Can We Cultivate the Intuition of Being?

The intuition of being is what Jacques Maritain called the insight into the relationship between essence and existence that is at the heart of the metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas. Maritain was the first Thomist philosopher in the 700 years since the death of St. Thomas to seriously consider the subjective requirements for attaining this intuition of being.

He realized, for example, that metaphysical insight in not nurtured by words alone, but also by a living contact with existing things where an active, attentive silence of the mind allows us to listen to the mystery of existence that all things murmur. He sketched out various kinds of experiences, or encounters with concrete reality, that could have the effect to jar loose the screens of concepts that hinder our metaphysical vision and give us a glimpse of this mystery of existence.

But once we have realized how important these subjective requirements for an insight into existence are, we can go another step. We can ask ourselves how can the intuition of being be cultivated. This is a new question for the world of the metaphysics of St. Thomas, and to help answer it we will probably have to go to other traditions within Christianity and beyond. Perhaps there are ways we can cultivate a simple being with things, an allowing their very isness to soak into us. Perhaps we can create metaphysical koans that will help us to cultivate this insight. The writings of St. Thomas, himself, are filled with highly polished metaphysical gems that are suitable for meditation, and which lead to a metaphysical contemplation of the existence and nature of God.

Such a cultivation of the intuition of being could have a revitalizing effect on Thomist philosophy, for it would help us realize why St. Thomas’ revolutionary insight into the primacy of the act of existing bloomed and faded over the course of the centuries. It is much easier to transmit concepts than the living metaphysical insights that are meant to make them come alive.

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How to contribute to this discussion

Reading: Concrete Approaches to the Intuition of Being