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I am on the brink of studying philosophy.

When I asked on Philosophy Stack Exchange what the purpose of Philosophy is, I got a lot of answers about logic, reasoning, mental exercise, challenging assumptions, and so on; but none of them answered anything along the lines of "to improve my life and the lives of those with whom I share this world."

In light of the above, is there any point in studying philosophy as a Christian?

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    Paul says this: Col 2:8-9 "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. 9 For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." 1 Cor 2:12-13 "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual." Focus on God's true Word (2 Tim 2:15). Apr 12 at 9:58
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    "none of them answered anything along the lines of "to improve my life and the lives of those with whom I share this world."" — Philosophy teaches how to think, not what to think. Apr 12 at 16:30

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Philosophy - is there any point exploring?

The short answer is yes, at least from a Catholic perspective. I am sure that some other denominations will be like minded, but not all.

What is Christian philosophy?

Christian philosophy includes all philosophy carried out by Christians, or in relation to the religion of Christianity. Christian philosophy emerged with the aim of reconciling science and faith, starting from natural rational explanations with the help of Christian revelation. Several thinkers such as Origen of Alexandria and Augustine believed that there was a harmonious relationship between science and faith, others such as Tertullian claimed that there was contradiction and others tried to differentiate them.

There are scholars who question the existence of a Christian philosophy itself. These claim that there is no originality in Christian thought and its concepts and ideas are inherited from Greek philosophy. Thus, Christian philosophy would protect philosophical thought, which would already be definitively elaborated by Greek philosophy.

However, Boehner and Gilson claim that Christian philosophy is not a simple repetition of ancient philosophy, although they owe to Greek science the knowledge developed by Plato, Aristotle and the Neo-Platonists. They even claim that in Christian philosophy, Greek culture survives in organic form.

Wikipedia article on Christian philosophy

Canon Law and several other Catholic documents insist on the importance of studying philosophy, especially for students of Canon Law and students studying for the priesthood.

Early students of philosophy studied Plato and Aristotle in order to gain insights into using the mind from a Christian point of view.

Catholics now tend to study the Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas yet do not ignore the intellectual value of some of the Early Greek philosophers. Many Christians still build upon these intellectual stones of knowledge at a Christian level.

Students in Catholic seminaries study the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas for a minimum of two years, usually in their first four years of post secondary school. Most will eventually do four years of philosophical classes.

Can. 250 The philosophical and theological studies which are organized in the seminary itself can be pursued either successively or conjointly, in accord with the program of priestly formation. These studies are to encompass at least six full years in such a way that the time dedicated to philosophical disciplines equals two full years and to theological studies four full years.

Can. 251 Philosophical instruction must be grounded in the perennially valid philosophical heritage and also take into account philosophical investigation over the course of time. It is to be taught in such a way that it perfects the human development of the students, sharpens their minds, and makes them better able to pursue theological studies.

The Catholic Church recognizes that philosophy is a key tool to strengthen the intellect of the human mind. This is why a good foundation in philosophy helps the intellectual with subject matters such as logic and Christian morality and discipline.

Most seminaries and Catholic universities will offer classes in Thomistic philosophy as well as the history of Christian philosophy and the study of Aristotle’s works in philosophy.

The elements within philosophy that truly aid us in Christian living are as follows: philosophical anthropology, metaphysics, and ethics. Ethics is such a no-brainer reason why this remains important to be studied within Christianity and Christian living.

The following decree referencing Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana (1979, a major recent document about the mission of Christian academia) may be of interest to some, although the Catholic nuances are obviously apparent to Christians from other denominations: Decree of the Congregation for Catholic Education revising the order of studies in the faculties and departments of canon law

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  • Except for the canon law aspect this non-denominational Christian agrees with the beneficial nature of philosophy which, as Ray Butterworth pointed out in his comment to the OP, teaches one how to think but not what to think. We have the word of God for that. +1 Apr 15 at 22:02
  • Thanks so much for this answer, I found it very helpful. As someone who has a deep interest in reason and belief, but is not engaged in academic study. I believe that what I am trying to understand is how the Catholic faith has engaged with philosophy historically, particularly in its foundational period and in the Middle Ages. But then I am also interested in how more recent shifts in philosophy have affected society and its relationship with faith. I just wonder if I need to do some study of language and logic before I set off on this quest, or if I can get straight into reading some texts?
    – IanG
    Apr 18 at 8:28
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I'm not equipped to actually expound on it SE-style. Yet it should be mentioned that you have encountered a somewhat "modernist" take on the nature of philosophy, and there is also a venerable tradition of Practical Philosophy, or the art of living. This started canonically with Aristotle's eudaimonia.

You might also call it the side of ethics that's about doing as opposed to theorizing and systematizing; perhaps make Phil.SE talk about this side specifically? Meanwhile, I found the answers here quite informative regarding how such concerns are located in philosophy.

Side note: 'daimon' up there has nothing to do with the etymologically related 'demon', but here means 'spirit' in the sense of both stance or state of mind.

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  • Welcome to Christianity.SE! and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others. I would also recommend reading the Help Center's sections on asking and answering questions.
    – agarza
    Apr 16 at 2:52
  • Thank you. Your answer is most helpful. Do you think that you need to study language and logic in order to study the sub disciplines effectively, or is that not really necessary?
    – IanG
    Apr 16 at 19:25
  • @IanG Depends on your intended scope. Are you entering formal studies or looking to do your own reading? If the latter, do you want to engage the breadth of philosophy, to focus on moral philosophy, or just on practical ethics? The third case might provide the highest proportion of unacademic material; I would turn to Phil.SE for recommendations.
    – ariola
    Apr 16 at 20:00
  • Either way you'll do well to develop a sense for subtleties in language usage, distinction of terms, modes of argument, and valid inference. But if what you really seek is guidance in shaping your own life, I'd say you'd be within your rights to set a threshold on the degree of convolutedness to work on following.
    – ariola
    Apr 16 at 20:01
  • That's a good point. I'm really looking to understand the philosophical roots of the faith, and also how philosophical developments have affected society's relationship with it. I guess I've always believed that faith is not blind but reasonable, and want to explore that further through philosophy. This is self study and most definitely not academic. Thanks for your help.
    – IanG
    Apr 18 at 8:19

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