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Quest for the Absolute: The Philosophical Vision of Joseph Marechal.

Quest for the Absolute: The Philosophical Vision of Joseph Marechal. By Anthony M. Matteo. Dekalb, Ill.: Northern Illinois University, 1992. Pp. xi + 173. $30.

This is a badly needed book. It is the first full-length treatment of Marechal to be published in English. Both Donceel's A Marechal Reader (1970) and Studies in the Psychology of the Mystics (1964) have long been out of print. Matteo's book may help spark a renewal of interest in this formative thinker, one whose achievement and legacy still lack appreciation on this side of the Atlantic. In a theological scene that has been so strongly informed by the spirit of Rahner and Lonergan, the omission is startling. Thus we are fortunate that M. has successded so well in carrying out his basic purpose of surveying the thought of Marechal as found in his five-volume Le Point de depart de la metaphysique, while simultaneously carrecting what he considers a widespread misunderstanding of his "transcendental turn" as ushering in the ruin of Thomistic realism. "Marechal's daring claim is that, even beginning with a subjective starting point (our own content of consciousness) and employing transcendental method, the necessity of objective affirmation or epistemological realism will become manifest" (ix).

M. supports this claim with a thematic overview of Marechal's cahiers. Although such a survey does not seem very enticing in prospect, one reads M.'s prose with pleasure--he writes well and manages to offer much more than a mere scholarly paraphrase of Marechal's arguments. He makes a persuasive case for the importance of Marechal's epic reading of the history of Western metaphysics and epistemology and the heroism (some will say of Quixote's sort) of his attempt to reconcile Thomas with Kant. "The essence of Marcechal's prject was to demonstrate that, with some warranted adjustements, the transcendental method need not necessarily lead to Kant's negative conclusions about metaphysics, nor to the absolute idealism of Kant's successors" (122).

The book follows the historical ordere of the Le Point de depart: the Greeks and medievals; the late medievals, rationalists, empiricists and skeptics; Kant and idealists; the transcendental critique and Thomas. It concludes with a chapter answering the various charges made against Marechal--subjectivism and ontologism--along with suggestions for the way in which Marechal could enter the contemporary philosophical debates. This reader wished that this last chapter, as suggestive as it was, especially in its remarks on the postmodern, could have been expanded and updated. Certainly ther have been important readings of Aquinas since Victor Preller (1967).

But regarding M.'s response to Preller's Aquinas, there is one substantive point that should be mentioned; it has to do with the muchused principle that "natural desire cannot be vain." Preller views this principles as lacking the force of self-evidence, and therefore it cannot be used to posit the existence of ends for which beings have natural tendencies. This seems to be a crucial point in the face of Marechal's reliance on the dynamism of the intellect, but M. argues that he does not "base his affirmation of absolute being, as the final end of our intellectual striving, upon it" (134). It is clear that M. following Donceel, views this argument for the existence of objective being in terms of the logical and psychological necessity of God as an a priori condition of our intellectual striving. Does such a reading support, e.g., the discussion of the supernatural end in Cahie Five (xxxv; Marechal Reader 172-75)? I think it does, but such an instance points out how tricky reading Marechal can be, how important it is to distinguish between his role as a historical commentator and his work as a 20th-century Thomist who could not dismiss the challenge of Kant. M.'s book will send us back to Marechal as better readers encourage us to rethink the relation of Thomism to moderinity. I might add that it could be read by upper division undergraduates and upward.

Fordham University Deal W. Hudson
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Author:Hudson, Deal W.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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