[note: this post isn’t related to literary studies, but I thought the Wittgensteinians among us would find it of interest — BR]
If there’s one philosopher ideally placed to talk about the importance of certainty and doubt, Sir Anthony Kenny fits the bill, for sure. He has just finished writing the fourth volume of his major history of western philosophy, as the third was being published, so certainly has the big picture in mind. Furthermore, he has also recently published a kind of intellectual autobiography, What I Believe, in which he talks about why, as an agnostic, he doesn’t believe very much at all.
Kenny’s lack of religious belief is important to him, since he trained for the Catholic priesthood and was ordained in 1955. Doubt was to come later.
“I don’t remember having any really serious doubts about the truth of Catholicism while I was at school in a junior seminary to the age of eighteen,” he told me at his London club. “When I was then sent to the English college in Rome in 1949 I did the philosophy course at the Gregorian University, which in those days was taught by the Jesuits in Latin. I was very disillusioned about that. It was near scholastic philosophy. It was supposed to be in accordance with the mind of St Thomas Aquinas, but we didn’t get to read anything of Aquinas except one of his small treatises.”
It went on like this for three of the course’s seven years. “If this kind of philosophy is necessary for somebody to be an educated Catholic then there is something wrong with it,” he thought. So when he returned home for the only break in the course’s entire duration, he “was pretty disillusioned about the whole thing and very nearly quit at that point. However, when I went back and started the theology course, oddly enough I found it much more believable, and the people who were teaching me were very much better as philosophers. I was very lucky to be taught by some of the finest minds in the Jesuit order at the time. By the time I was due to take the final decision whether to get ordained or not, I had regained my enthusiasm and delight in Catholic teaching and practice.”
But doubts were soon to resurface… (click here to read the rest of the interview)