Presentation of the book
La tradizione del diritto naturale: le riflessioni di un
trans. F. Di Blasi (Thomas: Palermo, 2004)
R. Simon Institute
want to thank Professor Fulvio Di Blasi for not only for having
arranged for the first Italian translation of Yves Simon's
classic work on The Tradition of Natural Law but for so generously making it possible
for me to attend this conference.
original edition of The
Tradition of Natural Law was first published in 1965,
reprinted many times and followed by a paperback edition
with a most illuminating "Introduction" by Russell Hittinger
in 1993. I am
not a trained philosopher, so with all appreciation, I will
defer to Ralph McInerny and Russell Hittinger, both of whom
are authorities on Yves Simon, to comment on the philosophical
value of my father's works and his treatment of Natural Law.
it might be helpful, for those of you unfamiliar with Simon's
life and work, for me to offer a little biographic information
about my father. Interestingly, The
Tradition of Natural Law was not a topic that he chose
out of prolonged professional interest to turn his philosophic
skills to its study.
The book was based on courses given at the Committee
on Social Thought at The University of Chicago.
Those lectures were delivered at the behest of students
at the Committee and of his colleague Professor Leo Strauss
in Chicago's Political
Rene Simon was born on March 14th , 1903 in Cherbourg,
France. The son of August Simon an industrialist, who was
the director of "Éstablissement Simon Frères," the large family
farm implement manufacturing company. His early childhood
was a happy and a privileged one. In contrast, his adolescence
was deeply tragic and scarred. He contracted tuberculosis
of the bone at age twelve and
both his older brothers were infected with tuberculosis
of the lungs. There followed the deaths of both his brothers,
René, who was a brilliant law student in Paris from tuberculosis,
and Jean a pilot shot down over Germany, on the field of honor
in 1917. The illness left him severely handicapped physically
for life. He
was tutored at home for a number of years and then educated
at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, the Sorbonne and the Institut
Catholique de Paris. He studied natural science, economics
and medicine as well as philosophy and initially thought of
pursuing a literary career but a few plays and poems quickly
convinced him he had little talent for creative writing. .
began writing in his very early twenties and despite his handicap
he completed his studies and began teaching in 1930 and made
a powerful entry into the world of philosophy with an impressive
list of articles on both theoretical and practical topics
and by the publication in 1934 of his first two books, Critique
de la connaissance morale, and
Introduction à l'ontologie du connaître
The period between the world wars found him intensely
interested in metaphysics, political and social thought with
a unique dedication to the works Aquinas and Pierre-Joseph
Proudhon. A man of immense social conscience and national
feeling he could rightfully be described as a French patriot,
with all the connotations implied by the term in early twentieth
century France. Even as a child he subjected his playmates
to long patriotic boxcar speeches in the family gardens, always
beginning with-"Citizens of France." His closest friends as
a young man in
France were Olivier Lacombe, (my Godfather) the sanscrit and
Indian scholar later dean at the Sorbonne, Pierre-Henri Simon,
the future literary critic of Le Monde and member of
the Académie française, Jacques de Monleon, and Maurice Coblentz
philosophers and his colleagues at the Institut Catholic,
and above all, Jacques Maritain his teacher and lifelong friend.
His connections and collaborations with Maritain brought him
into personal contact with an astonishing assortment of major
figures of the French intelligentsia ,as well as, a host of
extraordinary young minds who gathered at Jacques and Raissa
Maritain's homes, first in Versailles and then for many years
at Meudon just outside Paris.
the last decade Yves Simon's fame as a master teacher and
thinker has been greatly enhanced, not only because of the
steady stream of posthumous books, translations and articles
but also by the reprinting of nearly all his early works.
He is once again teaching a whole new generation in the same
renowned fashion marked by great lucidity and the ability
to explain profound and complex philosophical problems through
the perceptive use of common everyday examples.
The judgment of so many, over and over again, is that
Simon had a rare genius for teaching philosophy and that Simon's
writings could be read decades ago or ten years hence with
the same profit, having lost little of their modernity and
A non-specialized philosopher by principle, Simon made
major contributions to political philosophy, logic, ethics,
philosophy of science, epistemology and metaphysics as well
as writing on a variety of other topics. An even more important
reason for his lasting and growing influence is the creative
quality of his contributions to many subjects. He had a rare
gift for friendship and was very devoted to his students,-a
devotion they fully returned.
As mention his mentor was Jacques Maritain with whom
he carried on a treasured forty-year friendship and collaboration. Simon's relationship with Maritain has been notably preserved
by a number biographic and philosophic articles and especially
through the publication of his last public lecture. It was
titled "Jacques Maritain Christian Philosopher" and occasioned
by the dedication of the newly founded
Jacques Maritain Center at the University of Notre
Dame. It first
appeared in English then in French in Cahiers Jacques Maritain
No. 11 and in Italian under the title, Omaggio
a Jacques Maritain His
philosophical thinking was indeed formed by Aquinas and Proudhon
but unlike some Thomists of his generation his Thomism internalized
and matured far beyond any narrow strident Thomism. One might
expect that considering his professional dedication to philosophy
that he would have promoted a philosophically center college
educational core program. On the contrary he felt "that
on a college level, not philosophy, but man considered in
the contingencies of his concrete existence should be the
main subject of liberal studies."
coming to the United States in the fall of 1938 as "Visiting
Professor" at the University of Notre Dame he taught
philosophy for eight years at the Institut Catholique of Lille
and was simultaneously the director of a series of weekly
public philosophy lectures at the Institut Catholique of Paris.
A series in which he regularly delivered his own papers. In
addition, he was Secretary General of the Revue de Philosophie
which was sponsored by a consortium of French universities,
and also editor of two book series entitled Cours et Documents
de Philosophie and Les Beaux Voyages d'Autrefois
published by Pierre Téqui in Paris in which he published a
number of books including some by authors like, Maritain,
Etienne Gilson. Georges Desgrippes and Emile Peillaube and
Marcel de Cort Yves
Simon was very active in political and cultural movements
frequently contributing articles and reviews to avant-garde
as well as to conservative journals. For nearly two years
in the twenties he was active in Marc Sangnier's Christian
Democratic league of the Jeune-République which supported
Franco-German reconciliation and the League of Nations during
the years following World War I.
Later, he joined numerous committees dedicated to mediating
the Spanish Civil War and aiding refugees who were pouring
into France and was a prominent signatory of a series of important
political and ethical manifestoes published during the 1930s.
The most important and well known of these manifestos
was "For the Common Good" signed by fifty-two leading
French intellectuals, literary, cultural and political figures.
Simon was also, along with Georges Bernanos, Emmanuel
Mounier, Stanislas Fumet, Gabriel Marcel, François Mauriac
and others, one of the founding members (1937) of and a frequent
contributor to Temps Présent, the influential Parisian
newspaper published after the suppression of Sept its
controversial predecessor. Temps Présent was to suffer
a similar fate at the hands of the Nazi controlled Vichy government.
Having spent a year teaching in Germany during the
early 1930s, he foresaw very early on and with awesome precision
where the Nazi policies would inevitably take Germany, France,
and the world His
passionate reflections of this period, were laid out in many
articles and in three books written during the war: The
Road to Vichy, 1918-1938, The March to Liberation
and The Community of the Free.
Simon believed that France had been defeated from within
and that a major cause was that the French had lost their
understanding of the meaning of authority in democracy and
that conservatives willingly yielded to fascism. "France has
lost its way" he said. He was particularly critical of role
played by the French hierarchy in facilitating the creation
of the Vichy government. Originally written in French these
books were not only quickly translated into English but two
of them were reprinted as revised editions four decades later.
His analysis of l'Action Française remains a classic
established in America he continued his political writings
in journals and newspapers
in defense of liberty, democracy and the efforts of
the Free French and the Allies.
Simon's analysis of the causes of social problems transcends
the specific events to which it was applied.
No philosopher in this century has explained better
than Yves Simon how a free and ordered society depends on
political liberty as a necessary condition complementing legitimate
political authority. No pacifist-he defended the "Just War"
theory of Aquinas but like Maritain he was critical of "preemptive
wars" which as Maritain thought was a "Hitlerian concept"
lacking the condition of "absolute moral certitude" required
for such justification. (See: Maritain to Simon correspondence
the United states he taught philosophy first at the University
of Notre Dame for ten years where he was greatly appreciated
and lovingly accepted into the Notre Dame community of scholars.
In 1946 he began teaching in the Department of Political Science
as well as in the Committee on Social Thought before accepting
in 1948 an invitation from President Robert M. Hutchins to
join the Committee on Social Thought at the University of
Chicago. This interdisciplinary Committee chaired by John
U. Nef, (Economic History) at the time consisted of members
from diverse academic fields including: F.A.Hayek (Economics),
David Grene (Classics), Peter-Heinrich von Blankenhagen, (Archeology-Art
History), Edward A. Shils, (Sociology, Mircea Eliade (Comparative
Religions), Marshall Hodgson, Frank H. Knight, James M. Redfield
(Economics) and Otto von Simson (Art History). These regular
members were supplemented by a ongoing series of distinguished
guest lecturers including: Frank Lloyd, T. S. Eliot, Jacques
Chagall, Mortimer Adler, Alfeo Faggi, John von Neuman, Arnold
Schoenberg, Heinrich Brüning and on and on... It is interesting
to note that Hannah Arendt was appointed to the Committee
on Social Thought in
replacement at Simon's death in 1961. Simon's colleague
from Chicago's department of political science, Hans J. Morgenthau,
wrote that Simon "had a profound impact at both, the University
of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago and that...one
is struck by one quality that distinguishes the whole of Simon's
work: the combination of a profound understanding of the basic
insights of Western philosophy with a vivid experience of
the philosophical problems of the contemporary world.
It is the interaction of these two factors which is
at the root of Simon's originality and importance for contemporary
philosophy." Simon also lectured widely in the United
States, Canada and Mexico. His Charles R. Walgreen Foundation
Lectures delivered at the University of Chicago in 1948 were
the basis for his best-known work in English, Philosophy
of Democratic Government, published by The University
of Chicago Press in 1951, a book which has often been anthologized
and reprinted. It remains a classic work on the modern underpinnings
of democracy highly relevant to the current crises of American
democracy and the problems critically facing the emerging
democracies of Eastern Europe and the Third World. It has
been translated into seven foreign languages from Japanese
in 1955 to Polish in 1993, and will soon appear in Hungarian.
A revised English edition remains in print after fifty-three
Cranston writing from the London School of Economics in 1975
lamented that "the death of Yves R. Simon in 1961 at
the age of fifty-eight robbed the Western world of one of
its most original and distinguished political theorists."
As impressive as this statement is,
Cranston could not have anticipated the full impact
and enhancement of Simon's reputation resulting from the publication
of additional posthumous works, translations, and the reprinting
of his earlier books. Here is the complete posthumous list
to date with more in the offing: A General Theory of Authority;
The Tradition of Natural Law; Freedom and Community; Freedom
of Choice; Traité du Libre Arbitre;
The Great Dialogue of Nature and Space; Work, Society
and Culture; Community of the Free; The Definition
of Moral Virtue; The Road to Vichy, 1918-1938;
An Introduction to Metaphysics of Knowledge; Practical
Knowledge; Philosophy of Democratic Government, Foresight
and Knowledge, Philosopher at Work: Essays by Yves R. Simon
and Critique of Moral Knowledge, recently translated
by Ralph McInerny, not to mention numerous translations
of his articles from the French originals. Now, with so much
previously unavailable material finding its way into print,
renewed scholarship of the range and interest exemplified
by such books as Acquaintance with the Absolute: the Philosophy
of Yves R. Simon, containing studies by Russell Hittinger,
Ralph Nelson, James V. Schall, John F.X. Knasas, Vukan Kuic
and Robert Mulvaney; Yves R. Simon: Real Democracy by
Vukan Kuic; A Conscience as Large as the World, Yves R.
Simon vs. The Catholic Neoconservatives, by Thomas Rourke
have been steadily appearing along with articles and doctoral
expectation then is that these studies will not only introduce
Simon to a new generation but also will encourage other scholars
to develop their own interest. I am currently co-editing with
John Carlson of Creighton University in Nebraska, an Yves
Simon Reader (The Call of Philosophy) which contains
a series of short "introductions" by some twenty scholars
to each sectional topic. It will be published soon by The
Catholic University of America Press.
have also compiled a 100 page annotated "Yves R. Simon: Bibliography
1923-1996," published in Acquaintance with the Absolute:
The Philosophy of Yves R. Simon: Essays and Bibliography (Fordham
University Press, 1998) detailing, books, translations, chapters
in books, articles, selected book reviews, edited book series,
manifestoes, archival materials and selected works on Simon
with cross references and indexes to facilitate research on
his thought. All these materials including dissertations and
theses are available at the Yves R. Simon Institute. A vast
collection of archival materials are also housed at the University
of Notre Dame Hesburgh Library and archives as well as in
their Jacques Maritain Center. A number of other monographs
on aspects of Simon's philosophy are in process and it is
hoped that they will be followed in time by a suitable intellectual
biography. Unlike many philosophers, in the case of Yves R.
Simon his life and his works were intimately linked. The "Philosopher
of the Fighting French" was to become the "Philosopher of
Democracy" and a "Philosopher's Philosopher" but above all
one of the great teachers of our time.
. The French titles of these volumes are, Introduction à l'ontologie du
connaître (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1934,) and Critique de la connaissance morale (Paris: Desclée
de Brouwer, 1934). The English editions are An Introduction to Metaphysics
of Knowledge (New York: Fordham University Press,
1990 and Critique of Moral Knowledge (New York:
Fordham University Press, 2002).
John Howard Griffin and Yves R. Simon, Jacques Maritain:
Homage in Words and Pictures,
Introduction by Anthony O. Simon (Albany, New
York: Magi Book, 1974), p. 3-15. Omaggio
a Jacques Maritain: Parole e Imagini (Milan: Editrice
. The original French editions was, Pour le bien commun: Les Responsabilités
du Chrétien et le moment présent (Paris: Desclée de
Brouwer, 1934). This manifesto was published on 19 April 1934 and
had an important impact on the critical political affairs
of the time. For the English edition see "For the
Common Good: The Christian's Responsibility in the Present
Crisis", trans. with an introduction by Bernard E.
Doering in Notes et Documents (Rome), Vol. 5, No.
20, 1980, pp. 1-20.
. See the original French editions, La Grande crise de la République française:
Observations sur la vie politique des français de 1918-1938
(Montréal: Éditions de L'Arbre, 1941), La Marche
à la délivrance (New York: Éditions de la Maison Française,
1942) and Par delà l'expérience du désespoir (Montréal:
Lucien Parizeau, 1945).
See Hans J. Morgenthau's review of Simon's, Work, Society
and Culture in The Annals of the American Academy
of Political and Social Science, Vol. 411, January
1974, p. 229.
Maurice Cranston, "Political Philosophy in Our Time"
in The Great Ideas Today (Chicago: Encyclopaedia
Britannica, 1975), p. 126.