The Objectivist Maritain

“I am not a neo-Thomist. All in all, I would rather be a paleo-Thomist than a neo-Thomist.
I am, or at least I hope I am, a Thomist.”

Jacques Maritain, “Existence and the Existent”, Introduction.
(The Temptation of St Thomas Aquinas, by Bernardo Daddi, 1338.)

Of course Jacques Maritain was not an Objectivist; he was a Thomist. But to be a Thomist, I learned, is to partake of at least the first (and, arguably, the most important) axiom of Objectivism: “Existence exists”. This makes my life much easier, now that I decided to present a non-existent paper on him at an upcoming conference.


“…what distinguishes authentic Thomism from the many non-Thomist, or allegedly Thomist currents in Scholasticism, into which the spirit of Plato, Descartes, or Wolff has insinuated itself […] is precisely the primacy which authentic Thomism accords to existence and to the intuition of existential being.”

Maritain’s, Aquinas’, and Rand’s metaphysics could well be laconically summarized by the medieval saying with which Maritain begins his book “Existence and the Existent”:

Veritas sequitur esse rerum.

“Truth follows upon the existence of things.”

“Truth”, he continues, “is the adequation of the immanence in act of our thought with that which exists outside our thought.” “Knowledge is immersed in existence.”

Nice. This cursory reading of the first chapter of “Existence and the Existent” gives me confidence that I will be able to focus on the overlap between these two philosophies. I see now why Ayn Rand announced Aquinas as a member of that most restricted of lists, “Rand’s worthy philosophers”.

Maritain continues by paying his homage to the senses and reason:

“Sense delivers existence to the intellect; it gives the intellect an intelligible treasure which sense does not know to be intelligible, and which the intellect, for its part, knows and calls by its name, which is being.”

And then, referring to those philosophers who followed Descartes, and thus ended up cloistered inside their own minds, he makes an assertion that would conquer Ayn Rand’s heart (I believe):

“They do not see that object and objectivity are the very life and salvation of the intellect”.

I would go to sleep now thinking Maritain had a serious bent toward Objectivism, but he then gets to what I think is the core of his argument, one which, it seems, will veer him away from Rand’s affection:

“A philosopher is not a philosopher if he is not a metaphysician.” So far so good. “And it is the intuition of being […] that makes the metaphysician.” Hummm… now I am worried. “Intuition” is definitely not a word Ayn Rand saw with good eyes. And Maritain confirms my worries when he says that this intuition “is no question of rational analysis or of an inductive or a deductive procedure, or of a syllogistic construction”.

So, what is it a question of? Is it divine illumination? Mystic insight? He is a Thomist, after all, not an atheist philosopher like Rand.

He talks about it springing “unexpectedly like a kind of natural grace at a sight of a blade of grass or a windmill”, or it being a “sudden perception of the reality of the self”, or even the being of things independent of ourselves becoming “abruptly evident to us”.

He says, in sum, that there are many ways leading to the attainment of this intuition, but what really matters, he urges us, is that we:

“…take the leap, to release, in one authentic intellectual intuition, the sense of being, the sense of the value of the implications that lie in the act of existing. What counts is to have seen that existence is not a simple empirical fact but a primitive datum for the mind itself, opening to the mind an infinite supra-observable field — in a word, the primary and super-intelligible source of intelligibility.”

No, definitely not Objectivist. He seems to be getting at God as the “super-intelligible source of intelligibility”, which would send him thousands of miles of distance from Rand’s convictions. Yet the primacy of existence is still there with all its might. And that’s not all.

How do we end up accepting a self-evident axiom? Rand talks about the axiom of existence as being known only ostensively, by pointing at the thing and saying “There it is!” But all skeptics or platonists or cartesianists or pretty much the vast majority of philosophers across the millennia will say that’s not enough, that we might be deceived. Can we avoid the fact that, at the end of the story, we must rely on some kind of intuition or, as I like to call it, “scientific faith”?

Of course, I don’t know the answer to this question. But, as Objectivist as I might be, I am eager to learn what Maritain has to say about his “intuition of being”. Hopefully, by either his route or Rand’s, I will remain, as Maritain put it at the very end of the chapter, “enraptured with being”.

3 thoughts on “The Objectivist Maritain

  1. Pingback: The Objectivist Maritain – The Philosophical Hack

  2. … “truth follows from the existence of things”.

    I’m not sure if I would equate terms here, namely “existence“ in this guys context and “existentialism” in the Sartean sense.

    I feel like this quote is saying more about what might be true than it is saying or talking about what might be philosophically arguable and or Real.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry, I only now saw your comment. Weirdly as it sounds, his book “Existence and the Existent” is almost an answer to Sartre’s Existentialism. I guess Existentialism was in such a vogue during Maritain’s time that he felt obliged to show the difference. But I too agree that his “existence” is much more all-encompassing the Sartre’s, who basically talks about “man’s existence”.


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