Free (on the Internet). "Wisdom" you have to pay for is generally not very wise. Of course it would be nice if this textbook could be purchased in a hardcover edition, with gorgeous glossy paper, etc. But it must also be available free in electronic format.

2.7) As pleasant to read as possible. Philosophy can be turned into a very dry subject. But many textbooks from other sciences have nice color diagrams and photographs, little sidebars making connections with the topic at hand and everyday life, end-of-chapter summaries, review questions, etc. A few jokes here and there don't hurt either!

2.8) Well-networked with an extensive bibliography. Nobody can blame a textbook for not saying everything, but a good textbook should say everything essential, and give references to books which contain the rest.

2.9) Approachable with flexibility in 1 hour, 1 course or 1 semester. The book cover should graphically summarize the whole book, so a competent Philosopher could give a one-hour overview of all of Philosophy using the book cover as a visual aid. The book should also be usable for a single course, since it would have four overview chapters on Logic, Philosophy of Nature, Metaphysics, and Ethics. The rest of the book should be readable in one semester, if all courses pertained to it.

2.10) Keyed to a good overview of History of Philosophy, and a good Anthology of Great Philosophers. The Philosophy textbook should refer to a similarly-sized History of Philosophy, instead of getting bogged down in explanations and refutations of specific philosophers. The History of Philosophy itself should be keyed to an Anthology of Great Philosophers, so students could begin to dip into the actual writings of important thinkers.

2.11) Written plainly. Bad philosophers tend to explain simple things with complicated words. I'm interested in the exact opposite!

2.12) Translated into English, French and Spanish. At least to begin with!

2.13) Humble. The proper degree of certainty would accompany each thesis, from "100% sure, and here is the proof", right down to "I have no idea!" Also, each chapter would have a list of open questions for which we still don't have an answer.

3) Why us, Philosophers who happen to be Catholics?

Why should philosophers, who happen to be Catholics, be at the forefront of such a project? What is it in our Baptism that can help us find or write such a good Philosophy textbook?

3.1) "For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat" [Mt 25:35]. We believe in Heaven and Hell, and we believe that the more we have received, the more will be asked of us. On Judgment Day, God will blame us more than everybody, if we don't work as hard as we can to provide the Light of Wisdom to mankind.

3.2) "Then I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean" [Ez 36:25]. Moral vices are a huge obstacle to the acquisition of Science. Think of laziness, which can bury the best talents, or sensuality, which darkens the intellect, or pride, which hides the truth behind our ego, etc. With Baptism and Confession, Catholics are in an excellent position to overcome this obstacle.

3.3) "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon" [Mt 6:24]. Bad philosophers are also known as sophists. Sophists are willing to sacrifice truth, if they can get more money out of the deal. Catholics know they will burn in eternal Hellfire if they submit their lives to the idol of Money. Also, remember this textbook must be free!

3.4) "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor" [Ex 20:16]. To harvest wisdom, we need to read and understand the works of many other philosophers, even those who annoy us! This might seem trivial, but much philosophical ignorance is caused by unjust and frivolous rejection of truths found by other philosophers.

3.5) "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" [Jn 13:35]. Only teamwork can conquer the enormous task of finding or writing a good Philosophy textbook. But philosophers have a nasty reputation for being unable to collaborate! Only supernatural Charity can bind together all players on this team.

3.6) "But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not" [Lc 22:31-32]. The Church's Magisterium protects Catholic philosophers from many errors concerning God, the nature of our soul, Natural Law, and other questions which are common to the Catholic Faith and Philosophy. The Magisterium also defends human reason and all Sciences [Denzinger #2766, #4336, etc.].

4) How could we go about producing such a textbook?

4.1) First, make sure it doesn't exist already! We need to make a reasonable effort to make sure such a textbook doesn't already exist, by contacting as many good philosophers as we can, and also by searching the Internet. If it exists, we'll be able to give it good publicity! If not, this step (4.1) will be an excellent preparation for the next one (4.2).

4.2) Make a list of all the best (or least bad!) existing textbooks. There are many Philosophy textbooks out there, many of them out of print. We need to list them all.

4.3) Continue to elaborate the criteria for a good textbook. In order to perform step 4.4 properly, we need to assess existing textbooks (step 4.2) against the best possible list of criteria (i.e. we need to improve the 2.X series above).

4.4) Choose a "Contingency Plan Textbook". This project cannot completely fail, because some tolerably good textbooks exist already. We must choose the best one, and use that textbook as a "Contingency Plan". This project should at least manage to put that imperfect but existing textbook on the Internet.

4.5) Draft the "Ideal Table of Contents". Starting with the one taken from the "Contingency Plan Textbook", draft an "ideal" Table of contents. There is no use thinking about step 4.8 (the actual writing of the manual), if we can't even agree on a Table of contents!

4.6) Imitate the good aspects of an Open Source project. Some of you might be aware of the free Linux operating system, which was developed by a large virtual team of unpaid programmers. This type of effort can have shortcomings (for example low quality, when there is no competent central authority), so we'd have to watch the weak spots. But "Open Source" projects have many advantages, like zero developement cost and a non-proprietary end-product.

4.7) Establish a minimalist legal structure. Contributing our unpaid efforts to a worthy cause is nice, as long as somebody doesn't run away with our work to make an unjust profit!

4.8) List the numbered assertions for reach chapter. In other words, fill out the Table of contents, but without the arguments to back up the assertions, or any actual flowing text. This would be done by a "virtual group", over the Internet. Note that step 4.3 should help reduce the inevitable disagreements which will occur during this step (4.8), since we'll have more objective criteria to facilitate our decisions. Also note that since we are not actually writing the textbook yet, it is easier to make changes, to reorder how concepts are presented, to add or remove material, etc.

4.9) Actually write the textbook. Using a combination of excerpts from old textbooks no longer protected by copyright, and original contributions, connect with a narrative text all the assertions and their supporting arguments.

4.10) Fill in the "goodies". An up-to-date and exhaustive bibliography, artwork, index, review questions, etc.

4.11) Print and Party!

5) Conclusion

In my opinion, mankind needs an "Open Source Thomistic Philosophy Textbook" ("OSThoPhiT"?). Being baptized is not a requirement for participating in this project, but being in love with Science and Truth certainly is!

6) Project Resources

Please see the OSThoPhiT Section of the Philosophy home page.

To find out what you can do to help this project, please see FAQ #2.

7) Acknowledgments

Many thanks to M. Gaétan Corneau, Mr. Jean-Sébastien Trudel (Item 1.7), and also to [Scholar #1], for their help in writing this project statement.

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