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Words of Wisdom:
A Philosophical Dictionary for the
Perennial Tradition


Professor John (Jack) Carlson

Like their predecessors throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have emphasized the importance of philosophy in the Catholic intellectual tradition. In his encyclical Fides et ratio (1998), John Paul II called on philosophers “to have the courage to recover, in the flow of an enduringly valid philosophical tradition, the range of authentic wisdom and truth.” Where the late pope spoke of an “enduringly valid tradition,” Jacques Maritain and other Thomists often have referred to the “perennial tradition” or to “perennial philosophy.” Words of Wisdom responds to John Paul's call for the development of this tradition with a much-needed dictionary of terms.

As a resource for students in colleges, universities, and seminaries, as well as for teachers of the perennial tradition and interested general readers,
Words of Wisdom occupies a unique place. It offers precise, yet clear and understandable accounts of well over a thousand key philosophical terms, richly cross-referenced. It also explains significant terms from other philosophical movements with which Thomism (and the Catholic intellectual tradition more generally) has engaged—either through debate or through judicious and creative incorporation. Moreover, it identifies a number of theological and doctrinal expressions to which perennial philosophy has contributed. Finally, it provides a comprehensive bibliography of works by Aquinas in English, expositions and discussions of perennial themes, and representative examples from the writings of all philosophers and theologians mentioned in dictionary entries.

Publisher's Book Information

John W. (Jack) Carlson is professor of philosophy at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. During his career, all at Jesuit-sponsored institutions, he has served as a department chair, arts and sciences dean, and academic vice president.

This book has entries for 1,173 terms. Here is the book's Click
HERE to see the list of entries in the book. Carlson's book is to be published by the University of Notre Dame Press in January, 2012.


A good dictionary is a great thing. In 1,173 entries, Words of Wisdom manages to be concise, as it must be, and complete where it should be. Its notes on usage by contemporary scholars I find particularly helpful. Students and teachers alike will be grateful to Dr. Carlson for taking up the challenge of John Paul II to appreciate and illuminate the ‘great tradition of philosophy.’ —David Ruel Foster, Athenaeum of Ohio

The 'Introduction' to this work shows how carefully its aim and method have been thought through. The rest of Words of Wisdom demonstrates how well the aim has been achieved and the method employed. An invaluable resource.
Aidan Nichols OP.

This volume beautifully fills a serious lacuna. In the explosion of research tools for philosophy, we have seen dictionaries and encyclopedias on virtually everything. But it has been decades since there has been a comprehensive dictionary of philosophy that takes special consideration of the topics, terms, and perspectives prominent in the philosophia perennis. This volume not only provides accurate accounts of terms from across the spectrum of philosophical schools but it includes coverage of many items that are absent from its secular counterparts.
Joseph W. Koterski, S.J., Fordham University

Though I could not think of one idea that did not receive an enlightening entry, the dictionary also includes a most helpful listing of Aquinas' works in English, a most representative bibliography of contemporary Thomists, and a most fair bibliography of important non-Thomists. It is an inviting portal into the perennial philosophy for today¹s college student. Carlson's dictionary may prove to do more to advance a Thomistic renaissance than many a Thomistic monograph.

John F. X. Knasas, University of St. Thomas, Houston, Texas

Book Introduction

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Version: 26th November 2011

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