The “Introduction” to the new Cursus philosophicus thomisticus edition

John Deely, of the University of St Thomas (Houston, TX), worked long and hard to get a reprint of John of St. Thomas’s (Jean Poinsot’s) Cursus philosophicus thomisticus. Thanks to the Georg Olms Verlag, and the editorship of Martin Walter, the thing has been reprinted in a glorious, three-volume set. And Deely, who knows a thing or sixty about John of St. Thomas (link), has kindly shared a PDF of his “Introductory Remarks on the Value of Poinsot’s Work to Philosophy Today.” A selection:

The standard histories of philosophy over the whole of the 20th century have tacitly agreed to give the impression that nothing of value or interest happened in the Latin tradition after the death of William of Ockham. I was first led to see the falsity of this standard view by a reading of Jacques Maritain’s writings on sign, published together in his book Quatre Essais sur l’Esprit dans sa Condition Charnelle (nouvelle edition revue et augmenté; Paris: Alsatia, 1956). In those writings, Maritain directed me to the Tractatus de Signis of John Poinsot, then thoroughly embedded within the hefty volumes of Poinsot’s Cursus Philosophicus.

Mainly interested at the time in the newly developing idea of semiotics as a study of the action of signs, I spent the next fifteen years in preparing Poinsot’s semiotics for presentation as an independent edition, which was published in bilingual format by the University of California Press in 1985. Over the course of that work I came to appreciate the value of Poinsot’s work not only on the sign, but as a whole. For what the Cursus Philosophicus presents us with is nothing less than a careful and complete summation of what philosophy was able to achieve independently and in its own right prior to the advent of science in the modern sense as a complementary intellectual development.

It is true that the period of early modern philosophy approached from its Latin side, rather than from the side of its emergence out of Latin into the national language traditions of classical modern thought, is a dismaying maze of the greatest difficulty to navigate. This is precisely the value of Poinsot’s work as a whole.

Download the PDF here.