November 8, 2013 by lucieromarin
I wanted to write a book about Thomism, which was to be entitled ‘Philosophy for Normal People.’ I wrote the following paragraphs and found myself with no idea where to go from there. What should I write next?
Philosophy for Normal People
If you are normal, you do not say to yourself before crossing the road, “Well, the road appears to be empty. But, wait! There’s no such thing as objective truth! So it’s equally likely that the road is full of invisible traffic!!! Okay, I’ll just stand here for a bit.” Similarly, no normal person has ever refused a pay-packet on the grounds that he doesn’t really know whether or not he exists.
If you are normal, you know that no-one who says there is no such thing as objective truth acts according to his or her teaching when it comes to the most basic realities of human experience, such as eating, sleeping, or working. A man may teach his students that nothing can be absolutely proved and that all truth is relative. But he will not apply this teaching to his dinner. If he orders a meat pie and receives a grilled fish, he will not let the waiter say, “Sir, ‘pie’ and ‘fish’ are relative terms, which have been traditionally constrained by Aristotelian schema, but which, following a Marxist, feminist deconstruction, produce two [un/categorized] meals which taste exactly alike to the eating subject.” No, he will return the fish and demand the pie.
What is it about this man that annoys people? It is partly that he teaches things that no one can actually apply to anything as practical as food and sleep. After all, ‘there’s-no-truth’ may be useful if you want to sleep with your best friend’s wife, but it is useless when the objective truth manifests itself as amplified music that is really and truly playing through your neighbour’s wall at three in the morning.
If you are normal, you know that there is mystery, difficulty, and failure in life; you know that no one knows everything, and that it takes a certain shallowness to go through the whole of life without getting your heart broken, thinking about death, or wondering if anything has a point. You also know that a grilled fish is not a meat pie.
A lot of modern philosophy uses the mystery and difficulty as its starting point. It starts with the problems, acknowledges the difficulty, and concludes that there are, therefore, no answers. It starts with a mild uncertainty and ends with a complete, dedicated renunciation of certitude itself. Philosophy-for-normal-people begins with the fish and the pie. It begins, not with what we don’t know, but with what we do know – like someone carrying a torch into a cave. The modern philosopher notes that a cave is big and dark, says, “Hmmm… my torch might not get all of this at once,” throws away the torch, and then exclaims, “Ha! All is darkness!” Philosophy-for-normal-people admits that the cave is big and dark, but it holds onto the torch, knowing that it is better to arrive at truth bit by bit, than to give up.
This philosophy is Thomism. The Thomist does not have one set of principles for the classroom, and another set of principles for the dinner table. She does not think one thing when she writes books and another thing when she crosses the road. She thinks that philosophy should work in the kitchen as well as in the academy, even if it is in the academy that the vocabulary of philosophy is developed.
This book is an introduction to Thomism, to philosophy for normal people. Please note my use of the word ‘introduction.’ These chapters will not answer every question you ever had, or enable you to answer every question that anyone might ask you. I hope, though, that they will whet your appetite for the philosophical equivalent of good bread and wine.