On defeated arguments

10 03 2011

Sancrucesis pointed out on this blog a couple of links to Thomist philosopher Charles de Koninck’s interventions to try to make the Catholic Church change its position on artificial contraception before his death in 1965. De Koninck was by no means the most progressivist voice in the Church, and had argued against the growing influence of personalism at the expense of the Thomistic concept of the common good. Why he argued for a change in the Church’s position is for me not as important as how he did it. Unlike most Catholics today, he has very little concern for the human person as taken as a completely separate entity at least in this question. Even here, a sort of argument from “the common good” seems to be primary in de Koninck’s mind.
Read the rest of this entry »

What is philosophy, and who gets to say?

3 01 2011

The attitude of philosophers towards their readers has completely changed. It is no longer the truth they speak, but more rather the reader and the writer who become the principal object of their preoccupation. They themselves confess that they always hope, for their own sake, that the reader will approve of their opinions. What is still more important is that the reader for whom they write is no longer the philosopher, but rather that vague individual called the man of good sense on some occasions, the cultivated man on others, and the general reader on others. Compare that procedure with that of Aristotle or of St. Thomas. The Discourse on Method is essentially a rhetorical work. It was also one of the first appeals to unformed man precisely as he is unformed, an appeal which will some day shine forth in the appeal to the unformed masses insofar as they are unformed.
Read the rest of this entry »

On “convertitis”

1 09 2010

Between Maritain and De Koninck there was, above all, a difference of personality : De Koninck had found his niche in life, the place from which he could do the most for the common good, and though he could and did defend his work and his public function fiercely, he did not believe that this exalted him as a person. In his letters he delighted in adopting the guise of a simple beer-drinking Flemish man. Both he and Maritain were, of course, in fact highly educated European intellectuals (though De Koninck’s thought bears the clear marks of his long sojourn in Québec.) It is hard to imagine Maritain sitting down with his friends around a case of beer and reveling philosophically in the fact that the universe was somehow designed to permit such homely pleasures. For De Koninck, the universe was a source of continuous delight.

Maritain, though he rejected the darker struggles of Pascal and Kierkegaard, came from a more somber protestant background. There is a Calvinist earnestness in Maritain’s writings — a sense that salvation requires our constant attention and effort. The universe is a very serious place. De Koninck thought he would do better to spend a little time laughing at ourselves. This distinction has something to do with Maritain’s view of persons — for the task set for persons is herculean, nothing less than an expansion of content to include the whole universe. De Koninck thought that each of us must do his part, but, after that, humility dictates that much be left for the others and for God to accomplish.

-Leslie Armour, Charles de Koninck, the Common Good and the Human Environment