Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Scholastic’s Bookshelf, Part I

In a belated reply to a reader’s request, and because I suspect other readers might find it useful, here is the first in an intermittent series of posts on some recommended reading for those interested in Neo-Scholastic and Thomistic thought. For the most part I will not mention obvious or recent works, but rather out-of-print or otherwise hard to find books, especially those from the period prior to Vatican II when the Neo-Scholastic tradition was at its height. Nor will I attempt to be exhaustive, but will focus on works which are in some way particularly noteworthy or useful. Many of the books I will mention can be acquired fairly cheaply from online booksellers, though some are more expensive. Some have recently been reissued by publishers specializing in reprinting long out of print books, like Wipf and Stock, Kessinger, or TAN Books. A few are available via Google books or have otherwise been posted somewhere online. All of them are worth tracking down.

In this initial post, I will recommend some reference books and other general works which readers new to the Neo-Scholastic tradition will find invaluable in finding their way around its vast conceptual structure and getting accustomed to its sometimes forbidding and alien technical vocabulary. Future posts will provide reading recommendations vis-à-vis specific subject areas like natural theology, ethics, epistemology and metaphysics, philosophical psychology, logic, dogmatic theology, etc.

General reference:

George F. McLean, ed., An Annotated Bibliography of Philosophy in Catholic Thought 1900-1964

Pietro Parente, Dictionary of Dogmatic Theology

Bernard Wuellner, Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy

Bernard Wuellner, Summary of Scholastic Principles

The McLean volume is an invaluable guide to the Neo-Scholastic philosophical literature of the period prior to Vatican II, essential for those interested in serious research into the system of thought these writers developed and defended. It is divided into subject areas – metaphysics, ethics, natural theology, etc. – and provides useful short descriptions of the contents of most of the books it lists.

The entries in the Parente and Wuellner dictionaries are philosophically and theologically substantive. Wuellner’s Summary is a lengthy and detailed outline of the theses that tend to be held in common by most Neo-Scholastic Thomists in all the main areas of philosophy. While a thorough understanding of the arguments for these various theses requires immersion in the literature, this book provides an invaluable guide to the overall structure of the Thomistic system as most writers in the Neo-Scholastic tradition understand it. It also provides a brief account of those areas with respect to which there is disagreement among Scholastics.

General works on Neo-Scholasticism:

Helen James John, The Thomist Spectrum

Written in the mid-1960s, this book provides a very useful brief account of the various approaches to Thomism prominent up to that time. Particularly useful is the treatment of the differences between Garrigou-Lagrange, Maritain, and Gilson, given that these writers are often mistakenly lumped together by non-Thomists as if they were all saying more or less the same thing (they definitely were not, certainly not on every important issue). Also treated are those approaches to Thomism which emphasize its affinities with Platonism (e.g. Fabro) and “Transcendental Thomism.”

[A very brief treatment of the various approaches to Thomism, but one which pretty much covers all the various schools – and, since more recent, includes some that John's leaves out – can be found at the beginning of Benedict Ashley’s The Way toward Wisdom. Also recent and useful is chapter 1 of Brian Shanley’s The Thomist Tradition. There are of course other recent and more in-depth accounts of the various schools of Thomism. Gerald McCool’s trilogy Nineteenth-Century Scholasticism, From Unity to Pluralism, and The Neo-Thomists is one example, and Fergus Kerr’s After Aquinas is another. These works might be too lengthy and/or idiosyncratic to be helpful to the novice, though they are definitely worth the attention of the more advanced student. (FYI, before long I will be putting up a couple of posts to serve as a brief primer on the various schools of Thomism.)]

Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought

Cardinal Mercier, ed., A Manual of Modern Scholastic Philosophy (in two volumes)

A. D. Sertillanges, Foundations of Thomistic Philosophy

Daniel J. Sullivan, An Introduction to Philosophy: The Perennial Principles of the Classical Realist Tradition

Charles Baschab, Manual of Neo-Scholastic Philosophy

These works provide general treatments of the Neo-Scholastic system which are more in-depth than what is provided by a work like Wuellner’s Summary, though less in-depth than what one will find in a work on (say) metaphysics or natural theology specifically. Garrigou-Lagrange and Mercier were among the most eminent figures of twentieth-century Neo-Scholasticism, and Sertillanges was significant too. Garrigou-Lagrange’s Reality covers dogmatic theology as well as philosophy. (It has recently been reprinted by Ex Fontibus.) The volumes edited by Mercier (pictured above) contain articles by prominent Neo-Scholastic writers of the early twentieth century (including Mercier himself) on each of the main sub-disciplines of philosophy.

Sullivan’s book is the most elementary of the ones listed, but for that reason it is about as clear and accessible an introduction to philosophy written from an Aristotelian-Thomistic POV as you will find. (It has been kept in print in recent years by TAN Books.)

A more recent work providing an overview of philosophy from an Aristotelian-Thomistic perspective is William A. Wallace, The Elements of Philosophy: A Compendium for Philosophers and Theologians.

Finally, some books that are not quite Neo-Scholastic, but still Aristotelian: John Wild’s Introduction to Realistic Philosophy and Mortimer Adler’s Ten Philosophical Mistakes. Wild is an interesting case – a Harvard philosopher who defended a broadly Aristotelian position before moving in the direction of phenomenology and existentialism in the late 1950s. Adler is well-known, of course, as is the book in question. It is not a general introduction to Aristotelian philosophy and it is elementary, but it is a very useful summary of some of the errors Aristotelian and Thomistic philosophers see in some of the characteristic assumptions made and positions taken by modern philosophers.

(Next in the series: Natural theology)


  1. Thanks Ed, I assume that TLS would be on the 'obvious list' :)

  2. Ed,

    So what has become of Neo-Scholastic philosophy since Vatican II? Is it in decline, or out of favor?

  3. I'm glad you mentioned Wallace's Elements of Philosophy. This book is a required text in a natural philosophy course I am taking, and I would that someone had mentioned it earlier! It is a very helpful, if concise, summary of Thomist philosophy that can provide a quick answer when you need one. Thanks for the list.

  4. John Wild's move away from realism broke up his friendship with Henry Veatch.

  5. David: "John Wild's move away from realism broke up his friendship with Henry Veatch."

    I wonder how they would explain the reason why their friendship ended to someone on the street.

  6. Have any idea where I can get a copy of Sertillanges? Been looking all over for it.

  7. I think Tim that we're going to have to go hunting in bookstores that specialize in rare secondhand books for allot of Ed's reccomendations, Loome Books comes highly reccomended from Fr Z

  8. Ex Fontibus also recently reprinted Lagrange's "Grace," which I haven't found anywhere else.


  9. I heard all manuals should be avoided because they "canned" Thomism.

  10. Logic as a Human Instrument by Francis Parker and Henry B. Veatch is one of the greatest logic textbooks ever written. An amazing work.

  11. Also, Sertillanges' Foundations of Thomistic Philosophy is about $200 USD, depending on the venue, but it's all the same vendor in the UK, so apparently only 1 copy is currently on the market.

    At first, I thought it was A.G. Sertillanges, but it's not. A.G. Sertillanges has a book called The Intellectual Life, and is one of the most inspiring works ever written on the intellectual vocation as a focused spiritual life-purpose. I highly recommend it.

  12. Re machinephilosophy: That sounds like Dominican spirituality in general, e.g., Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.'s Three Ages of the Interior Life.

  13. BTW, machinephilosophy, A.G. Sertillanges's book is free online: Intellectual Life

  14. Bernard Wuellner, Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy

    Bernard Wuellner, Summary of Scholastic Principle

    These two books are now reprinted in a very fine edition by Editiones Scholasticae

    See here: http://www.editiones-scholasticae.de/index.php?page=shop.product_details&flypage=flypage.tpl&product_id=350&category_id=31&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=1

    and here: http://www.editiones-scholasticae.de/index.php?page=shop.product_details&flypage=flypage.tpl&product_id=351&category_id=31&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=1

    Available in the US at amazon.com or Transaction Publishers

  15. Are there any version of those bookshelf's that are or tend to have scotist perspective or at least they are more platonic in 'flavour'? non-western scholastic like islamic or jewish would be a great reference too.

    In my knowledge, most books like the new one of Doctor Feser or the other excellent one like 'summary of scholastic principles' of Wuellner dedicates a bit to scotist philosophy but as we all know, they are mostly thomist in form and shape.

  16. aristhomasphilosophyNovember 20, 2014 at 1:33 PM

    Dr. Feser,

    From what I've heard, Mercier's 'A Manual of Modern Scholastic Philosophy' isn't always faithful to Aquinas' thought. For example, some people claim one finds some kantian corruption there. What would you say?