In Defense of Philosophy is “a book everyone should read before and during a first course in philosophy. And after the last”, commented Ralph Mc Inerny, Professor of Medieval Philosophy in the University of Notre Dame, in his review.
Yes, it is a book that will serve philosophers, students of philosophy, and non-philosophers alike. Aside from the above recommendation, which you see at the back cover of the English translation, the first thing that will attract you is the author, Josef Pieper, one of the great modern philosophers. However, if you have not heard of him, then the selling point would be the book’s size. It is a pocketsize, half-an-inch thick book; and yet its title promises more than just what meets the eye.
Pieper’s defense of philosophy does not consist in justification against the criticisms fired at philosophy in this period. Rather, it is in acknowledging the challenges that continually faces philosophy especially today, and showing that philosophy gamely takes them on as it is part of its nature to do so.
To the too often asked question, Is philosophy useful at all?, the author admirably argues that precisely by going beyond mere usefulness, to philosophize is important for any person in the same way that the thirst for truth is necessary for everyone. To engage in philosophy, Pieper says, means to reflect on the totality of things we encounter, in view of their ultimate reasons; and philosophy, thus understood, is a meaningful, even necessary endeavor, with which man, the spiritual being, cannot dispense.
There are only nine chapters in the book but each requires a considerable amount of thinking with the author, thus allowing the reader to already start philosophizing, not necessarily according to a strict method which, he points out, can actually block one from doing authentic philosophy when the method is set up as the end instead of simply the means. This is what happens with philosophical systems that are transformed into ideologies. Pieper says, not one philosophy, but rather philosophizing individuals.
He talks about what “meaningful in itself” means to help the reader see the relevance of philosophy. He shows how the world can be known and still remain unknown, and thus, why philosophy is a continual opening to truth wherever it may come from. This is very much in the spirit of two of the greatest philosophers of all time, Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas.
Pieper also bravely tackles how a believer in God not only can still do philosophy, but also can probably do better and more authentic philosophy
, contrary to the dogmatic belief of those who claim that if one believes in God, it follows that he cannot do philosophy; or vice versa. Martin Heidegger, the German philosopher who developed existential phenomenology (1889-1976) thought that a believer could not be a philosopher; on the other hand, another German philosopher Karl Jaspers (1883-1969; one of the originators of existentialism and to whom Heidegger was an assistant at the University of Freiburg) thought that a philosopher could not have faith.
In the book’s last chapter, Pieper uses the images of “seeing” for the scientist or philosopher, and of “listening” for the believer. As a scientist or philosopher, he says, a person acquires knowledge of the universe by what he “sees”, his own faculties. And, as a believer, this same person “listens” to the testimony of others who have gone before him or even those of his contemporaries. He therefore enriches his knowledge of the truth by his openness to it.