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Philosophy Intro Part IV: Why is Philosophy Integral to Classical Education

Philosophy Intro Part IV: Why is Philosophy Integral to Classical Education

In seeking answers to the deepest and most fundamental human questions, philosophy certainly shares a good deal of overlap with both science and theology. As human beings, we are continually learning more about the nature of the world and the universe, particularly as we use God’s gifts to develop technology that augments our senses, allowing us to see out into the farthest reaches of the cosmos and down into the tiniest particles of matter. As Christians, we look to the Bible for guidance in making value judgments regarding the nature of man and his place in the universe, what it means to live well as a human being, and how we ought to treat each other. It would seem, then, that between science and theology we have it covered! So why the need to study philosophy? Why is philosophy considered integral to a Classical Christian education? There are four reasons.

First, one of the aims of a Classical Christian curriculum is to take part in the Great Conversation of Western thought, from ancient through modern times. To meaningfully partake of this conversation—to both understand it and contribute to it—requires a firm understanding of Western philosophical thought. One cannot fully grasp either the history or the great achievements of the West—intellectual, scientific, literary, political—apart from the context of the great and influential philosophical thinkers.

Second, Western philosophy and Christian theology have been tightly bound over the centuries. The ancient philosophers Plato and Aristotle have been enormously influential in Christian thought, particularly in the middle ages. Likewise, great Christian theologians such as St. Thomas Aquinas have greatly influenced philosophical thought.

Third, philosophy trains the mind to reason. Our reason, like our faith, is a gift from God. To engage in philosophy is to think critically, to argue logically, and to justify claims by appealing to reasons. Philosophy teaches us how to construct a valid argument and how to evaluate the arguments and reasons offered by others. It is an embrace of our God-given reason.

Fourth and finally, as people created in the image of God with certain inalienable or natural rights—life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness—it is vital to recognize that such freedoms only came into being, and only exist today, within the framework of pluralistic democracies formed from Enlightenment-era (17th and 18th century) philosophy born of the horrors of Europe’s 30 Years War (1618-1648).[1] Only through secular guarantees of religious freedom, built upon philosophy, has humanity been allowed to worship God free from state coercion. The idea that man has a natural right to practice his religion, which governments might be able to violate but cannot take away, is an idea born entirely out of Western philosophical thought and exists today only in democracies founded upon Enlightenment-era principles.



[1] The 30 Years War was the last of the great religious wars in Europe, fought over deep-seated disagreements between Protestant and Catholic Christians. By the end, most European nations were involved, and it expanded into a war for political power.