Sunday, June 22, 2008

Finally! Schall on Sokolowski's latest : Phenomenology of the Human Person

I have waited some time for this book to come out: Phenomenology of the Human Person by Fr. Robert Sokolowski.

From Fr. Schall's review, it sounds like the book will outdo all expectations:

"The kind of life that incorporates intelligence clarifies what life is. We are, therefore, special, after all, in the way we are 'selves.' These are all issues in the philosophy of being. There is no such thing as epistemology separated from metaphysics." -- Robert Sokolowski [1]


The book is nothing less than a masterpiece of philosophical clarity and depth of understanding. The book draws on a lifetime devoted to teaching, writing, conversing, and meditating on the great issues and minds--Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and particularly Edmund Husserl, though not neglecting the moderns before and after him. The great questions are asked: "How do we know?" "What is it we know?" "Why do we know?"

Sokolowski does not think that the task of the philosopher is only to ask questions but also to give as clear and basic, yes, as truthful an answer to them as possible. The purpose of philosophy, as he often says, is to "make distinctions" whereby we can finally understand what is. Fully to understand something is to know its truth. It is also to speak this same truth to others, to listen to others speaking of it. All the while we know that we are not gods. The gods know the truth; we human beings only seek it, love it. But our seeking is not a form of skepticism that denies any possibility of knowing anything. Rather it is a step by step verification of what we do know. Our ignorance comes from too much light, not from no light at all. "Truth is the conformity of the mind with reality," as Aquinas often said. This book explains this sentence.


On finishing this remarkable book, my judicious advice to all past and present students of philosophy, or theology, or any thing else for that matter, is simply to drop everything. Read this book! It is a free education in everything you ever wanted to know but never found out where to go to find it. Indeed, it is an education in what you wanted to know even if you did not know you wanted to know it. This book comes as close as any that I know to putting everything together in a concise, intelligible way.


If there is any one problem with which the book is most concerned, it is the so-called epistemological problem. That is, how is it that we can know reality and not our own "image" of reality? How is it that we know that we know and at the same time know that what we know really exists? Sokolowski is at pains to show where this epistemological problem came from in the history of philosophy. He presents a careful thesis about how one is to explain what a philosopher wants to articulate but, in the process, often ends up making things worse. The way we know "things" and not "representations" of things is in some ways the most fundamental problem of particularly modern philosophy.


Yet, it is a surprise. It is this "surprise" that each of us is, in our very being, an "agent," that is, an actor in the world that we did not cause to be. Truth, Aquinas said, exists in the "mind." But it is in the mind affirming what is there, what is not in its own mind. Something is there besides ourselves, but we can know it and in knowing it, also know our own knowing and its ways. But knowing involves truth. We all must begin here. This is what Sokolowski's penetrating book is about. This is a book of our time, a time that needs to know that it can know the truth—and that it can also lie to itself if it doesn't.

Ours is a time that needs to know that time is itself under the sway of being, of the metaphysics that begins in wonder and seeks to know the why of things, including the things of itself and those with whom it converses. The human person is an "agent of truth." This is what we are. Something "new" is at the "margin of the world." The something new is indeed "me" who, with all who come to be in their time, stands at the world's "edge" affirming, as Plato said, of what is that it is, of what is not, that it is not. The world itself cannot do this for itself. It needs an "agent of truth" within it.

Get the book.

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