Friday, December 4, 2009

A Project for the Duhem Society

From A Non-Thomist Thomism:

"The Building blocks from which one might construct a Thomistic epistemology are scattered throughout [Thomas'] vast works, and no Thomist so far has gathered them together in a system, let alone in one that would appear at least consistent to the modern mind. The task may be daunting, because to satisfy a Thomist mind and a modern mind is to satisfy two very different things, though both should put a premium on consistency. I cannot help saying this, nor can I help the fact that ineffective have been my suggestions to younger people interested in Thomistic philosophy that they gather the epistemological statements in the works of Etienne Gilson, whom I consider the greatest Thomist since Thomas Aquinas. I make this suggestion again in the hope that my words, this time, will not fall upon deaf ears."
[A Late Awakening and Other Essays, p.226]
This is a challenge for members of the Duhem Society bequeathed us by father himself. Gilson's primary works on epistemology were Le Réalisme Méthodique and Thomist Realism and the Critique of Knowledge. However, both books are very difficult to find. Father himself prompted the translation of Methodical Realism which highlights its importance. Here is an excerpt from A Mind's Matter on the Father Jaki's discovery of this book:

"My sensitivity to philosophy certainly received a spark when I found quoted a statement of Gilson's in E.Mascall's Gifford Lectures, The Openness of Being, a work I read a year or two after its publication in 1971. There Mascall opened his vindication of philosophical realism by quoting over three pages from a section of Gilson's Le Réalisme Méthodique that had for its title the quaint phrase, "Le Vade Mecum du débuntant réalist." This first three phases quoted by Mascall became indelibly engraved in my mind: "The first step on the path of realism is to recognize that one has always been a realist; the second is to recognize that however much one tries to think differently, one will never succeed; the third is to note that those who claim that they think differently, think as realists as soon as they forget to act a part. If they ask themselves why, their conversion is almost complete."

Ever since I read those precepts I was on my way to becoming an articularly confirmed realist. I saw to it that this book of Gilson was also translated into English. This time Philip Trower, a gentleman philosopher and theologian in England, did the job and did it most creditably. For him the book was a revelation inasmuch as it informed him about subjectivist intrusions into Neothomism already in the 1930s. Not all problems of present-day Catholics began with Vatican II....

Still I do not understand why Gilson's Réalisme Méthodique failed to be translated into English while he still ruled from the Medieval Institute in Toronto. Had that translation been made, it might have forestalled a Gleichschaltung of Catholic departments of philosophy."
[A Mind's Matter, p.176-177]

It is a terrible pity that a book with such potential is yet again unavailable - even second hand - despite the efforts of Fr. Jaki to bring it to wider consciousness. It will indeed have an important part in our task despite the fact that I am unable to source it! However, I have obtained Mascall's Openness of Being and what better place to start our task than by considering its generous excerpts from Gilson's The Realist Beginner's Handbook, which I will discuss next week.

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