Books | Netherhall House

A course of reading

The following selection of twelve books aims to cover the fundamentals of philosophy and theology over course of four years (a book per term) so as to offer the reader basic knowledge in these essential fields and to equip him with a greater capacity engage meaningfully in public discourse.

All books listed are available in the Netherhall library. The books are categorised according to year and term: longer and more difficult in the first term of the fourth year to shorter and more accessible in the third term of the first year. Further reading for each author is also proposed, though topics may extend beyond the remit of the twelve.

The twelve books are from twelve authors, and preference has generally been made for books that are modern and short.

To compliment this course of reading, a selection of twelve articles are presented as an introduction to some of the topics: 1. On Moral Philosophy, by G. E. M. Anscombe, 2. On Marriage, by S. Girgis et al, 3. On Relativism, by E. Feser, 4. On Culture, by J. Ratzinger, 5. On Teleology, by D. S. Oderberg, 6. On Ethics, by D. S. Oderberg, 7. On Computation in Nature, by E. Feser, 8. On Conscience and Truth, by J. Ratzinger, 9. On Study of Religion, by B. S. Gregory, 10. On Secular Bias, by B. S. Gregory, 11. On Science and Religion, by A. Stern, 12. On Moral Theory, by S. Pinckaers.

First year

The Nature of Scientific Explanation, by Jude P. Dougherty

First term

“Jude P. Dougherty challenges contemporary empiricisms and other accounts of science that reduce it to description and prediction. Dougherty argues that a philosophy of science is but a part of one’s overarching metaphysical outlook, itself painstakingly derived from considerations of nature, law, intelligibility, causality, and inference.

This book critically examines several well-known philosophical positions from a time-transcending Aristotelian point of view. It defends an Aristotelian or realist interpretation of science, employing the textual Aristotle as commented upon and amplified through the centuries. The book shows that although modernity has offered a significant challenge, only a realist interpretation of science is compatible with the advances made in theoretical physics since the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century. Dougherty discusses the so-called sciences of man, their starting points, and limitations.” [Goodreads]

Further reading: Jacques Maritain: An Intellectual Profile

Ten Universal Principles: A Brief Philosophy of the Life Issues, by Robert J. Spitzer

Second term

“How do we make sense of life? How should we treat others? How should we reasonably be expected to be treated by others? When human life is at stake, are there reasonable principles we can rely on to guide our actions? How should our laws be framed to protect human life? What kind of society should be built?Many people rely on their religious beliefs to answer these questions. But not everyone accepts the same religious premises or recognizes the same spiritual authorities. Are there public arguments–reasons that can be given that do not presuppose agreement on religious grounds or common religious commitments–that can guide our thoughts and actions, as well as our laws and public policies?” [Goodreads]

Further reading: New Proofs for the Existence of God: Physics and PhilosophyHealing the Culture

On Conscience, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Third term

“Prepared and co-published by the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philedelphia, this book is a combination of two lengthy essays written by Cardianl Ratzinger and delivered in talks when he was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Fatih. Both talks deal with the importance of conscience and its exercise in particular circumstances. Ratzinger’s reflections show that contemporary debates over the nature of conscience have deep historical and philosophicsl roots. He say that a person is bound to act in accord with his conscience, but he makes it clear that there must be reliable, proven sources for the judgement of conscience in moral issues, other than the subjective reflections of each individual.” [Goodreads]

Further reading: What It Means to Be a ChristianIn the BeginningIntroduction to Christianity

Second year

Five Proofs of the Existence of God, by Edward Feser

First term

“Five Proofs of the Existence of God provides a detailed, updated exposition and defense of five of the historically most important (but in recent years largely neglected) philosophical proofs of God’s existence: the Aristotelian proof, the Neo-Platonic proof, the Augustinian proof, the Thomistic proof, and the Rationalist proof.

This book also offers a detailed treatment of each of the key divine attributes — unity, simplicity, eternity, omnipotence, omniscience, perfect goodness, and so forth — showing that they must be possessed by the God whose existence is demonstrated by the proofs. Finally, it answers at length all of the objections that have been leveled against these proofs.

This book offers as ambitious and complete a defense of traditional natural theology as is currently in print. Its aim is to vindicate the view of the greatest philosophers of the past — thinkers like Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas, Leibniz, and many others — that the existence of God can be established with certainty by way of purely rational arguments. It thereby serves as a refutation both of atheism and of the fideism which gives aid and comfort to atheism.” [Goodreads]

Further reading: Philosophy of Mind: A Short IntroductionScholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction

50 Questions on the Natural Law, by Charles E. Rice

Second term

“Charles Rice, professor of the jurisprudence of St. Thomas Aquinas for the last twenty years at Notre Dame Law School, presents a very readable book on the natural law as seen through the teachings of Aquinas and their foundations in reason and Revelation. Reflecting on the most persistent questions asked by his students over the years, Rice shows how the natural law works and how it is rooted in the nature of the human person whose Creator provided this law as a sure and knowable guide for man to achieve his end of eternal happiness.” [Goodreads]

The Abolition of Man, by C.S. Lewis

Third term

“In the classic The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis, the most important Christian writer of the 20th century, sets out to persuade his audience of the importance and relevance of universal values such as courage and honor in contemporary society. Both astonishing and prophetic, The Abolition of Man is one of the most debated of Lewis’s extraordinary works. National Review chose it as number seven on their ‘100 Best Nonfiction Books of the Twentieth Century.'” [Goodreads]

Further reading: The Four LovesThe Screwtape Letters

Third year

Morality: The Catholic View, by Servais Pinckaers

First term

“As Alasdair MacIntyre notes in the preface, the work of Pinckaers attracted strong and fully justified notice in this country with the publication in English of his The Sources of Christian Ethics. As Pinckaers himself notes in the text, excellently translated by Michael Sherwin, the interest should in no way be limited to Roman Catholics. Morality recasts the earlier book in an argument that is both lower and upper case ‘catholic,’ and is accessible to readers and teachers outside the limited circle of moral theologians and academic ethicists. Pinckaers contends that Christian morality is not first of all about obligations but about happiness, understanding that the happiness of union with God is our natural destiny made possible by grace. The Sermon on the Mount is at the center of an approach to morality that turns on the distinction between ‘freedom for excellence’ and ‘freedom of indifference,’ the former understood as human flourishing and the latter as a ‘neutral’ capacity to choose between controversies. The proposal of Morality is thoroughly Christ-centered, humanistic, and faithful to the magisterial teaching of the Church. Warmly recommended.” [Goodreads]

Further reading: The Sources of Christian EthicsPassions and Virtue

The Nicomachean Ethics, by Aristotle

Second term

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle sets out to examine the nature of happiness. He argues that happiness consists in ‘activity of the soul in accordance with virtue’, for example with moral virtues, such as courage, generosity and justice, and intellectual virtues, such as knowledge, wisdom and insight. The Ethics also discusses the nature of practical reasoning, the value and the objects of pleasure, the different forms of friendship, and the relationship between individual virtue, society and the State. Aristotle’s work has had a profound and lasting influence on all subsequent Western thought about ethical matters.

J. A. K. Thomson’s translation has been revised by Hugh Tredennick, and is accompanied by a new introduction by Jonathan Barnes. This edition also includes an updated list for further reading and a new chronology of Aristotle’s life and works. [Goodreads]

Further reading: De Anima, Metaphysics

Beauty, by Roger Scruton

Third term

“Beauty can be consoling, disturbing, sacred, profane,” writes Roger Scruton. “It can be exhilarating, appealing, inspiring, chilling. It is never viewed with indifference: beauty demands to be noticed; it speaks to us directly like the voice of an intimate friend.”
In a book that is itself beautifully written, renowned philosopher Roger Scruton explores this timeless concept, asking what makes an object–either in art, in nature, or the human form–beautiful. This compact volume is filled with insight and Scruton has something interesting and original to say on almost every page. Can there be dangerous beauties, corrupting beauties, and immoral beauties? Perhaps so. The prose of Flaubert, the imagery of Baudelaire, the harmonies of Wagner, Scruton points out, have all been accused of immorality, by those who believe that they paint wickedness in alluring colors. Is it right to say there is more beauty in a classical temple than a concrete office block, more beauty in a Rembrandt than in an Andy Warhol Campbell Soup Can? Can we even say, of certain works of art, that they are too beautiful: that they ravish when they should disturb. But while we may argue about what is or is not beautiful, Scruton insists that beauty is a real and universal value, one anchored in our rational nature, and that the sense of beauty has an indispensable part to play in shaping the human world. [Goodreads]

Further reading: An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Philosophy

Fourth year

Faith in a Hard Ground: Essays on Religion, Philosophy and Ethics, by G.E.M. Anscombe

First term

Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe, better known as Elizabeth Anscombe, was a British analytic philosopher. A student of Ludwig Wittgenstein, she became an authority on his work, and edited and translated many books drawn from his writings, above all his Philosophical Investigations. She wrote on the philosophy of mind, philosophy of action, philosophical logic, philosophy of language, and ethics. Her 1958 article “Modern Moral Philosophy” introduced the term “consequentialism” into the language of analytic philosophy; this and subsequent articles had a seminal influence on contemporary virtue ethics. Her monograph Intention is generally recognized as her greatest and most influential work, and the continuing philosophical interest in the concepts of intention, action and practical reasoning can be said to have taken its main impetus from this work. [Goodreads]

Further reading: Human Life, Action and EthicsFrom Plato to Wittgenstein

What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense, by Sherif Girgis, Robert P. George, Ryan T. Anderson

Second term

Originally published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, this book’s core argument quickly became the year’s most widely read essay on the most prominent scholarly network in the social sciences. Since then, it has been cited and debated by scholars and activists throughout the world as the most formidable defense of the tradition ever written. Now revamped, expanded, and vastly improved, What Is Marriage? stands poised to meet its moment as few books of this generation have.

Rhodes Scholar Sherif Girgis, Heritage Foundation Fellow Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George offer a devastating critique of the idea that equality requires redefining marriage. They show why both sides must first answer the question of what marriage really is. They defend the principle that marriage, as a comprehensive union of mind and body ordered to family life, unites a man and a woman as husband and wife, and they document the social value of applying this principle in law. [Goodreads]

Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues, by Alasdair MacIntyre

Third term

To flourish, humans need to develop virtues of independent thought and acknowledged social dependence. In this book, a leading moral philosopher presents a comparison of humans to other animals and explores the impact of these virtues. [Goodreads]

Further reading: After Virtue: A Study in Moral TheoryWhose Justice? Which Rationality?