The Mind of God
Human intellectual history after the High Middle Ages has been a relentless descent from the high ground of Heaven to the rift valley of the underworld – from the Mind of God to the mindlessness of matter – from the light of intelligibility to the murky bleakness of chance. The path to the present has had many high points and many hopes – but the hard won destination unexpectedly leads to a spirit longing for justice, for art free at last, for conclusive evidence – to a spirit imprisoned in an imaginary world, given yet claimed as its very own – a self-imposed world where evidence seeking a conclusion always seems to morph into a conclusion seeking for evidence. Faith exchanged for Evidence – the form of both the same as different in the grip of Imagination – always between intellect and sense, sense and intellect. The human story remains unfulfilled and unfulfillable unless there is a “restoration of all things”– a re-acquaintance with the Mind of God – a third path leading out of Tartarus to Olympus making the way stations of justice, art and evidence an experience empowered by excitement and meaning and the promise of achievement gathered not lost. Bonaventure was captivated by the idea of a journey by our soul into the Mind of God. Our three were astonished at God’s completeness – Aristotle at God’s self- relation to all else always existing – Pseudo-Dionysius and Thomas at the teleology of God’s procession and return – at His creative life and prexistent love – at His timeless enfolding of time. The class will study their astonishment in the hopes of empowering our own.
Metaphysics and Religion
This seminar will consider the major religions of the world as metaphysical forms in so far as each has a specific understanding of divinity and cosmology. Christian theology in its Trinitarian formulation will be used as a catalyst to understanding whether or not the world’s major religious traditions, both living and dead, can be seen to form a complete dialectic. An effort to become familiar with the most significant religious texts will be an integral part of the work of the seminar. Students will be encouraged to read various excerpts from important religious texts with care, and to choose one religion, in addition to Christianity, as a focal point for understanding how religion might be speculatively approached.
Metaphysics and Politics
The Ancients, particularly Plato and Aristotle, thought of human life as inextricably tied to life in the city state. Moreover such social life was not seen as apart from the soul on the one hand and the order of the cosmos on the other. In contrast modern political science sees itself as one of many sciences that can be studied without necessary relation to metaphysical science. This is because metaphysics is thought to be both non-empirical and rooted in human psychology. The seminar will consider whether or not politics must occur within or without metaphysics.
Aristotle’s Metaphysics, while one of the most celebrated and commented upon of all philosophical works, remains mostly unread and problematic for moderns. Central to Later Greek and Medieval philosophers and theologians (notably Plotinus and Aquinas), the work, if considered at all, tends to be thought incidental to modern thinking
Members of this seminar can reasonably be expected to work at analyzing and synthesizing this text (or at least parts of it) as an ancient might do, while trying to understand how ancient metaphysics might provide some needful ballast to our modern voyage.
DeAnima together with Metaphysics are Aristotle’s two speculative masterworks. While DeAnima often held great interest for Ancient, Medieval and some Renaissance commentators, contemporary interest has waned and is mostly historical. Like the Metaphysics, DeAnima is too problematic for moderns to study it speculatively. Members of this seminar will have the opportunity to work at analyzing and synthesizing this text (or at least parts of it) as thinkers from earlier eras might do. The result of such work carefully undertaken can provide a necessary counterbalance to contemporary assumptions.
Plato’s Cosmology of Life
The cosmology of Plato is of perennial interest since it gives us the most complete intellectual picture of how the classical world thought about what we would term “religion” and “science”. A Greek classical thinker was more inclined to think about “beings” than about “things” – about “souls” than about “chemicals”. The Homeric gods live on as powers of providence in the Platonic dialogues and Soul is manifested at every level of life from material forms to the World-Soul itself. How Plato understood the connections of beings in the context of soul will be the purpose of the class. The relation and content of the dialogues Timaeus, Republic and Phaedo will be the main texts of study as together they constitute the Platonic gateway to the classical universe.
Plato’s Parmenides and Aristotle’s Metaphysics
The two greatest speculative works of ancient philosophy – the one a beautiful literary dialogue seemingly without meaning; the other a dense closely reasoned series of lectures and notes seemingly not always closely connected. Yet in their relation is held the key to the full explication of ancient philosophy: a phenomenon that is both the disovery of philosophy itself and its speculative fulfillment. Students in this seminar will have the opportunity to study these two texts closely and to reflect on how they came into being and on why they have continued to nurture speculative souls ever smce.
Aristotle and Neoplatonism
The thousand year history of Greek Philosophy ends with Neoplatonism, which in turn makes possible a transition to Christianity as the intellectual carrier of Western thought and culture. One of the most fascinating aspects of Neoplatonism is its enormous debt to Aristotle and his followers. At the same time Neoplatonists consciously rejected Aristotelian claims of supplanting Plato and Platonism. Yet we may say in retrospect that Neoplatonism is in some ways “neo-aristotelianism”. This seminar will take as its objective to understand Aristotle’s great but little understood influence on Neoplatonism and through it on Christian intellectualism.
Aristotle and Kant
Aristotle and Kant are generally both thought to be tied to the empirical world more than seemingly more idealistic philosophers like Plato and Hegel. For Aristotle only substances, not forms or ideas, actually exist; for Kant only appearances grounded in transcendental categories can be known. For Aristotle matter in itself does not exist; for Kant the thing in itself cannot be known. The purpose of this class will be to understand these parallels both metaphysically and in the context of how ancient and modern philosophy are connected.
Aristotle and Darwin
There is an immense interest and controversy in contemporary society with respect to the question of just what the relation should be between politics and religion – between secular rights and conscience. Lying behind this debate is the question of whether creation or evolution is the best template for explaining the material and ethical nature of the cosmos. In their most sophisticated form the theories of creation and evolution are antithetical: the one is teleological, while the other is without intelligible purpose. This cosmological antinomy has many implications and consequences for human political, ethical, social, scientific and religious thought and action. Without resolution no amount of argument or praxis can be expected to be thinkable or able to work.