Revue de la B.P.C.                               THÈMES                                  XII/2001






Philosopher at work



 Prof. Ralph Nelson,

 Department of Political Science,

 University of Windsor (Ontario).




Yves Simon, Philosopher at work : Essays by Yves Simon, edited by Anthony O. Simon, Lanhama, Maryland, Rowman and Littlefliel, 1999, pp. Vii-219.



Here is a collection of eight  articles of the late Yves R. Simon[1] edited by his son Anthony. The earliest dates from 1943, the latest from the very year of Simon's death in 1961. Such topics as the vocation of the philosopher, social philosophy, the metaphysics of knowledge, and metaphysics tout court are covered. There is no entry from his important work on moral and political, save for some references in passing. However, this is not intended as a criticism since the articles actually included fit very nice together as exemplifying what Simon saw as the philosopher's task. In Prévoir et savoir (1944), Simon had stressed that the philosopher and the scientist are kindred spirits. Disdainful of literary philosophy, Simon pursued a rigorous knowledge. There is no doubt that his close reasoning requires a steady attention on the part of the reader. I take the study of analogy as a case in point, for in that analysis are illustrated the author's depth, acuteness, subtlety in a striking way. The collection includes a public address, a lecture, three studies previously appearing as chapters in books, and three contributions to learned journals. 


Fittingly, the book begins with an address on the vocation of the philosopher. The situation of the philosopher is not an easy one. Years of reflection are required to deal with philosophical problems often in solitude. Unlike he positive sciences where team-work is common, and even if the philosopher belongs to a tradition or school, he is on his own. Descartes thought that if all thinkers adopted his method, consensus would be likely. The disputes within Cartesianism dissipated that illusion. Given his lot, the philosopher requires certain virtues such as, "the fearless love of truth, ... selflessness, fortitude, and humility" (p. 5). The fact that the greatest philosophical minds are open to criticism should not delude him into a false sense of superiority simply because he sees their defects. And Simon says, if he is fortunate, the philosopher will have satisfaction of sharing his inspiration and demonstrations with others in that joy of friendship that makes all his effort worthwhile.


Is the philosopher a worker? This one of the facets considered in an exercise in defining the kind of work involved in three human activities : manual labour, moral work, and the contemplation of truth. The various kinds of works are marked by being useful and implying motion. Thus philosophical or scientific research qualifies at work. Obviously the subject matter of work differs in the three instances. While research is work, and for those involved in it so consuming that it is easy to lose sight, contemplation as a terminal activity is not work. The aim of this exercise in definition is to preserve the contemplative ideal in an gage dominated by the demiurgical ideal.


In his essay on Jacques Maritain's philosophy of science, Simon not only pays tribute to his old teacher and friend, but indicates his signal contribution to the restoration of Thomistic philosophy in the twentieth century. Recognizing that Maritain had done much for the advancement of the philosophy of nature, Simon focuses on his principal contribution in working out the relation between the philosophical approach to the study of nature, which the rejection of Aristotle by the new physics had not destroyed, and positive science, particularly physics. Noting the bipolar character of the physical object as intelligible and observable, Maritain then argued                                                                           that emphasis may be placed on the ontological, on one hand, or on what he calls the empiriological, on the other. Empiriological intellection is  not mere empiricism. The emphasis is illustrated by a comparison of the different way in which a human being is defined in philosophy and in zoology. Another way of making the point is to state that the ontological analysis is an ascending one, resolving its concepts in being, the positive analysis a descending one, resolving its concepts in the observable. Since empiriological analysis utilizes mental constructs, fictions, entia rationis, this might lead to the conclusion that this provides support for an idealistic justification of positive science, but, according to Simon, Maritain's originality consists in developing a realistic interpretation of positive science. While cooperation between the philosopher and scientist is desirable, the possibility of conflict between two visions of the world remains open.


When the philosopher who is a Christian believer, as was Simon, is called upon to take stock of the relation between reason and faith, he initially passes in review the various doctrines to which he adheres through revelation rather demonstration. He adheres to the mysteries of the Christian religion that embody truth beyond the grasp of the human intellect. He contrasts these truths with those we understand by the natural process of science and reasoning, attaining to the knowledge that God exists. The negative method and the method of analogy allow us to say something about the divine, but the final result is a learned ignorance about God. We realize the limitations of our metaphysical abilities. Turning to Christian faith and the question of authority, Simon uses some of his well-known analyses of authority to identify the kind of authority in belief, and to state "the substitutional character of authority in matters of theoretical assent." (p. 48). He invokes the Pauline formulation of faith. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it was not unusual for philosophers to pass judgment on the reasonableness of Christianity. But if that means a rational establishment of the truths of faith, Simon denies any such ability. All that an be established is that propositions of faith are credible. Beyond philosophy, supernatural theology is in the classical phrase faith seeking understanding. Simon concludes with a valuable set of procedure for theology including its subject matter, use of conceptual analysis, defensive measures, argumentations, and inferential discourse. He also gives reasons why theology in spite of its eminence falls of the scientific state.


The longest selection in this book, about a fourth of the whole, "An Essay on Sensation" is a truly remarkable achievement. It is without doubt the most profound philosophical analysis of sensation in our time. Simon himself refers to the writing of Bertrand Russel and what he has to say about the distinction between sensation and perception and other aspects of problems bearing on the sources of our knowledge in sense experience, but the generalization made about the empirical tradition in England apply as well to Russel's enquiries ; the starting point of the elaboration are impressions. The supposedly radical departure does not go back beyond impressions to the core of sensory experience. This is certainly the case with the classical trio of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. They simply did not adopt a really  point of departure. Simons begins by discussing two kinds of passion : heteronomic and autonomic. Only the latter is appropriate in understanding sensation "Sensation begins where heteronomic passion ends." (p. 62). A second feature of sensation is that it involves immanent, not a transient, action. The third defining feature is that in sensation there is an objective union. Sensation is two-sided in that it refers to a mode of the psyche and to an event. Perhaps the best instance is memory, something we possess, but of an event in the past. Simon suggests t hat certain forms of idealism consist in ignoring or denying this bivalence. The "decisive question is whether the senses ever achieve certain conformity to a real state of affairs." (P. 104).


The last part of the essay on sensation examines the role of sensation in modern theories of sciences (e.g. Duhem, Poincare and others), Simon's answer to the decisive question is the defence of "the experimental absolute" (p. 110). Only in this way is there no need to build a bridge from the purely subjective to the objective.


One might ask what could be more distant from a treatment of sensation than an investigation of the abstruse world of mathematical abstraction. Aside from the technical account of the various kinds of abstraction, the main point in Simon's article is to question the identification of logic and mathematics associated particularly with the name of Bertrand Russel who expounded this thesis in the early years of the twenty century, and never repudiated it. Simon takes the position that even if mathematics is not the science of real quantity, it has its proper truth and cannot be reduced to logic, that is, to mere consistency.


Among English-speaking Thomist the works of James Anderson and Ralph McInerny on analogy are well known. However, the differences between these two philosophers is more noticeable than their similarities. Simon sets out to deal with the problem of analogy by investigating what he calls analogical sets, a particularly apt name for the arrays explicated. Generally educated people are acquainted with the theory of sets in mathematics. Here the concern is with sets of meanings and analogical terms convey several meanings. This is the case whether one refers to analogy of attribution, metaphor, or the analogy of proper proportionality.


This is not of logical interest alone, for "the fundamental concepts of metaphysics are analogical." (139) If analogical abstraction is at issue, the object abstracted "remain diverse in act and consequently the analogue is not, in strict propriety of language, a universal." (p.143) As would be the case with univocal terms (when predicated of different species, a generic term leaves aside differences). There is abstraction by way of confusion; there is multiplicity and an order. This unusual turn of phrase is explained when Simon says that analogical abstraction "proceeds by 'fusing together' the members of a set." (p. 156) The complexity of the concept explains why many reject it in philosophy, impatient with the nuances required in its elaboration.

In the famous instance, so often cited in the literature, the term healthy as applied to body, food, and complexion, the analogy of attribution, the term is properly predicated of the body and than by attribution through causality to the others as cause or effect of a healthy body. The causal relation is key. In the analogy of proper proportionality, being is predicated of the members of set, but while each shares intrinsically in the predicate, each does so in a different way. So there is intrinsicality with diversity, as term stands for "diverse, but not unrelated meanings." (p. 146)

It is not a matter of pure disjunction between attribution and proper proportionality, as some would see it, for in one instance, the set composed of substance and accident, there is a mixture of the two. Other analogical sets mentioned concern the notion of good, evil, life, and relation. It would seem that part of philosophical insight consists in identifying the kinds of notion pertinent to inquiry as to whether they are analogical or univocal and, if analogical, of what kind.

The starting point of the metaphysics of knowledge is "the experience of a diversity between to and to know." (p.173) The opening sentence of the last selection recalls Simon's early treatise, L'ontologie du connaître (1934), only translated into English in 1990. Several of selections falls under that heading. For the most part the final selection is linked to the essay on sensation and reiterates some of its main themes. More is said about the concept of intentionality that has played such an important role in contemporary philosophy. There is a lengthy critique of idealism and a contrast made between L'ouverture à l'univers and the production of just another system. We are reminded that Simon adopted Maritain's lable, le réalisme critique, as his own.





      [1] Yves Simon, Philosopher at work : Essays by Yves Simon, edited by Anthony O. Simon, Lanhama,

        Maryland, Rowman and Littlefliel, 1999, pp. Vii-219.