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2019 | 8 | 2 | 213-227

Article title

Gilson on Philosophy and Civilization


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In his essay “The Role of Philosophy in the History of Civilization” presented at the 6th International Philosophical Congress at Harvard in 1926, Gilson outlined three general trends among historians of philosophy. Some reduce the history of philosophy to study sources and find explanations of the philosophy beyond itself. Others try to go beyond the source of a given philosophy to find the original intuition that generates it. A third position, which Gilson espoused, is ahistorical. It depends neither on society nor on the creative genius of philosophers; it is simply truth. Systems of philosophy are uniquely conditioned by the necessary relations that link the ideas. If philosophies are expressions of an eternal truth, dominating men and societies, which discovers itself progressively by the mediation of philosophers, philosophy is transcendent with regard to every given state of civilization and the worth of a civilization depends upon the extent it participates in truth. Gilson’s conception of philosophy can go far in restoring Western civilization’s loss of confidence in human reason with its resulting pathologies and threats to human freedom today.








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  • Adler-Aquinas Institute, Manitou Springs, CO, USA


  • Fafara, Richard J. “Philosophy and Civilization.” Rocznik Tomistyczny 7 (2018): 53–60.
  • Gilson, Etienne. “Art et métaphysique.” Revue de métaphysique et de morale 23 (1916): 243–267.
  • Gilson, Etienne. “Essai sur la vie intérieure.” Revue philosophique de la France et de l’étranger 89 (1920): 23–78.
  • Gilson, Etienne. Being and Some Philosophers. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1952: second edition; 2016: corrected and enlarged, reprinted with minor corrections.
  • Gilson, Etienne. “La notion de philosophie chrétienne.” Bulletin de la société française de philosophie 31 (21 mars 1931): 37–85.
  • Gilson, Etienne. “Le rôle de la philosophie dans l’histoire de la civilisation.” In Proceedings of the Sixth International Congress of Philosophy, Harvard, 13–17 September 1926, edited by Edgar Sheffield Brightman, 529–535. New York: Green and Company, 1927.
  • Gilson, Etienne. “Remarques sur l’expérience en métaphysique.” In Actes du XIe Congrès internationale de philosophie, Bruxelles, 20–26 août 1953, vol. 4, 5–10. Amsterdam: North Holland, 1953.
  • Gilson, Etienne. The Unity of Philosophical Experience. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1965; 1937: first edition; 1999: reprinted by Ignatius Press, San Francisco, with a “Foreword” by Desmond J. FitzGerald.
  • Gouhier, Henri. “Étienne Gilson Historien et Philosophe.” In Henri Gouhier. Etudes sur l’histoire des idées en France depuis le XVIIe siècle, 159–169. Paris: J. Vrin, 1980.
  • Gouhier, Henri. “L’unité de l’expérience philosophique.” In Henri Gouhier. La philosophie et son histoire, 127–134. Paris: Vrin, 1948.
  • Gouhier, Henri. La vocation de Malebranche. Paris: J. Vrin, 1926.
  • Legutko, Ryszard. “Battle for Europe.” First Things (April 2018). Available online at: https://www.firstthings.com/article/2018/04/battle-for-europe. Accessed Aug. 10, 2018.
  • Maurer, Armand A., C.S.B. “Gilson’s Use of History in Philosophy.” In Thomistic Papers V, edited by Thomas A. Russman, 25–47. Houston: Center for Thomistic Studies, 1990.
  • Pegis, Anton C. “Gilson and Thomism.” Thought 21, no. 3 (1946): 435–454.
  • Prouvost, Géry. “Lettres d’Étienne Gilson à Henri Gouhier.” Revue Thomiste XCIV, no. 3: Autour d’Étienne Gilson: Etudes et documents (Juillet–Septembre 1994): 460–478.

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