A REVIEW OF NAUGLE’S STUDENT’S GUIDE TO PHILOSOPHY
Philosophy: A Student’s Guide. David K. Naugle. Crossway, 2012. 125 pp. $11.99. ISBN 978-1-4335-3127-9.
There are many ways of introducing philosophy to beginners. Some authors give a historical introduction, while others give a thematic introduction, a few do both. In this book, Naugle gives thematic introduction to philosophy from within a Christian worldview. It is my humble opinion that the best way to honour a philosopher’s work is to approach it as a philosopher, that is, to interact with his claims, to ask questions of the author, and to give him the benefit of the doubt until he proves otherwise. In this review I will do just that. I will begin by noting the purpose and limitations of this book, as described by the author, followed by a brief outline of the book. I will finish by explaining what are this books greatest merits and difficulties.
This book is part of the “Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition” series that is edited by David S. Dockery and published by Crossway. The books in this series are to be written primarily for college students, professors and other readers who are active in university campuses. The purpose of this particular book in the series is to help Christian students to reconnect with a particularly Christian philosophy. Though the author does not interact with Heidegger’s claim that Christian philosophy is a contradiction and confusion of terms, he does challenge, indirectly, that claim by defining Christian philosophy as faith seeking understanding (p. 15). The author informs the reader, from the very beginning, that he approaches philosophy from a distinctly Augustinian position (p. 15, 106). That being said, the well-informed reader gets the impression, all throughout the book, that Naugle is borrowing many of his claims from Van Til and Vern Poynthress Sheridan, though he never refers to them explicitly. Naugle sets out to accomplish 5 goals in this book: (1) “to highlight the importance of prolegomena for philosophy (p. 16)”, (2) to note the relationship between a Christian worldview, Christian philosophy and regular philosophy (p. 16), (3) to outline ways in which a “canonical Trinitarian theism” should interact and inform the different domains of philosophical thought (p. 16-17), (4) how a Christian should interact with regular philosophy (p. 17), (5) and how a biblical worldview should shape the lives of Christian philosophers (p. 17). Naugle also limits his book in the 2 following ways, first of all, he will not be giving an introduction to the various views in each of the domains of philosophical study (p. 17), and, secondly, the length of the book does not permit him to cover every Christian view in each of the domains of study. What, then, does he intend to do with this book? He is, primarily, setting out to show how Christian philosophers (who believe in the canonical Trinitarian Christian faith) should interact with regular philosophy in each of the domains. As such, he is more worried about explaining what Christian philosophers must maintain in these different domains, as they do their research and writing, than with the actual discussions that are going on in these different domains. As a preliminary remark, Naugle sticks to his purpose very well. He does exactly what he sets out to do. That being said, one is frequently impressed, especially in the chapters on metaphysics, epistemology and human nature, with the notion that his version of Canonical Trinitarian theism is very presuppositionalist, and that it sounds a lot like Van Til and Poythress. At the same time, any true Van Tillian presuppositionalist would disagree with many of Naugle’s claims.
The book is definitely prepared with scholars and students in mind. The series preface, and the author’s preface, are followed by chapters that cover each of the main areas of philosophy, as well as an absolutely wonderful chapter that discusses how Christian philosophers should engage in the philosophical enterprise. The first six chapters deal with the main areas of philosophical research in the following order: Prolegomena, Metaphysics, Philosophical Anthropology, Epistemology, Ethics, and Aesthetics. The book also includes questions for reflection, a glossary of important terms, a list of resources for those who wish to pursue these questions further, and a decent index. Furthermore, there are a wealth of footnotes on almost every page for the reader who wishes to pursue any given reference. As such this book is easy to use, and provides a wealth of references for those who would pursue this subject further.
In this final section I will list what I see as the advantages and disadvantages of this book. In my humble opinion, the best part of this book is chapter 7 which is somewhat of a philosophy of Christian philosophy. Even if there were no other merits to this book, it would still be worth buying just for chapter 7, which gives encouraging and wise advice to those who would be Christian philosophers. As such I would recommend this book to all students and professors who wish to engage in philosophy as Christians. Naugle also demonstrates an in-depth knowledge of many of the most important philosophical schools and trends, as well as with Christian tradition in general. Thirdly, whether or not one agrees with the way in which he explains and relates the specific Christian doctrines to the philosophical domains of study, the fact that he attempts such an endeavour, is, in itself, a worthy exploit, and warrants further study. Fourthly, he introduces his work with a chapter on prolegomena (which is not common practice in philosophy) in which he discusses the relation between faith and reason. Such a discussion is a welcome, and necessary, part of any book on Christian philosophy. Finally, this book will be easy to read for a novice to philosophy.
The only way to truly honour the work of any philosopher is to interact with it both positively and negatively. As such, it seems that I must, at very least, mention some of the disadvantages of this book, and some of the claims that did not seem warranted. One of the major difficulties of this book is that, in attempting to describe how Christian philosophers, holding to Canonical Trinitarian Theism, should interact and inform the different domains of philosophy, Naugle simply assumes the truth of CTT. This, however, brings up two major questions. First of all, which canon and what how would we determine which canon? Secondly, the truth of Trinitarian Christianity is simply assumed. How do we know that Christianity is true and that the Christian trinity exists? Why Trinitarian Christianity? Why not another form of Christianity that does not adhere to Trinitarianism? Why not Islam, Buddhism or Atheism? We might say, “because we’re Christian philosophers!” What if you were a Muslim philosopher? Though proving the validity of Christian Trinitarian Theism might be beyond the scope of this book, it would have been salutary for the author to at least discuss this important issue. This first major difficulty is where the author seems to be most in line with Presuppositionalism.
Secondly, the author constantly distinguishes between the Greek way of doing philosophy and the Biblical way of doing philosophy as between the bad and the good. This is especially evident in his comparison of what he calls the Hebrew approach and the Greek approach. Apparently the Hebrew approach is the Biblical approach. Such a distinction, however, flies in the face of psychological profiling (whereby some people are psychologically hotwired to be more “Hebraic” according to Naugle’s description on pages 30-31 and others are psychologically hotwired to be more “Greek” according to Naugle’s description on the same pages), and the research of James Barr as found in “Biblical Faith and Natural Theology”. This distinction seems to be both unnecessary and naïve.
Though I noticed a number of other difficulties in this book, the final difficulty that I will mention, is that the book reads much more like an introduction to Christian theology than a handbook to philosophy. The author spends more time interpreting scripture (in ways which are open for debate), than discussing philosophy. In reading the chapter on Metaphysics one is impressed by the quantity of biblical references to the nature of God, a defence of the Trinity, an exposition of the biblical doctrine of creation, yet one finds almost no philosophical discussion of the nature of God (as one would expect) that would be reminiscent of some form of Natural Theology (as found in Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, etc.), no philosophical discussion of creation, and very little mention of the actual difficulties that are typically related to the domain of Metaphysics. The same tendency is seen in the chapters on Philosophical Anthropology, which turns out to be more of a Biblical Anthropology, and Epistemology. This is, in my opinion, a huge drawback for this book, as we are more informed about a particular strain of Christian theology than about how Christian philosophy.
This book evidences a great deal of research, and is a short, easy-to-read, summary of what the author sees as being important theological elements that must not be neglected by Christian philosophers as they seek to honour God in their research. This book is worth buying, in spite of some of the major drawbacks mentioned above, even if it is only to read chapter 7 about the vocation of Christian Philosophers. I would not use, nor recommend, this book as the main textbook in an introductory course to Christian philosophy, however, I would highly recommend using chapter 7 as required reading in such a course.