French Philosopher, Thomist and Political Thinker
Jacques Maritain was born on November 18, 1882 in Paris. He studied at the Lycée Henri IV (1898-99) and at the Sorbonne, where he prepared a licence in philosophy (1900-1901) and in the natural sciences (1901-1902). He was initially attracted to the philosophy of Spinoza.
In 1901, Maritain met Raïssa Oumansoff, a fellow student at the Sorbonne and the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants. Both were struck by the spiritual aridity of French intellectual life and made a vow to commit suicide within a year should they not find some answer to the apparent meaninglessness of life. Their teacher Bergson's challenges to the then-dominant positivism sufficed to lead them to give up their thoughts of suicide, and Jacques and Raïssa married in 1904. Soon thereafter, through the influence of the writer Léon Bloy, both Maritains sought baptism in the Roman Catholic Church (1906).
Maritain received his agrégation in philosophy in 1905 and, late in 1906, Jacques and Raïssa left for Heidelberg, where Jacques continued his studies in the natural sciences. They returned to France in the summer of 1908, and it was at this time that Jacques began an intensive study of the writings of Thomas Aquinas.
In 1912, Maritain became professor of philosophy at the Lycée Stanislaus, though he undertook to give lectures at the Institut Catholique de Paris. He became full Professor in 1921 and, in 1928, was appointed to the Chair of Logic and Cosmology, which he held until 1939.
In his early philosophical work (e.g., "La science moderne et la raison," 1910, and La philosophie bergsonienne, 1913), Maritain sought to defend Thomistic philosophy from its Bergsonian and secular opponents. Following brief service in the first world war, Maritain returned to teaching and research. The focus of his philosophical work continued to be the defense of Catholicism and Catholic thought but Maritain also prepared some introductory philosophical texts and his interests expanded to include aesthetics.
By the late 1920s, Maritain's attention began to turn to social issues. He began to develop the principles of a liberal Christian humanism and defense of natural rights.
Maritain's philosophical work during this time was eclectic, with the publication of books on Thomas Aquinas (1930), on religion and culture (1930), on Christian philosophy (1933), on Descartes (1932), on the philosophy of science and epistemology and, perhaps most importantly, on political philosophy. Beginning in 1936, he produced a number of texts, including Humanisme intégral (1936), De la justice politique (1940), Les droits de l'homme et la loi naturelle (1942), Christianisme et démocratie (1943), Principes d'une politique humaniste (1944), La personne et le bien commun (1947), Man and the State, and the posthumously published lectures delivered in August 1950.
Maritain's ideas were especially influential in Latin America and, largely as a result of the `liberal' character of his political philosophy, he increasingly came under attack from both the left and the right, in France and abroad. Lectures in Latin America in 1936 led to him being named as a corresponding member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, but also to being the object of a campaign of vilification.
By the early 1930s Maritain was an established figure in Catholic thought. He was already a frequent visitor to North America and, since 1932, had come annually to the Institute of Mediaeval Studies in Toronto to give courses of lectures. With the outbreak of war at the end of 1939, Maritain decided not to return to France. Following his lectures in Toronto at the beginning of 1940, he moved to the United States, teaching at Princeton University (1941-42) and Columbia (1941-44).
Maritain remained in the United States during the war, where he was active in the war effort. He also continued to lecture and publish on a wide range of subjects -- not only in political philosophy, but in aesthetics, philosophy of education, and metaphysics. Following the liberation of France in the summer of 1944, he was named French ambassador to the Vatican, serving until 1948, but was also actively involved in drafting the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).
In the spring of 1948, Maritain returned to Princeton as Professor Emeritus, though he also lectured at a number of American universities (particularly at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago), and frequently returned to France to give short courses in philosophy -- notably at `L'Eau vive,' in the town of Soisy, near Paris. During this time, in addition to his work in political philosophy, Maritain published on aesthetics, religion, moral philosophy, and the philosophy of history.
In 1960, Maritain and his wife returned to France. Following Raïssa's death later that year, Maritain moved to Toulouse, where he decided to live with a religious order, the Little Brothers of Jesus He died in Toulouse on April 28, 1973. He is buried alongside Raïssa in Kolbsheim (Alsace) France.