'The Degrees of Knowledge'
By Jacques Maritain (Author), Ralph M. McInerny (Editor), Gerald B. Phelan (Translator)
Distinguer pour unir, ou Les degrés du savoir was first published in 1932 by Jacques Maritain. In this new translation of The Degrees of Knowledge, Ralph McInerny attempts a more careful expression of Maritain's original masterpiece than previous translations. Maritain proposes a hierarchy of the forms of knowledge by discussing the degrees of rational and suprarational understanding. Nine appendices, some longer than the chapters of the book, advance Maritain's thought, often by taking on criticism of earlier editions of the work. Rightly called Maritain's cardinal work,The Degrees of Knowledge is a magnificent and sagacious achievement.
Jacques Maritain's masterpiece proposes a hierarchy of forms of knowledge that culminate in mystical experience and wisdom, which is a gift of the Holy Ghost. Maritain argues that the intellectual life is meant to be complemented by the spiritual life and should culminate in sanctity.
"One can open The Degrees of Knowledge to almost any page and discover there something worth thinking about."
"The Degrees of Knowledge represents one of the most complete articulations of Maritain's incorporation of the thinking of Saint Thomas Aquinas into his work."
(The Library Quarterly)
“The Degrees of Knowledge remains interesting and valuable because it deals with a theme that is characteristic of, but antedates, much of postmodern thought—i.e., the critique of ‘modern epistemology.’
T. S. Eliot once called Jacques Maritain "the most conspicuous figure and probably the most powerful force in contemporary philosophy." His wife and devoted intellectual companion, Raissa Maritain, was of Jewish descent but joined the Catholic church with him in 1906. Maritain studied under Henri Bergson but was dissatisfied with his teacher's philosophy, eventually finding certainty in the system of St. Thomas Aquinas. He lectured widely in Europe and in North and South America, and lived and taught in New York during World War II. Appointed French ambassador to the Vatican in 1945, he resigned in 1948 to teach philosophy at Princeton University, where he remained until his retirement in 1953. He was prominent in the Catholic intellectual resurgence, with a keen perception of modern French literature. Although Maritain regarded metaphysics as central to civilization and metaphysically his position was Thomism, he took full measure of the intellectual currents of his time and articulated a resilient and vital Thomism, applying the principles of scholasticism to contemporary issues. In 1963, Maritain was honored by the French literary world with the national Grand Prize for letters. He learned of the award at his retreat in a small monastery near Toulouse where he had been living in ascetic retirement for some years. In 1967, the publication of "The Peasant of the Garonne" disturbed the French Roman Catholic world. In it, Maritain attacked the "neo-modernism" that he had seen developing in the church in recent decades, especially since the Second Vatican Council. According to Jaroslav Pelikan, writing in the Saturday Review of Literature, "He laments that in avant-garde Roman Catholic theology today he can 'read nothing about the redeeming sacrifice or the merits of the Passion.' In his interpretation, the whole of the Christian tradition has identified redemption with the sacrifice of the cross. But now, all of that is being discarded, along with the idea of hell, the doctrine of creation out of nothing, the infancy narratives of the Gospels, and belief in the immortality of the human soul." Maritain's wife, Raissa, also distinguished herself as a philosophical author and poet.