(b. Paris, June 13
- September 19
) was a French Thomistic philosopher
and historian of philosophy
. In 1946 he attained the distinction of being elected an "Immortal" (member) of the French Academy
Born into a French Roman-Catholic
family originally from Burgundy
, Gilson attended the minor seminary
at Notre-Dame-des-Champs, then finished his secondary education at the Lycee Henri IV
. After finishing his military service, during which he began to read René Descartes
, he studied for his licence
(bachelor's degree), focusing on the influence of scholasticism
on Cartesian thought. After studying at the Sorbonne
under Victor Delbos (1862-1916) and Lucien Levy-Bruhl
(1857-1939) and at the Collège de France
under Henri Bergson
, he finished his degree in Philosophy in 1906. In 1907 he married Therese Ravise of Melun, and he taught in the high schools of Bourg-en-Bresse
In 1913, while employed in teaching at the University of Lille, he defended his doctoral dissertation at the University of Paris on "Liberty in Descartes and Theology". His career was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I, as he was drafted into the army as a sergeant. He served on the front and took part in the battle of Verdun as second lieutenant. He was captured in February of 1916 and spent two years in captivity. During this time he devoted himself to new areas of study, including the Russian language and St. Bonaventure. He was later awarded the Croix de Guerre for bravery in action.
In 1919, he became professor of the history of Philosophy at the University of Strasbourg. From 1921 to 1932, he taught the history of medieval philosophy at the University of Paris. Internationally renowned, he also taught for three years at Harvard. At the invitation of the Congregation of St. Basil, he set up the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies in Toronto in conjunction with St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto. In 1951, he relinquished his chair at the Collège de France to devote himself completely to the Medieval Institute until 1968. He was elected to the Académie Française in 1946.
He maintained a deep friendship with the theologian and cardinal, Henri de Lubac, S.J. Their correspondence has been published.
Although primarily a historian of philosophy, he was also one of the leaders of the 20th century revival of Thomism along with Jacques Maritain.
Gilson undertook to analyze Thomism
from a historical perspective. To Gilson, Thomism is certainly not identical with Scholasticism
, but indeed rather a revolt against it. Gilson considered the philosophy of his own era to be deteriorating into a science which would signal man's abdication of the right to judge and rule nature, man made a mere part of nature, which in turn would give the green light for the most reckless of social adventures to play havoc with human lives and institutions. Against "systems" of philosophy, Gilson was convinced that it was the revival of the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas
that opens the way out of that danger zone.
Gilson was a very popular writer, and his many writings on the history of philosophy, especially medieval philosophy, are widely read and discussed today.
- La Liberté chez Descartes et la Théologie, Alcan, 1913.
- Le thomisme, introduction au système de saint Thomas, Vrin, 1919.
- ''Études de philosophie médiévale, Université de Strasbourg, 1921.
- La philosophie au moyen-âge, vol.I : De Scot Erigène à saint Bonaventure, Payot, 1922.
- La philosophie au moyen-âge, vol.II : De saint Thomas d’Aquin à Guillaume d’Occam, Payot, 1922.
- La philosophie de saint Bonaventure, Vrin, 1924.
- René Descartes. Discours de la méthode, texte et commentaire, Vrin, 1925.
- Saint Thomas d’Aquin, Gabalda, 1925.
- Introduction à l’étude de Saint Augustin, Vrin, 1929.
- Études sur le rôle de la pensée médiévale dans la formation du système cartésien, Vrin, 1930.
- L’esprit de la philosophie médiévale, Vrin, 1932.
- Les Idées et les Lettres, Vrin, 1932.
- Pour un ordre catholique, Desclée de Brouwer, 1934.
- La théologie mystique de saint Bernard, Vrin, 1934.
- Le réalisme méthodique, Téqui, 1935.
- Christianisme et philosophie, Vrin, 1936.
- The Unity of Philosophical Experience, Scribner's, 1937.
- Héloïse et Abélard, Vrin, 1938.
- Dante et philosophie, Vrin, 1939.
- Réalisme thomiste et critique de la connaissance, Vrin, 1939.
- Théologie et histoire de la spiritualité, Vrin, 1943.
- Notre démocratie, S.E.R.P., 1947.
- L’être et l’essence, Vrin, 1948.
- Saint Bernard, textes choisis et présentés, Plon, 1949.
- L’École des Muses, Vrin, 1951.
- Jean Duns Scot, introduction à ses positions fondamentales, Vrin, 1952.
- Les métamorphoses de la cité de Dieu, Vrin, 1952.
- Peinture et réalité, Vrin, 1958.
- Le Philosophe et la Théologie, Fayard, 1960.
- Introduction à la philosophie chrétienne, Vrin, 1960.
- La paix de la sagesse, Aquinas, 1960.
- Trois leçons sur le problème de l’existence de Dieu, Divinitas, 1961.
- L’être et Dieu, Revue thomiste, 1962.
- Introduction aux arts du Beau, Vrin, 1963.
- Matières et formes, Vrin, 1965.
- Les tribulations de Sophie, Vrin, 1967.
- La société de masse et sa culture, Vrin, 1967.
- Hommage à Bergson, Vrin, 1967.
- Linguistique et philosophie, Vrin, 1969.
- D’Aristote à Darwin et retour, Vrin, 1971.
- Dante et Béatrice, études dantesques, Vrin, 1974.
- Saint Thomas moraliste, Vrin, 1974.
- L'athéisme difficile, Vrin, 1979