Books by Etienne Gilson




Methodical Realism: A Handbook for Beginning Realists
Ignatius Press (September 20, 2011)

This short book is a work of one of the 20th century's greatest philosophers and historians of philosophy, Etienne Gilson. The book's title, taken from the first chapter, may sound esoteric but it reflects a common-sense outlook on the world, applied in a "methodical" way. That approach, known as realism, consists in emphasizing the fact that what is real precedes our concepts about it. In contrast to realism stands idealism, which refers to the philosophical outlook that begins with ideas and tries to move from them to things.

Gilson shows how the common-sense notion of realism, though denied by many thinkers, is indispensible for a correct understanding of things -- of what is and how we know what is. He shows the flaws of idealism and he critiques efforts to introduce elements of idealism into realist philosophy ("immediate realism"). At the same time, the author criticizes failures of certain realist philosophers -- including Aristotle -- to be consistent in their own principles and to begin from sound starting points. To these problems, Gilson traces medieval philosophy's failure in the realm of science, which led early modern scientific thinkers of the 17th century unnecessarily to reject even the best of medieval scholastic philosophy.




Dante and Philosophy
Gilson Press (March 4, 2011)



From Aristotle to Darwin & Back Again: A Journey in Final Causality, Species and Evolution

Darwin's theory of evolution remains controversial, even though most scientists, philosophers, and even theologians accept it, in some form, as a well-attested explanation for the variety of organisms. The controversy erupts when the theory is used to try to explain everything, including every aspect of human life, and to deny the role of a Creator or a purpose to life. It is then that philosophers and theologians cry, "Foul!"

The overreaching of many scientists into fields beyond their competence is perhaps explained in part by the loss of an important idea in modern thinking-final causality or purpose. Scientists understandably bracket the idea out of their scientific thinking because they seek natural explanations and other kinds of causes. Yet many of them wrongly conclude from their selective study of the world that final causes do not exist at all and that they have no place in the rational study of life. Likewise, many erroneously assume that philosophy cannot draw upon scientific findings, in light of final causality, to better understand the world and man.

The great philosopher and historian of philosophy Etienne Gilson sets out in this book to show that final causality or purposiveness is an inevitable idea for those who think hard and carefully about the world, including the world of biology. Gilson insists that a completely rational understanding of organisms and biological systems requires the philosophical notion of teleology, the idea that certain kinds of things exist and have ends or purposes the fulfillment of which is linked to their natures. In other words, final causes. His approach relies on philosophical reflection on the facts of science, not upon theology or an appeal to religious authorities such as the Church or the Bible.




The Spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy
In this translation of Etienne Gilson's well known work L'esprit de la philosophie medievale, he undertakes the task of defining the spirit of mediaeval philosophy. Gilson asks whether we can form the concept of a Christian philosophy and, second, whether mediaeval philosophy is not precisely its most adequate historical expression. He maintains that the spirit of mediaeval philosophy is the spirit of Christianity penetrating the Greek tradition, working within it, and drawing out of it a certain view of the world that is specifically Christian. To support his hypothesis, Gilson examines mediaeval thought in its nascent state, at that precise point where the Judeo-Christian graft was inserted into the Hellenic tradition. Gilson's demonstration is purely historical and occasionally theoretical in suggesting how doctrines that satisfied our predecessors for so many centuries may still be found conceivable today.



The Unity of Philosophical Experience
Etienne Gilson The best summary of this book is in the authors words from the forword: "It is the proper aim and scope of the present book to show that the history of philosophy makes philosophical sense, and to define its meaning in regard to the nature of philosophical knowledge itself. For that reason, the various doctrines, as well as the definite parts of these doctrines, which have been taken into account in this volume, should not be considered as arbitrarily selected fragments from some abridged description of the medieval and modern philosophy, but as a series of concrete philosophical experiments especially chosen for their dogmatic significance. Each of them represents a definite attempt to deal with philosophical knowledge according to a certain method, and all of them, taken together, make up a philosophical experience."



God and Philosophy, Second edition



The Christian Philosophy Of St Thomas Aquinas




The Arts of the Beautiful
With his usual lucidity, Etienne Gilson addresses the idea that "art is the making of beauty for beauty's sake." By distinguishing between aesthetics, which promotes art as a form of knowledge, and philosophy, which focuses on the presence of the artist's own talent or genius, Gilson maintains that art belongs to a different category entirely, the category of "making." Gilson's intellectually stimulating meditation on the relation of beauty and art is indispensible to philosophers and artists alike.



Forms and Substances in the Arts (French Literature Series)
An engaging companion piece to THE ARTS OF THE BEAUTIFUL, this volume advances Etienne Gilson's theories about art as a process of "making" by focusing on the substances available to an artist. The basis for his argument is grounded in the distinction between arts concerned with the creation of beauty and arts that are primarily functional. He takes up in turn: architecture, sculpture, painting, music, dance, poetry, and the theater, analyzing in each the basic materials afforded the artist, the possibilities of artistic form, and the means of transformation and creation.



Heloise and Abelard (Ann Arbor Paperbacks)



The Mystical Theology of St Bernard (Cistercian Studies)
In the half century since its first publication in English, this small book has become a classic of medieval theology. Directing his attention to 'perhaps the most neglected aspect' of Cistercian mysticism, the great French medievalist and philosopher Etienne Gilson directs attention to 'that part of [Bernard's] theology on which his mysticism rests', his 'systematics'. Cistercian Publications brings this important book back into print in celebration of the nine-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Saint Bernard, hoping that new generations of scholars will find it food for thought and further research.



History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages



Wisdom and Love in Saint Thomas Aquinas (Aquinas Lecture 16)