Words of Wisdom

A Philosophical Dictionary for the Perennial Tradition

John W. Carlson

Like their predecessors throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have emphasized the importance of philosophy in the Catholic intellectual tradition. In his encyclical Fides et ratio (1998), John Paul II called on philosophers “to have the courage to recover, in the flow of an enduringly valid philosophical tradition, the range of authentic wisdom and truth.” Where the late pope spoke of an “enduringly valid tradition,” Jacques Maritain and other Thomists often have referred to the “perennial tradition” or to “perennial philosophy.” Words of Wisdom responds to John Paul’s call for the development of this tradition with a much-needed dictionary of terms.

As a resource for students in colleges, universities, and seminaries, as well as for teachers of the perennial tradition and interested general readers, Words of Wisdom occupies a unique place. It offers precise, yet clear and understandable accounts of well over a thousand key philosophical terms, richly cross-referenced. It also explains significant terms from other philosophical movements with which Thomism (and the Catholic intellectual tradition more generally) has engaged—either through debate or through judicious and creative incorporation. Moreover, it identifies a number of theological and doctrinal expressions to which perennial philosophy has contributed. Finally, it provides a comprehensive bibliography of works by Aquinas in English, expositions and discussions of perennial themes, and representative examples from the writings of all philosophers and theologians mentioned in dictionary entries.

Available as an electronic book: The press is also publishing this invaluable reference tool as an e-book in an Adobe Digital Editions PDF. Both the e-book and paperback editions can be ordered at the Press’s website shopping cart at undpress.nd.edu.

John W. Carlson is professor of philosophy at Creighton University. He is the author of Understanding Our Being: Introduction to Speculative Philosophy in the Perennial Tradition.

“A good dictionary is a great thing. In over 1,000 entries, Words of Wisdom manages to be concise, as it must be, and complete where it should be. Its notes on usage by contemporary scholars I find particularly helpful. Students and teachers alike will be grateful to Dr. Carlson for taking up the challenge of John Paul II to appreciate and illuminate the ‘great tradition of philosophy.’” — David Ruel Foster, Athenaeum of Ohio

“This volume beautifully fills a serious lacuna. In the explosion of research tools for philosophy, we have seen dictionaries and encyclopedias on virtually everything. But it has been decades since there has been a comprehensive dictionary of philosophy that takes special consideration of the topics, terms, and perspectives prominent in the philosophia perennis. This volume not only provides accurate accounts of terms from across the spectrum of philosophical schools but it includes coverage of many items that are absent from its counterparts.” — Joseph W. Koterski, S.J., Fordham University

“The introduction to this work shows how carefully its aim and method have been thought through. The rest of Words of Wisdom demonstrates how well the aim has been achieved and the method employed. An invaluable resource.” — Aidan Nichols, O.P., University of Cambridge

“Inspired by the call of Fides et Ratio (# 85) to inject the great tradition of Christian Wisdom, especially the perennial thought of Aquinas, into current philosophical and theological discussion, Carlson has composed much more than a dictionary. Though I could not think of one idea that did not receive an enlightening entry, the dictionary also includes a most helpful listing of Aquinas’ works in English, a most representative bibliography of contemporary Thomists, and a most fair bibliography of important non-Thomists. It is an inviting portal into the perennial philosophy for today’s college student. Carlson’s dictionary may prove to do more to advance a Thomistic renaissance than many a Thomistic monograph.” — John F. X. Knasas, University of St. Thomas, Houston, Texas


“As a resource for students in colleges, universities and seminaries, as well as for teachers of the perennial tradition and interested general readers, Words of Wisdom occupies a unique place. It offers precise, yet clear and understandable accounts of well over a thousand key philosophical terms, richly cross-referenced.” — New Catholic Books and Media

“Words of Wisdom: A Philosophical Dictionary for the Perennial Tradition, by Creighton University philosophy professor John W. Carlson, is an extremely useful tool for the student or home philosopher whose schooling and memory need constant refreshing and sharpening . . . . This book is a great service to the wisdom and tradition of the thinkers who gave us the words and ideas it describes.” — thecatholicthing.org

“This volume . . . centers on the Catholic philosophical tradition associated with the work of Thomas Aquinas. The aim, as Carlson indicates, is twofold. First, the work is meant to serve as ‘a structured workbook . . . to help make an understanding of the terminology [of the Thomistic] tradition available to students.’ Second, it seeks to ‘contribute to the ongoing renewal of this tradition.’” — Choice

“Clarity is the key to this philosophical dictionary. Although primarily concerned with the philosophical works of St. Thomas Aquinas (Thomist) and the perennial tradition that arose from Thomist thought, the dictionary also deals with the broader scope of Christian philosophy and touches on general philosophical traditions.” — Catholic Library World

“Words of Wisdom is a work of great erudition, written with understanding and love not only for Aquinas himself, but for the Thomistic tradition as a whole. Anyone who seriously wishes to understand the works of Aquinas and of later Thomists, and who is ready to work at it, will benefit from having this dictionary on a shelf next to the Summa theologiae.”CatholicCulture.org

“Anyone working directly in Thomistic Philosophy or its impact on theology would find the dictionary a regular writing companion. It facilitates an approach to the tradition from someone with a limited background and training. Some entries might not contain the level of detail and nuance that the most expert philosophers in the field would tend to work with, but even for these it would be an invaluable organizational tool. It is a worthy reference text for anyone working in or near Thomistic Philosophy.” — Catholic Books Review

“What Carlson has done is provide the scholastic with the resources necessary to convey the insights of his or her own tradition; and, he has provided the non-scholastic a map with which he or she can navigate the various technical discussions of scholastic discourse . . . . this is a very useful volume for both scholastics and non-scholastics.” — American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

“Words of Wisdom covers the main terms of the perennial tradition—such as Being, Existence, Intellect, Natural and Wisdom—in a clear and organized style. Students of religion or this particular branch of philosophy will no doubt find Carlson’s methodical teaching aid to be an indispensible asset.” — Reference Reviews