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'The Integral Place of Philosophy in Catholic Higher Education'

June 18, 2018
 
 

The American Catholic Philosophical Association this month released a statement on the “integral place of philosophy in Catholic higher education.” It did so partly in response to threats to the future of philosophy programs nationwide and at Catholic institutions in particular. The statement says that “defenders of philosophy typically emphasize the practical relevance of the skills inculcated through philosophical study.” And while philosophy develops skills such as critical thinking, logical analysis, careful reading, problem solving, qualitative reasoning, consideration of alternative opinions and ethical reflection, it says, “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.”

In addition, “philosophy clarifies and defends the central terms of rational discourse: truth and falsity, virtue and vice, freedom and responsibility,” the association says. “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 statement reads, and the “various disciplines cohere to form an intelligible whole.” Catholic universities, meanwhile, “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.” So “the university in general and the Catholic university in particular call upon philosophy as a central source of integration.” Moreover, it says, “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.”

Writing about the statement for his philosophy blog, Daily Nous, Justin Weinberg, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina, highlighted the association’s recommendations for what a philosophy requirement for all undergraduates at a Catholic institution should look like, including classes for each of the four years, a sequence of four or more courses to develop higher-level philosophical thinking and upper-level courses that may pair with majors, such as philosophy of language for English majors or philosophy of science for science majors.

“While directed at administrators and faculty at Catholic institutions of higher education, and written (reasonably, given its aims) with some language and presuppositions non-Catholic philosophers might bristle at, the document contains a number of points that may be worth drawing attention to not just when one’s department or curriculum is in jeopardy, but proactively, to forestall such attacks,” Weinberg said.

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