An Yves R. Simon Reader
The Philosopher's Calling
An Yves R. Simon Reader is the first collection of texts from the entirety of the philosopher’s work.
French Catholic (and then American) political philosopher Yves R. Simon was a student of Jacques Maritain and one of the most important figures in the revival of Thomism. His work, however, is still little known in English, and there is as yet no English biography of him. In An Yves R. Simon Reader: The Philosopher’s Calling, Michael D. Torre provides an erudite and helpful introduction to Simon’s life and thought. The volume contains selected key texts from all of Simon’s twenty books, half of which were published posthumously, dividing them into three sections. The first fundamentally defends the Aristotelian and Thomistic account of human knowing. The second begins with his groundbreaking discussion of human freedom and ends with his account of practical wisdom. The third then expands this account to cover the chief concerns of his social and political philosophy. The selections are long enough to be substantive and contain sustained and complete arguments. Each selection has its own foreword by an eminent commentator, familiar with Simon’s work, who lays out the necessary context for the reader.
An Yves R. Simon Reader includes sections from several of Simon’s last and most important essays: on sensitive knowledge and on the analogous nature of “act.” It includes a number of excerpts from his justly famous account and defense of democratic government. The hallmarks of his work—his careful conceptual analysis, his genius for finding undervalued examples, and his talent for creating expressions that revivified an outworn idea—are on display throughout. Indeed, as one of the book’s contributors says, Simon touched nothing that he did not adorn. The result is a highly readable introduction to the thought of a key and underappreciated modern philosopher.
Contributors: Michael D. Torre, Jude P. Dougherty, Raymond Dennehy, John C. Cahalan, Steven A. Long, Ralph Nelson, John P. Hittinger, Ralph McInerny, David B. Burrell, CSC, Laurence Berns, Catherine Green, W. David Solomon, V. Bradley Lewis, Joseph W. Koterski, SJ, James V. Schall, SJ, George Anastaplo, Walter J. Nicgorski, John A. Gueguen, Jr., Thomas R. Rourke, Jeanne Heffernan Schindler, and Robert Royal.
An Account of the Reader, by Way of Acknowledgment
Simon’s Works In The Reader: Summary And Guide
Part I. Introduction
1. The Philosophy of Yves R. Simon
Introduction by Michael D. Torre
2. Method in Philosophy
by Jude P. Dougherty
Part II. Knowledge
3. Knowledge as Immanent Action
Introduction by Raymond Dennehy
4. The Distinction of Thing and Object
Introduction by John C. Cahalan
5. Analogy and Metaphysical Knowledge
Introduction by Steven A. Long
6. Sensation and Physical Knowledge
Introduction by Ralph Nelson
7. Knowledge of Persons and Society
Introduction by John P. Hittinger Jr.
8. Moral Knowledge
Introduction by Ralph McInerny
Part III. Freedom
9. Human Freedom
Introduction by David B. Burrell, CSC
10. Human Reason and Will
Introduction by Laurence Berns
11. Good Use and Habitus
Introduction by Catherine Green
12. The Definition of Moral Virtue
Introduction by W. David Solomon
13. Freedom of Intellect
Introduction by V. Bradley Lewis
14. Society and the Formation of Free Persons
Introduction by Joseph W. Koterski, SJ
Part IV. Community
15. Political Society
Introduction by James V. Schall, SJ
16. The Definition of Law
Introduction by George Anastaplo
17. The Common Good and Authority
Introduction by Walter J. Nicgorski
18. Work and Society
Introduction by John A. Gueguen Jr.
19. Economic Justice
Introduction by Thomas R. Rourke
20. Community, Truth, and Culture
Introduction by Jeanne Heffernan Schindler
Epilogue: Problems in International Order
Introduction by Robert Royal
“This is a highly accessible introduction to the profound thought of a first-class mind. Anyone interested in Thomism or the subjects treated by Simon, including freedom, authority, and the common good, will find it very readable.” —Giuseppe Butera, editor of Reading the Cosmos
The center of the Reader is rightly devoted to practical philosophy. It begins with Simon’s no less brilliant analyses of human freedom, in his gem of a book devoted to it. We begin with his account of freedom fully achieved, one that emphasizes the self-determination and self-mastery proper to it. We then take a closer look at the relation between reason and will at the heart of free choice. The “overlap” here is only apparent: what Adler called the “natural freedom of self-determination” (i.e., “freedom of choice”), when rightly used, then leads to what Adler termed the “freedom of self-perfection” (i.e., “terminal freedom” of self-mastery). (To instance this distinction: we can freely choose to enslave ourselves—to a physical addiction or a life of crime, etc.—or we can freely choose to live a life based on the truth, a life that will—in the words of the Apostle John written over the portal of many a university—set us truly free.) We go on to highlight his careful analyses of “use” and “habitus” essential to an account of virtue, and then move on to its careful definition and its contrast with inadequate simulacra often found in contemporary philosophers, ending with the necessary interdependence of the virtues. The second part concludes with analyses of the freedom that is proper to the social and political order.
The analyses with which the second part concludes lead into those of its final section, which detail Simon’s political philosophy. As with Plato and Aristotle, he recognized the inseparability of ethics and politics. Perhaps it is fair to say that no other great contemporary Thomist evinced as deep an interest in politics as Simon. And, from some of his earliest work, on Proudhon, Simon indicated that he was a son of the French revolution and its commitments to liberty, equality, and fraternity. (As he once remarked to Jacques Maritain, he was the only “sans culotte” amongst his many disciples.) There is surely no greater Thomistic account and defense of democracy that his Philosophy of Democratic Government, now justly translated into a number of languages. (Indeed, his may be the finest account of democracy to be found in any contemporary philosopher!) His analyses—especially his original and deeply thoughtful development of Thomas’s account of authority—remain strikingly pertinent to problems that continue to vex contemporary politics. And his insistence both on the virtue of work and on the requirements for economic justice in our present social order are prescient in relation to abiding concerns of recent pontiffs: of Saint John Paul the Great and of Pope Francis. Indeed, as the readings in the Epilogue clearly attest, Simon was that rare philosopher who combined theoretical brilliance with practical acuity and insight.
Simon, then, attempted nothing less than to show that there could be a living and vital Aristotelianism in his and our own day. He labored to show that the careful analyses of Aristotle’s philosophy remained a live option for a contemporary philosopher. He sought to defend his thought (philosophically) in the secular circumstances of his current society and day, thus showing himself to be a true follower of Thomas, who sought to “baptize” his thought (theologically) in the world of faith of his day. Any Aristotelian (beginning with Aristotle himself) recognizes the need to think within a tradition and the futility of trying to start ab novo, and Simon is no exception. Throughout his work, one will find his debt to Jacques Maritain, in particular. To site but a few examples: his use of the distinction between “empiriological” and philosophical analyses of nature or of the idea of “superdetermination” in his account of freedom of choice; or, again, his defense of the existence of practically-practical knowledge and also of the inadequacy of practical philosophy absent a revelation of our present fallen condition and the final happiness offered us in union with God. Through Maritain, Simon also inherited a healthy respect for the commentators of Thomas, whether a Cajetan or a John of St. Thomas. Simon thinks out of this philosophical tradition.
In recognition of his debt to Jacques Maritain, the Reader’s introduction begins with an excerpt from his “co-authored” book Jacques Maritain: Homage in Words and Pictures (1974). This is then followed by his 1958 acceptance (given in its entirety) of the American Catholic Philosophical Association’s Aquinas Medal, a speech from which the title of our Reader is taken.
I have detailed the matter of his philosophical thought; but what is most striking and most important is the form of that thought, the way Simon approached his philosophical vocation; for not only is he here most original, but he also provides a philosophical model for present Thomists. Donald Gallagher—the first President of the American Maritain Association and the well-known author of the first bibliography of Maritain’s works—once characterized Simon in these terms: “Simon is preeminently the philosopher adhering closely to philosophical argument…. [he] is the thinker, the teacher-argumentator, whose discourse in rigorous and careful procedure leads minds to definitive conclusions about reality.” This is surely “spot on”!
He could also have added that he was an exceptional teacher, beloved by his students. He was expert at finding concrete examples to illumine an idea. Who can ever forget the contrast he draws between the indifference of a poor man, who is open to any good just because he has nothing, and the indifference of a rich man, whose wealth frees him to determine whatever good he wants to make his own? This perfectly illustrates the difference between the passive indifference that consists in the ability “to receive a multiplicity of influences” and the active indifference (proper to true freedom) that enables us “to produce a multiplicity of effects.” Or, again, once encountered, who will fail to recall the difference between the virtually unconscious swerve of a man almost asleep at the wheel, before the blur of an animal in the road ahead, and the conscious decision of a man wide awake, who chooses to swerve, thereby risking his own life to avoid a child in the road?: a comparison that again perfectly captures the difference between an Epicurean “indetermination” and the “self-determination” that is properly at the heart of our freedom to choose. Simon also sought to find the right contemporary words to present ancient definitions, in defense of their insightfulness. A perfect example of this is his expression of an “existential readiness to act well” to describe the order to our good proper to moral virtue. Finally, Simon engaged in the hard task of conceptual analysis, always striving for the rigor that is proper to philosophy. This is above all true in his analyses of being and knowledge that he rightly recognized were what crucially separated his Aristotelian thinking from the heirs of Descartes. All of his work is animated by an intense love of the truth and a desire to state the truth accurately. Simon was a “philosopher’s philosopher,” someone it is hard for anyone bitten by the desire for conceptual clarity distinctive to all philosophers not to appreciate, even if he or she may choose to demur on this or that point or honestly acknowledge a different standpoint. In the manner of their philosophizing, Thomists could do worse than to take their cue from Simon.
This intellectual feast, of Simon’s finest work, is what our book sets before its readers.