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18-23 luglio 2004


The Ethical Traditions of Europe and the USA:

Common Roots and Possibilities for Dialogue



Presentation of the book



Yves Simon

La tradizione del diritto naturale: le riflessioni di un filosofo

trans. F. Di Blasi (Thomas: Palermo, 2004)



Anthony O. Simon

Yves R. Simon Institute




I 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.

The 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.

Yet, 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 Science department.  


            Yves 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. .

Simon 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[i]                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.


During 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 contemporary value.  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[ii]  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."[iii]


Before 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.[iv]  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.[v]  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 historical commentary.

Once 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 1939-1941).


In 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 Maritain,  Marc 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."[vi] 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 years.


Maurice 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."[vii]  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 dissertations.

 The 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. 

I 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.


[i]. 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).

[ii]. 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 Massimo, 1981).

[iii]. Ibid., p. 4.

[iv]. 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. 

[v]. 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).

[vi]. 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.

[vii]. Maurice Cranston, "Political Philosophy in Our Time" in The Great Ideas Today (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1975), p. 126.



VII European Seminar of Philosophical Studies



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Università degli Studi di Palermo