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  • THE UNITY OF

    PHILOSOPHICAL

    EXPERIENCE BY

    ETIENNE GILSON

    NEW YORK

    CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 1950

  • COPYRIGHT, 1937, BY

    CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS

    Printed in the United States of America

    All rights reserved. No part of this booh may be reproduced in any form without the permission of Charles Scribner's Sons

    NU)U obetat Ar thur J . Scanlan, S.T.D.

    Censor Librorum

    3mjrrtmatur

  • To my wife

    E.G.

  • FOREWORD

    T H E history of philosophy is much more p a r t of phi-losophy itself than the history of science is p a r t of science, for it is not impossible to become a competent scientist without knowing much about the history of science, but no man can carry very far his own philo-sophical reflections unless he first studies the history of philosophy. In point of fact, the Fi rs t Book of Aris-totle's Metaphysics is also the first known History of Greek Philosophy, and it remains a perfect example of how such a history should be written. For indeed it is a philosophical history of philosophy, whereas too many modern histories of philosophy are written in an un-philosophical way. Unless it may be shown as exhibiting some intrinsic intelligibility the endless chain of mutually destructive systems tha t runs from Thales to Kar l M a r x is less suggestive of hope than of discouragement.

    I t is the proper aim and scope of the present book to show tha t the history of philosophy makes philo-sophical sense, and to define its meaning in regard to the na ture of philosophical knowledge itself. Fo r that rea-son, the various doctrines, as well as the definite par t s of those doctrines, which have been taken into account in this volume, should not be considered as arbitrari ly selected fragments from some abridged description of mediaeval and modern philosophy, but as a series of con-crete philosophical experiments especially chosen for

    vii

  • F O R E W O R D

    their dogmatic significance. Each of them represents a definite attempt to deal with philosophical knowledge according to a certain method, and all of them, taken together, make up a philosophical experience. The fact that all those experiments have yielded the same result will, as I hope, justify the common conclusion of the following analyses, viz., that there is a centuries-long experience of what philosophical knowledge isand that such an experience exhibits a remarkable unity.

    The fundamental convictions which lie at the basis of this book are deeply rooted in the philosophical past of its author. Yet, they might never have found public expression, had not the fear of falling far too short of the standard of a famous lectureship prompted a professional historian of mediaeval philosophy to tres-pass upon philosophical ground. I wish therefore to ex-press my gratitude to the Department of Philosophy at Harvard for generously entrusting me with a Lecture-ship whose purpose it is to honour the memory of William James. By whatever motives it may have been dictated, their choice proves at least how accurately James was de-scribing the Harvard spirit in philosophy when he wrote to G. H. Palmer in 1901: " I think the delightful thing about us all in the philosophical department, where each has a set of ideas, both practical and theoretical, which are the outcrop of his irresistible idiosyncrasy, is our deep appreciation of one another, and our on the whole harmonious co-operation towards the infusion of what probably is objective truth into the minds of the students. At any rate it's genuine liberalism, and non-

    viii

  • F O R E W O R D

    dogmatism." What was true of the Harvard of James, Royce and Palmer, is no less true of the Harvard of Perry, Whitehead, Hocking, Lewis and Sheffer. When non-dogmatism shows itself generous enough to wel-come even dogmatism, it has obviously reached its point of perfection.

    The lectures of which the present volume is composed were given at Harvard University in the first half of the Academic year 1936-37. I feel particularly in-debted to my friends: Professor Ralph Barton Perry, of Harvard University, and Reverend Gerald B. Phelan, President of the Institute of Mediaeval Studies (Toronto), who together have read this book in manu-script and suggested many improvements in thought as well as in expression. My thanks are also due to Professor Daniel C. Walsh, of Manhattanville College, New York City, and Columbia University. He has not only gone over my manuscript and made many helpful suggestions towards clarity of expression but he has also read the proofs.

    ETIENNE GILSON.

    Institute of Mediaeval Studies Toronto, Canada. 22nd November, 1937.

    ix

  • CONTENTS

    FOREWORD v i i

    P A R T O N E

    T H E MEDLEVAL E X P E R I M E N T

    I . LOGICISM AND PHILOSOPHY 3

    I I . THEOLOGISM AND PHILOSOPHY 3 1

    III . T H E ROAD TO SCEPTICISM 6 1

    IV. T H E BREAKDOWN OF MEDLEVAL PHILOSOPHY 9 2

    PART TWO

    T H E CARTESIAN E X P E R I M E N T

    V. CARTESIAN MATHEMATICISM 1 2 5

    VI. CARTESIAN SPIRITUALISM 1 5 2

    VII. CARTESIAN IDEALISM 1 7 6

    VIII. T H E BREAKDOWN OF CARTESIANE3M 1 9 8

    PART T H R E E

    T H E MODERN E X P E R I M E N T

    IX. T H E PHYSICISM OF KANT 2 2 3

    X. T H E SOCIOLOGISM OF A. COMTE 2 4 8

    XI. T H E BREAKDOWN OF MODERN PHILOSOPHY 2 7 1

    xi

  • C O N T E N T S

    P A U T F O U R

    THE NATURE AND UNITY OF PHILOSOPHICAL EXPERIENCE

    X n . T H E NATURE AND UNITY OF

    PHILOSOPHICAL EXPERIENCE 2 9 9

    BIBLIOGRAPHY , 3 2 1

    INDEX TO PROPER NAMES 3 2 5

    xii

  • PART ONE

    THE MEDIAEVAL EXPERIMENT

  • CHAPTER I

    LOGICISM AND PHILOSOPHY

    IN the Preface to his Phenomenology of Mind, Hegel rightly remarks that knowing a philosophical system is something more than knowing its purpose and results. Its purpose by itself is but a vague and abstract idea, or, at the utmost, the pointing out of a certain direction to be followed by a still unrealized mental activity; as to its result, it is, in Hegel's own words, "the corpse of the system which has left its guiding tendency behind it."1 I shall therefore beg leave to lay hold at once of the matter itself and, setting aside all external con-siderations, begin by an analysis of the first of those philosophical experiments which, taken together, make up what I propose to call philosophical experience.

    I t has often been said by historians, and not without good reasons, that the whole philosophy of the Middle Ages was little more than an obstinate endeavour to solve one problemthe problem of the Universals. Uni-versals are but another name for what we call concepts, or general ideas, and it does not require long reflection to realize that such ideas are indeed a fitting subject for philosophical speculation. Not only are concepts

    i j . Loewenberg, Hegel Selections, Scribners, New York, 1929; p. 3.

    3

  • T H E MEDIAEVAL E X P E R I M E N T

    the very stuff of which our knowledge is made, but as soon as we attempt to define their nature, we find our-selves confronted with the central problem so well dis-cussed by Professor C. I. Lewis under the general title, The Mind and the World Order. What relation is there between thought and things ? More particularly, and to ask the same question in specifically mediaeval terms, how is it that in a world where all that is real is a particular and individual thing, the human mind is able to distribute the manifold of reality into classes, in which particular things are contained? That such an operation is possible is an obvious fact. Man is con-stantly thinking in terms of genera and species. But how it is possible always was and still remains for us a very intricate problem. The great significance of Peter Abailard in the history of mediaeval philosophy is due to the fact that he was the first to deal at length with that central problem: what is a class of things, or in other words, what is the essence of universality?

    To such a question the easiest answer obviously was that, since things by themselves are essentially par-ticular, the generality which belongs to our concepts cannot have any other origin but the mind. Let it be added that such an answer is undoubtedly true; its only defect is that it fails to cover the whole case. If the character of generality which belongs to our concepts is wholly and solely a product of our mind, there is nothing that answers it in the nature of things them-selves; consequently our knowledge by general ideas is without an object; it is not a science, but a mere logic.

    4

  • L O G I C I S M A N D P H I L O S O P H Y

    True enough, it could be answered tha t general ideas are an artifice of the mind to handle more easily, and so to speak a t cheaper cost, the enormous multiplicity of part icular th ings ; but the fact would still remain tha t it is a working artifice. How does it work and why ? Since the human mind is able to apply a single concept to two different objects, there must be something in those objects that makes it possible for us to conceive them as one. And even if it were to be said tha t our so-called concepts, or general ideas, are mere words, the same problem would still remain: how is it tha t we can give the same name to several different things ? Perhaps we do no more than name them, but they must a t least be such things as can be named. I n short, the generality which belongs to our concepts cannot pos-sibly come from the mind alone; it must also, in some way or other, be found in things. W h a t then is the nature of generality?

    In order to understand the various answers given to the question by Abailard and his su