Review of ‘Philosophy in Seven Sentences’ by Douglas Groothuis

Philosophy_cover_350Douglas Groothuis, Philosophy in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to a Vast Topic (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016).

Philosophy in Seven Sentences is, as the subtitle puts it, “a small introduction to a vast topic.” Using seven sentences from famous philosophers, Douglas Groothuis (pronounced GROAT-hise) introduces readers to important questions in epistemology (the study of knowing) and metaphysics (the study of being). Here are the sentences he chooses:

  • Protagoras: “Man is the measure of all things.”
  • Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
  • Aristotle: “All men by nature desire to know.”
  • Augustine: “You have made us for yourself, and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in you.”
  • Descartes: “I think, therefore I am.”
  • Pascal: “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”
  • Kierkegaard: “The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all.”

For each sentence, Groothuis offers a biographical sketch of the author, explains why he stated it, and offers commentary on its relevance today.

I studied philosophy in college and have read avocationally in the discipline ever since. Groothuis’s treatment reminds me why I found the study of philosophy so appealing: It forces you to work through the foundations and implications of your beliefs. In that sense, philosophy is “the art of thinking well about what matters most.”

I also grew up in a Christian home. When I announced my desire to study philosophy, my mother blanched. Every letter she sent me at college—this was the age before email—ended with a quotation of Proverbs 3:5: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…” She was worried, in short, that thinking would cause me to lose my faith.

Well, I am a minister, so I guess her worst fears weren’t realized. But the sentiment is common enough, among both Christians and non-Christians. Rigorous thought and religious belief, it is assumed, are incompatible. The one must give way to the other.

But that’s simply not true. Groothuis himself is a Christian and a professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary. Four of the philosophers whose sentences he studies in this little book were Christians (Augustine, Descartes, Pascal, and Kierkegaard). Far from being the enemy of faith, good philosophy is the enemy of bad faith and unthoughtful theology. Christian parents worried about their high school graduates going off to college might want to give them this book to inoculate them against nonsense.

For the same reason, I would recommend this little introduction to pastors unfamiliar with philosophy. In an increasingly post-Christian society such as America is, pastors need to know how to navigate philosophical and worldview issues, if for no other reason than to effectively evangelize and disciple believers in a postmodern era. This book offers a relatively easy entry into topics such as relativism, the law of noncontradiction, belief in God, certainty in knowledge, and the like. Pastors seeking a more systematic treatment of arguments for Christianity (or in response to critics of Christianity) might want to pick up the author’s magisterial, Christian Apologetics.

My one complaint about this book is that it didn’t include any sentences about ethics, which is crucial to any study of philosophy. But an introduction cannot cover everything, and what this one covers is a great start.

P.S. This review first appeared at

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Review of ‘Socrates Meets Marx’ by Peter Kreeft

Socrates-Meets-Marx Peter Kreeft, Socrates Meets Marx: The Father of Philosophy Cross-examines the Founder of Communism (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003). Paperback / Kindle

The setting for all the books in Peter Kreeft’s Socrates Meets _____ series is Purgatory, where Socrates engages a famous philosopher in dialogue about one of the latter’s best-known books. Inspired by both Plato’s dialogues and Dante’s Divine Comedy, this setting gives Kreeft the opportunity to unpack—and even unwind—a philosopher’s arguments by use of close, but often humorous reasoning. Philosophers examined in this series include Descartes, Hume, Kant, Machiavelli, and Sartre.

This volume examines Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. The juxtaposition of Socrates and Marx allows for a theme that runs through the entirety of the dialogue, namely, the opposition between Socrates’ idealism and Marx’s materialism. Can ideas be universal and absolute, as Socrates maintains, or are they relative to the material forms of life that give rise to them, as Marx maintains? For example, is logic the same in every age, or does it change over time, resulting in a feudal logic, a bourgeois logic, and a proletarian logic, among others?

As post-Cold War readers, we know—at least, we should know—that Marx’s communist project is an abysmal failure, a historical tragedy that slaved millions rather than liberating anyone. And Socrates makes sure Marx understands this failure. (Evidently, in Purgatory, the past, present, and future are equally present to Socrates—a helpful literary device.)

This historical criticism of Communism, however important, does not occupy more space than it needs to in the dialogue. Far greater and closer attention is paid to Marx’s ideas themselves, not simply the consequences of those ideas. Where Kreeft’s Socratic dialogue succeeds brilliantly is in showing the self-contradictions of Marx’s philosophy, its lack of empirical evidence, and its incredibly dour picture of the human race, one not supported by the reality of actual humans.

Socrates Meets Marx is well written, clearly argued, and humorously entertaining. I’d recommend reading a contemporary English translation of The Communist Manifesto, then picking up Kreeft’s little book as its constant companion. Highly recommended to students of philosophy!

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