French neo-Thomist philosopher.
Born in Paris, a Protestant, Maritain was educated at the Sorbonne and converted to Roman Catholicism in 1906. After further study in Germany, where (among other pursuits) he studied biology under Hans Driesch (1867–1941), he was appointed in 1914 as professor of modern philosophy at the Institut Catholique, Paris. In later life Maritain taught mainly in North America, first in Toronto and from 1948 to 1956 at Princeton.
Maritain began his philosophical life as a follower of Henri Bergson. In 1908, however, he began to study the work of St Thomas Aquinas and found, to his surprise, that he had been a Thomist for many years without being aware of it. Thomist thinking, Maritain realized, had become uncritical, inward-looking, and absurdly traditional. He therefore saw it as his task to instil into Thomism a greater intellectual rigour and to open it up to the twentieth century. Thus in such works as Art et scolastique (1920; translated as Art and Scholasticism, 1962) and Scholasticism in Politics (1940), Maritain attempted to deploy Thomist principles in new areas. He also, in his Les Degrés du savoir (1932; translated as The Degrees of Knowledge, 1959), made an ambitious attempt to incorporate within the traditional Thomist scheme the concepts and processes of modern physics.
Maritain was more than an academic philosopher. He served as French ambassador to the Vatican (1945–48) and later, a strong opponent of the Vatican Council, argued against the neomodernist movement.
Subjects: Philosophy — Religion.