Mathematics, Natural Science, and Philosophy
There are some who through knowledge of things natural construct a ladder by which to rise to the contemplation of things supernatural; they build a path to theology through philosophy and the liberal arts . . . they adorn the queen of heaven with the spoils of the Egyptians.
–from St. Thomas More’s Letter to the Guild of Masters of the University of Oxford
In his celebrated Regensburg Address, Pope Benedict XVI declared that the virtue most required today by those who seek the truth is nothing less than a kind of intellectual fortitude: the “courage to engage the whole breadth of reason.” It is a program with which St. Thomas More would have heartily agreed. For More not only championed Classical languages, but—as the passage above indicates—he also eloquently affirmed the noble task of the other liberal arts and of philosophy to prepare the mind for the arduous ascent towards wisdom.
At Thomas More College, students begin the path to wisdom—natural and revealed—with courses that seek to attune their senses to the beauty and intelligibility of the Creation. In the Way of Beauty sequence, they learn to discipline their eyes, ears, hands, and even their voices, as they ponder the mysteries of proportion in the visual arts and music. Coupled with a semester of Euclidean Geometry in the Spring Term of their first year, the Way of Beauty sequence helps to reveal the sacred arithmetic and geometry built into the Creation and the human mind.
The arts are imitative of the essential grounding of beauty that is the natural world, the Creation proper. In the first Natural Science course, An Introduction to Natural History, our students learn the principal plants and birds of our campus and its surrounding environment, while studying works by Classical and modern naturalists. The course entails much listening, seeing, and walking, beginning on our orientation trip to the White Mountains of northern New Hampshire and continuing with laboratory work, field exercises on campus, and excursions in the Merrimack River valley.
In the second year of studies, students are introduced to the art of logic as taught by the man Dante called “the master of those who know,” Aristotle. Especially in Logic, but also more generally in all of our philosophy classes, we rely heavily on Aristotle’s guidance because, as John Henry Cardinal Newman pointed out, it was Aristotle’s great gift to have “told us the meaning of our own words and ideas, before we were born.” Though his philosophy has been hallowed by centuries of use and is, therefore, often thought of as a system to be imbibed or rejected as a whole, at Thomas More College we regard Aristotle as a master because he respects the beginnings of wisdom revealed in our common use of language, asks questions of universal interest, and insists upon an orderly pursuit of truth.
Having honed the senses and the mind, the students are ready in their third year to progress to properly philosophical courses, in which they are challenged to ask the kinds of questions that the wise have always pondered: What is nature? What is motion? What is life? What is the soul? In what does human happiness consist? What is the relationship of the individual to the community? Nature & Motion, On the Soul, and the two courses On the Good Life constitute the rigorous and systematic pursuit of truth called for by John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio. The students in these classes enter into an extended conversation with Aristotle and his precursors, including Plato and the Pre-Socratics, and benefit widely from the contribution of the wise through the ages, from St. Augustine to Benedict XVI. At the end of the ascent from the senses to what can only be contemplated by the mind comes First Philosophy, or Metaphysics. In their fourth-year, while the students are reflecting upon the theological writings of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, they also reach the term of natural inquiry with the study of “being” in itself. Here the ascent towards wisdom is particularly steep, but the summit affords clear, wide-ranging views for those with the courage to try its slopes.