Saturday, December 04, 2004

From the Mail: What to Read?

Dr Vallicella,

I actually came across your blog through John Depoe's blog Fides Quaerens Intellectum. . . . To answer your question, I have not read any of Blondel's work. Actually that point leads me into a question for you.

Let me preface my question with a little background info on me. I'm 24 and I graduated from college in 2002. I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life so I went to work at my dad's insurance agency. It's a decent job, although I don't really feel challenged or fulfilled by it. But it does pay the bills, which is important for a newly married man.

I have always thought about the big philosophical questions, even at an early age. But I had always answered them from a biblical standpoint (I have been a Christian all my life) But for the past couple of years I have had a questioning of my Christian faith, and have began to try and attempt to ground my theistic worldview by examining some philosophical foundations. But honestly, having never taken any philosophy courses other than intro to Western Philosophy I have felt a little bit "in over my head."

So I've taken a somewhat long way to my question, but here it is. As a philosophical neophyte, where should I start? What books should I read? What subjects should I study? Are there any of your online articles that I should check out? (I tried to read your article onMoreland & Willard's view on existence but it was a little over my head in places). . . . I wish that I was able to devote all of my time to the pursuit of wisdom, but I got to pay the bills. So any help or advice that you would have to offer would be greatly appreciated!


Ross Parker

A tough question. At first I thought of recommending the study of logic as the place to start. But given your anchorage in religious faith, and your need to examine its philosophical credentials, I recommend that you plunge directly into the philosophy of religion and pick up whatever logic you need along the way. An excellent anthology is Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, eds. William L. Rowe and William J. Wainwright. This covers a wide range of topics, and will keep you busy for a long time, especially if you follow the suggestions for further reading.

The Ontological Argument is a particularly good entry point into a number of key philosophical issues: existence, actuality, possibility, necessity, identity, predication, property-possession, the relation of thought and reality, the nature of argument, the relation of faith and reason, and others besides. The Cosmological Argument raises questions about vicious and benign infinite regresses, causation, explanation, etc. After you study the materials in Rowe and Wainwright, then you might want to read my published article in Philosophy on whether the universe could cause itself to exist. My journal articles (as opposed to blog posts) are technical and presuppose a good deal of background knowledge.

The main thing, however, is to read the great philosophers -- but without failing to supplement that reading with the persual of contemporary commentary. Rowe and Wainwright provide a nice blend on this score.

I hope this helps. This is only one way into philosophy. Just as all roads lead to Rome, every question, resolutely pursued, leads to philosophy in the end. But for you religious questions may be the place to start.