- Being in the World: A Quotable Maritain Reader by Jacques Maritain
In two respects Being in the World: A Quotable Maritain Reader is a perfect book, and we are much in debt to its editors. It is perfect, first, for anyone who finds that Jacques Maritain (1881–1973) has engaging things to say. There are many such readers, and they include philosophers, theologians, artists, and “seekers” of the transcendent. Being in the World offers all of them insightful introductions to Maritain’s thought, as taken from fifty-four of his works in their English translations. It is a perfect book, second, for those who are more familiar with Maritain’s work, in one or more areas, but could benefit from a compendium of his reflections, 750 in all, that leads us across forty theme-based “bridges” from one Maritain book to another.
Since this reviewer is already familiar with Maritain, it might be useful to show how D’Souza and Seling have done me a service. I have been intrigued by Maritain’s claim that there is an intuition of being and that it is pivotal, even by its denial, in a philosopher’s vision. I need only turn to “Being,” the third of the book’s thematic chapters, for an instructive quotation from A Preface to Metaphysics (the bibliography gives full publication information of each text cited). Even in affirming the principle of identity, Maritain avows, the philosopher “enunciates it as an expression of the metaphysical intuition of being, and thus sees in it the first… law of reality itself, a law which astounds him because it proclaims ex abrupto the primal mystery of being” (36). Then in “Philosophers,” the book’s twenty-ninth chapter, Maritain underscores the philosophical stakes in words from his early Bergsonian Philosophy and Thomism: “All great philosophers have recognized the existence of and necessity for an intuition from which their wisdom is suspended. It is on the nature this intuition that they are divided” (223). Elsewhere [End Page 165] Maritain faults Christian existentialism because it refuses “to admit the intellectual intuition of being” (52), a verdict from perhaps his greatest work, Existence and the Existent.
But wait. When might we, philosophers or not, have such an intuition? One avenue is the intense experience of a singularity. Consider the sighting of a beautiful tree or a bird in flight—or the glance of a loved one. If just then, “consciousness seizes upon the act of existing of that secret and hidden reality … an intellectual intuition of being is produced” (37), as Maritain writes in his late Untrammelled Approaches. Still other occasions of such an intuition might well be the experiences of love, hope, gratitude, and (of course) the philosopher’s own reflecting on such peak experiences.
It is intuition that leads us to discursive reasoning, and when reason seeks its ultimate source, the Divine Mind, it must be open to the faith that revelation engages. Thus Maritain writes that to “the depths of revealed divinity … there must necessarily correspond … the light of supernatural faith taking up and directing the natural movement of reason and its natural way of knowing” (276). Insisting on the faith that grace offers, he soon adds, “An act of faith or of love of a little child goes infinitely farther” than “the most brilliant natural act of the highest of the angels” (278).
A review of book subtitled A Quotable Maritain Reader should offer a sampler of such quotations. Yet given the limits of space, I have called attention to a select few that illustrate the theme of intuition. I might do well, then, to close with just a few notes about Jacques Maritain himself and his beloved Raïssa. While young students at the Sorbonne, with an assist from Henri Bergson, they overcame a stifling positivism. Only then did Maritain begin to steep himself in Thomism. Two decades later both Jacques and...