What Does Philosophy Actually Accomplish?

This post is a preview of a forthcoming online Davenant Hall class, “Philosophy for Theology”, running in the Winter Term 2024 (January to March), and convened by Dr. Joseph Minich.

If you wish to register for the module you can do so here.

The study of philosophy can seem a daunting enterprise. Beyond the obvious conceptual hurdle, there is the not infrequent impression that philosophy–or worse, philosophers–esoterically headtrips its way through a life and world that is fundamentally more immediate and practical. Do I actually need to worry about whether we’re all in The Matrix? Is moral orientation proportionate to expertise in solving trolley problems? And most fundamentally, is participation in the meaning of my own life awaiting my “conclusion” that life is meaningful against some felt philosophical possibility that it might not be? No, no, and no.

In point of fact, there is a story to be told about how we have developed these impressions. Especially in the last century and a half, the set of activities nominated by the term “philosophy” has undergone such a shift as to put into doubt whether the project of (say) an Aquinas is even the same kind of thing as (say) the project of a contemporary self-described “metaphysician” or “ethicist.” Not only has the older grammar been mostly rendered an archeological ruin in the imagination(s) of most contemporary philosophers, but its style and context have taken on the character of all contemporary university subjects: disciplinary fragmentation, reduction to a kind of professional “skill” in which one might have a credential, and worst of all, frequently patterned after scientific “modeling” in its style. That is, life and the world become a sort of neutral datum about which we hypothesize from the clouds, treating the particulars of life and experience as “evidence” (or not) for a theory about them.

In fact, philosophy can be (and often has been) done otherwise. In my upcoming Davenant Hall class Philosophy for Theology, students are introduced to the classical philosophical grammar which has served the church as a handmaiden to its theological task. A 10-week introduction to classical metaphysics, anthropology, epistemology, and morality, the burden of this course is nevertheless to place students in contact with a living tradition that still has the resources to speak to us, even as we refuse to substitute a map for reality. Philosophy, while an attempt to understand the unity of things in the mind, is likewise a way of life. It is a way that sets the whole self evermore deeply toward the knowledge it seeks, but it likewise lives out of it. To this end, not only does the course serve as an introduction to the grammar and task of classical philosophy (looking at a map, as it were), it is also meant to help us actively see alongside the tradition as well. It is intended as a philosophical dojo as much as a lecture hall.

And the coming of the Christ is, by no means, superfluous to this aim. Indeed, the incarnation of the Logos is an event in the history of the human hivemind. As much historical scholarship has demonstrated over the last century, the history of philosophy cannot skip over or simply skim the history of Christianity, for in its womb gestated many of the insights we now simply take for granted. Set upon a journey catalyzed by the concrete fact of God’s taking on a human face, therefore, and living out of His fulfillment of the human task, philosophy is also no Pelegian ascent up the staircase of Enlightenment, but rather lives out of that joy and peace that has already been given to us in Christ. In this light, philosophy takes on the hue of a vocation – indeed – an adventure. There are, of course, many tasks in the Christian church, and not all are called to press far into the program of philosophy as such. However, the deliverances of the philosopher are part of the whole task of man, and have been a crucial part of serving the church in her mission to understand the God and Gospel which is always known and encountered in the smallness of a simple faith. Its deliverances are part of that whole offering of the whole church who returns the whole world (including the mind) to God in a joy-filled sacrifice of praise.

This Core/Philosophy course will be taught by Dr. Joseph Minich. This course will run from January 8th through March 16th. Register here. The syllabus is available here.

Dr. Joseph Minich (Ph.D, The University of Texas at Dallas) is a Teaching Fellow with The Davenant Institute and Editor-in-Chief of The Davenant Press. The founding editor of Ad Fontes, he is also the author of Enduring Divine Absence and a current co-host of the Pilgrim Faith podcast. He lives in Garland, TX, with his wife and four children


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