Étienne Gilson

French historian and philosopher (1884-1978)

Étienne Gilson (13 June 188419 September 1978) was a French philosopher and historian of philosophy.

Quotes edit

  • Philosophy always buries its undertakers.
    • The Unity of Philosophical Experience (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons,1937), p. 306

Thomism: The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas edit

  • What is most apparent and constant in Thomas' personality, the image he most likely had of himself, is the teacher.  The saint was essentially a Doctor of the Church; the man was a teacher of theology and philosophy; the mystic never entirely separated his meditations from his teaching, which drew its inspiration from them.
    • Introduction
  • Thomas considers that a religious may legitimately aspire to the title and functions of master, but since he could only teach divine things, it is only in relation to the science of divine things that secular sciences can legitimately interest him.  This is demanded by the very essence of the contemplative life, the teaching of which is nothing but its immediate extension into the order of the active life.
    • Introduction
  • What, then, will this philosophy be?  Thomas only employed it for the service it renders Christian wisdom.  No doubt this is why he never thought of separating it from this wisdom and giving it a name.  He probably did not foresee that the day would come when people would go through his works to extract the elements of a philosophy from his theology.  He himself never attempted this synthesis.
    • Introduction

Methodical Realism edit

  • The mathematician always proceeds from thought to being or things. Consequently, critical idealism was born the day Descartes decided that the mathematical method must henceforth be the method for metaphysics.
  • Indeed, all idealism derives from Descartes, or from Kant, or from both together, and whatever other distinguishing features a system may have, it is idealist to the extent that, either in itself, or as far as we are concerned, it makes knowing the condition of being.
  • With Descartes the Cogito ergo sum [I think, therefore I am] turns into Cogito ergo res sunt [I think, therefore things are].
  • As used today, the word realism means in the first place the opposite to idealism when it claims that it is possible to pass from the subject to the object.
  • Reality can be grasped at levels of different depths. It is immediately given to us in a kind of block form, which is simply the "apprehended reality".
  • While Descartes finds being in thought, Saint Thomas finds thought in being.
  • Up to Descartes' time, and particularly during the Middle Ages, it had always been agreed that philosophy consisted in a transposition of reality into conceptual terms
  • Having left us with thought (not a soul), and extension (not a body), [Descartes] does not know how to account for the union of soul and body.
  • Having expelled quality from the field of extension, [idealists] do not know how to account for it when it reappears in thought.
  • Hume's skepticism, therefore, descends in a direct line from Cartesian mathematicism.
  • If there is a single initial error at the root of all the difficulties philosophy is involved in, it can only be the one Descartes committed when he decreed, a priori, that the method of one of the sciences of reality was valid for the whole of reality.
  • The scientific sterility of the Middle Ages has to be condemned for the same reasons which make it necessary today to condemn the philosophic sterility of scientism.
  • If there is something more in a living being than a pure mechanism, Descartes is bound in advance to miss it.
  • Most of our contemporaries think that, at bottom, being a philosopher and adopting an idealist method are one and the same thing.
  • I maintain, therefore, that just as there is in Cartesianism a methodical idealism, the kind that starts with nosse [knowing], there can be a methodical realism, the kind that starts with esse [being].
  • Every given reality implies the thought which apprehends it. Therefore being is the condition of knowing; knowing is not the condition of being.
  • The realist method starts with the whole in order to distinguish the parts.
  • All realism derives from the analysis of knowledge; all idealism derives from the analysis of a thought.

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