I want to know God; why do I care about metaphysics?

“And indeed the question which was raised of old and is raised now and always, and is always the subject of doubt, is just the question, what is substance?”

Metaphysics, 7, 1

The following is an excerpt from the International Catholic University Metaphysics Course available HERE.

The etymology of “philosophy” tells us that it is a search for wisdom. Wisdom is a form of knowledge, and knowledge is had when we grasp the causes of a thing or event. Wisdom is the grasp of the highest or ultimate causes of things. This is the kind of knowledge God has, and thus philosophy can be said to be an undertaking which seems ultimately to mimic, to the degree possible for a human intellect, the knowledge God has. Divine science.

But philosophy aims at a divine science in another sense as well — not just an imitation of God’s knowledge, but a knowledge which has God as its principle object. A theology.

Theology was the aim of Greek philosophy: its telos or aim or completion, not something that might be taken up after philosophy had reached its goal. Divine science is the defining aim of philosophy.

I speak of classical philosophy, of course. Present-day Anglo-American philosophy would scarcely so define itself. Far more modest tasks are undertaken. It has been said that with Descartes, philosophy turned from being to thinking and with Analytic Philosophy the linguistic turn was made: now language is the subject matter of philosophy. This has been the case even when something akin to classical philosophical theology seems to be in view. Philosophy of religion dwelt almost exclusively on the status of religious language. There seems to be little confidence that one could prove that God exists — au contraire; it is more or less received opinion that the classical proofs fail.

That there is something decidedly counter-cultural about doing philosophy in the way we will be doing it in this course, and indeed in all the courses offered by ICU, is clear from John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio. The Holy Father recalls that the Church relies on philosophy to come to know fundamental truths about human life. Why does he feel it necessary to take up the question of the activity of human reason? “I judge it necessary to do so because, at the present time in particular, the search for ultimate truth seems often to be neglected…” [5] Whatever its achievements, modern philosophy seems a “one-sided concern to investigate human subjectivity” that “seems to have forgotten that men are always called to direct their steps towards a truth that transcends them.” [5] The human mind seeks the answers to big questions. “Does life have meaning? Where is it going?”

The classical understanding of philosophy, that adopted and extended by Thomas Aquinas, seeks to answer the big questions. What is the purpose of human life? Is there a cause of all the things that are? In what does human happiness consist? Is death the end? What can I know about God? Philosophy as practiced by Thomas Aquinas addresses each of these questions, although some of them come only when the culminating science, metaphysics, is undertaken.

This was an excerpt from the International Catholic University Metaphysics Course available HERE.


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