Maritain's receptive intuition and the benefits of art

Gregory James Kerr, Fordham University


Jacques Maritain dealt almost exclusively with the experience and knowledge of the artist, not the work as perceived by the viewer. It is our purpose here to display what a genuinely Thomistic theory of the receptive intuition would look like given Maritain's philosophy. Beauty is said to be "what being seen pleases" and we examine in chapter one, Maritain's own view that there are two beauties and that aesthetic beauty leads the viewer to transcendental beauty. We argue that the objective meaning of the work is somehow both contained within and well beyond its frame. In chapter two, defending Maritain against two of the foremost scholars on Thomas' aesthetics, Francis J. Kovach and Umberto Eco, we argue that the "being seen" or the visio of the experience is primarily non-discursive. While the intellect cannot do without concepts, what is key to the experience is a "defect in truth" and not truth. Thus there is required another way of knowing, a way of a knowledge by connaturality, an intuitive knowledge, and this is what registers the "pleasure." In chapter three, we find that the experience requires not only the intellect but the whole of the person. The work of art presents a defect in truth, and an appeal for our consent. If we give it, it seduces us, and reveals a deeper meaning no longer through concepts but through emotion. What has gone into making the work is, in part, what is revealed. In chapter four, we examine the virtue of art, the idea of imitation as instrument, and his notion of the magical sign to understand how the work of art provokes this intuition. In chapter five, we ask "What's the effect and value of the aesthetic experience?" Using Maritain's phrase, "Beauty is the radiance of all the transcendentals united" as a heuristic, we show that the viewer experiences, "a gathering together" of "being as confronting the power of intelligence, being as confronting the power of desire and being as undivided." The aesthetic experience reveals the harmony among our human powers--often in conflict--and these with the world that surrounds them.

Subject Area

Philosophy|Fine Arts

Recommended Citation

Kerr, Gregory James, "Maritain's receptive intuition and the benefits of art" (1992). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9223819.