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The Philosophy of Tolkien

Updated: Oct 27, 2022

The Philosophy of Tolkien

"On vacation I read Peter Kreeft’s The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings (Ignatius, 2005). The book is both fun and edifying. Basically Kreeft works through 50 of the great questions using four tools:

  • an explanation of the meaning and importance of the question;

  • a key quotation from The Lord of the Rings showing how Tolkien answered the question (many more passages are given in the Concordance to The Lord of the Rings in the Appendix);

  • a quotation from Tolkien’s other writings (usually a letter) that explains or comments on the theme in The Lord of the Rings;

  • a quotation from C. S. Lewis, Tolkien’s closest friend, showing the same philosophy directly stated.

For me, the Lewis quotes alone were worth the price of the book.

Here’s the outline of worldview issues addressed (at least in part) by The Lord of the Rings.

1. Metaphysics

1.1 How big is reality? 1.2 Is the supernatural real? 1.3 Are Platonic Ideas real?

2. Philosophical Theology

2.1 Does God exist? 2.2 Is life subject to divine providence? 2.3 Are we both fated and free? 2.4 Can we relate to God by “religion”?

3. Angelology

3.1 Are angels real? 3.2 Do we have guardian angels? 3.3 Could there be creatures between men and angels, such as Elves?

4. Cosmology

4.1 Is nature really beautiful? 4.2 Do things have personalities? 4.3 Is there real magic?

5. Anthropology

5.1 Is death good or bad? 5.2 Is romance more thrilling than sex? 5.3 Why do humans have identity crises? 5.4 What do we most deeply desire?

6. Epistemology

6.1 Is knowledge always good? 6.2 Is intuition a form of knowledge? 6.3 Is faith (trust) wisdom or ignorance? 6.4 What is truth?

7. Philosophy of History

7.1 Is history a story? 7.2 Is the past (tradition) a prison or a lighthouse? 7.3 Is history predictable? 7.4 Is there devolution as well as evolution? 7.5 Is human life a tragedy or a comedy?

8. Aesthetics

8.1 Why do we no longer love glory or splendor? 8.2 Is beauty always good?

9. Philosophy of Language

9.1 How can words be alive? 9.2 The metaphysics of words: Can words have real power? 9.3 Are there right and wrong words? 9.4 Is there an original, universal, natural language? 9.5 Why is music so powerful?

10. Political Philosophy

10.1 Is small beautiful? 10.2 Can war be noble?

11. Ethics: The War of Good and Evil

11.1 Is evil real? 11.2 How powerful is evil? 11.3 How weak is evil? 11.4 How does evil work?

12. Ethics: The “Hard” Virtues

12.1 Do principles or consequences make an act good? 12.2 Why must we be heroes? 12.3 Can one go on without hope? 12.4 Is authority oppressive and obedience demeaning? 12.5 Are promises sacred?

13. Ethics: The “Soft” Virtues

13.1 What is the power of friendship? 13.2 Is humility humiliating? 13.3 What should you give away? 13.4 Does mercy trump justice? 13.5 Is charity a waste?

14. Conclusion

Can any one man incarnate every truth and virtue?" from the article: The Philosophy of Tolkien

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