Jacques Maritain worked in continuity with the thought of St. Thomas, and his writings frequently contain quotations and references to Thomas’ texts. His defense of catholic faith and Thomistic philosophy were affected by the events involving his adopted church, for instance in the ownership of church property and the place of religion in public affairs in the French state. At his time, French philosophy was seen as incompatible with catholic theology with such dominant views as spiritualism or intuitionism of Bergson. Hence this turmoil of the Catholic Church in France called for religious orthodoxy.
Maritain’s earlier writings therefore sought to address some of these concerns. Having been initially attracted to Spinoza’s idealism and Bergson’s vitalist intuitionism, Maritain was able to defend the Catholic Church with the knowledge of its critics that surpassed most of his contemporaries. He rejected modernity-the Cartesian and post Cartesian thought-for what he saw as it’s over emphasis of epistemology over metaphysics. He returned to the pre-modern views of Aquinas to address the problems of the contemporary world.
Though most of his ideas were Thomistic, his epistemology and aesthetics showed influence of Christian mysticism especially that of St. John of the Cross, and his social and political philosophy reflects many of the ideas of European liberalism.
2.0 Biographical notes
Maritain was born on November 18th, 1882 to Paul Maritain (lawyer) and Genevieve Favre (daughter of a French statesman). Maritain studied at e Lycee Henry IV and at the Sorbonne where he prepared a license in Philosophy (1900-1901) and in natural science (1901-1902). He was initially attracted to the philosophy of Spinoza then attended Bergson’s lectures at the College De France (1903-1904). In 1901 he met Raissa Oumansoff at the Sorbonne and got married in 1904 then both converted and baptized in the Roman Catholic Church in 1906. They returned to France in 1908 when Maritain abandoned Bergsonism for Thomism.
In 1912, he became professor of philosophy at the Lycee and lectured at the Institut Catholique De Paris where he was named assistant professor in 1914. He became full professor in 1921 and in 1928 appointed to the chair of logic and cosmology until 1939. Thereafter, he served in the 2nd World War briefly then returned to teaching and research where he continued with the defense of Catholism and Catholic thought.
In the 1920s, his attention shifted to social issues resulting to his brief membership to a catholic social action movement. As a result, he developed the principles of liberal Christian humanism and defense of natural rights. Generally, his other works were on Christian philosophy, philosophy of science, epistemology, arts and poetry and most importantly political philosophy.
From the 1930s he was a frequent visitor to North America lecturing at Toronto then in the US. at Princeton University (1941-1942) and Columbia (1941-1944). He remained in the US. during the 2nd World War while contributing to the Voice of America. Following the liberation of France in 1944, he was named the French ambassador to the Vatican until 1948. He was also involved in the drafting of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
In 1948, Maritain returned to Princeton as professor emeritus and also lectured at other American universities especially at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago. In 1960, with his wife, he returned to France. After her death that same year, he moved to Toulouse living with the Little Brothers of Jesus. Here, he continued publishing books and died on 28th April 1973.
3.0 Major works
- Elements of Philosophy (2 volumes) 1920-1923
- The Modern Science and Reason 1910
- The Bergsonian Philosophy 1913
- Integral Humanism 1936
- On the Political Justice1940
- Christianity and Democracy 1943
- Art and Poetry 1943
- Man and the State Written in 1949, published in 1951
- Range of Reason 1953
- Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry 1953.
- Approaches to God 1953
- On the Philosophy of History 1957
- The Degrees of Knowledge 1959
- The Moral Philosophy 1960.
4.0 Principal Contributions
In his philosophy of knowledge, Maritain to a large extent follows St. Thomas Aquinas, though, he was also influenced by St, John of the Cross, St. Augustine and St Bonaventure. Against modern philosophy, he insisted on the priority of metaphysics over epistemology. He even held that ‘the critique of knowledge is part of metaphysics,’ and that the structure and method of the various sciences were determined by the nature of the object to be known.
Maritain called his view critical realism and argued against the dominant rationalist and empiricist accounts of knowledge. He maintained that despite the differences among them; Kantianism, idealism, pragmatism and positivism all reflect the influence of nominalism-that universal notions are all creations of the human mind and have no foundations in reality. Maritain’s critical realism holds that what the mind knows is identical to what exists. To know a thing is for its essence to exist materially in the mind. Not that the mind copies that which it knows but that in virtue of the properties apprehended it becomes the things it knows. For Maritain therefore, our knowledge of reality is through the concept which is immaterial, universal and known only by reflection. Hence to the knowledge of sensible objects, the mind has both a passive role (receiving sense impression) and an active role (constructing knowledge from these impressions).
Maritain’s epistemology sought to explain not just the nature of knowledge found in science and philosophy, but also religious faith and mysticism. He argued that there are different orders of knowledge each with different degrees determined by the nature of the object to be known and the degree of abstraction involved.
First, in the order of rational knowledge, we have knowledge of sensible nature, knowledge of mathematics and the knowledge of metaphysical nature. These degrees of knowledge are not, however, independent of one another, and in common they know something as “to know why it is-the mind is not satisfied when it merely attains a thing…but only when it grasps that upon which that datum is founded in being and intelligibility.” On natural science, Maritain stated that for it to attain the status of a science, it must presuppose natural philosophy, that is, our capacity to know things apart from their particular individuating characteristic. Natural philosophy gets behind phenomena in order to discover essential connections and causes. Thus from that which is presented in sense perception, the mind constructs a concept. This process of thinking through to the nature of the thing is called dianoetical knowledge. While natural science and natural philosophy both focus on the physical, the natural philosopher unlike the scientist is concerned with the essence of the object and its definition.
At the second level of abstraction, we have mathematical objects (quantity, number and extension). Though they cannot exist without existence of material things, once known, they can be conceived even in the absence of material things.
Metaphysical/speculative knowledge deals with objects at the third level of abstraction (independent of matter), e.g., substance, quality and goodness. Such knowledge is indirectly through creatures. In the hierarchy of degrees of knowledge, highest in intelligibility, immateriality and potential are the objects of the highest degree of knowledge.
Maritain added that natural philosophy penetrates to the nature of its object. Metaphysics-a kind of philosophical knowing-is concerned with purely intelligible being. Science however, is empiriological; it only leads us to the observable and measurable.
There are also degrees of suprarational knowledge, that is, beyond natural knowledge.this is the science of revealed mysteries or theological wisdom and mystical theology (influence of Sts. Augustine and John of the Cross). In theological wisdom, the divine is known by drawing not just on reason but on faith. Mystical knowledge is a level higher where there is no mediation by concept since it “consists in knowing…Deity as such according to a mode that is suprahuman and supranatural.” This is knowledge by connaturality but can be pursued through the practice of mystical contemplation, which makes them more loving and more spiritual.
4.2 Philosophy of Nature
The object of Philosophy of Nature is what we can sense; it is not a thing in itself but intelligible being itself as mutable. Philosophy of nature as part of philosophy, is not isolated from other disciplines such as Metaphysics
It is related to metaphysics because philosophy of nature is inferior to metaphysics since it is at the first degree of ideative visualization. It is neither part of Metaphysics nor properly sub alternated to metaphysics because the prior object or subject is being as mutable as compared to that of metaphysics which is being as being.
Metaphysics presupposes philosophy of nature which metaphysics uses as its material basis, where the very nature of our mind is involved by having an immediate contact with the real through our senses. Knowledge at the highest degree of rational natural spirituality cannot reach the universe of material reality if it does not first get a hold on the universe of material reality. That’s why Maritain says, “our sense activity occurs on an immediate level of experience without conscious awareness of itself, but we acquire true knowledge of reality through intuition, and our intellect interprets that reality as nature.”
Philosophy of nature preserves the contact between the philosophical thought and the universe of sciences. Therefore without it metaphysics has no contact with things and can only fall futilely back upon the knowing mind itself. In relation to sciences Maritain said that philosophy of nature and sciences are at the same generic degree of abstractive visualization and bear equally upon sensitive and mutable beings. There is a specific difference springing from their mode of definition because philosophy of nature makes use of ontological analysis of the sensible real while sciences make use of ontological analysis. “Philosophy of nature asks to be complemented by experimental sciences because by itself it does not give us a complete knowledge of the object of the sensible nature.” Therefore, dealing with the relation between Philosophy of nature and scientific facts seems obvious; that the philosopher will have to use scientific facts only on the condition that he treats them philosophically, deliver them of the philosophical values with which they are pregnant, draw from them facts that have philosophical values.
Philosophy of nature is the philosophy of being and becoming and of the locomoting. When we look at the world we usually observe particular things in their continuous state of motion. In the invisible things like atoms moves faster than the visible stars. Therefore, motion is the universal mediator interaction.
In his metaphysics, Maritain followed the tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas. He saw his task and that of Thomism in general as being “to renovate Aquinas’ thought, a task whose novelty may well be greater than Thomists themselves realize.”
Following Aquinas, Maritain held that metaphysics deals with being as being (ens inquantum ens), for instance, “it investigates the first principles of things and their highest causes,”he also held that there are certain fundamental metaphysical questions to which Aquinas’ responses are largely correct, though they may not be complete as they stand. Maritain adopted against John Duns Scotus, Aquinas’ general position on analogy, being and on the need of analogical terms and concepts. Again, in answer to the explanation of the problem of unity and plurality; for example, how can a thing be individual and distinct and yet a member of a class of things of the same kind, Maritain followed Aquinas: that we have to distinguish what a thing is (its nature or essence which it shares with things of the same kind) from the fact that it is (that it has its own act of existing). Another area of importance where Maritain followed Aquinas is the analysis of the nature and the unity of sensible beings including human beings. He employed Aquinas’ distinction between the form and the matter of a thing; nature or essence reflects the form, whereas the individuality is determined by the matter.
Maritain’s distinctive contribution was not, however, to the details of Thomistic metaphysics but to bringing it into relation with modern science and philosophy and to explaining its foundations.
For Maritain, all human inquiry has “being” as its object. Being in other words, is the formal object of the intellect. But being can be grasped in different ways, and Maritain distinguished for example, between sensible being; which is the object first attained by the human intellect, and being as being; which is the object of metaphysics. It was to this difference in object that he distinguished among the activities of empirical scientists, mathematician, philosopher and mystic. He said that the inquiry into being as being (metaphysical inquiry), is a mystery because it is something that is rich/pregnant with intelligibility, and Maritain held that unless one does metaphysics, one cannot be a philosopher.
According to Maritain, philosophical reflection on being begins with the intuition of being and he insisted that one needs this eidetic intuition for any genuine metaphysical knowledge to be possible. The intuition of being that lies at the root of metaphysical inquiry is not “the vague being of common sense,” or grasp of “the act of existing.” It is a perception direct and immediate…it is a very simple sight, superior to and discursive reasoning of a reality which it touches and which takes hold of it. He held that it is an awareness of the reality of ones being, which is decisive and has a dominant character. This view of intuition is not, then, of a hunch or quick sight, but rather, it has an intellectual character. It is a grasp of something that is intelligible, and requires a certain level of intellectual spirituality. Maritain claimed that this intuition of being is something that escaped Kant and other subsequent philosophers until, perhaps the arrival of the existentialists.
Also distinct in Maritain’s account of metaphysics is the emphasis on the “act of existing.” It is because of this that Maritain has been called an existentialist. An authentic existentialism, Maritain wrote, “…affirms the primacy of existence, but as implying and preserving essence or nature, as manifesting the supreme victory of the intellect and intelligibility.” For him, essence does not pre-exist existence; essences might be better seen as capacities to exist.
In regard to the traditional questions of metaphysics, and natural theology, Maritain held that there are four basic principles of metaphysics; the principle of identity, the principle of sufficient reason, the principle of efficient causality and the principle of finality. Though the applicability of these principles does not admit of direct proof, they are consistently affirmed by experience and, Maritain’s position was that they cannot be denied without contradiction.
Metaphysics, then, properly includes an investigation into the cause of being, for example, God, in whom the act of existing is subsistent, since Maritain held that being is something that is grasped through intuition, one is not surprised to see that he will argue that one attains knowledge of the existence of God not only through the Thomistic five ways, but also through intuition.
Like St. Thomas, he held that there is no conflict between faith and reason, that religious belief is open to rational discussion and existence of God and certain fundamental beliefs could be philosophically demonstrated. According to him, the science or knowledge of God can be attained naturally by the unassisted power of reason, and which enables us to know God by means of creatures as the author of natural order is philosophic science, the supreme field of metaphysics is not as theodicy or natural theology. For him philosophy is an “ancucia theologiae” and that philosophy under the rubric of metaphysical knowledge, allows for the demonstration of a number of religious beliefs. For Maritain, theology or supernatural theology is the knowledge or science of God which is unattainable naturally by the unassisted power of reason, and is possible only if God has informed men about himself by a revelation from which our reason, enlightened by faith, subsequently draws the implicit conclusions. Then its object is something wholly inaccessible to the natural apprehension of any creature whatsoever, namely God known in Himself. The light of this object is no longer the natural light of reason but the light of reason illuminated by faith.
According to his book; Approaches to God, he quotes St. Paul’s writing he offers on elaboration to the natural knowledge of God. According to St. Paul, “That which is known of God is manifested in them. For God hath manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of Him, from creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; this eternal power also, and divinity.” This knowledge is rational not only in the sense that it belongs to the rational order rather than to the supernatural order of faith. It’s therefore evident that philosophy renders to theology services of the greatest value where it is employed by the latter. Philosophy which is employed by theology in the demonstration of truths becomes an instrument of theology.
Like Aquinas, he accepted the ecclesial foundationalist position that these beliefs could be established by ration deduction from self-evident principles and constituted genuine knowledge. By use of natural reason one can come to certain truths about God and that the five ways of St. Thomas provided such knowledge of God’s existence.
He argued that there are ‘proofs’ of the existence of the divine and in ‘Approaches to God’ he developed the sixth way. Before entertaining the sphere of the completely formed and articulated knowledge, in particular the sphere of the metaphysical knowledge, the human mind is indeed capable of a pre-philosophical knowledge which is virtually metaphysical. Therein is found the first, the primordial approach through which men become aware of the existence of God. Here, everything depends on the natural intuition of being. He writes on intuition that is awakened in persons when they are engaged in thought, that is, that it seems impossible that as thinking beings, should at sometimes not been. As a thinking being, one seems to be free from vicissitudes of time and space: there is no coming to be. I cannot think what it is not to be. Nevertheless we all know that we were born, we came into existence. The only solution to this is that one has always existed but not through oneself but within a being of transcendent personality and from whom the self which is thinking now proceeds into temporal existence.  This being must contain all things in itself in a convenient mode and to be itself- in a completely transcendent way.-being thought and personally. This implies the first existence is the infinite plenitude of being separate by essence from diversities of existents.
His argument which resembles the Thomistic argument from contingency, being, that is, in ones intuition of being, one is aware, first, of a reality separate from oneself., second, of oneself finite and limited, and third, of necessity, that is, something “completely free from nothingness and death.” He admits that this knowledge of God is not demonstrated but is nevertheless rich in certitude and is both presupposed by, and is the underlying force for, philosophical demonstration of God’s existence.
4.5 Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art
Maritain had a long-standing interest in art and the arts. His familiarity with the arts made his work relevant and accessible to those who engaged in them. This is because; he was a friend of many writers, poets and musicians. He defined art as “science that aims at particular good of human life,” but not the absolute good of human life.
He was also of the view that both aesthetics and art are not philosophy because their aim or end is to fulfill the function of work or principle in reference to the last end of man.
He stated the object of art as “human making” and added that, art is not a speculative or a theoretical activity, it aims not just at knowing but also at doing and this “making” is something that is demanded by the end of the activity itself, not the particular interest of the artist.
Maritain also held that art is essentially characterized by its complete extension of instructing us how to make something so that it is formed as it ought to be and thus to secure the perfect or goodness not of the maker but of the object itself which he makes. According to him, since the object of art is human making, he affirms that everything that is made by the artists is only but continuing the labour of divine creation and that human art cannot create out of nothing; it must first nourish itself on things, which it transforms in order to make a form DIVINED in them shine on a bit of matter. Human art is doomed to sterility and failure if it cuts itself off from the existential world of nature and the universe of man.
While commenting on aesthetics, he first of all distinguished fine arts from the works of artisans and held that fine arts are primarily concerned with beauty. He affirmed this in his book ‘Art and Schorlastism’ when he said, “Certain arts tend to make a work of beauty and thereby differ essentially from all the rest.”Beside the fine arts, Maritain commented generally that to be an artist requires aiming at making beautiful things. Above all, he maintained that beauty and art have a conception to the spiritual and spiritual experience. Since art is a creative activity it is ultimately depended upon the creator and therefore it has a relation to the divine and to the transcendental of goodness, truth, and unity.
He also commended on the relationship between art and the world and between art and freedom. The former is seen in e response to the world as expressed in the poems, songs and the expression of the art is determined by the world and work itself.
On the relationship between art and freedom, he was of the view that artists must be free because their activity is part of the basic drive in humans to create and make but this freedom is neither absolute nor a license to do whatever one chooses. Instead freedom is ultimately subject to the truth and the artist should be subject to the spiritual conditions of honest work.
Maritain was also concerned with the knowledge of poetic knowledge and poetic intuition. On one hand he said that poetic knowledge is a typical instance of knowledge through connaturality and on the other hand he said that it is non conceptual and non rational knowledge born in the preconscious life of the intellect and it is essentially an obscure revelation both of the subjectivity of the poet and of some flash of reality coming together out of sleep in one single awakening. He also referred to poetic knowledge as ‘emotional knowledge which tends to artistic expression and creation.”
In conclusion he said that poetic knowledge is not directed towards essence for essences are disengaged from concrete reality in a concept, a universal idea is an object for speculative knowledge while poetic intuition is directed towards concrete existence.
4.6 Political Philosophy and the Philosophy of Law
Maritain’s political philosophy and the philosophy of law are closely related to his moral philosophy. He describes the position he defended as ‘integral humanism’. This is because it considers the human person as an entity that has both material and spiritual dimensions, as a unified whole. It sees a human person as a participant in the society’s common good. His political philosophy was to outline the conditions for making an individual fully human in all dimensions. He argued that the secular forms of humanism were anti-humanism because they denied the recognition of the whole person. His humanism seeks to bring the different dimensions of the human person together without diminishing or ignoring the value of each.
Ones private good is subordinate to the common good of the community as a person with a supernatural end. But one’s ‘spiritual good’ is superior to the society and should be recognized by all political communities. As stated earlier, Maritain’s humanism explores the prospect for a new Christendom by developing a theory of cooperation to show how people of different intellectual positions can cooperate to achieve communal political aims. Therefore, the best political order is one which recognizes the sovereignty of God. He rejects therefore, not only fascism and communism but all secular humanisms. He held that fascism and communism are not only secular but also dehumanizing and since he was also a defender of American democracy, however in combining his attachment to Christianity and capitalism. He argued that theocentric humanism has its philosophical recognition of human person as spiritual and material being, a being that relates with God. Therefore, social, moral and political institutions must recognize this.
Maritain envisages a political society under the rule of law and distinguishes four types of law: eternal, natural, common law of civilization and positive law. The natural law is universal and invariable and deals with the rights and duties which follow necessarily from the principle of the greatest good that ‘good is to be done and evil is to be avoided.’ He holds that it’s not rooted in human nature but in the divine reason and in the transcendental order and written in human nature by God. For him natural law acquires its obligatory character only because of its relation with eternal law. Common law of civilization is an extension of the natural law to the circumstances of life in society and thus it is concerned with human beings as social beings. The positive law is the extension of rules and regulations involved in ensuring general order in a particular society. When positive law contradicts the natural law, it is not law in the strict sense.
For a state, Maritain supported one that is democratic and liberal and a political society that is personalist, pluralist and christianly inspired. For the authority to rule, Maritain asserted that is derived from the people for people have a natural right to govern themselves. This was in line with Christianity because the ideas of democracy are inspire by a belief in God’s rule and the God as the source of all authority. Furthermore, in a state, he called for liberty that is close to what is now called ‘positive freedom.’ In such a polity, politicians would be more than just spokespersons for the people, but they represent the hidden will of the people, their aim and the aim of the state as a whole.
Although he does not discuss how his model Christian polity would be realized, he suggests that it is the only one that takes account of each person’s spiritual worth and recognizes the importance of providing the means to foster ones growth as a person, then in this way it is fundamentally pluralistic. Here, leadership role would be played by multiplicity of civil fraternities. Hence in such a polity, there is both the state and the church; the state focusing on the temporal needs of the person while the church on spiritual matters.
- Maritain Jacques. Approaches to God. New York: Macmillan Company.
- Maritain Jacques. Art and Scholasticism. London: Sheed and Ward.
- Maritain Jacques. Existence and the Existent. New York: Image Books.
- Maritain Jacques. Introduction to Philosophy. New York: Sheed and Ward.
- Maritain Jacques Philosophy of Nature. Philosophical Library Inc.
- Maritain Jacques. Preface to Metaphysics. New York: Sheed and Ward.
- Maritain Jacques. Range of Reason. London: Lowe & Brydone Ltd.
- Maritain Jacques. The Social and Political Philosophy. Doubleday & Co. Inc.
- Maritain, Degrees of Knowledge. London: Geoffrey Bles Ltd.
- Maritain Jacques. Integral Humanism; Temporal and Spirirual Problems of a New Christiandom. University of Notre Dame Press.
- Maritain Jacques. Man and the State. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
- Walsh Martin. A History of Philosophy. London: Geofry Chapman.
- Edwards Paul. (ed.), “Philosophy of Art.” In The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 5.New York: Crowell Collier and Macmillan Inc.
- Sahakian William S. History of Philosophy. USA: Barres and Noble Inc.
. Jacques Maritain, Range of Reason (London: Lowe & Brydone Ltd., 1953), 25.
. Maritain, Degrees of Knowledge(London: Geoffrey Bles Ltd., 1959), 23.
. Ibid., 37.
 . William S. Sahakian, History of Philosophy, (USA., Barres and Noble Inc., 1968), 320.
 . Jacques Maritain, Philosophy of Nature, trans., by Imelda C. Byre (Philosophical Library Inc.,1951), 93.
. Jacques Maritain, Preface to Metaphysics (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1958), 12-13.
 . Ibid., 27.
 . Ibid., 25.
 . Ibid. 4.
 . Jacques Maritain, Existence and the Existent (New York: Image Books, 1961), 29.
 . Op. Cit., Preface to Metaphysics, 78.
 . Ibid., 50-51.
 . Ibid., 49.
 . Op. Cit., Existence and the Existent, 13.
 . Ibid., 34.
 . Op. Cit., Preface to Metaphysics, 90.
 . Jacques Maritain, Introduction to Philosophy, trans., by E. I. Watkin (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1962), 124.
 . Ibid., 125.
 . Jacques Maritain, Approaches to God (New York: Macmillan Company, 1954), 17-18.
 . Ibid., 125.
 . Ibid., 18.
 . Ibid., 64.
 . Ibid., 66.
 . Ibid., 15.
 . Maritain, Introduction to Philosophy, trans. by E. I Watkin (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1962), 193.
 . Ibid., 193.
 . Ibid., 192.
 . Cf. Paul Edwards. (ed.), “Philosophy of Art,” In The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 5 (New York: Crowell Collier and Macmillan Inc., 1967),163.
. Jacques Maritain, Art and Schorlasticism, trans. J. F. Scanlan (London: Sheed and Ward, 1930), 33.
. Martin Walsh, A History of Philosophy (London: Geofry Chapman, 1985), 566.
. Maritain, Integral Humanism; Temporal and Spirirual Problems of a New Christiandom (University of Notre Dame Press, 1973), 178-180.
. Maritain, Man and the State (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1966) 86-89.
. Man and the State, 97-99.
. Ibid., 99.
. Ibid., 96.
. Jacques Maritain, The Social and Political Philosophy (Doubleday & Co. Inc., New York, 1965) 26-30.
. Man and the State, 127.
. Ibid., 102.
. Op. Cit., The Social and Political Philosophy, 26-30.