Jacques Maritain, the intuition of being, and the problem of the proper starting point for Thomistic metaphysics

Matthew Scott Pugh, Fordham University


One of the great controversies of twentieth century Thomism concerns Jacques Maritain's insistence that a metaphysical intuition of being is both necessary and possible for metaphysics, if metaphysics is defined as that discipline which studies being qua being, for according to Maritain, only the metaphysical intuition of being enables the intellect to see, through immediate, abstractive, intellectual insight, that being (ens) transcends the bounds of matter, and so need not be actualized in matter. Without the intuition of being, the intellect is confined to the knowledge of possible being implicit in sensory experience and everyday life. Indeed, an intellect lacking the metaphysical intuition of being can never rise above its knowledge of being as material, as clothed in the sensible. Maritain believes that the metaphysical intuition of being throws open the door of the mind to the possibility of the existence of non-material, though quite actual, ens. Maritain's opponents, such as Gilson, Owens, and most recently, John F. X. Knasas, claim that the basic positive judgment of existence never apprehends esse (a being's act of existing) as actuating anything other than material ens. Maritain's intuition of being, they say, is a non-Thomistic, accidental, and distorting addition to an epistemology that needs no amending. It is this author's contention, however, that Maritain was right to have insisted upon the necessity of the intuition of being for metaphysics, and further, that the possibility of such an intuition is laden with great significance for the development of Thomistic metaphysics, and for the future of the Catholic intellectual tradition. This is especially true when Maritain's philosophy of the intuition of being is seen in the light of Marechal's transcendental Thomism, for both recognize the inherent dynamism of the intellect, and the need for a purely intuitive, though natural, knowledge of God's existence. It is the purpose of this dissertation to defend Maritain's metaphysics and philosophy of the intuition of being against its Thomistic critics, and to show that Maritainian Thomism points the way out of the current Thomistic impasse in metaphysics.

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Recommended Citation

Pugh, Matthew Scott, "Jacques Maritain, the intuition of being, and the problem of the proper starting point for Thomistic metaphysics" (1994). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9416675.