Jacques Maritain Center

Elementary Course



Based on the Principles of
the Best Scholastic Authors

Adapted from the French of
Brother Louis of Poissy


The Brothers of the Christian Schools

O'SHEA & Co.
Entered according to Act of Congress, In the year 1898, by
In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington

Nihil Obstat.


NEW YORK, Aug. 11, 1898.

Table of Contents

Works to Consult.

-- Philosophie suivant les principes de Saint Thomas. Paris, chez Poussielgue.

-- La Philosophie scolastique, exposée et défendue. Paris, chez Gaume.

-- Philosophia christiana cum antiqua et nova comparata. Paris, chez Lethielleux.
-- Manuel de la Philosophie chrétienne. Idem.

-- Institutiones philosophicae ad triennium accommodatae. Romae, ufficio della Civilta Catolica.
-- Elementa ethicae et juris naturae. Idem.
-- Le composé humain. Lyon, chez Briday.
-- Théorie de la connaissance intellectuelle. Paris, chez veuve Casterman.

-- Elementi di filosofias speculativa. Paris, chez Lethielleux.
-- Metafisica della morale. Idem.

-- Essai théorique de droit naturel. Paris, chez veuve Casterman.

-- Estudios sobre la filosofia de S. Thomas. Madrid, imprenta de Lopez.
-- Filosofia elemental. Idem.

-- Traité d'anthropologie physiologique et philosophique. Paris, chez G. Baillière.
-- Summa Philosophica. Lyons, chez Briday.

-- Précis de l'histoire de la philosophie. Paris, chez Hachette.

All these works are worthy of high esteem; but we commend especially those of Liberatore, who was among the first to recall and restore Christian Philosophy, and of Cardinal Zigliara, who is eminently trained and skilled in the teachings of St. Thomas.

To these may be added the following excellent works in English:

-- Metaphysics of the School. London, Macmillan & Co.
-- Manuals of Catholic Philosophy (Stonyhurst Series). New York, Cincinnati, and Chicago, Benziger Bros.

-- Handbook of the History of Philosophy (Pt. I.).

Brief of Our Holy Father, Pope Pius IX.

Dilecto Filio, Fr. Aloisio de Poissy, Congregationis Fratrum Scholarum Christianarum, Biterras.



Si sedulo cavendum est in qualibet arte aut scientia, ne quoquo modo principia deflectant a vero, id maxime profecto curandum est in philosophia earum duce, praesertim vero in tanta errorum colluvie, quae ab ipsius nimirum corruptione manavit.

Gratulamur itaque te, Dilecte Fili, scientiae hujus elementa traditurum, rejectis recentiorum commentis, Angelicum Doctorem et ceteros fuisse sequutum, qui, Ecclesia veritatis magistra praelucente, sapientia et operositate sua philosophiam mirifice illustrarunt; et ex iis deprompsisse doctrinas, quibus mentes fingeres commissorum tibi adolescentium.

Gaudemus autem, Elementarem Cursum Philosophiae Christianae, a te editum, probatum fuisse egregio Episcopo tuo; et cum ipso tibi ominamur, ut illud in plurimorum utilitatem vergat.

Interim vero divini favoris auspicem et paternae Nostrae benevolentiae pignus Apostolicam Benedictionem tibi Dilecte Fili, peramanter impertimus.

Datum Romae apud S. Petrum die 13 Martii, anno 1876, Pontificatus Nostri anno tricesimo.


To our Beloved Son, Brother Louis of Poissy, of the Congregation of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, Beziers.



If in any art or science whatever special care must be taken that principles may in no way conflict with truth, this is above all necessary in philosophy, the queen and moderatrix of the arts and sciences. But especially must we be on our guard in the great flood of errors, of which the corruption of philosophy has been the unfailing source.

We, therefore, congratulate you, Beloved Son, on the manner in which you have treated of the elements of this science. Setting aside the false systems of more recent writers, you have followed the Angelic Doctor and those who, guided by the light of the Church, the Mistress of truth, have, by their wisdom and diligent labor, wonderfully illustrated philosophy. From their works you have drawn the doctrines by which to form the minds of the young men confided to your care.

We are glad that the Elementary Course of Christian Philosophy, which you have published, has received the approbation of a Bishop so distinguished as yours; and with him we earnestly wish that it may prove beneficial to many.

In the meantime, as a presage of the divine favor and a pledge of our paternal love, we very affectionately impart to you, Beloved Son, the Apostolic Benediction.

Given at Rome, at St. Peter's, March 18, 1876, in the thirtieth year of Our Pontificate.


Approbation of the Bishop of Montpellier.

MONTPELLIER, Aug. 15, 1875.

IT is with pleasure that we authorize Brother Louis, Sub-Director of the Boarding-School of Beziers, to publish for the use of his pupils his Course of Christian Philosophy based on the Principles of the best Scholastic Authors, which by our order he submitted to a careful examination. The learned priest to whom we entrusted the revision of the work has returned it with a flattering testimonial of its merit. We shall, therefore, be glad to see it in the hands of the young men of our schools, and to learn that its principles have been made familiar even to the pupils of our first classes. For it is these old philosophical teachings which prepared our fathers to become such good theologians, and which rendered their faith so enlightened and their reasoning so sound.

+ FR. M. ANATOLE, Bp. of Montpellier.

Translator's Preface.

THIS manual of philosophy has been translated into English, with a view to meet the needs of a growing class of youth of both sexes. On all sides they are beset with doubt and error concerning even the primary truths that are the foundation of both science and religion. Their critical position was clearly perceived by the eagle glance of Pope Leo XIII., when he penned his immortal encyclical "Aeterni Patris." The impatient exclamation uttered by a graduate of a noted American University: "I cannot endure philosophy; its professors are ever wrangling about principles," is re-echoed by all who are "carried about with every wind of doctrine." Upon all such the illustrious pontiff who to-day teaches the world from the chair of Peter, has urged the study of the "wisdom of St. Thomas," whose keen analysis of the fundamental principles of philosophy and the opposite errors are an inexhaustible mine for the students of all succeeding ages. In this translation it is hoped that our youth will find a sure vantage ground, whence, as far as time and talent will allow, they may make excursions into the grand and inspiring depths of philosophy.

Such changes have been introduced into the original text and such additions made as the experience of the class-room for some years past, and the phases of thought of the last decade, especially in this country, have rendered either necessary or advisable. With the earnest desire that in the pages of this book may be found a sure guide for the intellect and an ennobling incentive for the will, the work is placed as an offering of love at the feet of Mary Immaculate,

Feast of the Purification, 1893


THE aim of this work is to present, in as brief an outline as possible, a complete course of philosophy. Besides questions of direct utility for examinations, we have endeavored to introduce, at least summarily, many others of real importance, and without which there can be no philosophy properly so called.

A few words will suffice to explain our mode of procedure and the use which may be made of this work. Each paragraph contains an abridged formula intended to be learned verbatim, and a short development which may serve as a basis for the explanation of the professor. The formulas will prove of great utility to the student who takes pains to memorize them: they classify in the mind distinctly and logically all that is indispensably required in philosophy; they render the preparation for an examination easy; and very often they are a brief, precise, and full answer to the questions proposed. The development usually gives in their essential outlines the principal proofs of the foregoing formula. Comparisons, multiplied examples, detailed comments, have been purposely retrenched. We have confined ourselves to simple summaries, which will enable the student to follow and remember the instructions of the professor. Experience has proved that this method, apparently somewhat abstract and barren, is, in reality, very advantageous, since it obliges the student to have recourse to that direct and personal work without which there can be no true intellectual formation.

Some, doubtless, may think that this work introduces questions too difficult for beginners, such, for instance, as ideas, universals, matter and form, space, time, and others, which are attended with serious difficulties even in treatises which deal with them in detail. But, these questions being so important, it seems to us that they cannot be altogether omitted without leaving philosophy destitute of foundation and consistency. This remark applies especially to the treatise on General Metaphysics. In its present concise form, it will, perhaps, be found too abstruse; still we have thought it proper to retain it, though it should prove of no other use than to serve as a summary for those who wish to make a more profound study of the subject.

Another charge may be brought against this course, that of being based on the method and doctrine of the Schoolmen. For we have, in fact, everywhere endeavored faithfully to reproduce the principles of the Thomistic school, as interpreted by Goudin, Sanseverino, Liberatore, Kleutgen, Prisco, Gonzalez, Taparelli, and others, whose text we have often merely summarized and sometimes embodied in full. But this reproach, were it really merited, would be assuredly in our eyes the best eulogy that could be bestowed on this modest work. The Scholastic philosophy, which was adopted during many centuries by all the universities of Europe, and the abandonment of which has been attended with such fatal results, has undeniably in its favor not only the prestige of time and the authority of the greatest geniuses, but that which to the Christian is of more value, the sanction of the Church. Following this philosophy we are sure never to stray from Catholic teaching; while away from it we find only discordant, unsubstantial doctrines, often evidently erroneous or proscribed.

But some may object that we must pay due deference to the necessities of the times, that therefore the wisest course nowadays is, indeed, to avoid manifest errors, but still not to return, at least openly, to these old doctrines, which would expose us to be regarded as not only not progressive but even retrogressive. To this we reply that to reject the false without affirming the true is to leave the mind in suspense, not knowing where to rest; it is to take from it all energy and vitality by depriving it of its proper and necessary element; it is, in fine, to deliver it over without power or defence to the seductions of error.

May this humble work be free from that vagueness, or, rather, absence of doctrine, too often met with in certain elementary works on philosophy; and may it contribute, in its own modest way, to the diffusion of the beautiful and fruitful teachings of Scholastic Philosophy.

Shortly after the publication of the first edition of this work, a Latin translation of it was made at Rome by Mgr. Amoni, canon, at present secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature at Vienna.

We give below the preface of the learned translator:

"I will be brief, kind reader, but I wish that you should know the two principal motives which have led me to consider the publication of this 'Elementary Course of Philosophy' as eminently opportune. First, though distinguished by an admirable brevity, it omits nothing necessary to a full knowledge of the subject; secondly, and this is much more important at the present time, the method of teaching adopted by the French author is conformable to that of the old Schoolmen, and his doctrines agree on all points with those of St. Thomas of Aquin. Now, however little you consider with what earnestness the learned Roman Pontiff Leo XIII. recommends to all the faithful of Jesus Christ the philosophy of the holy Doctor, you will easily understand that, in our day especially, this work merits the preference over all others.

"In fact, if the love of truth should always and everywhere move the minds and hearts of men, and if every one should direct all his efforts to acquiring truth, since its possession constitutes man's happiness, we must apply ourselves so much the more earnestly to the task, now that the war against truth has become more active, and we are exposed to greater danger of falling into error. Although charged during seventeen years with the duty of teaching philosophy to young men, I shall never regret having undertaken this translation, because, in my opinion, there can be found in no other work anything more methodical, more exact, or more useful."

At the time of the publication at Rome of the Latin translation, the Osservatore Romano recommended the work in a lengthy article, from which we extract the following:

"He who desires to procure this work, either for his own use or that of others, must not expect to find therein anything new in matter or form. We assure him, however, that he will find in it a special advantage: it contains an abridged and lucid exposition of all the parts of a sound philosophy -- principles, method, doctrine -- all are conformable to, or rather borrowed from, the most accredited and safe sources, whether ancient or modern, of a sound philosophy. In short, errors are briefly exposed and so successfully refuted as to make young men certain of the truth and competent to defend it against Rationalism and Naturalism, which, in our day more than in any other age, infect society.

"Students of philosophy should feel thankful to the author, as well as to the learned translator, who has favored Italy, and especially institutions of scientific education, with a book entirely safe on all points. It is also extremely useful on account of the principles which it contains and expounds, the matter for reflection which it offers to young men, and the opportunity of making a fuller exposition which it furnishes to professors of philosophy. We believe, in fact, that it is neither useful nor advisable to put into the hands of young students a book which fatigues by its copiousness and the unnecessary difficulties introduced, and which, moreover, renders the oral instruction of the teacher superfluous."

A Vienna journal, the Vaterland, in the issue of April 9, 1882, concludes in these words an article upon the same work, translated by Mgr. Amoni:

"This work, by reason of the richness of matter presented, must take its place among the best works on Christian Philosophy which have appeared in these latter times. We do not possess in German any manual of philosophy which, in 416 pages, contains such a large amount of matter so happily and perfectly elaborated."

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