Peter Kreeft ’59 has been teaching philosophy at Boston College for more than 50 years and considers himself a matchmaker.
“I love philosophy. It is the love of wisdom,” he said. “At Boston College, we teach the classics, which is the very best way to teach philosophy. So I’m a matchmaker. ‘Helen, meet Plato.’ ‘John, meet Aristotle.’”
He also describes his work in the words of a medieval cliché: “We are dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants. If we see more than the ancients, it is only because we have the humility to jump up on their shoulders first.”
So that’s what Kreeft does: teach students to jump up on the shoulders of giants. Kreeft grew up in northern New Jersey and went to Calvin, as many of his high school classmates did.
“I was convinced that Calvin was the best school so I went there, never regretted it, loved every minute of it, all four years,” he said. “You get not only an academically good education and not only a genuinely Christian education, but one that has a passion for truth and a genuine love of learning.”
He especially remembers Calvin’s legendary philosophy professor William Harry Jellema (1914 grad) as “the best professor I ever had. He never wrote a book, like Socrates, like Jesus, but he made a lot of great philosophers.”
After graduation, Kreeft went first to Yale and then to Fordham for his doctoral degree in philosophy. After three years of teaching at Villanova, he joined the Boston College faculty in 1965.
Kreeft is known as a teacher of the classic philosophers—Augustine, Pascal or Kierkegaard—and what he calls “border disciplines” such as the philosophy of literature, cinema or religion.
“I teach what I love because the heart moves the head, and the head works best when there is blood pumping into it,” he said.
Over the years he’s also tackled subjects that students have shown particular interest in knowing more about, such as spiritual warfare, angels and demons, and the nature of heaven. These classes remain in high demand.
Kreeft is also a prolific writer with more than 70 titles to his name on subjects as far ranging as Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Heaven to Socrates Meets Jesus and Catholic Christianity.
“The two people that I can’t get out of the back of my mind, other than Jesus, are Socrates and C.S. Lewis, so I’ve written a number of books about C.S. Lewis, and I’ve written about a dozen books in which Socrates interviews other philosophers and dialogues with them,” he said.
Perhaps the most famous of Kreeft’s volumes in the Socrates series is Between Heaven and Hell (Inter Varsity Press, 1982) in which he imagines a conversation between Socrates and C.S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley and John F. Kennedy—all who died within hours of each other on Nov. 22, 1963.
In the book, the four meet in the afterlife and talk about worldviews, centering on who Jesus is.
Over a career spanning half a century, Kreeft is coming to some defi nitive conclusions about what life is all about. He thinks many of us have made issues of faith, philosophy and daily life far more complicated than necessary.
He said, “When the waiters at the wedding at Cana asked Mary for advice, she said simply, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ There’s the meaning of life. You don’t need anything more than that. In other words, the meaning of life is to be a saint. And to be a saint is to love and to will what God wills. Period. End of story.”