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Maréchal, Joseph (1878–1944)


Joseph Maréchal, one of the most original and influential of Neo-Scholastic thinkers, was born at Charleroi, Belgium. He entered the Society of Jesus at the age of seventeen, and between 1895 and 1910, in spite of poor health, he not only successfully completed the long and exacting Jesuit course of studies in the humanities, philosophy, theology, and asceticism but also obtained his doctorate in the natural sciences from the University of Louvain (1905). After the completion of his Jesuit training, during the latter part of which he also taught biology to his younger confreres, he spent some time in Germany studying experimental psychology and psychotherapy. From the outset his main interest centered on the psychology of religious experience and its implications for metaphysics and the critical problem.

After the outbreak of war in 1914 he went to England with his Jesuit students. He did not begin teaching formally at the Jesuit scholasticate in Louvain until 1919. From then until 1935 he conducted courses in psychology, theodicy, and the history of modern philosophy. It was during these years that he published his most important works, the two-volume Études sur la psychologie des mystiques and the First, Second, Third, and Fifth Cahiers of the Point de départ de la métaphysique (the first three are somewhat abridged in his Précis d'histoire de la philosophie moderne ). The Fourth Cahier, Le systéme idéaliste chez Kant et les postkantiens, was published posthumously in 1947 from manuscripts left by the author.

After 1935 and until his death Maréchal ceased teaching and writing, mostly because of poor health but partly because he felt that his work was misunderstood and ineffectual. Concerning "my epistemology," he remarked, "I have never had the means of exposing, orally or by writing, my general conception of the problem of knowledge. The Fifth Cahier states once more this problem in terms of Kant, which retains something artificial demanded by immediate historical antecedents. My definitive position ought to appear only at the end of the Sixth Cahier, in which there remains a new stage to overcome" (Mélanges Maréchal, Vol. I, p. 13; all translations are the author's). Unfortunately, the Sixth Cahier was never published.

In an article, "À propos du Sentiment de presence chez les profanes et chez les mystiques," published in 1908, the year he was ordained a priest, and later reproduced in the first volume of his Études sur la psychologie des mystiques (2nd ed., pp. 67122), Maréchal for the first time indicated the distinctive trend of his philosophical thought. He pointed out that "the judgment of presence properly speaking affirms a spatial relation between a subject and an object," implying their reality, which is conditioned by "(1) a certain unity of mind, realized by (2) the coordination of representations, (3) with the concurrence of feeling" (Études, p. 110). Because the existential judgment cannot be founded solely on sensible experience, in view of sensible illusions, or on subjective feeling, the "psychologists" arbitrarily assume the anteriority of the subjective over objective knowledge, thus creating the pseudocritical problem of the "bridge" from thought to reality, the solution of which is thus prejudiced in favor of idealism. According to Maréchal the terms of the problem should be reversed. A more simple and more logical procedure would be "to posit as a primitive fact the real, affirmation, and the objective and to seek how this fact, in being broken up, gives birth to the secondary notions of the unreal, of doubt, and of the subjective. We shall thus rediscover, with a certain number of modern psychologists and under the impulse of experience, the point of viewvery clear but insufficiently analyzedof ancient Thomistic psychology" (ibid.).

Maréchal's principal work is his Fifth Cahier. The first four cahiers present a historical exposition and critical analysis of the problem of knowledge prior to Immanuel Kant, in Kant, and in post-Kantian transcendental idealism and a "historical demonstration" of the Thomistic solution. A twofold antinomy emerges, of the sensibility and understanding and of the understanding and metaphysical reason. Kant resolved the first antinomy by refuting the exaggerated claims of both the empiricists and the rationalists and by effecting a synthesis of the sensibility and understanding. However, according to Maréchal, Kant failed to resolve the second antinomy because he did not take into consideration the role of finality and intellectual dynamism in objective knowledge, a failure revealed in his Opus Postumum and in Johann Gottlieb Fichte's finalism. Maréchal held that Thomas Aquinas's epistemology virtually contains the solution of the antinomy of the understanding and reason by their effective synthesis in terms of intellectual dynamism (though Thomas himself did not explicitly consider the modern critical problem). Hence, the Fifth Cahier, "Thomisme devant la philosophic critique," presents the Thomistic solution of the critical problem without pretending to present an anachronistic confrontation of Kant and Thomas.

Maréchal agreed with Kant that we have no intellectual intuition of the noumenal, but he denied Kant's conclusion that the noumenal is therefore unknowable to human reason. Even though the human mind is not intuitive, but only abstractive and constructive, in its knowledge, yet in virtue of its innate active dynamism to Absolute Being it attains the noumenal or metaphysical in its synthetic elaboration of the object of knowledge by the "active intellect."

The Fifth Cahier has two main divisions. The first part is an examination, according to the demands of modern criticism, of "the theory of knowledge in the framework of Thomistic metaphysics," which Maréchal aptly termed "a metaphysical critique of the object"; it is preceded by a "critical preamble," in which the author explains Thomas's "universal doubt" and refutation of skepticism. The second part is "a Thomistic critique of knowledge transposed to the transcendental plane" and therefore "a transcendental critique of the object," an attempt to go beyond Kant on the basis of Kant's point of departure and transcendental method, which seeks the a priori conditions of the possibility of the objective contents of human consciousness, viewed precisely as objective.

How does Maréchal's metaphysical critique of the object differ from his transcendental one? Both have as their initial point of departure the object immanent in the mind, the mental content directly revealed in consciousness, what René Descartes called the "objective reality" of the idea. However, according to the metaphysical critique, the presence of the object in the mind is intentional and therefore ontological or noumenal in its signification, whereas according to the transcendental critique there is present to the mind only a phenomenon. From either viewpoint, however, there can be no question but that this immanent object presents (1) a sensible aspect, (2) a conceptual aspect (involving the notes of universality and necessity), and (3) a transcendent aspect inexorably pointing toward Absolute Being. Unlike Kant, scholastic Thomism accepts the objective validity of the third aspect. As we shall presently see, the two critical approaches differ not as regards their philosophical methods but only as regards their formal object. The formal object of the metaphysical critique is being, viewed as being in all its fullness, universality, and necessitynamely, Absolute Being or God; the formal object of the transcendental critique is the phenomenon.

This is not to say that the transcendental method, as understood in too narrow a sense by Kant himself, does not differ from the metaphysical method of Thomism. The transcendental method seeks to determine the a priori conditions of the possibility of the "objective" contents of consciousness. But as Maréchal contended, the most important and salient of these a priori conditions (which Kant failed to recognize) is the intellectual dynamism of the subject, its activity in constructing the immanent object. This is revealed by "transcendental reflection," whereas "transcendental deduction" proves that the object immanent in consciousness cannot be truly "objective" except in terms of this a priori or objectivizing function of the dynamic intellect, whose formal object is Absolute Being. Needless to say, Kant himself never conceived the transcendental method in such a dynamic fashion. Thus, the most basic inconsistency of his methodology, according to Maréchal, is his stated purpose of disclosing by transcendental reflection the purely logical and static a priori conditions of knowledge, whereas, inadvertently or not, his procedure is often psychological and dynamic; he viewed the mind as constructive and synthetic, and therefore as active, but illogically concluded that the only a priori discoverable by transcendental reflection is purely logical, formal, and static. Hence, Maréchal refuted Kant in the first part of Cahier V by applying the transcendental method to the ontological object, thus legitimizing the Thomistic point of departure of metaphysics (namely, that the human mind directly attains the noumenal or intelligible in its necessary judgments), while in the second part he attempted to go beyond Kant's agnostic conclusions by proving the necessity of metaphysics, using this same transcendental method and basing the proof on Kant's own presupposition that the object immanent in consciousness is the phenomenal.

To constitute a noumenal "object in itself," that which is known must be something more than an abstract essence or form in the mind; it must go beyond the domain of form and be related to the sphere of act. An abstract essence can become a possible essence and therefore represent a real essence only when the immanent form becomes an act of the dynamism of the intellect, necessarily relating the abstract form to Absolute Being, as a partial fulfillment of this dynamism.

Maréchal was not maintaining "the ontological parologism" that the proposition "Truth is" is intuitive or analytical; rather, he held that what the discursive and abstractive intellect apprehends is that the connection between truth and being must be affirmed under pain of contradiction, when our intellectual dynamism to Absolute Truth is also apprehended. (The objective validity of our abstractive knowledge is thus assured.) Only the divine intellect is intuitive, but an abstractive intellect is capable of apprehending and reducing an abstracted form, inherent in the potentially intelligible data of sense, to act by virtue of its active dynamical tendency to Pure Act, thus approximating the perfection of the exemplary divine knowledge. Since our intellectual knowledge is not a purely passive reception of abstract forms, the self-consciousness of the synthesizing knowing subject as an intellectual dynamism is the key to Maréchal's doctrine on the objectivization of human knowledge.

Maréchal's distinction between the human intellect viewed as formally cognoscitive and the same intellect viewed as a natural being or entelechy (ut res quaedam naturae ) is very important for an understanding of his epistemology of objectivization. The strictly intentional function of the abstractive intellect, whose formal object is being as such, must be basically identified with the entitative function of the same intellect viewed as a dynamic real tendency to Absolute Being or Truth. It is only in virtue of the intellect viewed as dynamic act that the formally cognoscitive and abstractive intellect can assimilate a representative form as objective being, that is, as a partial fulfillment of the intellect's natural dynamism to the acquisition of all being, the intuition of Being Itself.

Granted the sensible data, it is in the formation of the concept that the synthesizing function of the knowing subject reveals itself. Thus, metaphysical concepts present themselves in our consciousness as universal and necessary and therefore as connoting a relation to Absolute Being; though they may conceptually represent a multiplicity, they necessarily signify a universal, though analogical, unity of being that is intelligible only in terms of Absolute Being. How are we to explain these elements of universality and necessity?

In a Thomistic metaphysical critique of the object, the a priori is not simply a logical function, as in Kant. Rather, it designates, in terms of Maréchal's intellectual dynamism, an a priori that is at once both metaphysical and psychological; for Maréchal the formal object of the intellect as a natural entelechy, or res quaedam naturae, is Absolute Being. On the conscious, elicitive, and formally cognoscitive level, being is necessarily presented as an abstract being as such, but such a representation, Maréchal contended, is possible only because the intellect naturally tends to Absolute Being as its natural entelechy or end on the preconscious and preelicitive level. The substantial unity of the knowing subject makes possible the "conversion to the phantasm," without which it could not make a judgment concerning the concrete individual.

Maréchal's transcendental critique of knowledge can be more readily understood when it is viewed in the light of his posthumously published Fourth Cahier, especially his remarks on Kant's Opus Postumum (pp. 225326) and on Fichte's "Intellectual Intuition of Act or Dynamic Intuition" (pp. 348ff.) and his article "L'aspect dynamique de la méthode transcendentale chez Kant" (Revue Néoscholastique 42 [1939]: 341384). In his analysis of Kant's Opus Postumum ("The Passage from the First Foundations of the Metaphysic of Nature to Physics")which Kant once called his "masterpiece" but which was first published in 1920 by Erich Adickes under the title Kants Opus Postumum, dargestellt und beurteilt Maréchal pointed out that Kant acknowledged that the "form" involved in human knowledge is not merely static or logical but dynamic and real in its implication. This same idea of intellectual dynamism is emphasized by Maréchal's analysis of Fichte's development of Kantianism, so much so that Maréchal has been accused of being too Fichtean and voluntaristic in his application of the Kantian transcendental method to the problem of knowledge. For Fichte, as for Maréchal, the self-reflecting self, the immediate intuition of the self as "a primary fact of consciousness is the sole solid foundation of all philosophy" (Fourth Cahier, p. 349).

See also Descartes, René; Fichte, Johann Gottlieb; Idealism; Kant, Immanuel; Neo-Kantianism; Scotism; Thomas Aquinas, St.; Thomism.


works by marÉchal

Le point de départ de la métaphysique. Leçons sur le développement historique et théorique du problème de la connaissance. 5 vols. Vols. I, II, III, Brugge and Paris, 19221923; Vol. IV, Brussels, 1947; Vol. V, Louvain and Paris, 1926.

Études sur la psychologic des mystiques. 2 vols. Vol. I, Brugge and Paris, 1924; Vol. II, Brussels, 1937. Translated in great part by Algar Thorold as Studies in the Psychology of the Mystics. London: Burns, Oates and Washburne, 1927.

Précis d'histoire de la philosophic moderne, Vol. I: De la renaissance à Kant. Louvain, 1933.

Mélanges Maréchal, Vol. I: Oeuvres. Brussels: Édition Universelle, 1950. Collected articles, with bibliography.

A Maréchal Reader. New York: Herder and Herder, 1970.

George Carver: Savant noir, ancien esclave. 1973.

Proust, prince des humoristes. Paris: Panthéon, 1996.

L'école de papa. Lyon: Editions Bellier, 1998.

Victor Hugo: Dictionnaire de ses idées, ses jugements, seshumeurs. Lyon: Bellier, 1999.

L'enseignement selon les anarchistes. Lyon: Bellier, 2000.

works on marÉchal

Casula, M. Maréchal e Kant. Rome: Fratelli Bocca, 1955.

Gilson, Étienne. Réalisme thomiste et critique de la connaissance, 130155. Paris: J. Vrin, 1939.

Hayen, A. "Un interpréte thomiste du kantisme: Joseph Maréchal." Revue internationale de philosophie (1954): 449469.

Mélanges Maréchal. Vol. II (Paris, 1950), contains additional studies.

James I. Conway, S.J. (1967)

Bibliography updated by Michael J. Farmer (2005)

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