Reasons Inquisition: On Doubtful Ground is an exploration in the literature of political philosophy before and after Alfarabi and ranging from Thucydides to Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin. These studies, most of them previously unpublished, open inquiries into theory and practice, reason and revelation, and the relation between thinkers ancient and modern. Readers may be surprised to see the Platonist Alfarabi presented as a critic of Plato’s theory in the name of practice, while Alfarabi and Hobbes are shown to have a common interest in a theory commensurate with action. Strauss, Voegelin and Lucien Febvre all explore the problem of reason and revelation in relation to the limits of human knowledge. An ambitious study of Shakespeare’s Macbeth explores the ambiguity of both nature and knowledge in relation to male and female, good and evil, present and future. The contrast between ancients and moderns is explicit in questions of the modern aspects of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and of Rousseau’s reversal of Plato. Kierkegaard and Heidegger bring radical modernity into focus against a Platonic background in the closing essay. These diverse essays attempt to follow the thinkers and themes explored in turning a critical gaze upon reason itself.
Christopher A. Colmo is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Dominican University in River Forest Illinois.
Part I. Theory and Practice
Chapter 1. Theory and Practice: Alfarabi’s Plato Revisited
Chapter 2. The Platonism of Alfarabi
Chapter 3. Neoplatonism and Alfarabi’s Politics
Chapter 4. Beyond Theory and Practice: The Natural and the Voluntary in Alfarabi’s Philosophy of Aristotle
Chapter 5. Plato’s Phaedrus and the Rhetoric of the Human Things
Chapter 6. Theory and Practice in Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed
Chapter 7. East Meets West: Alfarabi and Hobbes
Part II. Reason and Revelation
Chapter 8. Reason and Revelation in the Thought of Leo Strauss
Chapter 9. A Man’s World: Women in Macbeth
Chapter 10. Lucien Febvre and the Right to Unbelief
Chapter 11. Reasoning about Revelation
Chapter 12. History and Gnosis: Voegelin’s Reply to Bultmann
Chapter 13. On Voegelin’s Interpretation of Political Reality
Part III. Ancients and Moderns
Chapter 14. Thucydides and the Political
Chapter 15. War and Peace: The Relevance of Aristotle
Chapter 16. Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus
Chapter 17. Politics and Education: Rousseau’s Emile and the Reversal of Plato
Chapter 18. About Subjectivity
"Bringing together years of reflection in a rich volume, Christopher Colmo exemplifies how perceptive and learned readers can draw on thinkers from vastly different historical periods and intellectual traditions to revisit timeless philosophical questions. The reader of this volume will gain valuable insights by following this transhistorical dialogue between eminent thinkers masterfully curated by Christopher Colmo."
“Christopher Colmo’s book probes the fundamental question which, in contemporary thought, was first asked by Leo Strauss: Can we truly know what the right or best way of life is? He writes crisply and clearly in exploring this question and issues related to it, such as reason and revelation as well as ancients and moderns. He also argues resolutely in favor of the contention that the modern position (which asserts the ultimate priority of the practical) is virtually unavoidable. And he moves beyond even this contention to boldly investigate the unconventional thesis that the modern position itself began not with Machiavelli, Hobbes, or Descartes, but rather with the medieval Islamic thinker, Alfarabi. Colmo’s book consistently and uncompromisingly tracks this line of thought through studies of an impressively wide range of thinkers, from Thucydides to Voegelin. His assiduous readings, while certainly challengeable, make his book original and thoughtful-provoking, and likely to be controversial. In view of his basic premise—namely, that Leo Strauss asked about precisely the right thing—this book eminently deserves the attention of all those who recognize the abiding centrality of that fundamental question.”
“These clearly written essays offer the reader thoughtful and thought-provoking analyses of important texts in political philosophy, from Thucydides, Plato and Aristotle to Farabi and Averroes, to Shakespeare, Marlowe, Descartes, Hobbes, Montesquieu, and Rousseau, to Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Voegelin and Strauss. They are the result of life-long reflection on questions of political philosophy, especially of philosophy and its relation to political life, and will be valuable reading to anyone interested in those vital questions.”
"The insight and depth of Christopher Colmo’s discussion of theory and practice, reason and revelation, and ancients and moderns are unrivaled. Each essay has implications for all the others, and understanding comes only through the hard work and delight of thinking. The last essay, 'On Subjectivity,' comparing Socrates and Kierkegaard, is a gem that pulls all the strands of this book together."
"Christopher Colmo’s unfailingly provocative and insightful book centers around several essays on Alfarabi, which further establish his stature as an independent philosopher in the mold of Plato rather than unreliable transmitter of Greek and Muslim ideas. In addition, Colmo offers wide-ranging reflections on related topics in thinkers across the tradition, from Plato to Shakespeare to Heidegger."
“Christopher Colmo’s probing analysis of Leo Strauss’s claim that philosophy constitutes the best way of life should be read by anyone interested in Strauss. You may not agree with the questions Colmo raises or the responses he gives, but his thoughtful observations and queries will force you to question and defend your own understanding. In this collection of essays Colmo extends his analysis of the tensions between theory and practice, reason and revelation, ancients and moderns, moreover, with wonderful pieces on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Voegelin, Thucydides, and Aristotle.”
Colmo has the exceptional merit of questioning his own assumptions, then moving from the doubt thereby engendered to a clearer resolution of his original problem. That procedure is manifest in these essays, which probe the tensions between faith and reason, revelation and philosophic inquiry, and prove him to be a learned, ever solicitous, guide.
“Christopher Colmo’s Reason’s Inquisition: On Doubtful Ground exhibits a scope and depth attained only in a life devoted to rational inquiry. Conducting this volume’s inquiry with unparalleled intrepidity, Colmo scrutinizes his own premises at least as thoroughly as any of the thinkers he examines. And the roster of thinkers examined is long, indeed. Colmo thinks along paths cleared by the thought of Leo Strauss. Which means he must match the historical range of Strauss’s own thinking. Accordingly, Plato and Aristotle, Al-Farabi and Maimonides, Descartes, Kierkegaard, and Voegelin are among the many whose work Colmo summons and treats with evident familiarity and insight. Like Strauss, his erudition is not for its own sake. Rather, it serves the task of thinking through distinctions that have informed and continue to inform our theoretically-shaped world: Ancients and Moderns, Reason and Revelation, and, most importantly for Colmo, Theory and Practice. The philosophic examination of these themes is, at times, necessarily abstract, but the aim is to confront the urgent and concrete question of whether reason is adequate to guide life. With respect to each of these distinctions, Colmo pays Strauss appropriate respect by contending thoughtfully with him every step of the way. Colmo’s approach encourages readers to contend with him in a similarly thoughtful way. Whether they ultimately agree or disagree, readers come away with the great benefit of having clarified their own premises. In this way, Colmo’s book itself provides us powerful evidence of reason’s adequacy along with the satisfaction gained from its most significant use.”