Jacques Maritain: the Intuition of Being and Epistemology
By: Jason Seaux
According to Robert Dennehy, in his article “Maritain’s ‘Intellectual Existentialism’: An Introduction to His Metaphysics and Epistemology”, Jacques Maritain’s metaphysics is intimately linked with his epistemology by what Maritain calls the “intuition of being” (Dennehy 202). In this relationship between his metaphysics and his epistemology, Maritain insists that metaphysics is primary and has priority over epistemology. Maritain calls his view of Epistemology a “Critical Realism” (Maritain, Distinguish to Unite or The Degrees of Knowledge 71). For Maritain, “what the mind knows is identical with what exists” (Sweet). Expressed differently, to know a thing means that the thing’s ‘essence’ exists ‘immaterially’ in the mind as an object of knowledge and we know the real by this concept or what Maritain calls “esse intentionale”. As said previously, Maritain forms an intimate link between his Metaphysics and his Epistemology. Robert Dennehy, in the section of his article introducing Maritain’s Epistemology, expresses this linkage saying “that if metaphysics studies being as being, epistemology studies being as known. I wish here to explore briefly this linkage, so as to understand Maritain’s approach to the real. In so doing, I hope to approach his epistemology in a similar manner and therefore be able to give a fair recounting of what Maritain calls a “realistic noetic1” comprised of ‘thing, object, and concept’. “For the real is intelligible and as such is knowable by means of concepts” (Dennehy 214)
Part 1: The Link?
For Maritain the link between metaphysics and epistemology exists in that the mind has as its “proper object” being. However, being for Maritain is a thing of great mystery. In his book A Preface to Metaphysics, Maritain says the following about being: …being is a mystery, either because it is too pregnant with intelligibility, too pure for our intellect, which is the case with spiritual things, or because its nature presents a more or less impenetrable barrier to understanding, a barrier due to the element of nonbeing in it, which is the case with becoming, potency and above all, matter. (A Preface to Metaphysics 12-13).
It is because being, which is a mystery, is the object of knowledge that Maritain so tightly links the study of metaphysics to the study of epistemology. Yet as said earlier, metaphysics is the study of being as such, while epistemology is the study of being as known. In both cases however, the object is that of being. Since the notion of being is often misunderstood, Maritain is sure to clarify that by being he does not mean the “particularized being” which we experience every day and which is the object of the empirical sciences. To the contrary, Dennehy says that Maritain intends the very same understanding of being in his epistemology as he does in his metaphysics (Dennehy 204-205). What links these two fields is what Maritain calls the “intuition of being”. In metaphysics, this is an intuition of being as such. In epistemology, it is an intuition of being as known in a thing. In both instances there is a ‘knowing’ that takes place atemporally and pre-intellection, hence it is an intuition (Maritain, Distinguish to Unite or The Degrees of Knowledge 91).
Part 2: Thing & Object and Their Concept
As a critical realist, Maritain deals directly with the existent thing — the real. In beginning the section in The Degrees of Knowledge entitled “Critical Realism”, Maritain says that it is necessary to draw a distinction between the “thing as thing”, which exists for itself, and the “thing as object”, when it is made present to the faculty of knowledge, because the same thing is observed simultaneously, both in nature (so as to exist) and in the mind (as it is known) (90-91). While this distinction can be drawn and is necessary, epistemologically speaking, for Maritain, the two terms — thing and object — cannot be separated (93).
The thing in the world — the real — is simple enough to understand from the common sense. By thing Maritain means “an existence independent of my cogito, an existence posited in its own right before my act of thinking and independent of it” or to borrow language from the Philosophy of Nature “the ontological ‘for itself’” (91 and 93). The thing has an existence which is extramental or premental, existing before we know it — “it does not belong to the realm of the known as known” (91). Maritain is careful to say that by extramental existence he does not intend only “actual existence” but also “possible existence” (92). This is the case because our intellects in “simple apprehension, abstract from existence in act and in judgments”, judging not only what exists, “but also of a thing that can or cannot exist and of the de jure necessities contained in those essences” (92). These “possible existences” are possible existences in the extramental world. This “possible real”, Maritain is explicit, is not to be confused with a “being of reason”, which is what occurs in a faulty noetic when the actual real is taken to be the only real (92). Thing is also called by Maritain, objectifiable subject and transobjective subject. These names do not indicate a hidden-ness of the thing behind the object, but that “because it is itself grasped as object” while still constituent of “something irreducible in which the possibility of grasping something new remains open” (93-94).
As said above, the nature of thing to object is such that they are inseparable within a realistic noetic. Before continuing on to discuss the nature of concept it is necessary to look more closely at the relationship which bonds the notions of thing and object so tightly together. Maritain does so using Thomistic language. In his explanation, “the thing is the ‘material object’ of the sense and intellect” (93). The object therefore is the “formal object”. Both are grasped simultaneously and indivisibly by the selfsame perceptions — metaphysically they are one entity. Maritain says, the “intellect’s objects as such abstract from actual existence and in themselves involve only a possible existence” (91). In terms of metaphysical language, the intellect’s object exists as a pure potentiality, whereas the thing in itself exists with both potentiality and actuality.
Having intended to write a section devoted specifically to object as such, I have found it impossible to write about object apart from its extramental reality, namely thing. They are so tightly connected, that to talk of one is to talk simultaneously about the other. Maritain says,
Because being is the first thing given to the mind, it is impossible to think of a pure object separated from a being for itself, a being of which the object of sensation or understanding is but a determination or aspect. If such an object is not an aspect of a known thing, of a transobjective subject, then it will have to become an aspect of the knowing thing. (100).
It is indeed these two co-principles — thing and object — which comprise the known.
As Maritain transitions into the section of The Degrees of Knowledge entitled “the Concept”, he poses the following questions: “What is the means by which the union of the known and the knower is effected? What is the medium thanks to which the thing known exists intentionally in the knower and thanks to which the knower becomes the thing known? This medium, Maritain, calls the intellect. He says, “the intellect has intentionally become the object” (117). This takes place when the intellect is “actuated by the species impress, and then producing within itself a species expressa of the intelligible order, an ‘elaborated’ or ‘uttered’ ‘presentative form’” (117). This elevates the object to the “highest level of actuality and intelligible formation”, and so they become “vicars of the object” — pure likenesses thereof. Therefore knowing “consists, not in making, but in being; to be or become a thing — either itself or other things” beyond the actuation of a substance (117-118).
To begin to understand the notion of concept it is important that it first be distinguished from object. Maritain says that object and concept are indistinguishable one from the other except for by their respective roles in the intellect. He says that one makes known (concept), and the other is known (object). Concept therefore is a formal sign the essence of which is to signify — “to bear the mind to something other than itself” (120). Concepts are the presentative forms retained in memory. They constitute “not the that which is known”, but the “means by which we know” (120).
Concepts exist in several classes, mathematical, geometric, and words. It is essential that concepts be both abstract and universal. For example, the utterance, “The car is red” contains two concepts ‘car’ and ‘red’. Each of these illicit within the intellect a calling forth, as it were, of the presentative forms contained within the memory of ‘car’ and ‘red’ which enable immediate knowledge of the object ‘red car’ (123). In such a way, full knowledge of the real is known, retained, and recalled, through the sense encounter with the thing and its being known as object, and its future signification as concept.
Works CitedDennehy, Raymond. "Maritain's "Intellectual Existentialism": An Introductin to His Metaphysics and Epistemology." Understanding Maritain: Philosopher and Friend. Ed. Deal W. Hudson and Matthew J. Mancini. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1987. 201-234.
Maritain, Jacques. Distinguish to Unite or The Degrees of Knowledge. Trans. Gerald B. Phelan. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1959.
—. A Preface to Metaphysics: Seven Lectures on Being. New York: New American Library, 1962
—. The Range of Reason. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1953.
Sweet, William. "Jacques Maritain." Sept. 2008. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed.Edward N. Zalta. 27 September 2008.
1 By noetic Maritain means ‘source of knowledge’.
Posted by Jason at 7:42 AM 0 comments
Saturday, January 31, 2009
William Wordsworth: a Snapshot of a Mind Out of Time
Born April 7, 1770 in Cooksmouth, Cumberland, William Wordsworth was the second son of attorney John Wordsworth. “Unlike the other major English romantic poets, he enjoyed a happy childhood under the loving care of his mother and in close intimacy with his younger sister Dorothy (1771-1855)” (Encyclopedia of World Biography). Wordsworth and his siblings, after the death of their mother in 1778, were cared for by Christopher Cookson their maternal uncle. Life in the foster home was happy, at least until the death of their father in 1783, at which point the financial situation of the Cookson house became very bleak, because Sir John Lowther, who owed their father more than £4000 in back-pay, refused to settle the debt with their uncle, causing great hardship for the family (Literary Encyclopedia).
In his youth Wordsworth attended Hawkshead Grammar School, where he fell in love with literature especially “the divine John Milton”. In his early adult life he attended university at St. John’s College in Cambridge, returning each summer to Cumberland — to the nature he loved so much. After he graduated from Cambridge he toured France, Switzerland, and Italy. Wordsworth — the “young idealist” was greatly impacted by his trek through France during a period of great “revolutionary fervor” (Enc. of World Biography).
Wordsworth was first published with his poems Descriptive Sketches and An Evening Walk in 1793. However, these preliminary works are hardly representative of the greatness he would later achieve. In 1798, Wordsworth, along with his close friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge published Lyrical Ballads, a collection of works which was later described as a challenge to “the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers” (Enc. of World Biography). Most memorable from this collection is “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” better remembered by its shortened title “Tintern Abbey”, which is a medium length poem in blank verse iambic pentameter (Enc. of World Biography and “Tintern Abbey”). Thomas J. Brennan writes in his article “Wordsworth’s TINTERN ABBEY” that Wordsworth, in his poem, takes the ruin of the ancient abbey as a “central metaphor” for how he understood himself (15). In the poem, Wordsworth implies that as he has matured, so to has his experience of remembered things dulled — no longer does he envision his native land with the same passion he did in his youth. Yet he projects the intense emotions of his youth onto Dorothy his younger sister and offers a prayer that she may not dull as he has dulled (“Tintern Abbey”).
Despite what is considered today a breathtaking style, Wordsworth’s simplicity was not well received in his time, and his publications often failed to captivate his contemporary readers as they captivate us today. His works often “were mercilessly lampooned by critics as examples of the poet’s obsession with simplicity”. Wordsworth’s poetry, however, soon took root among readers of the nineteenth century, who struggled with the difficulties of the industrial revolution. It is for this ‘simplification of poetic style’ that Wordsworth is best known and remembered among writers of his period and genre (Literary Encyclopedia).
Though Wordsworth’s poetry is characteristically ‘simple’ it is by no means ‘plain’. True to the Romantic period, Wordsworth often uses emotion in describing his subjects. However, he is stylistically different from other Romantics. This is especially true when he writes about nature. Rarely using “simple descriptions”, “Wordsworth concentrates on the ways in which he responds and relates to the world”, using “his poetry to look at the relationships between nature and human life” and time. He believed that the experience of time in the realm of being is one of the greatest influences on our lives — both emotional and spiritual (“Wordsworth’s Themes”). “For Wordsworth, time is a necessary part of the human experience, and in the progression of time in human existence we find beauty and truth and meaning and ultimately — joy” (Peters 78).
So it is in “Tintern Abbey” that “human time” is portrayed as the principle of growth, whereas nature is relegated more or less to what Regueiro calls the “realm of being”. Regueiro goes on to say that “wholeness of being”, for Wordsworth, is not achieved by transcending time, but by going beyond nature, even if only by reflection and contemplation (Regueiro 59).
These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into purer mind,
With tranquil restoration… (“Tintern Abbey” lines: 23-30)
It is in this way that Wordsworth’s metaphor seems to be unique, that it is softened and introduced through the use of structure and that it brings us into Wordsworth’s worldview. A worldview in which the ideas of “animate and inanimate realms” are blurred (Murray 7).
…Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul... [Italics mine] (“Tintern Abbey” lines: 43-46)
Here the juxtaposition of life and death — a life giving death, obscures the distinction between the physical (what Murray considers the animate) and the spiritual (inanimate), the eminent and the transcendent, the terminal and the eternal.
Wordsworth continues, in “Ode: Intimations of Immortality”, to reflect on the fact that the human senses are totally insufficient for the spiritual needs of life (Groom 94). And, as it were, he extracts himself from time, in the beginning of his reflection, and places himself in a scene, which is not unlike that of many creation myths and which bears an uncanny resemblance to that of the Judeo-Christian tradition (Ferguson138-139).
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Appareled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream…
The Rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the Rose
The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare. (“Ode: Intimations on Immortality” lines: 1-5 and 10-13)
In her essay “The ‘Immortality Ode’”, Frances Ferguson suggests that for Wordsworth perfection is found in the “mind standing outside of itself” and that “the project of seeking a reflective vision of thought in its pastness is a self-dooming one” loosing all objectivity (Ferguson 137-141). Yet for Wordsworth, this remained a source of perturbation as he writes in Book XII of The Prelude: “Open; I would approach them, but they close / I see by glimpses now; when age comes on, / May scarcely see at all;…” (XII, 30-32). It was his drive to integrate this philosophy that lead to his highly simplified and structured style.
Brennan, Thomas J. (1). "Wordsworth's TINTERN ABBEY." Explicator 63.1 (2004): 13-15. Literary Reference Center. 26 October 2006. http://search.ebscohost.com.
Ferguson, Frances. “The ‘Immortality Ode’”. William Wordsworth. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1985. 137-150.
Groom, Bernard. The Unity of Wordsworth’s Poetry. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1966.
Murray, Roger N. Wordsworth’s Style. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967.
Peters, John G. "Wordsworth's TINTERN ABBEY." Explicator 61.2 (2003): 77. Academic Search Premier. 29 November 2006. http://search.ebscohost.com.
Regueiro, Helen. The Limits of Imagination: Wordsworth, Yeats, and Stevens. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1976.
Wordsworth, William. “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.” The Cornell Wordsworth. Lyrical Ballads and Other Poems, 1797-1800. Ed. James Butler and Karen Greene. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1992. 116-120.
---. The Prelude or Growth of a Poet’s Mind. Ed. Ernest de Selincourt. London: Oxford University Press, 1805.
---. “Ode: Intimations of Immortality”. The Oxford Book of EnglishVerse: 1250-1900. Ed. Arthur Quiller-Couch. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1919. 536
"Wordsworth, William." Literary Encyclopedia (2005): 1. Literary Reference Center. 25 October 2006. http://search.ebscohost.com.
“Wordsworth, William.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2nd Ed. Vol. 16. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998.