Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Friday, January 4, 2013

Brief Blog Reviews I: Just Thomism

For a couple of years now I've thought I'd like to offer shout-outs of admiration to other blogs out there that might not be on people's radars. These are all in my (admittedly quite long) blog roll, off on the left side-bar there, but some are religious, some are political, some are philosophical, some are literary, some are random, and anyone could be excused for not noticing them. My hope is to do one of these hat-tips -- we'll call them Brief Blog Reviews -- a month, just to make sure things keep moving along.

My first nod goes to James Chastek's excellent, understated, and long-lived blog Just Thomism. Those two words do pretty much give you the sense of what's going on over there, but you could easily guess from them that the blog is heavy on the footnotes or on the dogma. In fact, this is anything but a for-Catholics-only scene. Indeed, Just Thomism may be the least defensive and least apologetic Roman Catholic philosophy site I know of. It lacks the implicit smugness that often slips out between the lines of a blog addressed to an in-crowd; but it's also missing the shamefaced, shucks-I-know-ain't-it-terrible tone of the embarrassed believer-in-waiting. In the best Thomistic tradition, the blog is grounded in what we used to call the life of reason. And actually, there are long stretches when there's precious little that is specifically theological, although of course there's lot's about God.

Nor is Chastek's site for-initiates-only. You don't have to know Peter Lombard or Albert the Great or Suarez or whoever to understand, but that's because you find out just how accessible and lucid Thomism, and medieval thought in general, is when you pay attention. Chastek isn't doing an online seminar, he's just thinking aloud, informed by Aquinas and the Church fathers and a number of exceptional thinkers all down the centuries. When a passage from the Summa, or from Marechal, or etc., is relevant, he quotes it and makes clear how it pertains. That's it, and that's all you need. This is a great blessing in an era where familiarity with the era of Western thought between Augustine and Descartes is sorely lacking. The temptation to sneak in little judgmental remarks like that is very strong (see? I just did it myself), but the more there are of them, the more you stop wanting to read. One reason Chastek stands out in my mind is that he's thoroughly entitled to make them, and almost never does.

There are, however, many, many blog entries --maybe even most (and Chastek sometimes edges towards one a day)-- that don't overtly refer to any authoritative text at all. In short, it is grounded philosophy without being either slavish or self-congratulatory.

An example (and it really is just an example, I plucked it more or less at random):
No small part of Newton’s scientific success consisted in putting off the demands of science (that is, of knowing nature) – his last verdict on his Principia is that he will feign no hypotheses about what gravity is but will stick to describing its activity in mathematical terms. This is a subtle but dramatic reformulation of the claim running from Plato to Galileo that numbers and geometrical quantities themselves were at work in nature, for in admitting that his mathematical descriptions do not get within the phenomena he is describing, Newton is making mathematics an extrinsic to the physical world. Mathematics is seen as substituting for nature and is not to be mistaken with knowing what is really happening in it i.e. it is at best a prologue to science and not science itself.
This is an entire post, somewhat on the short side, but it exhibits many of the virtues of Just Thomism; a compactness of insight, a provocative point made compellingly (at least enough to grab your attention), illustrations to give it traction, and a layer or two to reward thinking about it at length.

But I don't want to reduce Just Thomism to a box of mind candy (though the blog is attractively packaged in nice green and gold tones). Go over there and make it a regular stopping place. It will broaden your philosophical palate, nourish your mind, and brighten your smile.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you skholiast! Reviewing blogs is a great idea and I will certainly check Just Thomism now (which I had not done so far, notwithstanding its presence in your blogroll).