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Understanding Our Being

Introduction to Speculative Philosophy in the Perennial Tradition
John W. Carlson

The Catholic University of America Press
ISBN: 978-0-8132-1518-1

In the encyclical Fides et ratio, Pope John Paul II called upon teachers of philosophy “to recover, in the flow of an enduringly valid philosophical tradition, the range of authentic wisdom and truth.” Understanding Our Being responds to this call with a much-needed introduction to speculative philosophy.

Written as an undergraduate textbook, Understanding Our Being treats central topics about our knowledge of being, the being of the natural world, and, via the latter, being as such. It then treats the special character and implications of our human, personal being—in particular, our intellect, free choice, and reason-conditioned sociality. Finally, it considers God as Source and End of being and it discusses the “
problem of evil” and the nature of religious faith.

In addition to presenting essential elements of the “
perennial” philosophy, as developed in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas (especially as interpreted by Jacques Maritain and others), this book discusses contemporary challenges to the critical realist approach. These include scientism, historicism, and nihilism, as well as religious fideism. The author also encourages students to think for themselves, and he offers them resources to do so, via questions for reflection at the end of each part, a comprehensive bibliography, and a glossary of key philosophical terms.

John W. Carlson is professor of philosophy at Creighton University.

Publisher's Promotion and Book Ordering

Book Press Release (Includes Book Contents)

Professor Carlson is currently working on a follow-on book, also for Catholic University of America Press, called Achieving the Good: Introduction to Moral Philosophy and Ethics in the Perennial Tradition. He hopes that these two books will help stimulate the renewal of perennial philosophy among teachers and students in Catholic colleges. There is no information yet about the publication date for the new follow-on book.

He also has a philosophical dictionary published by University of Notre Dame Press. It is called Words of Wisdom: A Dictionary for the Renewal of Perennial Philosophy, and it has entries for 1,150 terms. Here is the book's introduction so you can get a sense of what it involves.

Reviews and Endorsements

Carlson offers what is hard, if not impossible, to find among contemporary writings in Catholic philosophy: the attempt to reconcile faith and reason and show the importance of faith and theology for the completion of philosophy. This is an ideal book for colleges and universities wishing to promote a return to the Catholic intellectual tradition.

—Raymond Dennehy, University of San Francisco

This book makes intelligible perennial Thomistic philosophy as it is understood today enriched by dialogue with modern insights. It is an accurate, cogent presentation of what is best in contemporary Thomism.

—Steven C. Snyder, Christendom College

One trial has been the scarcity of first-rate texts for undergraduate courses in metaphysics. It’s a delight, then, to introduce just such a book. We are in debt to its author, John W. Carlson, professor and chair of the department of philosophy at Creighton University. Inspired by John Paul II’s Fides et Ratio, Carlson writes for an audience of teachers and students open to a renewal of the “great tradition” in Catholic education. . . . John Carlson is his own man, and his book reflects his originality. . . . Carlson’s format also has its special features. His cross-references, instructive diagrams, full glossary, and chapter summaries are unusually well done. His encouragement of readers to think more, and think hard, about tough questions tell us that philosophy is a work in progress and that it welcomes newcomers.

– James Hanink, American Maritain Association Newsletter

This is twenty-first century pedagogy. Carlson writes from a clear understanding of today’s students and the present environment in higher education. He remedies the shortcomings of past Catholic philosophical teaching: very didactic, relying heavily on quotations from Medieval philosophy texts, allowing little participation by students in the learning process, etc. Each of the book’s five pasts ends with questions for students to think about individually and debate in class or among themselves. Carlson recognizes the diversity of backgrounds in today’s Catholic students by relating his material to topics in non-western philosophies and religions – even Native American thought. And how many Thomistic textbooks have a whole chapter on persons as social beings? . . . [Carlson] presents the basics clearly and interestingly (and provides a helpful glossary). Then he gives the student references for deeper study in modern representatives of the perennial philosophy, references judiciously selected to show that Thomism is a living philosophy. . . . This book admirably fills a need in Catholic higher education.

– John C. Cahalan, New Oxford Review

"Understanding Our Being provides us with a complete course in Scholastic philosophy, succinct but in every way substantive."

– D. Q. McInerny, Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly

Version: 21st December 2012

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