“Ask a Priest: Any Advice on Studying Philosophy?”

Want to rate this?

Q: I am a freshman in college interested in studying philosophy. Do you have any recommendations in choosing classes or studying it in general? I know that some famous philosophers are in direct opposition to Catholicism, and I do not want to endanger my faith. – N.P.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It’s good that you are already on guard against works that could undercut your faith.

I will only offer general advice, since I don’t know the professors you would have.

If you are starting out in philosophy, it’s good to avoid exposing yourself immediately to philosophers who promote an atheistic or materialistic way of thinking. Some students unfortunately dive right into Nietzsche as their introduction to philosophy.

An alternative would be to pursue a two-track system.

First, start at the beginning. Study the ancient philosophers, especially Plato and Aristotle. The early great philosophers focused on bedrock questions, such as the nature of being; epistemology; logic, etc.

Second, if possible, you might want to start looking at the most important Christian thinkers such as St. Augustine, St. Bonaventure, and St. Thomas Aquinas.

Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae is one of the world’s greatest intellectual masterworks. It is also highly pedagogical — you can learn to think more clearly just by reading it. The Thomistic Institute offers a free online course on Aquinas.

Another hint: Philosophical writings can be a bit overwhelming at first, so it might be good to supplement your reading with more-accessible material.

One helpful writer is Peter Kreeft. His website lists his many books (including a summary of Aquinas’ Summa) and contains a lot of helpful materials on various topics.

Also handy is Ten Philosophical Mistakes, by Mortimer Alder.

Only after you get well-grounded in the ancients and in the thought of St. Thomas would it be advisable to tackle the modern philosophers.

Some of the moderns’ insights are valuable, but some are deeply flawed. You want to have a solid background in good philosophy before you read the dicey stuff. Forewarned is forearmed.

Keep learning more with Ask a Priest

Got a question? Need an answer?

Today’s secular world throws curve balls at us all the time. AskACatholicPriest is a Q&A feature that anyone can use. Just type your question HERE and you will get a personal response back from one of our priests at RCSpirituality. You can ask about anything – liturgy, prayer, moral questions, current events… Our goal is simply to provide a trustworthy forum for dependable Catholic guidance and information. So go ahead and ask your question…

Average Rating

What did you think?

Share your review! Just log in or create your free account.

Leave a Reply

Get the Answers!

Get notified of future Ask a Priest answers via email

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.