Maritain’s Response: The Intuition of Being

In her book The Life of the Mind, Hannah Arendt provides us with this fascinating quote by Maurice Merleau-Ponty: “To reduce perception to the thought of perceiving . . . is to take out an insurance against doubt whose premiums are more onerous than the loss for which it is to indemnify us: for it is to… move to a type of certitude that will never restore to us the ‘there is’ of the world.” (p. 49)

This indeed is the central philosophical problem since Descartes; and, I argue, the central political-theoretical problem of our time. The problem of truth is today a political problem.

Let’s explore one possible response to the problem posed by Descartes and reframed by Hegel. Jacques Maritain in Preface to Metaphysics:

“No sooner do we possess the intuition of intelligible extra-mental being, than it divides, so to speak under our eyes, into two conceptual objects. On the one side there is being as simply existing or capable of existence, as simply given to the mind, or, if you prefer, as a ‘thing’ in the modern sense of the word… On the other side, in another concept which is still being, but under a different aspect, being is perceived as involving certain exigencies and certain laws, or, if you prefer, as recognized, admitted, affirmed by the mind — or as perfection and determination. These two complementary aspects of being are apprehended by the mind, distinguished, in a purely ideal fashion, as two different concepts expressed by the same word.” 

Maritain thus acknowledges the same problem that Hegel points out in Phenomenology of Spirit. That there is a split in being at the moment of apprehension is taken as a given in modern philosophy. The question becomes what we do with this split.

Maritain’s approach is to recognize that in the event of perception, the mind “intuits” that between the two eidetic manifestations of this “split in being,” it is “thinking the same thing.” It is, in effect to will the identity principle:

“Then the mind intuits that in these two functionally different notions it is thinking of the same thing. It sees intuitively the first principle of all which it will formulate thus: each being is what it is. Here ‘each being’ is being given to the mind and ‘what it is‘ is its intelligible determination, being as affirmed by the mind. Being thus, if we may say so, duplicates itself. To its aspect as posited in existence it adds its aspect as intelligibly determined, as an essential quality.”

In an earlier post, I pointed out the necessity of the habitus and the moment of access to ens in quantum ens for comprehending the identity principle in all of its philosophical richness. It is what Maritain thinks makes this willing of the identity principle possible.

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