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Seminar Preview – Ethics: Virtue, “The Work of a Human Being”

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Seminar Archive Listing


Introduction to Philosophical Thinking

What is philosophy?  Is it something we study—as subject, like biology or literature?  Is it something each of us has, individually—as in, “my personal philosophy”?  Is it a relic of history?  An intellectual curiosity?  A means to impress at cocktail parties and on social media?

Or perhaps—as this seminar will attempt to demonstrate—philosophy is a way of thinking relatively easy to identify but very difficult to practice.  Mere description of the practice does not suffice for understanding it; one must, rather, engage in the practice itself.  This engagement requires discipline of the mind and the consistent willingness to pursue philosophy not merely as a hobby, but as a habit.  For those who have the will, this seminar will provide the means: namely through a schedule of carefully-selected readings and persistent dialogue—both in the seminar discussion sessions and through the Lyceum platform.  This incipient practice of philosophy will not make you a philosopher; but it will engender in those who seize it the germ of a true philosophical habit.

Introduction to a Living Thomism

Ary Scheffer (1795-1858). "Saint Thomas d'Aquin prêchant la confiance en Dieu pendant la tempête". Huile sur toile. 1823. Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais.

Veritatem meditabitur guttur meum, et labia mea detestabuntur impium” – “truth shall be mediated by my mouth, and impiety detested by my lips.”  These words—from Proverbs 8:7—begin Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles and from them he elucidates the twofold office of the wise: first, to contemplate and speak the divine truth, which we may simply call “truth”, and, second, to refute the errors opposed to the truth.

This office was one Aquinas himself carried out diligently over the course of his teaching and writing career.  Though he lived a mere 49 years—from 1225 until 1274—he composed works preserved today totaling over 8 million words (without a computer or typewriter or even electric light to help).  Comprised within those 8 million words, one finds an incredible breadth of topics, often treated with similarly incredible insight and brevity.  In those brief insights are contained a perennial wisdom, fruitfully mined again and again over the centuries, and to which we in this seminar will diligently turn our own attention: seeking to understand not only the doctrines of the Angelic Doctor, but his thinking.

Aquinas’ Cosmological Vision

Read the news, turn on the television, scroll social media, and everywhere you will encounter—by every medium—a singular message: the message that we ought to make the world, the universe, and especially ourselves in our own image.  To be sure, there are countless variations of this message; but its essence is the same.  The roots lie centuries deep in Western soil—no later than Francis Bacon (1561–1626)—but today, the message is less often questioned, less frequently challenged, and rarely even noticed.  Rather, it is taken for granted.

It is a message that views the cosmos and all within it, perhaps most especially ourselves, as raw matter to be shaped and changed according to the dictates of our fantasies and desires.  It is a message provenated by minds given over to a background cosmological nihilism: a nihilism not of the here and now—not of despairing about purpose in one’s own life—but of the belief that there is purpose independent of our own volitional determination.  In other words, the cosmological nihilist disbelieves that the order of the universe has any relevance for his or her life, and how it ought to be lived.  This nihilism has become the unquestioned rule of the day.

In contrast is the cosmological vision of Thomas Aquinas: a vision which sees in the fundamental principles of the universe an ordered whole, giving governance to all its parts, and perfect in itself.  In this seminar, we will examine key texts of Aquinas which illustrate this truth.


Ethics: The Good Life

Can we be happy?  At times, looking around in our twenty-first century world, it would seem that “happiness” is a contingent, fleeting and difficult-to-grasp matter more of luck than of choice and action.  Such a view stems from an implicitly nihilistic worldview, one unconsciously imbibed by many today, in which meaning is imposed upon the realities which extrinsically act upon us.  The result of this worldview—this effort to burden the human being with creating the meaning for all the universe—is a deep, gnawing grief at the inevitable failure and ever-more-extreme attempts at improving anesthetics to dull this pain.  To the contrary of this sadly inverted worldview, this seminar will look at the philosophical treatments of those in the tradition of the ancients and medievals who construe happiness as an inward possession whereby the human person acts outwardly for the sake of attaining real goods meaningful in themselves.

Finding a meaningful life, that is, requires effort: it is not something which happens to us, most especially when the world in which we live denies, both implicitly and often explicitly, that the universe is itself meaningful.  Thus, by reading sources ancient, medieval, and modern, we will look at how the good of life has been emptied, how it can be restored, and how it can be oriented.

Ethics: Virtue

“…we are investigating [ethics] not in order that we might know what virtue is, but in order that we might become good”.  What does it mean for a human being to be good?  This, as human beings, is a question we ought to be able to answer.  But even more importantly—having answered it—we ought to be able to live it.  In bygone eras, we could perhaps rely upon or place our trust in certain authorities to answer this question for us: to look to others for answers about what it means to be good and what actions we must perform in order to become good.  But such is not the case today, in which anarchy of thought has become the norm, authorities are seldom possessed of the virtue they themselves need, and individuals are given the ability to discover (but not to critically assess) what is true or false themselves.

Thus there is a great merit and benefit in studying the wisdom contained in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics: a treatise comprising ten books which details the nature of human happiness, goodness, virtue, and the struggle to attain that which fulfills our being.  Aristotle—called by Thomas Aquinas “the Philosopher”—was a keen observer of many things, human beings not the least of which; to study his ethics is to study the human being as a concrete reality, and to discover truths not only about what a human being is, but about the who of the individual self.

Ethics: The Sexual Act

In the word “sex” there is contained a twofold signification: the bifurcated biological nature of the individual and the complementary action toward which that bifurcated nature is ordered.  This seminar will study both significations, as two parts of a continuous whole, within the existence of the human person.  This examination of sex in the light of personhood will be guided by a reading of Saint John Paul II’s Love & Responsibility, written while he was serving as Auxiliary Bishop of Kraków in 1960.

Love & Responsibility is steeped in two philosophical traditions: the metaphysically-oriented wisdom of Thomism and the experientially-reflective practice of phenomenology.  In the former, it is well-noted that the young Karol Wojtyla studied for two years under Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange at the Angelicum, receiving his doctorate in philosophy with a dissertation on the doctrine of Faith in St. John of the Cross.  In the latter tradition, we find especially the influence of Max Scheler; Wojtyla wrote his doctoral dissertation in theology on the incorporation of Scheler’s thinking into Catholic ethics.  Together, these two ways of thinking united in Wojtyla’s mind to form a notion of Thomistic personalism, a notion which permeates his approach to love and sex—and through which we will ourselves better understand these perennially-difficult topics ourselves.

Thomistic Psychology

Thomistic Psychology: Retrieval

Two momentous intellectual events occurred in 1879: Wilhelm Wundt founded the first formal laboratory for psychological research at the University of Leipzig, and Pope Leo XIII released the encyclical Aeterni Patris, which exhorted the retrieval and teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Catholic universities.  The first, while a legitimate and necessary approach to understanding the human psyche, needs a more robust follow-through on the second; that is, the scientific understanding of the human psyche needs a philosophical understanding, and no philosopher has provided as strong an understanding of the human psyche as Thomas Aquinas.  Thus, we seek to retrieve this understanding in a way conducive to an overall deepening of our psychological insight.

At the center of this retrieval is a threefold recovery and clarification: 1) of the understanding of the ψυχή, anima, or soul; 2) of the faculties by means of which the soul operates; and 3), of the notion of habits as structuring both these faculties individually and the entire soul.  These recoveries and clarifications will help us understand personhood.

Thomistic Psychology: Action Theory

In discussing action theory—the theory, that is, of how actions are specifically human; how we, as human beings, have actions which are unlike any other kind of being—we must recognize that, as in many things, we ought to begin with Aristotle.  That is not to say Aristotle was the first to ask the relevant questions—for certainly they are found in Plato—but it is to say that Aristotle did give us the foundations of an answer, or, we might say, of a coherent theory, of a scientific approach to studying the relationship.  We find this, among other locations, in his Nicomachean Ethics, upon which Aquinas clearly builds in the early parts of the Prima secundae.  That is, in the early books of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, we find him asking questions about happiness—as Aquinas does in Prima secundae questions one through five (as well as on the nature of the voluntary and involuntary—in which path the Prima secundae follows).

But to understand “what happiness is” in a “clear and distinct way”—without the confusion of mere general intelligibility, but getting at the specific intelligibility which gives an object for the sake of which we can act—“might come about readily”, Aristotle says, “if one were to grasp the work of a human being.”

Thomistic Psychology: Cognitive Life

In his 1854 Institutes of Metaphysic, James F. Ferrier introduced the term “epistemology” to describe the study of knowledge, and opposed it to “ontology” (a term introduced in 1606 and popularized in the 18th century by Christian Wolff) as the two main branches of philosophy.  Of these two, Ferrier gave a chronological priority to the study of epistemology.  As he writes: “we are scarcely in a position to say what is, unless we have at least attempted to know what is; and we are certainly not in a position to know what is, until we have thoroughly examined and resolved the question—What is the meaning of to know?”

This prioritizing of knowing what it means to know follows upon the severance of knowledge from being.  This unnatural segregation undermines the philosophical project.  In this seminar, we will take up an opposed standpoint in studying the nature of philosophical knowledge, a standpoint indicated by the title: cognitive life.  There is no living apart from being, and, as we will show, no thinking apart from living.  We cannot understand human thinking apart from the context of human life, and we cannot understand human life apart from its immersion in being—an immersion not only of its substantial existence, but also its cognitive living.  Therefore, this seminar will cover the topics of the specifically intellectual nature of the human soul, the operations of intellectual discovery, the formation and development of concepts, and the integral union of intellectual and perceptual faculties in the human person.

Thomistic Psychology: World and Passions

The passions, though born into us by nature and fitting to our lives, must obey the orders of reason, else they bring disorder to the whole of our being.  But since the passions are not disordered by nature (though of reason’s voice they are hard-of-hearing in a postlapsarian existence), we must uncover the causes of their disorder so prevalent today if we are to understand how they fail, and how they might succeed, in attaining their proper and fitting good. 

The approach taken in this seminar to the question of the passions will seek a certain mean between two extreme and opposed perspectives.  On the one hand is situated the modern position—and by far the more dangerous of the two—espoused by David Hume (1711—1776), namely, that “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them” (1739: A Treatise of Human Nature, Book II, Part III, Section III).  On the other hand is that position held generally by the Stoics, which—though we may learn much from it—may holds in its extreme forms that a cause of movement from without ourselves is contrary to our nature and the passions arising therefrom as objects which we ought to master, as the domestication of a beast.  In the Humean perspective, we are but gifted animals bound to seek increasingly clever satisfaction of irrational forces; in the extreme Stoic, we are intellectual spirits striving against an unruly flesh.

Contrary to both, the Aristotelian-Thomistic perspective sees in the intellect and human body a hierarchical complementarity, for the passions are a means of receipt and response to the world—and especially the specifically human world—in which we live and by which we pursue our proper ends.  Thus, understanding the dynamism of world and passions is essential to understanding the rectitude, and failures, of our passionate dispositions.

Thomistic Psychology: The Meaning of Evil

Every human being has some notion of evil as that which is opposed to a good:  the good that one desires, the good that one honors – or, perhaps, the good that one wishes one honored or desired more than one does.  Even persons who might consider themselves at quite home with the official or trendy relativisms of the day frequently find themselves possessed with anger at states of affairs, ideas, and other persons they clearly judge to be evil.  Might not the frenzy of the anger, as well as the lack of humility it evinces, suggest a deeper questioning?  For if we are honest, we must admit that, despite every good intention, we ourselves have some share in the mysterious reality of evil in the world.

This seminar aims to deepen our questioning concerning the meaning of evil, beginning with the nature of the goods to which various evils are opposed.   This introduction will lead us to the seminar’s main concern, which is with moral evil as a kind of primary rupture in the world of free beings, and the questions that evil poses for moral psychology: If moral goodness represents nothing other than the excellence of the human way of acting, what then does it mean willingly to oppose the norm of that excellence?  In the end, this will lead us to a consideration of how we might move beyond an account of moral evil merely as privation, and the possibility of addressing the shortcomings of the traditional account from a semiotic point of view.  The hope is that the seminar as a whole will be of some real assistance for the examination of our own consciences and the better fulfillment of our vocations as human persons.


Science: On Being, Language and Reason, and Cause in Aristotle’s Organon

In order to be a proper ἀκροᾱτής (akroates), i.e., hearer or student of Aristotle’s, such that one might read and understand the Stagyrite’s treatment of specific subjects like nature (Physics), the soul (De Anima), ethics (Nicomachean Ethics), politics (Politics) or metaphysics (Metaphysics), one must first obtain a general understanding of Aristotle’s rigorous logical method. This method is disclosed in a set of works that, since Alexander of Aphrodisias (A.D. 200), has been called the  ὄργανον (organon) because it provides an account of the instrument of coming to know being or reality (οὐσία/ousia).

This seminar treats Aristotle’s methodology for coming to know reality in two parts. In the first part, to be led by Dr. Daniel Wagner, students will gain understanding of the primary terms for defining (Topics), the classification of the most general concepts of the intellect (Categories), and the method of reasoning used for defining beings, which Aristotle calls induction (ἐπαγωγή/epagoge) and division (διαίρεσις/diairesis and ἀνάλῠσις/analusis) (Posterior Analytics). In the second part, to be led by Dr. John Boyer, students will gain understanding of Aristotle’s method of deductive demonstrative reasoning and explanation by proper cause (αἰτία/aitia), which constitutes scientifc understanding (Posterior Analytics).

Science: The Faults of Modern Philosophy

This seminar will trace the course of these faults, beginning with Descartes and Locke, running through Hume and Kant, and concluding with Wittgenstein, Quine, and Sartre.  They are a group of thinkers diverse and manifestly opposed, often, to one another, if not on the whole then at least in important parts.  Yet despite their apparent diversity, each is united by a strain of thought that circumscribes the intelligibility of the human experience to an extent lesser than is real.  In following the consequences of each thinker, therefore, one finds some part of the universe irretrievably cut off from others.

In critically appraising the merits of any philosopher or philosophical approach, one may either evaluate the whole system of thought or the principles upon which it is founded.  The first is a process as long and arduous as the writings one must scrutinize.  But it relies upon the latter, the examination of principles, which—if such examination is performed carefully—suffices to discern swiftly the errors of systems, approaches, and conclusions alike.  We need not carefully deconstruct the edifice of modern philosophical thinking to understand how it has all gone so awry, so long as we may—and indeed, we here will—discern carefully the faults in its foundations.


Metaphysics: Discovery of Ens inquantum Ens

What is “being”, and how do we discover it?  The term presents ambiguities; as Aristotle says, it is said in many ways.  And as Aquinas, following Avicenna says many times over, it is the first conceived by the intellect, and that into which all other conceptions are resolved.  This, too, may be taken ambiguously; and, moreover, it may be conflated and confused with ens inquantum ens as the subject matter of metaphysics.  Indeed, resolution is said to be the mode of inquiry which belongs to the science of metaphysics most of all!  Yet what this means, and in what manner one resolves, requires clarification.  Thus, in this seminar, we will examine some seminal texts of Aristotle and of Thomas Aquinas himself, as well as important contributions and questions which have arisen in the Thomistic tradition, as the first of four seminars in a series on metaphysics.

The discovery of being—something implicit in all our cognitive lives, from the very first until the very last—requires a careful process of consideration.  Various Thomists, over the centuries, have interpreted Aquinas’ approach to the unveiling of ens inquantum ens and how we situate this science.  No small part of the difficulty comes from the principal text in the tradition, Aristotle’s Metaphysics.  Together with Aquinas’ commentary, this will form the core of our reading, along with texts from Aquinas’ Super Boetium de Trinitate, often considered one of the most important texts for understanding Aquinas’ whole approach toward science.

Metaphysics: The Depths of Act and Potency

In this seminar, we will undertake an inquiry into the depths of act and potency, as the correlative principles which must be themselves understood rightly to answer satisfactorily any of these other questions.  That these difficulties continue to arise stems not from an inadequacy of the answers—that is, as though the answers given by Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas or those in their tradition are inaccurate—but rather from the very nature of the human mind.  The difficulty consists, that is, in first rightly understanding the question: which is a difficulty that no answer in a book can provide us, though the right answers should help us discover the correct formulations of the question.

Put otherwise, we need to learn how to ask: what is act, what is potency, and how are these principles explanatory for knowledge and being?  Discovering these questions is the aim of this course.  Thus, we will ask across the eight weeks: how is form a cause of being and of knowing?  How is it a principle of composite beings?  How are we to understand the one and the many?  What is the definition and what are the distinctions to be made concerning potency?  How is potency possible?  What does it mean to ascribe an analogical primacy to act?  In what sense is act explanatorily primary?  And, finally, what unites the divisions of being according to the ten categories (substance and the nine accidents), act and potency, and truth and falsity?

Metaphysics: The Existence, Nature, and Intelligibility of God

“In my opinion,” Umberto Eco once said, “it’s religion that produces God, not the other way around.”  Once the sentiment of the purportedly rebellious thinker, today such is a commonplace.  But for all Eco’s learning, for as much as he may have read St. Thomas Aquinas (and even admired his mind), it seems that the novelist did not understand the doctor: for having seized the truths of the divine so articulately explicated by Aquinas, one could not help but wish to create a religion around the being thereby revealed, were the Divine not to have already revealed Itself and given us the right means for worship.

The fourteen questions which we will read in this seminar, comprising eighty-five articles, will explore the existence, nature, and intelligibility of God.  The existential demonstration—the famous “five ways” of Aquinas—will be covered quickly: for their intelligibility grows the better we understand the rest of the questions, and we will be better equipped for grasping their significance in light of the divine nature and its intelligibility to us.  In addition to the divine attributes (simplicity, perfection, goodness, infinity, omnipresence, immutability, eternality, and unity), we will take recurrent interest in the topics of analogy, significance, knowledge, and the relation of act and potency which cuts across all being.


Phenomenology: Heidegger’s Method – Part I

The term “phenomenology” has received a multitude of meanings over the past several centuries but today refers primarily to the loose collection of approaches initiated by Edmund Husserl with his 1900 (and revised in 1913) Logische Untersuchungen, or Logical Investigations.  Yet these approaches, while all see in phenomenology something foundational about how it is that human beings know, vary widely.  Prominent among them, and very frequently misunderstood, is the phenomenological approach advocated by Martin Heidegger—who, although perhaps the best-known of Husserl’s students, departs most radically from his one-time teacher.

In this seminar, we will examine the structure and practice of phenomenological method according to Heidegger, first by contrast with the background against which he developed it, second in his own descriptions, and third in his application of it.  We will conclude with a consideration of his essay “On the Essence of Truth”, in which we will see both the value and the limitations of the method.

Phenomenology: Heidegger’s Method – Part II

Martin Heidegger’s phenomenological method, unlike Husserl’s, does not rely upon a scientific precision.  Nor, like Max Scheler’s, is it merely an attitude of considering the relational value of “the things themselves”.  Rather, it is a persistent, recursive, reflective investigation that seeks to disclose the reality of what is in all its cognoscible dimensions.

In the first of this two-part seminar, Heidegger’s background, distinction from Husserl, and practice of the phenomenological method were examined primarily through the first division of Being and Time and selected texts.  Thereby, we discovered the core elements of the phenomenological method of disclosure.  In this, the second part of the seminar, we will examine how this phenomenological method affects the person whose life is permeated by the cognitive intentionality characteristic of Dasein.  This examination will be accomplished by carefully reading the second division of Being and Time and conclude with a meditation upon Heidegger’s Letter on Humanism, which brings Heidegger’s philosophy of being, as conducted phenomenologically, to its “point” of perpetually inconclusive linguistic elaboration.


Semiotics: An Introduction

What is a sign?  Though a seemingly simple question, and one which may receive a technically simple answer, attaining a clear understanding of signs is a task both very difficult and very important; so important, in fact, that the whole future of philosophy (and by extension, human knowledge in general) depends upon our getting the answer right.  A great deal of our present difficulty, in the 21st century, follows from several centuries’ failure to attain a true semiotics.  To begin rectifying this, I believe we must draw on a handful of key sources: John Poinsot, Charles Sanders Peirce, and John Deely.  In this seminar, we will focus on Peirce and his unique contributions to the foundations of the discipline of semiotics proper and show how we must instantiate an understanding of signs in our day-to-day practices, both practically and theoretically.

Among the specific goals for the seminar are to understand the general theory of semiotics—as the study of the action of signs—which was founded in Charles Peirce and has since been developed; to understand the categorical basis of Peirce’s thought, or his “phaneroscopy”; and to understand especially how signs play a role in human thinking.

Semiotics: Peirce and the Modern Spirit

Beginning with the early papers of his “Cognition Series” (1868-1869) attacking the spirit of Cartesianism, Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) remained a severe critic of modern philosophy throughout his life.  His critique was a radical one, reaching to fundamental categories of being and experience and heavily informed by his reading of the history of philosophy and the Latin scholastics.  Peirce was not only a philosopher but also a working scientist of note, a unique figure whose thought brings together pre-modern metaphysical insights, the progress of the positive sciences freed from the narrowness of modern presuppositions, and the promise of a new, postmodern age of human understanding founded upon treasures both old and new, including the re-founded discipline of semiotics, the “science of signs”.

This seminar is intended as a (partial!) introduction to the figure and thought of Peirce for those who are unfamiliar with him.  It will be organized largely around the connected pillars of modern thought that Peirce criticized and to which his own thought is a reply.

Semiotics: Thought and Contributions of John Deely

In the 2010 Routledge Companion to Semiotics, the entry for John Deely begins:

While Peirce is acknowledged as the greatest American Philosopher, John Deely (b. 1942), in his wake, is arguably the most important living  American philosopher and is the leading philosophers in semiotics.  An authority on the work of Peirce and a major figure in both contemporary semiotics, Scholastic realism, Thomism and, more broadly, Catholic philosophy, Deely’s thinking has demonstrated how awareness of signs has heralded a new, genuinely ‘postmodern’ epoch in the history of human thought.

This “postmodernism”, which will be a theme throughout the seminar, is not the post-structuralist movement of the 20th century, but rather a moving-past modernity which is affected principally by a retrieval of scholasticism, and especially the late scholastic work of John Poinsot, also known as John of St. Thomas.

Crucial to this retrieval, and crucial to the understanding of semiotics, is the notion of relation.  Too long ignored or mistaken as to its nature, a successful retrieval and advance of our knowledge of relation is necessary to understanding the action of signs.  For, by relation, the action of signs scales across the whole universe and unites nature and culture—or, at least, shows the possibility of such coherence.  Thus, the major contributions to semiotics given by Deely, which will be covered in this seminar, are the proto-semiotic history, an expanded doctrine of causality, the retrieved and clarified notion of relation, the concept of physiosemiosis, the continuity of culture and nature, the notion of purely objective reality, and the real interdisciplinarity which semiotics fosters.

Semiotics: The Tractatus de Signis of John Poinsot

You stand today on the edge of a road: a road little used and oft neglected for the previous four centuries, but for the occasional intrepid traveler—its development abandoned very nearly at this spot where you stand today.  Where does it go—where ought it to go?  And from where does it come?  To answer the latter, we must know something of the former: and it is this knowledge that the seminar intends to provide, with indications for where the road leads and where it ought to lead.

There are few works which have received less of the attention they deserve than the Cursus philosophicus of John Poinsot—more commonly known as John of St. Thomas, for his professed fidelity to the teaching of Thomas Aquinas.  Within this cursus—a tome spanning 2348 pages—Poinsot addresses logic both formally and materially, as well as many intricacies of natural philosophy pertaining to physics, life, and psychology.  But dispersed through these considerations there exists an implicit treatise, one concerned with an element essential to understanding not only topics logical but also natural; namely, the treatise on signs.  This treatise was extracted, translated, edited, and compiled by John Deely (following a cue from Poinsot himself) and published in 1985 under the title Tractatus de Signis: The Semiotic of John Poinsot, with a second edition released in 2013.  By carefully surveying this text we will discover the Way of Signs—that long-abandoned road—and thereby reclaim not only the history of thought abandoned by modernity but find a way forward past its recalcitrance to the realist thought of semiotics.

Semiotics: Cultural World of the Sign

What is reality?  As a noun and as its adjectival derivative, we recognize its importance—we say that something is not real, and thereby lessen it, or say that something is real, and thereby magnify it.  But do we know what it means?  We may say the tree outside is real, as is the dog sniffing it; the houses in which we live are real; we say our emotions are real.  But is that emotional reality the same as that had by the tree, the dog, or the house?

We see this struggle exhibited most profoundly, though perhaps least conscientiously, at the level of culture: in the existence of institutions, laws, communities, in the questions concerning words and ideas.   Where does the work of art exist?  Is a tradition a mere patterned performance of actions, or does it consist in something more?  In this seminar, we will undertake to understand the nature of these cultural realities: for although they are existentially relative and cognition-dependent, cultural beings nonetheless are real, and have an importance—psychological, moral, even spiritual—founded upon but irreducible to natural and existentially substantial cognition-independent entities.

This study will therefore focus on the contributions of semioticians—especially Yuri Lotman and John Deely—in establishing and understanding the importance of cultural reality.  We will therefore undertake to understand the Umwelt and Lebenswelt, the Bildendwelt, the influence of the future on the past, diachrony and synchrony, textuality, codes, and the relation between self and culture.

Politics and Culture

Politics: Introduction to the Philosophy of Culture

In this seminar, we shall introduce the philosophy of culture, defining what culture is and where the study of culture fits into philosophy. We will then explore how there exists a speculative dimension to the philosophy of culture (i.e., explaining how culture exists in reality through human subjectivity and how it is determined by human nature), as well as a practical dimension (i.e., cultural values). After establishing the principles of this study, we will then look to its application to Western culture, in particular, the transition between the three major epochs of antiquity, the Middle Ages, and modernity. We will then analyze modern culture in particular with an eye toward its trajectory into the next age. Finally, we shall conclude with a practical examination of what the philosophy of culture (as we have studied throughout the course) tells us about the present age and our expectations in this life.

Politics: Postmodern Culture and Principles

This seminar will explore contemporary political and cultural issues from a classically realist foundation, proposing a genuinely “postmodern” response to the crisis of our time.  When the term “postmodern” is used today, it typically denotes what is in practice a kind of “hypermodernism,” that is, an ideology which simply takes modern thinking to its logical conclusion (e.g., complete subjectivism, moral relativism, skepticism, nihilism, etc.).  What “postmodern” should signify is something which looks beyond modernity, and it is in this sense which we use the term ourselves.  Our “postmodern” response against the modern crisis retrieves from pre-modern political philosophy what modernity wrongfully left behind while engaging directly with modern culture.

In the first half of this seminar, we will consider the trajectory of Western political thought from the ancient to the modern era.  Here, we shall try to understand how political philosophy and culture in the West has developed to its current stage.  We will also identify features of Aristotelian and Thomistic thought which could serve us well today.  The second half of this seminar will focus on Jacques Maritain’s Integral Humanism, as his work provides the basis for our claims in response to modernity.  Here, we will consider Maritain’s critiques of modern culture, secular liberalism, and totalitarianism, and his proposals for “integral humanism,” and the “concrete historical ideal.”

Special Topics

More than Aesthetics: Ens Artificiale and the Philosophy of Art

Human experience is filled with beings which are often considered a sort of “non-being” or, perhaps, “diminished” being by many scholastics: artifacts.  Sometimes, we are told by this tradition that a door threshold is really just an accidental conjunction of a given shape with the substance of dead wood.  However, a cursory glance around the world reveals the a host of realities which are structurally dependent upon human ingenuity and the long history of human exploration and creativity.

Exploring its topic from a broadly Aristotelian-Thomistic perspective, this course will use the work of Jacques Maritain to probe the broader set of philosophical issues involved in the “philosophy of art”: ens artificiale, the nature of practical reason, the metaphysics of art-craft, and topics pertaining to philosophical aesthetics, considered primarily from the perspective of this metaphysical consideration of the domain of ens artificiale.  Throughout our course, we will discover how questions of philosophical anthropology are in fact pivotally important for fashioning a metaphysics that is broad enough to account for the phenomenon of “being of art.”

Philosophizing in Faith: The Philosophical Thought of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange

Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, styled by certain parties as the “Sacred Monster of Thomism,” taught at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the “Angelicum”) in Rome for a long career of over fifty years.  Although he is normally understood to be a conservative Roman theologian of his period, an honest assessment of his work shows that, while being integrated deeply into the Dominican schola Thomae, he was an active thinker, synthesizing, with a particular strength in pedagogy, Thomistic thought on many topics in theology and philosophy.  This seminar will primarily consider his philosophical thought, tracing his treatment of topics pertaining to the philosophy of knowledge, metaphysics, moral philosophy, politics, with a bit of logic as well; it will end with a consideration of Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange’s presentation of the boundaries between faith and reason.   Throughout the seminar, emphasis will be placed on his organic connection with the Thomistic tradition as well as with the ongoing development of Thomistic thought in the many figures he influenced over the course of years of teaching and writing.

The Seven Interfaces of Philosophy

A person who has nothing “synoptic” and coherent to say about such matters—but without necessarily claiming expertise in any of them—is still only half a philosopher.  The wise, Aquinas reminds us, are the ones who judge all things.  They do this, however, not necessarily as specialists, but as those whose cognitive patience and contemplative leisure favor a posture of open enquiry, allowing the mind to slowly spot principles, which, in turn give birth to insights.  Within the light of this gradually embracing intellectual gaze, all the multiple and oft recalcitrant things in the world—both around us and within us—finally begin to share in an epiphany that slowly discloses how they all “hang together.”

The present seminar will begin with a metaphilosophical discussion of how philosophy has defined itself historically, and then how it can and should define itself today.  This will be followed by discussion of its obligatory interface with each of the seven problematics mentioned above. Peirce’s, and especially Deely’s, understanding of philosophy as “cenoscopic science” will serve as a useful key in bringing clarity to these relations, as will their new understanding of semiosis.  After all, one way we can sum up the synoptic scope of philosophical insight would be simply to acknowledge: everything is significant.

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