Our Stories | St. Michael’s Magazine: In Print: Being in the World: A Quotable Maritain Reader

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Featured in St. Michael’s Magazine, In Print, Spring 2015

Excerpt from introduction by Mario O. D’Souza, C.S.B.

“We must believe the mystics about God, as we do the physicists about matter; both are competent, they both know whereof they speak.”

I first began reading the works of Jacques Maritain during my undergraduate years while studying philosophy at University College, Dublin. I remember our professor of general metaphysics, the then Fr. Desmond Connell, later the cardinal archbishop of Dublin, encouraging us to read Maritain, adding that he was sure that Maritain was a saint.

Maritain’s Introduction to Philosophy presupposes more than a cursory knowledge of the history of philosophy. I was taught philosophy historically, as I believe it should be taught to undergraduates, and I have learned over the years that Maritain’s philosophical corpus is as much a sustained commentary on the history of philosophy as it is a commentary on the integral life of the human person in interaction with the wealth of the created and uncreated orders. Maritain’s name remains closely associated with that of St. Thomas Aquinas, but his knowledge of the history of philosophy enables him to comment upon, critique and, when necessary, incorporate the thought of philosophers ranging from the Pre-Socratics to Edmund Husserl. Maritain commands this vast historical field with articulate intellectual precision, and he does not shrink from taking on philosophical giants such as Descartes, Kant, Hegel and Bergson.

For Maritain, human values—goodness, truth, beauty, the progression of society, the pursuit of the common good, the transcendence of religious faith and belief—were all forms and examples of responding to the invitation of being in the world.

Maritain believed that meaning, values and the quest for goodness, truth and beauty could not be contained by what was given in immediate and sensible experience alone. Of course, he affirmed, as did his master St. Thomas Aquinas, that knowledge begins in and through the senses, but human knowledge is more than just sense knowledge.

Nonetheless, what Maritain was able to cover and deal with is breathtaking. His thought and writings were very much concerned with the history and events of his time. His intellectual synthesis—made possible by his broad knowledge of the various elements of philosophy and the philosophic habitus, and because his age and time were intellectually receptive to comprehensive syntheses—provided a bulwark against the atrocities of his age, particularly atrocities against human dignity, whether historical, cultural, political, social or ideological. Against these he fought valiantly and bravely, armed with Christian charity and hope.

He is relentless in his search for truth. He reminds us that we are called to complete through our wills what is sketched out in our nature. And, although he lived in the world as a staunch Roman Catholic, his philosophical habitus, grounded upon the primacy of being, the search for truth, and the unflinching quest to ensure the dignity and nobility of the human person, enabled him to be devoted to the many issues that we too encounter today in the context of politics and of religious, cultural and moral pluralism.

Maritain’s philosophy of education, grounded on the primacy of being and the dignity of the human intellect, provides our age with just those philosophical principles that it so desperately needs; the fact that this need often goes unrecognized only compounds the urgency. A vision of education founded on secure philosophical principles is a particular way of being in the world.

Excerpted from the Introduction to Being in the World: A Quotable Maritain Reader, edited by Mario O. D’Souza, C.S.B. with Jonathan R. Seiling. Published by The University of Notre Dame Press, 2014.