37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Peter S. Bradley
- Published on Amazon.com
Peter Kreeft manages to recapture the form and spirit of St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica. Kreeft approaches the perennial philosophical topics by breaking the questions down into their essential propositions, and, then, sharpening the engagement by following the Scholastic approach of posing objections to the proposition, an argument supporting the proposition and answers to the objections. Anyone familiar with the Summa Theologica will immediately recognize the style.
Kreeft breaks his Summa into ten subject areas - Logic and Methodology, Metaphysics, Natural Theology, Cosmology, Philosophical Anthropology, Epistemology, General Ethics, Applied Ethics, Political Philosophy and Aesthetics. He then breaks these areas down into specific questions covering the great controversies in each area, usually going from general to specific, as he lays the foundation for a later question in a prior answer. In the area of Logic, for example, Kreeft starts with whether philosophy is "still rightly defined as the love of wisdom" and ends with "whether symbolic logic is superior to Aristotelian logic for philosophizing?"
The great thing about Kreeft's book is that it is pure philosophy. What Kreeft provides are the "naked" arguments on the key questions of the important topics. Rather than offering a historical retrospective, which follows the evolution of a controversy through time and which relies on tying particular positions to particular philosophers, Kreeft goes directly to the arguments. There is no historical retrospective here; very few philosophers are identified by name, except in passing. Instead the focus is on the clash of ideas, which, for beginners, and for apologists, and lovers of wisdom, is where philosophy ought to begin.
The philosophical positions staked out are very much those of Peter Kreeft. Consequently, we get very pragmatic answers to pragmatically phrased questions. For example, in responding to the argument that the order in the cosmos is not teleological since "simpler explanations are to be preferred to more complex ones," i.e., Ockham's Razor or the principle of parsimony (Q.IV, a.1), Kreeft writes: "Ockham's Razor is a good methodological principle for modern science, but it is not a good ontological principle; for the real universe, as distinct from scientific explanations, is much fuller than it needs to be. There is no need for ostriches. Yet they exist." (Q. IV, a.1.)
Perfect Kreeft - simple, succinct and with a startling zing.
Kreeft's Summa is decidedly not academic; there are no footnotes and few references. But it does provide a way of entering into the key philosophical topics from Kreeft's Thomistic perspective. It makes for good, casual reading that one can dip into on specific topics, and is a pretty good manual for a survey of the arguments for and against a broad variety of positions. I think that it would make for a good discussion starting tool, whether in the school or a philosophy club. (Or for that matter, for anyone who wants a good source for pragmatic, Thomistic apologetic arguments.)
Clearly, the reader's satisfaction with the substance of Kreeft's arguments may vary depending on how much they "buy into" Kreeft's pragmatic, Thomistic approach to philosophy. However, I don't think that Kreeft's philosophical perspective should dissuade anyone from reading or using the book. Rather, it ought to challenge them to respond to Kreeft's arguments in as rational, logical and lucid a way as Kreeft outlines his position.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Catholic philosopher and apologist Peter Kreeft's Summa Philosophica is a broad survey covering 110 of the most perennial questions in philosophy, be they in metaphysics, ethics, political philosophy or aesthetics. Kreeft uses Thomas Aquinas' classic Summa format for each of the ten questions in the eleven categories he explores. A question is posed that can be affirmed or negated, several objections are levied against Kreeft's position, one or more authorities are given, followed by Kreeft's thesis, and then each objection answered one at a time. Examples would be: "Whether all knowledge begins in experience?" (it does), or "Whether democracy is the best form of government?" ( it isn't).
Benefitting from a book like this takes a bit of patience. My strongest reactions to the substance of Kreeft's Philosophica would be fairly harsh criticism. However, if the reader agrees with Kreeft on his first quaestio, that philosophy is still rightly defined as a `love of wisdom', then all technical nitpicking can be excused, as this book is a rousing success at making the reader think deeply about fascinating questions from new angles. The type of person who really fell in love with philosophy because of a Socratic dialogue (Either those of Plato or of Kreeft, who has written several), as did I, won't be let down.
I regularly found myself both surprised and in disagreement with Kreeft's fairly unorthodox positions. It's certainly bizarre to find a Thomist arguing against the validity of the ontological argument, or for both a strong, social conservatism, and then a question or two later, for a one-world-government styled like the United Nations. In fact, nearly every philosopher Kreeft quotes on one page, he denounces on another. Taken outside of the body of the rest of his work, coupled with the recommended reading list in the back, it wouldn't be difficult for Kreeft to label himself a Neo-Platonic Kantian existentialist Buddhist, plus however many more suffixes one may want to tack on. Whether this unsystematic "anything goes" defense of each Summa Article is an abuse of the format, the reader can decide for themselves, but it undoubtedly leaves Kreeft contradicting himself in plenty of areas, even as he refers to previous articles to remind readers that he's already proven certain points.
Kreeft's multiple-worldview-personality-disorder can be a bit frustrating, but not nearly as much as the absence of any technical vigor to the various Articles, most frequently resulting from straw man fallacies and equivocations. The straw men particularly, I was driven nearly mad at the frequency in which objections present for any given article were formulated poorly, didn't represent the best case against his position, or seemed present simply to pad content for an appropriate rebuttal. What really bothered me, though, was not that this is simply a book for the layman, but that there are too many areas where he simply isn't at his sharpest. I was lucky enough to see Kreeft speak for several hours at a recent conference, and was fairly impressed to see him whip up interesting responses off the cuff regarding topics from Aristotelian Hylomorphism to Van Tillian Presuppositionalism. He's a deep thinker with a robust technical understanding of philosophy, and I wish a bit more of that came out in Philosophica.
Frustrations with simplistic arguments and slippery logic aside, his clarity of thought and approachability invites the reader to engage with the questions and work out your own solutions in each of his articles. I spent a surprisingly long amount of time with pen and highlighter, either angrily crossing out silly statements he injected into his arguments, or reformulating (probably poorly) stronger versions of his positions I aligned with, or trying to justify a position he took that I liked, without all of the Catholic mysticism. I may even have changed my mind on a few things while wandering off in thought, after realizing that taking certain positions on different articles lead me towards contradictions, or into places I didn't want to be.
Kreeft hints in the introduction that this was his goal for the reader, and on this level he was quite successful. The prose is anything but stuffy and heady, filled with unexpected jokes and a certain welcome lightness. It's regrettable he didn't do a thorough examination of just 30-40 questions, instead of a rushed overview of 110. Overall, Philosophica is a readable, worthwhile foray into interesting and unique philosophical dilemmas, but to really get value out of it, the reader must show up with a notepad and be prepared to do the philosophizing themselves.