THE SCOPE OF PHILOSOPHY
by John Young
(Leominster, UK: Gracewing / Sydney: Warrane College,
University of NSW)
Paperback: 339 pages
Reviewed by Patrick Doyle
How much of what we think of as common sense today is actually based on flawed or misguided thinking?
Can spurious modern movements such as Marxism and secular humanism be traced back to fundamental issues of philosophy? And, more importantly, how does one sort through the mistakes that have been made by different schools of thought, and resolve the fundamental philosophical issues that they attempt to address?
Such questions are answered by John Young in his book The Scope of Philosophy, in which he not only traces and debunks the major errors in thinking over the centuries, but also develops and defends a strong, sound approach to philosophy.
The Scope of Philosophy is essentially in two parts. In the first part, Young provides a broad historical discussion of the issues and problems that have been encountered in philosophy.
Young discusses the prominent philosophers of Ancient Greece, the developments in the medieval period, post-Renaissance philosophers such as Descartes and Kant, and more recent philosophical movements of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Of particular note in this part is Young’s concise and succinct manner of explanation, and his ability to present each philosopher as someone searching for the truth. He has obviously had many years of reading these philosophers in detail, and he makes every attempt to do justice to their point of view while being merciful to the reader.
In the second, longer part, Young addresses these philosophical problems himself, and presents a rigorous defence of his line of thinking. He begins by addressing the problems of explaining knowledge, or “epistemology”, because, as Young comments, “If modern philosophy is chaotic, this is largely because of errors about knowledge” (p.109).
Young solves these problems of explaining knowledge by using the approach to the issue taken by Aristotle in the Ancient Greek period and St Thomas Aquinas in the medieval period.
Having, in a sense, liberated the reader from the kind of obstacles to the mind that have arisen from flawed approaches to epistemology, Young then uses the same Aristotelian/Thomistic approach to discuss other profound issues in philosophy, such as human nature and ethics, the nature of civil society, the principles of metaphysics, the existence of God and the nature of beauty.
As a mark of a genuine scholar of philosophy, many of the sections discussed by Young, and particularly the section on metaphysics, have a sublime harmony and beauty.
Readers of The Scope of Philosophy may not be aware that John Young studied for many years under, arguably, the greatest Thomist that Australia has produced: Fr Austin Woodbury SM. Woodbury studied at the Angelicum in Rome under the great 20th-century Thomist, Fr Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange OP, and then returned to Australia to found the Aquinas Academy in Sydney in 1945, teaching philosophy and theology to his students, John Young among them.
It is fair to say that a good deal of the grandeur and magnificence of The Scope of Philosophy comes from this connection that Young has with Woodbury and, in turn, Garrigou-Lagrange.
Because of its broad historical analysis and the subsequent unravelling of modern philosophical problems, The Scope of Philosophy should have a wide application to discerning readers.
It is a book that would be very useful to students of philosophy, particularly undergraduate students, as it explains concisely the problems that philosophers have grappled with over the centuries, and also presents a truth-based solution to these problems using historically proven methods.
It would also be particularly useful to students of sacred theology, as a solid understanding of philosophy is normally considered to be critical for the development of a sound and penetrating theology.
Those who have already had significant exposure to philosophical issues will also derive great benefit from this book as it contains strong elements of the unique and common sense approach to philosophy of Woodbury and Garrigou-Lagrange.