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In a materialistic society such as the one we live in, it is very difficult for students to understand what is sought in true Philosophy.  We must, first, separate ancient Philosophy from what is studied and taught in modern schools and universities under the same name.

In fact, modern “Philosophy” courses offer exactly what the ancient philosophers taught should not be sought.  For example, in his treatise on Moral Philosophy, Aristotle warns:

This present treatise is not for the sake of theory, that we may know what “virtue” is, but that we may become good men, since otherwise no advantage would be gained from it.

In the Classical Liberal Arts Academy, we do not study Philosophy to know what different philosophers have written, as modern schools do.  We seek to master true Philosophy and order our lives according to it.


What is Philosophy?

Philosophy is, most simply, the pursuit of Wisdom, yet this pursuit is of two different kinds.  First, there is man’s pursuit of wisdom by means of reason and observation.  Second there is God’s revelation of wisdom to man by means of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.  The first of these is, Philosophy.  The second of these is,  more appropriately, Theology.

In God’s own wisdom, He has not revealed all things to men, but only those beyond the reach of human reason and observation.  While God has revealed that man was commanded, at his creation, to “till the ground and keep it”, He has not revealed the details of how that work is to be done.  God has told us that he made the sun, moon and stars “for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years”, but He did not reveal to the details of what those signs are.  It is obviously God’s will that many truths be left for man to discover by his own study and meditation. This is the work of Philosophy.


How is Philosophy Learned?

Thankfully, we are not the first ones to undertake this work.  Wise and virtuous men have done most of the work that needs to be done and their writings have been preserved for us to study.  St. Thomas Aquinas summarizes the Philosophy curriculum as follows:

  1. Natural Philosophy
    Here, man investigates the order of things in nature, which is already established by God.  We study this in Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics.  We prepare for these sciences by the study of the Quadrivium.
  2. Rational Philosophy
    Here man investigates and establishes the right ordering of his own words, ideas and judgments.   We study this in the Trivium.
  3. Moral Philosophy
    Here, man investigates and establishes the right ordering of his will, the perfection of the soul.  We study this in Ethics.
  4. Mechanical Arts
    Here, man investigates and establishes the order of external things outside of him.  This is not a part of the formal curriculum, but is studied through the works themselves.  The mechanical arts traditionally included: agriculture, metalworking, carpentry, warfare, navigation, hunting, medicine, etc..  From Sirach 38, it appears that these arts require specialization.

Of course, from these general studies, emerge a number of “corollary” sciences, which are treated of in the philosophers’ other writings.  These, however, are the starting points, wherein the principles of the other sciences are established.

It is worth noting that the ancient philosophers did not believe it was wise to make their teachings public and, when they did publish any teaching, they caused them to be difficult for pretenders to learn.  Expressing this, Aristotle wrote to his famous student Alexander that, “My works are published…and not published.”  The study of them requires great labor and concentration, which cannot be crammed in among modern subjects, requiring that those who would progress make choices.

If you have any questions about the CLAA’s Philosophy courses, please contact Mr. Michael.