Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Religious Studies


Gérard Vallée




The purpose of this study is to show the attunement of Jacques Maritain's social thought to the concrete circumstances of the twentieth century, by explaining how the influence of his critical analysis of modern theory and praxis helped determine the development of his personalism as personalist democracy, i.e. as a prescription for action in the world of today. Previous interpretations of Maritain's social thought have failed to delineate the intention of his project and the questions with which he himself was concerned. Often these interpretations either tend to discuss Maritain exclusively in terms of his allegiance to the Thomist tradition, thereby inviting the accusation that his social thought is exclusivist and anachronistic, or they tend to acknowledge the contemporaneity of his social thought without a proper understanding of his commitment to the past, thereby prompting the criticism that Maritain's social thought is the unrealistic contrivance of a duplicitous mind. The purpose of this study is to point to Maritain's relevance as a contemporary thinker, by directing attention to the questions behind his social thought and to the fundamental purpose of that thought. The influence of Maritain's social critique on the development of his personalism enables us to see both the intention of his social thought and the questions which engendered it. Maritain's social critique emerged from his encounter with the exigencies of the current historical situation. Having experienced modern man's egocentrism, evident in the bourgeois world of the Third Republic in France and later in the aspirations of the totalitarian regimes which brought about the Second World War, end having studied the philosophical basis of ego-centrism in contemporary thought, Maritain was concerned with the question of how to overcome modern man's preoccupation with the self. In addition to this negative appraisal of modernity, he came to appreciate the constructive influence of modern man's acknowledgment of human rights and the attempt to establish democratic forms of polity. Having experienced the intellectual stability and social cohesion evident in Thomism and the Church, and having discovered the basis for this unity in the transcendent orientation of the past; he asked how modern man's quest for autonomy and self fulfillment can be brought into harmony with man's earlier transcendent orientation. The intention of Maritain's social thought was to bring about this harmony through personalist democracy. Maritain's personalism is therefore co-determined by his experience in the world of today and by his intellectual heritage. Personalist democracy is thus a relevant or historically responsible position. The proper understanding of Maritain's intention to bring about harmony between traditional modes of transcendence and the current search for autonomy dispels much of the criticism directed against him. However, there still remains a pronounced generality and abstraction in his social project, indicating the necessity for the further theoretical and practical adjustment of his fundamental purpose. For this reason, both the strength and the weakness of Maritain's position are said to reside in his professed intention to harmonize transcendence and autonomy, for he thereby exhibits his attunement to the exigencies of the present situation while failing, through the immensity of his project, to attend to fine details as demanded by cautious scholarship.

McMaster University Library

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."

Included in

Religion Commons