Ars Christiane Philosophandi: Étienne Gilson’s Concrete Approach to the Christian Love of Wisdom
Ars Christiane Philosophandi: Étienne Gilson’s Concrete Approach to the Christian Love of WisdomFr. Ronald (Alcuin) H. Hurl, F.H.S., Ph.D. Director: Timothy B. Noone, Ph.D.Due to currents in the history of philosophy many contemporary scholars tend to see philosophy as more of an academic discourse and less as a practical way of life. For this reason when approaching the thought of Gilson many scholars tend to see him as primarily a historian and not as a philosopher mainly because he did not produce a systematic theoretical doctrine. However, Gilson approached philosophy as primarily a way of life and, when viewed in this light, Gilson appears as a life-philosopher whose personal mission was to revive the Catholic philosophical life and thereby revive and bolster Western culture. Our claim then is that the ‘spirit of Gilsonism’ is philosophy as a way of life.The first two parts of this dissertation contextualize Gilson in a post-Enlightenment movement of a return to the philosophical life. In part one we see this movement’s deep roots in both Romanticism and Nietzsche who attempted to live the philosophical life on the model of Diogenes the Cynic. In part two we look at three Nietzsche-inspired paradigms of the philosophical life. Henry Adams exemplifies the medieval model of a life based on a vital tension between faith and reason. Leo Strauss exemplifies the Greek Socratic model of a life of radical questioning. Pierre Hadot—along with Michel Foucault following him—exemplifies the Stoic-Epicurean model of a life of spiritual exercises.In part three we apply Hadot’s distinction between philosophy as a theoretical discourse and philosophy as a way of life to Gilson. This method shows that beginning with his encounter withBergson in 1904 Gilson always approached philosophy more as as a way of life than a set of endorsed propositions. This also reveals that the highpoint of Gilson’s work was the foundation of the PIMS as a veritable ‘school of philosophy’ (much like Plato’s Academy or Alcuin’s schools under Charlemagne) intended to train life-philosophers and transmit Western culture. I conclude that this important cultural mission and its rigorous curriculum makes PIMS possibly one of the most important schools founded in the twentieth century and makes Gilson arguably the most important Catholic philosopher of the twentieth century.
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