Sunday, February 7, 2010

Methodical Realism ~ Etienne Gilson

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have had a particular interest in Gilson's Le Réalisme Methodique , one of his cornerstones in realism and a book which Fr. Jaki quoted regularly from and indeed had translated by Philip Trower. Today, to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of its publication by Christiandom Press, here especially are some long excerpts from Fr. Jaki's introduction to this exceedingly rare book for us to enjoy!

~Jakian Thomist

Methodical Realism ~ Etienne Gilson

Introduction ~ Fr. Stanley L. Jaki

This book takes its title from its first chapter, the first of five articles written between 1931 and 1935 by Etienne Gilson. A giant among historians of philosophy, Gilson was hailed on his 65th birthday in 1949 as "le philosophe de la chrétienté" on the title page of a collection of essays written in his honour by prominent Catholic philosophers led by Jacques Maritain himself. Years later he turned eighty, Gilson was saddened though not surprised on finding that his work, which widely echoed even in secular academic circles from the late 1920s till the early 1960s in Europe as well as in the United States, suffered an eclipse out of which it only begins to emerge. As a historian of philosophy he saw more than enough of the instability of philosophical convictions and of the ever renewed contestation of long established truths by long refuted errors. He had a particular fondness for a phrase, "the wild living intellect of man," of John Henry Newman, who, as Gilson fully knew, did not offer it as an anecdote of the human mind. That Newman's thought found in Gilson a prominent defender against insinuations of subjectivism and phenomenologism was part of Gilson's life-long campaign on behalf of objective truth and of things utterly and unconditionally objective.

An aspect of that campaign, and a most incisive aspect is on hand in these articles which were published together in book form at the urging of Gilson's good friend, Yves Simon, a "fellow fighter" in Gilson's own words. What was very clear to Yves Simon, himself a Thomist philosopher of note, received ample confirmation a generation later. "Did not the article 'Le réalisme methodique', have a little of the attractiveness of a manifesto?" asked Georges Van Riet in his still standard survey, Thomistic Epistemology, or "Studies concerning the Problem of Cognition in the Contemporary Thomistic School."

By saying "little" Van Riet, professor at the Institut Supérieur de Philosophie of Louvain, admitted a great deal. Never before or after had the neoscholastic tradition as cultivated in Louvain received so challenging a jolt as in that article and the ones that followed it. In the 1930s, and even in the 1950s, when Van Riet wrote his great monograph, the issue could seem but a largely academic debate on some esoteric minutiae among neoscholastics, apparent heirs to that fondness for hair-splitting of which their scholastic forebears have often been accused. Those were the times, the reign of Pius XI and Pius XII, when pastoral policy (never a matter of infallibility) did not include a curious assumption about Catholic intellectuals - philosophers and theologians, let alone all Catholic college graduates. It was not assumed that as a rule they would think, speak, and write (to say nothing of organising and demonstrating) in a manner carefully attentive to all the consequences of one's dicta, actions and standpoints. Today, when Rome is desperately trying to clean up vast fields covered with dubious and at times plainly rotten fruits of a "mature" liberalism, the five essays here translated should reveal a prophetic instructiveness.

[Introduction to Methodical Realism, 1990, by Fr. Stanley L. Jaki pp. 7-9]

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