Archives for posts with tag: Morals

Civilization Is A Conversation

The popular philosopher Stefan Molyneux ( often reminds his audience that “civilization is a conversation. ” I read about the same idea before in a blog article by John C. Wright ( about the Great Books. A philosopher himself, as well as a novelist, Mr Wright is an alumnus of St. John’s College of liberal arts. I gather the school’s Great Books program was inspired from the writings of philosopher Mortimer Adler on “The Great Conversation” and his editing work for the Encyclopaedia Britannica Great Books series.

According to classical philosophers and other classical writers who had to know philosophy as a general foundation for their field, philosophy and science, literature and arts, civilization in a word, is a great conversation, and philosophy is its common language. It began to spread from Greece some six centuries before Christ.

Metaphysics, or philosophy properly so called, is the conversation about the fundamentals of everything that is or may be, especially the “why”, the causes. The “how” is more particularly the domain of empirical sciences and mathematics.

Ethics is the part of philosophy that examines the use of practical reason, or moral conscience. Why is there a sense of right and wrong? Why is conscience attracted to the good and repulsed by evil? Why is happiness connected to the good? These are some of the main questions of moral philosophy.

The moral questions are of course paramount also to religion and theology. Philosophy is the greatest achievement of the human mind unaided by faith, since it derives its information from the senses, external and internal. But the self-revelation of God being at the same time the revelation of man to himself (e. g. John 2:25), the Judaeo-Christian revelation is a very reliable source of information for philosophy, particularly for natural theology (or theodicy) and ethics.

Christian theologians, philosophers, and authors of literary or scientific writings were the ones who kept the conversation ongoing and timeless. It is timeless because philosophia perennis, the common philosophy of humanity (as philosopher Jacques Maritain would say), known also as Aristotelian-Thomism, or classical theist philosophy, is true in all essentials and those essentials are not subject to time. True philosophy is therefore capable of organic, continuous development upon this perennial basis.

Up to the 1960s, every generation educated by learned masters had access to the great works of the past and to a common philosophical framework. Scholars and writers could thus contribute to build on and transmit the intellectual and moral treasure of civilization, the treasure of human wisdom.


Conversation Slows Down

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Summary of Preface to Metaphysics

The following summary of Jacques Maritain’s Preface to Metaphysics – Seven Lectures on Being, with some quotes from a couple other books, is not a scholarly work, so there will be no quotation marks or italics apart from those already in the text. Passages between brackets are my comments or paraphrases.

Being As Such
The object of metaphysics is the knowledge of being as such. Being is the first object attained by every man the instant he begins to think as a rational creature, but at this stage it is a more or less confused perception of the concrete being, enveloped or embodied in sensible things. The metaphysician will consider the essence, or nature, of sensible things by abstracting, or disengaging their intelligible values from particularized objects.

The first operation of the mind is thus to apprehend essences (what is universal, what is the nature of the thing), but the term of knowledge is the actual, existing being, the esse in the strict sense. Thomist philosophy does not stop short at essences. It is to existence itself that the intellect proceeds when it formulates within itself a judgment by composition and division (second operation of the mind) corresponding to what a thing is or is not outside the mind.
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In a conversation about moral philosophy on another blog, someone asked: “Isn’t Christianity all about eudaimonia?” In other words, is Christianity a transcendent eudemonism like, for example, Kant said it was? Jacques Maritain responded on that in his book Moral Philosophy.

Excerpts from Jacques Maritain, Moral Philosophy

Chapter 3 – The Discovery of Ethics – Aristotle

Aristotelian eudemonism
1. […] Eudaimonia is the state of a man in whom human nature and its essential aspirations have attained their complete fulfillment, and attained it in conformity with the true hierarchy of ends proper to that nature. […] It is necessary to find out what the ends of our nature are […] and to discover what kind of good above all others man is made for, the good which is uniquely appropriate to a rational being and through which he achieves the fulfillment of his nature.
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The following text is a reflection on several articles or books I read over the years by Catholic writers concerning the decay of Western civilization, particularly French author André Frossard, a convert from atheism. The three brands of atheism are taken from his writings, but the comments on atheists’ motivations are mine. Like Frossard, I brand myself in my agnostic period as a dumb atheist. Though I never actually doubted God’s existence, I was completely indifferent to spiritual reality for many years. The last paragraphs, on natural and eternal law and fundamental choices, are inspired from Jacques Maritain’s works on moral philosophy. The quote from Leon Bloy is from Maritain’s testimonial to that Christian writer who had a decisive influence on his own conversion to Catholicism.


Twenty years ago we had the historic chance to witness the bankruptcy of the first militant atheist government in the world. It crumbled to dust due to its own degradation. No war, no embargo, no pressure from the outside. It was living on philosophical errors, lies, disinformation and terror and it had silenced or lost to the West its best thinkers and artists. Perestroika and glasnost were intended to improve communism but, when the people caught a glimpse of truths forgotten for seventy years and of the political and social freedom still enjoyed in Western democracies, the grip of the system was gone and it soon died.
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