2018 Annual ACPA Meeting
Philosophy, Catholicism, and Public Life

President: Francis J. Beckwith

Dates:  November 8-11, 2018

Location:  The US Grant Hotel
326 Broadway
San Diego, CA, 92101
619-232-3121

Call for Papers
Submit paper by:  March 1, 2018
Send all submissions to: acpa@stthom.edu
(Please note: Authors of submitted papers must be members of ACPA.)

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Propose satellite sessions by: June 1, 2018



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2017 Annual ACPA Meeting
Philosophy, Faith, and Modernity

President:  Thomas S. Hibbs

Dates:  November 16-19, 2017

Location:  The Westin Dallas Downtown
1201 Main Street
Dallas, TX 75202
972-584-6650 

Call for Papers
Submit paper by:  March 1, 2017

Satellite Session Form
Propose satellite sessions by: June 1, 2017

Program (PDF)

Register for Conference

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ACPA Statement on the Role of Philosophy

4/30/2018


The Integral Place of Philosophy

in Catholic Higher Education

 

Statement of the

American Catholic Philosophical Association


Introduction

Philosophy increasingly finds itself in the awkward position of having to justify its place in higher education. What is the practical advantage of studying it? Wouldn’t that time be better spent deepening technical training required for the student’s chosen career path? Isn’t the study of philosophy simply a holdover from a bygone era?

In response, defenders of philosophy typically emphasize the practical relevance of the skills inculcated through philosophical study. Philosophy develops skills such as critical thinking, logical analysis, careful reading, problem solving, qualitative reasoning, consideration of alternative opinions, and ethical reflection. But philosophy provides much more. It cultivates the mind’s native capacity to understand the world and to approach life’s important questions with humility, courage, and balance. Among these questions are the following:


- How can we find truth through reasoned discourse?

- What is truly good for human beings?

- How can we integrate the quantifiable world of the sciences with the qualitative world of the humanities?

- What is the rational evidence for the existence and nature of God?


In addition to pursuing these questions, philosophy clarifies and defends the central terms of rational discourse: truth and falsity, virtue and vice, freedom and responsibility. Without this clarity, human discourse gets muddled and succumbs to the rhetorical sway of the most accomplished speaker. With this clarity, speech becomes conversation, and our life together is enhanced.

 

The university is premised on the idea that truth is one. The various disciplines cohere to form an intelligible whole. Specifically Catholic universities are premised on the idea that the ultimate source of this unity is God, who is knowable not only by faith but also by reason. The university in general and the Catholic university in particular call upon philosophy as a central source of integration. Without such a source, a college or university becomes what Clark Kerr calls a “multiversity” consisting of a cluster of insulated communities that lack a common animating principle.  As Alasdair MacIntyre puts it, “From a Catholic point of view the contemporary secular university is not at fault because it is not Catholic. It is at fault insofar as it is not a university.”

 

Philosophy specializes in being transdisciplinary. It addresses fundamental problems central to the enterprise of the university as a whole, problems concerning the nature of truth, evidence, and rationality. Unlike theology, philosophy does not rely on the belief that a revelation has been given to us: it appeals only to reason and to human experience, even if it often receives illumination from the life of faith. Philosophy is the custodian of the interdisciplinary conversation that is open to participants of every background and creed. It is therefore central to the conversation that constitutes a university.

Philosophy has always had an integral place in Catholic higher education, because it promotes the good of the student and of the university. The vision it provides is ever timely (section A) and formative in educating every undergraduate student (section B). Its task is deeply rooted in the heritage of Catholic higher education (section C) and central to the mission of the Catholic college or university (section D).


A. The Ever Timely Practice of Philosophy


What must a Catholic university education provide today given that ours is a time of global technological power, increasing pluralism, economic uncertainty, fragmented education, and religious indifference? Philosophy meets the need to educate students (1) for justice and for authentic human development, (2) for rational dialogue in a pluralistic society, (3) for participation in a dynamic work environment, (4) for integration of the disparate domains of human inquiry, and (5) for thoughtful engagement with religious questions.

(1) New ethical concerns. In the Apology, Socrates describes the “practice of philosophy” as the art of encouraging his fellow citizens to prize spiritual goods over material ones: “You are an Athenian, a citizen of the greatest city with the greatest reputation for both wisdom and power; are you not ashamed of our eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation and honors as possible, while you do not care for nor give thought to wisdom or truth, or the best possible state of your soul?”  Our own nation, renowned for its political freedoms, entertainment industries, global business ventures, technological innovations, and military might, benefits from the practice of philosophy as well: caring for wisdom, truth, and virtue helps temper the excesses of profit and power.

(2) Pluralism and dialogue. Inculcating habits of rational dialogue ordered toward mutual discovery of the truth would go a long way toward mitigating the increasingly strident and hostile differences of opinion that characterize our times. In the middle ages, a rich dialogue developed among philosophers and theologians from different religions. Regarding such a conversation among those who disagree, St. Thomas Aquinas said, “We must have recourse to natural reason, to which all men are forced to give their assent.”  Philosophy teaches the art of natural reason: how to suspend the quick reaction and to listen sympathetically to a different view; how to ask the right questions in order to acquire true understanding of what motivates an opponent’s position; how to critically examine one’s own views and take othersobjections in good humor; how to find common ground as a starting-point of discussion. The experience of coming to deeper insight through discussion gives students hope that people with different opinions can help each other seek the truth.

(3) Economic opportunity: Innovation and changing technologies mark today’s economy. Typical graduates change jobs four times in the first decade of employment.  The lasting skills that higher education needs to provide go beyond narrow technical training to a broad development of the mind, enabling it to integrate insights from different disciplines and express these insights with clarity and conviction. These skills will serve every student well across the entire arc of his or her career, and these are the skills fostered by philosophy and the study of the liberal arts and sciences.  

(4) Specialization and wisdom. Our time boasts countless advances in every field of inquiry, the fruit of narrow specialization. But John Henry Cardinal Newman points to the downside of this narrowness: an inability to see the big picture: “Although the art itself is advanced by this concentration of mind in its service, the individual who is confined to it goes back.”  Such specialization leaves the human desire for wisdom unfulfilled. Philosophy’s transdisciplinary pursuit of the whole of learning is especially needed today given our intellectual hyperspecialization.

(5) Rational consideration of the divine. St. Augustine spoke eloquently of the “restlessness” of the human heart apart from God the Creator. Though the human person transcends the whole political and cosmic order in its aspiration to achieve union with God, in our time this yearning for transcendence is often met with frustration. The university should be a place where all truth meets, and the Catholic university should play a crucial role in avoiding strident secularism on the one hand and religious fundamentalism on the other. Openness to the deepest religious questions of the human heart as well as the Church’s testimony to God’s self-revelation in history together constitute the unique witness of the Catholic university in our day. Philosophy can aid in this openness by criticizing dogmatism of every sort and by defending the possibility of knowing the truth.

B. Philosophy in the Core Curriculum


Philosophy teaches students to prize wisdom, truth, and virtue over power and wealth, to engage in rational dialogue rather than rhetorical bombast, to think creatively rather than mechanically, and to think integratively rather than narrowly. It inspires students with the courage to seek thoughtfully the God knowable by faith and by reason, and to avoid ideologies of faith and reason detrimental to human development. In this way, philosophy contributes to the flourishing of each graduate. Indeed, Pope St. John Paul II sees philosophical instruction as engaging something proper to all human beings:


All men and women … are in some sense philosophers and have their own philosophical conceptions with which they direct their lives. In one way or other, they shape a comprehensive vision and an answer to the question of life’s meaning; and in the light of this they interpret their own life’s course and regulate their behaviour. 


As part of the core curriculum, philosophical instruction develops this universal human capacity to seek meaning. Every discipline, from literature to psychology to chemistry, benefits from the presence of philosophy on campus. The ethos of philosophical reflection and the character of its principles give our universities confidence in the dignity of the person as one who not only seeks truth and meaning but very often finds it.

The study of philosophy is also part of the formation necessary for success in specialized disciplines. For example, the AACSB, which is the most prestigious accrediting body for schools of business, specifically calls for undergraduate business programs to develop three skills, all of which are distinctively philosophical: “Ethical understanding and reasoning (able to identify ethical issues and address the issues in a socially responsible manner),” “Analytical thinking (able to analyze and frame problems),” and “Reflective thinking (able to understand oneself in the context of society).”  Wall Street investor Bill Miller, who donated $75 million to his alma mater’s philosophy department, told the New York Times that philosophy “has made a huge difference both to my life outside business, in terms of adding a great degree of richness and knowledge, and to the actual decisions I’ve made in investing.”  Without philosophical training, business majors will not be in a position to realize what Pope Francis calls business’ “noble vocation” which involves aiding the development of peoples and serving the common good.  By the same token, studies show that medical doctors who are the beneficiaries of a liberal education provide their patients with more humane treatment; accordingly, the number of pre-med humanities programs has quadrupled since the year 2000.  Philosophy majors outperform every other major on the verbal and analytical reasoning portions of the GRE, suggesting that philosophical study sharpens skills useful for any profession.  Philosophy serves the human needs of students, but it is also desirable for preparing them for excellence in their chosen professions.

In view of its mission and heritage, a Catholic college or university should feature a substantial philosophy requirement for all undergraduates. The American Catholic Philosophical Association recommends that such a requirement include the following standard features:


- Classes for each of the four years of a student’s college career so that students can benefit from philosophical integration at each stage of their development; philosophy is the only core subject to which students typically receive no exposure prior to a college or university education; this is therefore a unique opportunity to develop a lifelong habit of reflection.

- A sequence of four or more courses that build upon each other so that students experience the satisfaction of higher-level philosophical thinking

- Courses covering central philosophical areas, such as metaphysics, natural theology, epistemology and logic, philosophical anthropology, philosophy of nature, ethics, and the history of philosophy

- Upper level courses that may relate to the student’s major, such as philosophy of language for English majors or philosophy of science for science majors

The core philosophy sequence should especially draw from the transdisciplinary character of philosophy. Examples of this approach include the following:

 

- Metaphysics inquires into the structure of reality, the unity of the disciplines, and the ultimate causes of reality; in doing so, it leads to natural theology and questions concerning the knowledge of God the creator that is available to unaided reason.

- Epistemology and logic examine how we justify the truth claims we make and how the arguments used in any subject-matter can be properly formulated.

- Philosophical anthropology examines the human person as body and soul and as intelligent and free, which is the view of the person presupposed by liberal education.

- Ethics examines the human good in a comprehensive manner in terms of human dignity, happiness, and the common good; by clarifying ethical theory, such a core course proves foundational for later applied ethics courses relevant to the students’ major discipline (e.g., journalism or nursing); a course in professional ethics complements but cannot substitute for such a core course in ethics.

 
The Catholic college or university should also pair the core sequence with a generous offering of upper level electives:

 

- Topical courses focused on various systematic questions of philosophy

- Historical courses focused on the major periods and figures in the history of philosophy, including ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary

 

 

As grace perfects nature, so theology builds upon philosophy. In order to integrate all truth in light of Christian revelation, theology draws upon the philosophical quest to integrate all learning. In the main, Catholic colleges and universities recognize that coursework in theology goes hand in hand with coursework in philosophy and it is therefore typical that there are at least as many core courses in philosophy courses as in theology. The American Catholic Philosophical Association endorses this parity.


C. Philosophy and the History of the Catholic University


The place of philosophy in the Catholic university finds its roots in the very origin of the university system. From cathedral and local schools, the first universities arose in the high middle ages, most notably the University of Paris, first recognized as a legal corporation in AD 1200. These institutions were seen as educational analogs of the medieval guild system, with professors as masters and their students as apprentice scholars. Important professions such as law and medicine could be studied, but since knowledge was ultimately for the sake of God, theology was seen as the guiding discipline. Nevertheless, before specializing in any of these disciplines, all students first studied in the Faculty of Arts before proceeding to a professional discipline. In this faculty of arts all students followed a standardized program in the liberal arts and philosophy.  From the earliest days of the university system, then, philosophy served an instrumental role in the university, preparing students to engage effectively in rational discourse in their subsequent studies. Notably, in respect to theology it was viewed as a handmaiden, serving a higher science. But philosophy in the medieval university did not have a merely servile role; it also had an important architectonic role, integrating the knowledge of the other disciplines.


Beginning in the late middle ages, philosophers turned their attention from questions of reality (metaphysics) to the study of knowledge (epistemology). During this period, the modern sciences eventually came to be seen as disciplines distinct from philosophical inquiry. With the rise of secular universities in the 18th and 19th centuries, philosophy came to be treated, along with theology, as but one discipline among many. It is in response to such developments that Newman wrote The Idea of a University, reminding his readers of the important role of God, theology, and philosophy in the university in general and in Catholic universities in particular. Recalling the spirit of the university in the Middle Ages, Newman argued that since there exists a Supreme Being who created the one universe with its various parts studied by the sciences, theology should be acknowledged as the unifying science studied within the university. As for philosophy, Newman was careful to note its integrative role:


The comprehension of the bearings of one science on another, and the use of each to each, and the location and limitation and adjustment and due appreciation of them all, one with another, this belongs, I conceive, to a sort of science distinct from all of them, and in some sense a science of sciences, which is my own conception of what is meant by Philosophy, in the true sense of the word. 

 

This idea of the university and the role of philosophy within it subsequently had a profound influence on the development of the Catholic university both in Europe and the United States.

In the United States, Catholic higher education began with the founding of Georgetown College in 1789. By 1850, more than 40 Catholic colleges had been founded, including such prominent institutions as Fordham, Notre Dame, and Villanova. In Jesuit colleges the curriculum was formally determined by the Ratio studiorum, a code of education first issued in 1586. The 1832 revised version of the Ratio exercised significant influence over other Catholic institutions of higher education in America in addition to Jesuit institutions. During this time, philosophy was given pride of place alongside theology, and Catholic colleges and universities required courses in logic, natural philosophy, metaphysics, and moral philosophy.  In 1879, Pope Leo XIII published the encyclical Aeterni Patris, calling for the “restoration of Christian philosophy” and reinforcing the central role of philosophy in the many Catholic colleges and universities subsequently founded in the United States. Graduates in any field could converse with one another about such things as the nature of knowledge, right principles of ethical reflection, and reasons for or against the existence of God. 

In the 1960s, philosophy programs in Catholic institutions began to look beyond Neoscholasticism to adopt a pluralism of methodshistorical, phenomenological, and analytical. This new pluralism enabled engagement in new philosophical conversations, but it rendered more complex philosophy’s integrative role. Philip Gleason concluded his history of Catholic higher education in the twentieth century by remarking, “The task facing Catholic academics today is to forge from the philosophical and theological resources uncovered in the past half-century a vision that will provide what Neoscholasticism did for so many yearsa theoretical rationale for the existence of Catholic colleges and universities as a distinctive element in American higher education.”  Accordingly, such philosophers as Alasdair MacIntyre and John Haldane have turned to the Catholic tradition in order to articulate a renewed sense of philosophy’s unifying role. 

 

In summary, the Catholic intellectual heritage reveals a keen awareness of the strategic significance of philosophy in forming the undergraduate mind and in achieving the unified vision of learning central to the life of a university.


D. Philosophy in the Mission of the Catholic University


The integral place of philosophy receives confirmation in John Paul II’s clarification of the theoretical rationale for the existence of Catholic colleges and universities. His apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae and encyclical Fides et Ratio, drawing on the teachings of the Second Vatican Council as well as on the Church’s rich intellectual tradition, underscore the central role of philosophy in the unique mission of the Catholic university. Four characteristics mark the research and teaching efforts of a Catholic university: (1) integration of knowledge, (2) dialogue between faith and reason, (3) ethical concern, and (4) theological perspective. Philosophy is essential for the achievement of each of these characteristics.

(1) Integration of the disciplines. Philosophy, together with theology, provides the means for all faculty members to discover the interconnection of the various disciplines, an interconnection rooted in the divine logos that is inscribed in the nature of the created universe.  Philosophy and theology make possible the interdisciplinary conversation necessary for integrating knowledge and understanding the full breadth of reality.


While each discipline is taught systematically and according to its own methods, interdisciplinary studies, assisted by a careful and thorough study of philosophy and theology, enable students to acquire an organic vision of reality and to develop a continuing desire for intellectual progress. In the communication of knowledge, emphasis is then placed on how human reason in its reflection opens to increasingly broader questions, and how the complete answer to them can only come from above through faith. 


Fides et Ratio underscores the unique role of philosophy in this task of integrating the various fields of human learning. Philosophy “determines the foundations and limits of the different fields of scientific learning” and provides “the ultimate framework of the unity of human knowledge and action, leading them to converge toward a final goal and meaning.”  In addresses to university audiences, Pope Francis likewise highlights the role of philosophy in integrating knowledge.  The influential Land O’Lakes statement also affirms the centrality of philosophy in this regard: avoiding all imperialism, the interdisciplinary character of the Catholic university requires a central role for philosophical questioning. 

 

(2) Dialogue of faith and reason. Fides et Ratio argues that reason and faith require each other in order to remain true to themselves: separated from the witness of faith, reason loses sight of the ultimate goal of transcendent truth and inquiry into the wonder of being; separated from the universality of reason, faith degenerates into mere opinion: “Deprived of what revelation offers, reason has taken sidetracks which expose it to the danger of losing sight of its final goal. Deprived of reason, faith has stressed feeling and experience, and so runs the risk of no longer being a universal proposition.”

In Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis reaffirms the importance of the dialogue between faith and reason and the role that philosophy plays in bringing this about:


The encounter of the Gospel message with the philosophical culture of the ancient world proved a decisive step in the evangelization of all peoples, and stimulated a fruitful interaction between faith and reason which has continued down the centuries to our own times. Blessed John Paul II, in his Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio, showed how faith and reason each strengthen the other. 


The Catholic university continues the encounter of philosophical reason and religious faith so vital for human life and culture.

(3) An Ethical Concern. Ex Corde Ecclesiae speaks of the ethical focus of a Catholic university education: “It is essential that we be convinced of the priority of the ethical over the technical, of the primacy of the person over things, of the superiority of the spirit over matter.”  Fides et Ratio calls upon philosophers in particular to promote this sense of the good: “This sapiential dimension is all the more necessary today, because the immense expansion of humanity’s technical capability demands a renewed and sharpened sense of ultimate values. If this technology is not ordered to something greater than a merely utilitarian end, then it could soon prove inhuman and even become a potential destroyer of the human race.”  The ethical focus concerns not only the articulation of moral norms but also further human development by fostering an authentic culture. Fides et Ratio highlights the role of philosophy in this regard: “With its enduring appeal to the search for truth, philosophy has the great responsibility of forming thought and culture; and now it must strive resolutely to recover its original vocation.” 

(4) Aid to theology. The Second Vatican Council closely linked philosophy and theology.  Fides et Ratio develops this connection under the image of faith and reason as two wings with which the human person rises to the consideration of truth. The Church “sees in philosophy the way to come to know fundamental truths about human life. At the same time, the Church considers philosophy an indispensable help for a deeper understanding of faith and for communicating the truth of the Gospel to those who do not yet know it.”  The Catholic university’s development of a theological perspective accordingly requires a robust philosophical engagement.


E. Philosophy Programs


 

(a) The Undergraduate Major. The centrality of philosophy in the mission and history of the Catholic university requires the institutional commitment of resources for a rigorous major in addition to a central presence in the core curriculum. The considerable benefits that accrue from studying philosophy in the core curriculum are amplified in the case of the major. Philosophy majors are adept at analysis and creative thinking, skills good in themselves that are also significantmarketable skills. According to PayScale’s annual survey of 1.4 million college graduates:

 

- Philosophy and politics majors earn more than any other humanities degree through all stages of their careers.

- Philosophy majors outperform business majors in earning power later in their careers, and they outperform biology majors at all stages of their careers.

 

- Mid-career median salaries for philosophy majors are reported to be $85,100.


Lydia Frank, the senior editorial director at Payscale, said the following about philosophy majors: “We hear again and again that employers value creative problem solving and the ability to deal with ambiguity in their new hires, and I can’t think of another major that would better prepare you with those skills than the study of philosophy. It’s not terribly surprising to see those graduates doing well in the labor market. We’ve seen quite a few executives—CEOs, VPs of Strategy—who studied philosophy as their undergrad program.”  Along these same lines, the Washington Post concludes that philosophy majors are prepared to do “just about anything.”  According to the Wall Street Journal, philosophy majors enjoy a particularly high salary growth (103.5%) in the 10 years post commencement.  Clearly, the study of philosophy delivers considerable practical benefits. Major programs should include courses in the significant topical fields of philosophy as well as the various eras of the history of philosophy, with a special focus on renewing and enriching the Catholic intellectual tradition.

(b) Graduate programs. In keeping with their mission and heritage, Catholic universities have an obligation to make the Catholic intellectual tradition available to those in the communities they serve. Many students discover after having already obtained their bachelor’s degrees that they would like to study philosophy; for such students as well as for undergraduate majors looking to take their studies to the next level, Catholic universities with graduate programs should offer such programs in philosophy. Given the exigencies of the academic job market, it is good to allocate appropriate resources to these programs so that students are not burdened with debt.

Boston College’s recent survey of over one hundred Catholic college presidents uncovers the urgency of forming the next generation of college professors to be able to put into practice the unique character of philosophy at the Catholic university:


When asked to comment on challenges, the overwhelming majority of presidents cited “faculty” as the primary complication to the work of revitalizing the Catholic intellectual tradition. They remarked that “faculty are not personally committed,” have a complete “lack of understanding [of] and preparation” in the Catholic intellectual tradition, and, perhaps most disconcerting, lack any interest in pursuing a knowledge of the Catholic intellectual tradition to such an extent that it was described by some as “faculty resistance.” A related issue cited was the impending retirements of many current faculty who do “embrace, and are well versed, in the Catholic intellectual tradition” and the difficulty of “finding and attracting well-qualified Catholic faculty” and then subsequently “hiring and then engaging these new/young faculty with little or no formal exposure to the Catholic intellectual tradition.”

 


In order to address these challenges facing Catholic higher education, the ACPA recommends that Catholic schools cultivate excellent Master’s and Doctoral programs in philosophy that promote a fruitful engagement with the Catholic intellectual tradition. While 82 percent of presidents at Catholic colleges and universities believed that the Catholic intellectual tradition affected the teaching activities of their faculty, only 49 percent believed it influenced their research activities.  The tradition handed on to students will be more credible if it is the fruit of active inquiry, and the academy needs graduate programs that model such an approach to the tradition. A graduate program in philosophy is a genuine mark of distinction for a Catholic university.


Conclusion

In the face of pressures to conform to secular models, Catholic colleges and universities owe it to students and to the academy to safeguard and to promote the distinctively Catholic tradition in education. The transcendent dignity of the personcreated in the image and likeness of God and endowed with an intellect that can grasp the truthopens up a path for education that involves a core of genuinely liberal learning which enlarges the soul and affords considerable long-term practical benefits. As René Descartes said, “Living without philosophizing is exactly like having one’s eyes closed without ever trying to open them; and the pleasure of seeing everything which our sight reveals is in no way comparable to the satisfaction accorded by knowledge of the things which philosophy enables us to discover.”  A full and robust philosophy curriculum and presence on campus makes the Catholic university as a whole more philosophical, which produces more richly Catholic universities, and this in turn leads more students to take up this charge anew.

04/30/2018


The Integral Place of Philosophy

in Catholic Higher Education


Statement of the

American Catholic Philosophical Association


Introduction

Philosophy increasingly finds itself in the awkward position of having to justify its place in higher education. What is the practical advantage of studying it? Wouldn’t that time be better spent deepening technical training required for the student’s chosen career path? Isn’t the study of philosophy simply a holdover from a bygone era?

In response, defenders of philosophy typically emphasize the practical relevance of the skills inculcated through philosophical study. Philosophy develops skills such as critical thinking, logical analysis, careful reading, problem solving, qualitative reasoning, consideration of alternative opinions, and ethical reflection. But philosophy provides much more. It cultivates the mind’s native capacity to understand the world and to approach life’s important questions with humility, courage, and balance. Among these questions are the following:


How can we find truth through reasoned discourse?

What is truly good for human beings?

How can we integrate the quantifiable world of the sciences with the qualitative world of the humanities?

What is the rational evidence for the existence and nature of God?


In addition to pursuing these questions, philosophy clarifies and defends the central terms of rational discourse: truth and falsity, virtue and vice, freedom and responsibility. Without this clarity, human discourse gets muddled and succumbs to the rhetorical sway of the most accomplished speaker. With this clarity, speech becomes conversation, and our life together is enhanced.

The university is premised on the idea that truth is one. The various disciplines cohere to form an intelligible whole. Specifically Catholic universities are premised on the idea that the ultimate source of this unity is God, who is knowable not only by faith but also by reason. The university in general and the Catholic university in particular call upon philosophy as a central source of integration. Without such a source, a college or university becomes what Clark Kerr calls a “multiversity” consisting of a cluster of insulated communities that lack a common animating



DRAFT ACPA Statement    2 

principle.  As Alasdair MacIntyre puts it, “From a Catholic point of view the contemporary secular university is not at fault because it is not Catholic. It is at fault insofar as it is not a university.” 

Philosophy specializes in being transdisciplinary. It addresses fundamental problems central to the enterprise of the university as a whole, problems concerning the nature of truth, evidence, and rationality. Unlike theology, philosophy does not rely on the belief that a revelation has been given to us: it appeals only to reason and to human experience, even if it often receives illumination from the life of faith. Philosophy is the custodian of the interdisciplinary conversation that is open to participants of every background and creed. It is therefore central to the conversation that constitutes a university.

Philosophy has always had an integral place in Catholic higher education, because it promotes the good of the student and of the university. The vision it provides is ever timely (section A) and formative in educating every undergraduate student (section B). Its task is deeply rooted in the heritage of Catholic higher education (section C) and central to the mission of the Catholic college or university (section D).


A. The Ever Timely Practice of Philosophy

What must a Catholic university education provide today given that ours is a time of global technological power, increasing pluralism, economic uncertainty, fragmented education, and religious indifference? Philosophy meets the need to educate students (1) for justice and for authentic human development, (2) for rational dialogue in a pluralistic society, (3) for participation in a dynamic work environment, (4) for integration of the disparate domains of human inquiry, and (5) for thoughtful engagement with religious questions.

(1) New ethical concerns. In the Apology, Socrates describes the “practice of philosophy” as the art of encouraging his fellow citizens to prize spiritual goods over material ones: “You are an Athenian, a citizen of the greatest city with the greatest reputation for both wisdom and power; are you not ashamed of our eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation and honors as possible, while you do not care for nor give thought to wisdom or truth, or the best possible state of your soul?”  Our own nation, renowned for its political freedoms, entertainment industries, global business ventures, technological innovations, and military might, benefits from the practice of philosophy as well: caring for wisdom, truth, and virtue helps temper the excesses of profit and power.

(2) Pluralism and dialogue. Inculcating habits of rational dialogue ordered toward mutual discovery of the truth would go a long way toward mitigating the increasingly strident and hostile differences of opinion that characterize our times. In the middle ages, a rich dialogue developed among philosophers and theologians from different religions. Regarding such a conversation



DRAFT ACPA Statement    3 

among those who disagree, St. Thomas Aquinas said, “We must have recourse to natural reason, to which all men are forced to give their assent.”  Philosophy teaches the art of natural reason: how to suspend the quick reaction and to listen sympathetically to a different view; how to ask the right questions in order to acquire true understanding of what motivates an opponent’s position; how to critically examine one’s own views and take othersobjections in good humor; how to find common ground as a starting-point of discussion. The experience of coming to deeper insight through discussion gives students hope that people with different opinions can help each other seek the truth.

(3) Economic opportunity: Innovation and changing technologies mark today’s economy. Typical graduates change jobs four times in the first decade of employment.  The lasting skills that higher education needs to provide go beyond narrow technical training to a broad development of the mind, enabling it to integrate insights from different disciplines and express these insights with clarity and conviction. These skills will serve every student well across the entire arc of his or her career, and these are the skills fostered by philosophy and the study of the liberal arts and sciences.  

(4) Specialization and wisdom. Our time boasts countless advances in every field of inquiry, the fruit of narrow specialization. But John Henry Cardinal Newman points to the downside of this narrowness: an inability to see the big picture: “Although the art itself is advanced by this concentration of mind in its service, the individual who is confined to it goes back.”  Such specialization leaves the human desire for wisdom unfulfilled. Philosophy’s transdisciplinary pursuit of the whole of learning is especially needed today given our intellectual hyperspecialization.

(5) Rational consideration of the divine. St. Augustine spoke eloquently of the “restlessness” of the human heart apart from God the Creator. Though the human person transcends the whole political and cosmic order in its aspiration to achieve union with God, in our time this yearning for transcendence is often met with frustration. The university should be a place where all truth meets, and the Catholic university should play a crucial role in avoiding strident secularism on the one hand and religious fundamentalism on the other. Openness to the deepest religious questions of the human heart as well as the Church’s testimony to God’s self-revelation in history together constitute the unique witness of the Catholic university in our day. Philosophy can aid in this openness by criticizing dogmatism of every sort and by defending the possibility of knowing the truth.




DRAFT ACPA Statement    4 

B. Philosophy in the Core Curriculum

Philosophy teaches students to prize wisdom, truth, and virtue over power and wealth, to engage in rational dialogue rather than rhetorical bombast, to think creatively rather than mechanically, and to think integratively rather than narrowly. It inspires students with the courage to seek thoughtfully the God knowable by faith and by reason, and to avoid ideologies of faith and reason detrimental to human development. In this way, philosophy contributes to the flourishing of each graduate. Indeed, Pope St. John Paul II sees philosophical instruction as engaging something proper to all human beings: