Philosophy in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to a Vast Topic
by Douglas Groothuis
Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016
(159 pages, $16.00, paperback)
reviewed by DONALD T. WILLIAMS
Philosophers these days are not known for their economy or their clarity with words—unless they achieve it by switching to even more obscure forms of communication such as symbolic logic. So Denver Seminary philosopher and apologist Douglas Groothuis deserves marks for audacity if nothing else for attempting to introduce us to philosophy in only seven sentences. It is not of course that his book is only seven sentences long. But he does take seven concise but thought-provoking sentences from seven different classical and modern philosophers and use them as the framework for a delightfully readable and often insightful introduction to what has become a horribly abstruse and off-putting field of study.
Groothuis wants to get past the reputation academic philosophy has earned for itself as “obscurity masquerading as profundity.” He notes that it was “not so for Socrates or Jesus, who went about speaking the common tongue in uncommon ways to both common and uncommon people.” The major requirement for pursuing the love of wisdom as they did is “a strong and lived-out inclination to pursue truth through the rigorous use of human reasoning.”
The seven sentences are well chosen to entice people to better thinking. They are plain without being simplistic and stimulating without being overwhelming. We start with Protagoras’ claim that “Man is the measure of all things.” Then come Socrates’ conviction that “The unexamined life is not worth living” and Aristotle’s observation that “All men by nature desire to know.” Augustine meditates that “You [God] have made us for yourself, and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in you.” Descartes in his quest for well-grounded truth concludes that “I think; therefore, I am.” Pascal perceives that “The heart has reasons of which reason knows nothing.” And finally Kerkegaard warns that “The greatest hazard of all, losing oneself, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all.”
In successive chapters, each of these sentences is expounded and subjected to critical analysis, not exhaustively, but suggestively, to get the reader started down a lifelong road of exploring their implications. Thus we come to glimpse the limitations of Protagoras’ skepticism, the wisdom of Socrates’ examination, the accuracy of Aristotle’s observation, and the profundity of Augustine’s longing. We see something of the relationship of Descartes’ doubt to faith, the richness of Pascal’s insights into the human heart, and the necessity of Kierkegaard’s passion for spiritual reality and authenticity.
As a tour guide to the intellectual landscape who will coach future travelers to be able to explore it profitably with an eye to its implications for the Christian life, Groothuis would be hard to beat. He is just the companion beginning philosophers should want for the journey. I highly recommend Philosophy in Seven Sentences.
Donald T. Williams is R. A. Forrest Scholar at Toccoa Falls College and the author of Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2026).