Why Philosophize in a World of Technology? - Book Review and Analysis - "In Defense of Philosophy" by Josef Pieper

In Defense of Philosophy

“The smallest amount of knowledge about the most sublime realities is more desirable than the most perfect knowledge about the lowest things," - St. Thomas Aquinas. In Josef Pieper’s book In Defense of Philosophy, Pieper explains the essence of what true philosophy is, namely, a questioning of the purpose of life and a reflection on the ultimate nature of reality. He also examines some of the modern day criticisms and errors of philosophy, such as Empiricism. Here I will lay out a short summary of all nine chapters, and try to answer a claim that Pieper makes ... that when one denies the metaphysical dependence of the universe on God, Being itself, that this leads to innumerable errors in every other aspect of thought and life. 

Chapter 1 - The Central Philosophical Question, "What is it all about?"

Joseph Pieper begins chapter one by saying that the style of this book imitates the Summa Theologiae. It presents an argument first from the opposing side, and then answers those objections 1. His main thesis in the book is that true philosophy is to consider or reflect, as he says, on everything that the human person encounters in life and on its ultimate meaning 2. Quoting from Alfred North Whitehead, Pieper says that philosophy can be summed up in the question “'What is it all about?’”. 3 Pieper then addresses many objections to this definition of philosophy. Such as, "What area of study does philosophy deal with? Other sciences have their particular areas, physics, chemistry, etc. What about philosophy?" Pieper says that philosophy deals with everything because philosophy seeks to answer that main question, "What is everything about in its totality?". Can philosophy ever find and answer to that question, though? 4 Pieper says, yes, but not in the way that other sciences achieve answers which are able to completely fulfill their proposed question. 5 What does it mean to say that one considers “'the totality of things’?” 6 Pieper says that it is everything that the human person encounters in life. “…true philosophy deals with everything that is given, within as well as without.” 7 But wait, “‘What is it all about?’” 8 does not sound scientific... what would that really entail? The outward appearance does not contain the entire meaning of everything; there is a deeper meaning to life. Philosophy searches for this true meaning. 9 In the last part of the chapter, Pieper poses four more objections which follow as such: "This true meaning is beyond our ability to know." 10 "There is no deeper meaning." 11 The totality of all knowledge is found in the formal sciences only." 12 And lastly, "philosophy is just too impractical to waste time on." 13 

Chapter 2 - The Impracticality of Philosophy 
In chapter two, Pieper deals with the issue of how philosophy fits into peoples’ lives. There are different aspects of this that he goes into. The first is that to study something philosophically is different from normal studying. It is rather engaging the world and looking at things under that influence of that ultimate question. 14 Most people, he says, do not have this disposition in their day to day lives. 15 It often takes a major event in ones’ life to cause a person to look at life in the big picture. Pieper says that this cause could be from a near death experience, or something of the sort that puts one face to face with their mortality. And when this happens one will shift ones focus from the small everyday practicalities of life to the ultimate question, and thus to philosophy. 16 Philosophers though are often thought to be out of touch or aloof from the rest of society because they are not caught up in pursuing only practical activities. 17 They are also criticized for not addressing the concerns of the world, and for "wasting time" with philosophy. 18 There have also been modern attempts to mix both philosophy and practicality, which is in essence “‘teaching others how to deal successfully with this world.’” 19 When one tries to turn philosophy to use it as a means to harness the world for productions sake, it is no longer truly philosophy in Pieper's eyes. 20

Chapter 3 - Pseudo-Philosophy
In chapter three, Pieper deals with philosophy in society. There are other things, he says, that go beyond the world of practicality and production, such as the arts and religion. And that these are connected to philosophy. 21 In a society where philosophy is not important, Pieper says that most likely there will not be much art or religion either; and that death will not be viewed in the same way, it will be trivialized. 22 Even worse though is when societies set up their own creations of philosophy that are not truly philosophy. Instead of prayer, he says, there will be magic. 23 Instead of true art there will be, for example, propaganda poetry. 24 Instead of true philosophy, there will be some form of a practical philosophy, which is used to serve the lower goals of society. 25 So two forms of this false philosophy are, using it to seek lower or practical goals, and only searching for one's own opinions or likes, not the truth. 26

Chapter 4 - The Concept of "Theoria"
In chapter four, Pieper goes into how philosophy is different than other practical endeavors; and how it is free of them because its only goal is itself 27 and its “theoria.” 28 He also addresses how even though science also seeks the truth, philosophy is a greater than empirical science. 29 Philosophy does not have a practical usefulness. 30 Drawing from Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Pieper says this is precisely why it is free though, because it is not used to serve anything other than itself. 31 Pieper also discusses the difference between this philosophical “theoria” 32 and science. Is not science the same as philosophy, it seeks to know the truths of reality? 33 Yes in a sense, but “theoria” 34 is greater than scientific knowledge because it is the maximal potential use of reason in contemplation, whereas science is a lower form of questioning. 35 Science focuses in on one particular aspect of reality and studies it, whereas philosophy always studies things in relation to the whole of reality and its meaning. That is why philosophy and contemplation are greater than scientific inquiry. 36 Also, while philosophy accepts everything in science, if one is to engage in true philosophy, one has to accept that everything is not going to be able to be proven in the same way as science does. 37 
Josef Pieper

Chapter 5 - An Awareness of the Immaterial Nature in Things
In chapter five, Pieper proposes that philosophizing is an act that is “meaningful in itself ," 38 and examines how the contemplation of the ultimate question of philosophy brings about the fulfillment of the human person. 39 Pieper says that something can only be “meaningful in itself” 40 if it is in relation to a human person. 41 Philosophy is an act that is “meaningful in itself,” 42 because the act of philosophizing does not only contribute to man’s good in part, but is the way by which man finds the complete fulfillment of himself in the attainment of the ultimate good. 43 Other things, for example, eating, or being healthy, are partially meaningful insofar as they lead up to the act of philosophizing, but taken by themselves without that relation they would lose meaning. Philosophizing does not have such dependency. 44 It also provides for the highest common good as well. 45 How does one know this? Pieper provides two answers. First it is through the sight and the senses that we come to know things in the world, and that they become a part of us as a concept. And then it is through thinking and contemplation of these things that we come to enjoy and know these things even when they are not present to us. 46 So we naturally have this desire to see and to know the things in and around us; 47 but this natural desire could in another sense be equated with “philosophical theoria” 48 because it is through philosophical contemplation of the world that we come to see and to know, in a sense, the meaning of it. And so this desire of and fulfillment through philosophical contemplation and attainment of the good is something that is natural in us. 49 Secondly, by our very nature we are able to relate to and take in all of reality and then to reflect on it; and this is what “theoria” 50 is. 51 Man, though, is not a completely spiritual being, so he cannot neglect practical things totally. This is not necessarily bad, as the world itself is not all spiritual either. They are both made of matter and spirit. 52

Chapter 6 - Is There an Answer to the Philosophical Question?
In chapter six Pieper, for the most part, addresses the question: "Is the answer to the philosophical question knowable"? 53 As mentioned earlier, the philosophical question cannot be answered fully; therefore, why does philosophy search for something that is unknowable? 54 Pieper says though that in saying that the answer to the question is “‘unknowable’” 55 one must qualify if “‘unknowable’” 56 means that it is possible to be known, it is just not known by us, or if it is impossible to know at all, ever. 57 Pieper says, no, there is nothing in the created universe that is impossible to know because everything has being, and is real, therefore it must be knowable at least potentially. 58 When we begin to realize, though, that the universe is “inexhaustible” 59 it is then that we begin to philosophize. 60 Pieper concludes that while the answer to our question is not unknowable, an infinite God has created the universe, therefore we are never going to come to a point where we can say we know our answer completely and entirely. 61

Chapter 7 - Philosophy Goes Deeper Into the Same Perennial Realities 
In chapter seven, Pieper deals with a lot of the tensions between the world of empirical science and that of philosophy. 62 It is not a tension between science and philosophy themselves though, but rather between those who say that the only valid way to know anything is only through the empirical sciences, and those who not disregarding the empirical sciences, hold that there are other valid ways of coming to know the truth and about the world. 63 Pieper, then, goes into some of the areas that can lead to tensions between the two. First, philosophy, as was mentioned in the last chapter, is the reflection on the totality of existence, and its meaning, and is something that never fully achieves its answer. Its object or answer is infinite. Empirical science is different; it studies one specific aspect of the world. Its object is finite, and thus it is able to comprehend it fully to a certain extent. 64 This leads into another area where tension could arise; in fighting over which form of study has the “greater or lesser perfection in human knowledge.” 65 Pieper concludes that philosophy does, because it, for instance, is able to consider the world in a hierarchical manner on the level of being, and to a certain extent, consider God as the origin of all things. Science on its own cannot do this. It does not distinguish between levels of being, or even as Pieper says, what information is more or less important than other information. 66 This is not a bad thing, but it becomes bad when those who practice science claim science alone to be valid. Pieper quotes St. Thomas Aquinas who says “ ‘The smallest amount of knowledge about the most sublime realities is more desirable than the most perfect knowledge about the lowest things.’” 67 Another area is that while one of science’s missions is to discover brand new things, philosophy on the other hand does not do this. It rather takes something that is already known (sometimes forgotten or not very well known) and comprehends them in a greater and deeper way. 68 And, thus, science is always advancing and progressing with new discoveries, while philosophy is criticized with always dealing with the same old stuff. Is there any progress? Progress comes in the greater extent and depth with which the philosopher is able to contemplate the object of philosophy. 69 Although, Pieper says, science is progressing so far that it is beginning to hit on the fundamental questions of philosophy itself. 70

Chapter 8 - Can the Depths of Being Be Captured in Words? 
In the eighth chapter, Pieper continues to address some of the criticisms that philosophy has taken from science. As science has continued to progress and advance in their methods and researching, philosophy has been pressured to do the same. Two areas where philosophy has been criticized are in the area of “language” and “experience.” 71 Science can criticize philosophy for using language that is hard to understand, and Pieper agrees that sometimes this is true, but philosophy is trying to put into words concepts and realities that are almost ineffable. 72 The great philosophers: Plato, Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, though, did try to use very common clear language to reach the masses. 73 Pieper says “The struggle, of course, to capture the unfathomable depth of being nonetheless in clear conceptual utterances—this constitutes, as mentioned before, the specific linguistic difficulty of all philosophy.” 74 Science had tried to get philosophy to adopt a more technical language, but philosophy has stuck for the most part to the use of everyday language, even if deep thought is required to understand. 75 Philosophy captures a deeper level of meaning than science alone would. Pieper uses the example of a handshake. One could observe and comment on each physical move that the two people make, but there is a deeper meaning to that physical gesture, such as reconciliation between two enemies. 76 At some point, the reflection, of course, will center on the innermost structure of all that is real, a structure no longer in immediate evidence and also perhaps not adequately expressible in words. Still, that the discussion indeed refers to the structure of the same things which continually lay in front of everybody’s eyes… . 77 Philosophy goes beyond what is empirically testable, but that does not mean that it is not based in it. 78 Regarding experience, critics say that philosophy must be based in experience. And Pieper agrees, it must be, but a philosopher cannot possibly know the totality of all empirical experience. He can only be open to everything that is experienced, including all that is in his view of all of existence. 79

Chapter 9 - A Christian Philosophy? 
In the ninth and final chapter, Pieper looks at the question: Should things beyond the scope of reason alone be considered by philosophers? 80 He then pursues different ideas as a Christian philosopher himself. Pieper says that because the philosophical spirit is to consider all aspects of reality, one should include those aspects of supernatural faith. 81 Pieper says that every philosopher when reflecting on existence ultimately has to have some presuppositions that are not able to be proved through reason alone. 82 “Again, I am convinced that, without exception, every philosophical interpretation of world and human existence relies, at least subconsciously, on certain general assumptions which are not so much ‘knowledge’ as rather ‘belief’.” 83 Pieper then addresses some objections to this idea. 84 Then he tries to find out how faith and reason should correctly be related to each other in ones knowledge. 85 It is hard because while they both are part of different realms that cannot mix with each other, one should not just separate the two because they both are part of reality. 86 Pieper makes the analogy of philosophy being like the eyes, while faith the ears. While it is not set in stone how these two should relate, it is definitely better to consider both aspects of reality than just one. 87

Analysis - Admitting the Necessary Dependence in Being of Everything on God 
One of the points that Pieper makes is that true philosophy, and coming to the correct conclusions about the world and life, are dependent upon the idea of the world as having a dependence in being on God. And when some try to deny this metaphysical dependence, (for example, those who claim that truth can only come from empirical data 88 and others like Jean Paul Sartre who, as Pieper says, just presume that God does not exist without any evidence or real reason to do so), 89 those people inevitably come to radically incorrect conclusions about the world and life. 90 Pieper’s main thesis in the book is that true philosophy is contained, not just in scientific facts, but also in “theoria,” 91 or actualizing the intellect to its full potential and looking out into the world to reflect on the meaning of everything. 92 As he puts it, to ask the question, “What is it all about?” 93 From this question comes two more: "Is it possible to know the answer to that fundamental question? 94 And is there anything in the world that we cannot know?" 95 These questions have been asked since the beginning and seem natural to every person. 

In answering the first question, Pieper says, yes, one can come to an answer about the fundamental question “‘What is it all about’?” 96 but not in the same way that science does. 97 In science one can find a pretty complete answer to a question because science only studies one certain aspect of reality at a time. 98 For example, if science asks why the leaves are green, they can discover photosynthesis, how a plant works, and come to a complete answer because its the delineation of the answer is finite. 99 Philosophy is different because its answer, or its object, as Pieper calls it, is knowable, 100 but it is also infinite. 101 While Pieper does not go too much into what exactly the answer is, one can know that the purpose of life is to attain the ultimate good. Thus, the human person will come to the perfection of their nature if they do so. And this ultimate good is God. God is infinite, and so therefore while the question is answered, one cannot ever really fully comprehend or attain God. Directly proceeding from the first question is: "Is there anything in the world that cannot be known to us?" Pieper says no; first because if there was something that was unknowable, we would not know that we do not know it. 102 Pieper says: "Are we able, I replied, to conceive, say, of ‘structure’ at all without eo ipso [by doing so] also conceiving of something that somehow would be reachable and knowable…Something that is real and at the same time not identifiable in principle—this not only goes beyond our conception but destroys it." 103

Secondly, Pieper says that all things that exist have being, and thus are knowable. This is because all things have been created by God in his intellect, and by His will, and therefore have a grounding in being itself ... an immaterial essence that is able to be penetrated by the immaterial human intellect. 104 "…all things in themselves are entirely knowable because they originate in the infinite lucidity of the divine Logos, and that they are, nevertheless, inexhaustible for us because they originate, once again, in the infinite lucidity of the divine Logos—this, of course, lies beyond all empirical demonstration."\105

Those, for example, who only believe in the truth of empirical data and reject true philosophy might reject such realities as creation, or the dependence in Being of the universe on God. To reject such a thing, though, consequently leads one away from objective reality into some type of purely subjective reality. 106 This is because to deny creation is to deny that everything that exists has its act of being from Being itself, the creator, and thus their intelligibility to the human mind would disappear. 107 Therefore, it would be up to the person to come up with their own version of what reality is. 108 Also, this denies the objective essences of beings as well. 109 Everything is therefore singular. 110 This then denies any objective fulfillment of a nature, and so there could be no telos, or proper end, for a being. This fundamentally undermines the ultimate question we started out with, “What is it all about?” 111 This is because if there is no ultimate fulfillment for a nature, then there is no ultimate purpose to life! To deny creation, its grounding in Being itself, and its objective essences, is a serious thing it can lead to Subjectivism. 112 “…the explicit denial of the world as creation carries with it vast consequences, also as regards the philosophical conception of reality.” 113 “But it should be quite evident that the dictum about the truth of all things will lose not only its flavor but its entire meaning as soon as it is separated from the notion of the universe as creation.” 114 Some examples that Pieper mentions of those who deny creation are: “…all modern forms of rationalism, including NeoScholastic systematic philosophy.” 115 “…all forms of agnostic resignation, and against all rationalist arrogance.”

To undermine three of the most fundamental aspects of reality: the participation of being in the divine being is to therefore undermine its know-ability, the objectiveness of the essences of being, and the ultimate fulfillment of the human person.
1 - Pieper, Josef. In Defense of Philosophy. Ignatius Press. (San Francisco, 1992). Pg. 11
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