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Political Philosophy: A Thomistic Defense of Democracy

This seminar has been cancelled and will be offered instead at a later date TBD.

Can we have a democratic government in an increasingly post-liberal world?  Must we return to a strict hierarchy if we are to abandon the “liberal experiment” that has rendered increasing ailment in recent decades?  These are not questions with simple or straightforward answers.  To answer them, we would be foolish both to ignore St. Thomas Aquinas and to caricaturize his thought to fit facile solutions.  Thankfully, though under the auspices of a somewhat different world, great Thomistic thinkers have already anticipated the question and can provide us guidance going forward.

The famous saying of Aristotle that man is a political animal does not mean only that man is naturally made to live in society; it also means that man naturally asks to lead a political life and to participate actively in the life of the political community. It is upon this posulate of human nature that political liberties and political rights rest, and particularly the right of suffrage. Perhaps it is easier for men to renounce active participation in political life; in certain cases it may even have happened that they felt happier and freer from care while dwelling in the commonwealth as political slaves, or while passively handing over to the leaders all the care of the management of the community.  But in this case they gave up a privilege proper to their nature, one of those privileges which, in a sense, makes life more difficult and which brings with it a greater or lesser amount of labor, strain and suffering, but which corresponds to human dignity.

Jacques Maritain, The Rights of Man and Natural Law.

Many are familiar with Jacques Maritain, great Thomist author and figure of the twentieth century: a man who wrote on topics far and wide, and strove most of his life to bring a living Thomism into a broader public.  Fewer are familiar with the thought of Yves Simon, scion of Maritain’s approach to understanding St. Thomas, and an adept thinker and careful author in his own right.

Among Simon’s many contributions is his Philosophy of Democratic Government, a work which presents the core insights of Maritain concerning the nature of democracy in a more deeply-rooted scholarly appraisal of St. Thomas, and rife with many additional insights of Simon’s own.  Using this text as our basis, this seminar, taught by Dr. Francisco Plaza, will revisit these twentieth-century thinkers and discern how their thought can help address the troubles of our own times. View the syllabus here. Registration closes June 2.


Discussion Sessions

4:00pm ET

(World times)
Study Topics &

Lecture 1: Christianity and Democracy
» Jacques Maritain, Christianity and Democracy, pages 3 to 63
Lecture 2: General Theory of Government
» Yves Simon, Philosophy of Democratic Government, pages 1 to 71.
Lecture 3: Democratic Freedom
» Yves Simon, Philosophy of Democratic Government, pages 72 to 143.
Lecture 4: Sovereignty in Democracy
» Yves Simon, Philosophy of Democratic Government, pages 144 to 194.

Lecture 5: Democratic Equality
» Yves Simon, Philosophy of Democratic Government, pages 195 to 259.
Lecture 6: Democracy and Technology
» Yves Simon, Philosophy of Democratic Government, pages 260 to 321.
Lecture 7: The Failure of Liberalism
» Patrick Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed, pages 1 to 42; pages to 179 to 198.
Lecture 8: Freedom, Nature, Community, and Democracy
» Yves Simon Reader, pages 134 to 148; pages 267 to 284; pages 289 to 298; pages 399 to 414; pages 433 to 446.

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Trauma, Sorrow, and Beauty: Maritain and Rouault on Art

On 13 April 2023 at 7pm ET, Dr. Thomas Hibbs (see event times around the world) will present the Annual John Deely / Jacques Maritain Lecture for the Deely Project at Saint Vincent College, in Latrobe, PA: “Trauma, Sorrow, and Beauty: Maritain and Rouault on Art” (Zoom link).

In his work on the crisis of the visible in contemporary culture, the philosopher Jean-Luc Marion argues that images typically operate as idols rather than icons. The images we encounter are “proportionate to the expectation of desire.” Such a culture excludes images that would engage us so as to transform our desires and lead us out of ourselves to transcendence. We need more than simply a reorientation of our vision. The new pedagogy of images cannot be straightforward or initially affirmative, since it must make us aware of our disorders, sorrows, and traumas. It will offer hope not through facile transcendence but through otherwise hidden paths at the margins of mainstream civilization. In the philosophy of art of Jacques Maritain and the art of his friend Georges Rouault, images take on the evils and afflictions of this world, its manifold traumas and sorrows, and trace a path toward beauty, gratitude, and joy.

Abstract of the Presentation

Thomas Hibbs is currently the J. Newton Rayzor Sr. Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Baylor University, where he is also Dean Emeritus. Hibbs has published more than 30 scholarly articles and seven scholarly books, including three on the thought of Thomas Aquinas. He has also published two books on film and co-authored a book, Soliloquies, with the Japanese-American artist, Makoto Fujimura. A new book, Theology of Creation, is set to be published in August of 2023 by Notre Dame Press. He also has a book on Justice as Solidarity under contract with Word on Fire publications. Hibbs has published widely in the popular press, with more than 100 reviews and discussion articles on film, theater, art, and higher education in a variety of publications including First Things, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The New Atlantis, The Wall Street Journal, and National Review. He writes regularly for The Dallas Morning News.

About the John Deely / Jacques Maritain Lecture

The Annual John Deely / Jacques Maritain Lecture strives to make better known the work of these two great thinkers in the Poinsot-inspired tradition of Thomistic philosophy. Jacques Maritain wrote many insightful works on art. Indeed, I am reminded (as Dr. Minerd quoted from it recently) of this fascinating passage from “Sign and Symbol”:

in a work of art are found the speculative sign (the work makes manifest something other than it is) and the practical sign (it communicates a stimulation, an appeal); not that the work of art is formally a practical sign; it is rather a speculative sign which by superabundance is virtually practical… In the work of art… we meet with what can be called the direct sign (indicating an object) and the reverse sign (making manifest the subject).

Maritain 1937: “Sign and Symbol” in Ransoming the Time, 253.

Two things catch my attention here. First, the superabundance of the work of art that makes it virtually practical. Second, the notion of the reverse sign, which manifests the subject. I believe one sees this latter clearly in the work of Rouault. Trauma and sorrow appear in his faces. He shows beauty in a certain simplicity. This should be a fascinating lecture and Q&A!

For all those unable to attend in person, the session can be watched live on Zoom: “Trauma, Sorrow, and Beauty: Maritain and Rouault on Art”.

Exploration through Practical Signs

I apologize to the folks at the Lyceum for my long absence!  A new project that I’m beginning with my friend Fr. Cajetan Cuddy will hopefully help me to spin off some of this kind of content as I write on various Thomistic topics online.  But… I realize, also, that I’m not much of a “blogger.”  This is too long-form to be called that.  But, it is somewhat half-baked (perhaps three-quarter-baked), so it’s not quite “an article” either.  Ah, well….

Over here at the Lyceum, there is a great interest in the world of semiotics. And well… Here I find myself back close to the topic of the posting I made last year regarding extrinsic, formal causality and practical signs. For the upcoming annual American Maritain Association conference, I’m going to be giving a paper on the notion of practical signs, as a kind of draft for a chapter in a book I am (slowly….) writing.  I apologize for the conceptual overlap, but I think that an article laying out the theme in an essay by Maritain will be of use to the readers here.

Recovering the Practical Sign

The importance of doing this kind of recovery work regarding this topic is particularly clear to me. Based on conversations I had with our dear John Deely during his last days.  I’m sure a number of the readers here at the Lyceum are aware of the fact that early on in John’s life as an academic he had an important experience reading Maritain’s essay “Sign and Symbol,” published in French in Maritain’s Quatre essais sur l’esprit dans sa condition charnelle and in English in Redeeming the Time.  Although it was not the only factor leading to his later semiotic reflection, it was an important occasional cause that determined his later intellectual work.  In short: if John Deely could miss it, so will (and have) many others. 

Given the love of Deely here at the Lyceum, allow a bit of personal musing to open up this article.  One day at his house in Latrobe, John and I were talking about this or that—wherever his mind wished to traverse during those days when his powers had been hampered by his terminal illness.   As we were talking, I asked him: did you ever write anything explicitly about practical signs in John of St. Thomas?  He was a bit puzzled while trying to recall, and basically could not recount whether or not he did, though he did not believe that he did.

Truth be told, I somewhat expected this answer from him. I already had a sense that I couldn’t find this in his works. But afterwards, I went and checked as much as I could in his texts themselves and by way of a digital search of his works.  Obviously, his oeuvre is massive, so it is always possible that one might easily overlook something that is, in fact, contained somewhere in his works.  However, I could not find any substantive discussion of the topic of signa practica in those express terms and at any lengthy detail.  (It’s implicit in many places, but treatment of this theme in the Cursus theologicus of John of St. Thomas seems lacking.  I welcome any recovery projects that can show me where it is taken up by John in detail.  It would be an important point of continuity between his semiotic project and my own thought.)

Maritain’s “Sign and Symbol”

Thereafter I went back to read “Sign and Symbol” both in English and in French.  I was quite blown away by the central role, played by the topic of practical signification early in the essay, as well as in the lengthy endnotes included with the chapter.  I could not believe that John had overlooked this point, concerning which Maritain goes on at great length in the footnotes to the text.

As I work on this topic, I will be gathering together the various sources that I have stumbled across regarding the notion of practical sign.  Elsewhere, I will develop (in outline) some of the broader history of the language of “practical signs” as found in modern and medieval authors.  Here, in the spirit of connecting things to John Deely’s work, I am merely going to attempt to lay out Maritain’s own use of the term in “Sign and Symbol.”

If you have read this essay by Maritain, you are likely most familiar with the final section, dedicated to the notion of magical signs and “the nocturnal kingdom of the mind.”  In this latter section, Maritain is interested in developing the notion of functional “state” / “status” in order to provide a kind of epistemology of the human mind in a more primitive state, where the imagination (and cogitative power and memory) play a more emphatic role in the elaboration of knowledge than in a civilization in which abstract intellectual discourse has become culturally diffused.  The section is intended to develop certain themes in Lucien Lévy Bruhl and other authors concerned with questions of anthropology, as well as in Bergson’s Two Sources of Morality and Religion. Although this closing section of Maritain’s essay includes some important points regarding practical signs, I will be focusing on his earlier remarks therein, as well as his citations and comments in the end notes to the chapter.

At the start of the essay, Maritain opens with some standard discussion of signs as we find it in John of St. Thomas (Poinsot).  The readers here at the Lyceum are, deeply exposed to this topic, so I’m going to presume that you are at least generally aware of the important general outlines of Poinsot’s semiotics, especially as found in the Material Logic.  If I would point out one additional element, that is rather important here, Maritain notes how the (vicarious) objective causality involved in signs involves a kind of new mode or presence, the presence of knowability: through and in signs, precisely in their role of being signs, that which is signified becomes present, in a new manner of existing (p. 193).  Interesting developments of this theme can be found also in Maritain’s essay on language, found in the latter’s definitive form in the edition put together by Deely.  Through and in signs, other beings are themselves present, though in alio modo esse, through a cognitional (intentional-objective) presence.

Definition of the Practical Sign

Now, what is it that is signified by practical signs?  Action. For our purposes right now: human action involving above all the practical intellect, which judges and commands concerning the order that a human will should and must have in its activity.   Here it is important to note that technically the will plays an important role in constituting practical signs.  (So important is this factor that some, like Bl. Duns Scotus, would even go so far as to say—incorrectly to the Thomist’s eyes—that there are certain relations created by the will.) Nonetheless, insofar as the object of the practical intellect “is a known object, is something to be put into existence, something to be made concrete in action” (p. 195), the will plays a special role in the objectivity of practical signs.  Practical signs are destined to manifest “an intention of the intellect and the will” (197).  In other words, such signs are those which are used by the intellect in practical knowledge—whether artistic or moral—and are those signs which derive from the practical intellect’s activity (p. 197), which is destined, by its very nature, to be the (extrinsic-formal) source of the very intelligibility of the will.

So, practical signs are used by the practical intellect and also derive from its activity.  Thus, everywhere that there is human activity, we could say that the intelligibility of moral reasoning (and technical-artistic reasoning as well…) leaves an entire train of intelligibility in its wake.  You might think, for example, of something as simple as the plants that are sitting in the bay window of my office. They were put together by my mother-in-law for my kids to have something to watch grow as we enter spring this year. Technically, those plants have their own intelligibilities that can be manifested to intellects that are prepared to see such data.  However, we can also understand these plants as calling to mind the moral choice (and command) effected by my mother-in-law.   In other words, the planter (constituted as a kind of “moral whole”) can bring to mind something other than itself: not merely my mother-in-law, not merely other plants, but an act of human moral-intellection and freedom.  And what is more, this kind of sign represents a sort of “invitation” for my own moral intellection: “go and do likewise.”  In other words, we can apprehend the little planter as having a unified moral species, being as it is the embodiment of a past action.  It is not merely a physical specimen.  It is a moral specimen, and it signifies something other than itself, namely a particular kind of beauty-infused generosity toward by children.

Now, in “Sign and Symbol,” Maritain notes both natural-practical signs and conventional ones.  (One cannot help but think of Thomas Reid here, but ultimately Maritain is doing something much more speculatively grounded.)  Natural signs would include, he says, things like “gestures of supplication and command; smiles and glances laden with some intention or other,” etc.. (There are important connections here to what John Deely says, in Introducing Semiotics, about the various “entia rationis” that are formed by animals’ powers of estimation.)   Among conventional signs, Maritain includes “signs employed for the control of traffic or to aid navigation; gestures and formulas for taking oaths; military insignia; religious rites; etc.” (p. 197). (Here too, related topics can be found in Introducing Semiotics, and peppered all throughout Deely’s works.  Moreover, too, there are some examples of interest in the works of sacramental theology by Louis Billot, whose theory of sacramental causality is, however, problematic.)

Causality of the Practical Sign

At this point, however, it is very important not to commit the error that one finds all too often in more-superficial accounts of what practical signs are.  Under pressure from the needs of sacramental theology, especially regarding sacraments in the Christian order (in contrast, for example, to “sacraments of the Old Law”), quicker summaries of the divisions of sign will tend to ambiguously slur together sign-causality (which is “vicarious objective causality”) and efficient causality.  A good example of this can be found in the relatively schematic and sketched-out words of the 16th-17th century Irish-Bohemian Franciscan Friar Francis O’Devlin: “A speculative sign is that which causes its significate [in knowledge], as smoke in relation to fire and words in relation to things.  A practical sign is one that together causes and signifies, as the sacraments in relation to grace” (Philosophia Scoto-Aristotelica Universa [1710, p. 450]).

Or, in a more rigorously structured form, consider the following objection and response in John of St. Thomas’s Cursus theologicus.  In the argument he proposes against his own position, it is denied that the notion of sacrament as such (thus in its broadest acceptation, including more than the sacraments of the New Law) would be a practical sign, for this would seem, the “interlocutor” says, to foist efficient causality even on to sacraments of the Old Law, which, in fact, did not themselves involve efficient causal power. They did not of themselves confer such grace but, instead, merely signified the salvation that was to come in Christ (see ST III, q. 62, a. 6; q. 60, a. 2, ad 2; q. 61, a. 3).  They were be external signs of the internal working of God; however, they were not (according to the Thomist jargon), separated efficient-causal instruments of the Incarnate Word.

We are not here concerned with the details of the scholastic-theological theories of sacramental causality but, instead, with the particular claims regarding practical signs deployed in such debates.  Thus, Poinsot presents to himself this objection:

The notion of practical sign consists precisely in the fact that it brings about what it signifies (efficiat id quod significat).  However, not all sacraments bring about what they signify. Therefore, not all of them are practical signs.  The major premise of this argument is proven as follows: if a practical [sign] does not bring about what it signifies, it is, then to be numbered among speculative signs (invenitur in speculativis signis). Therefore, it is necessary that it involves something more than merely representing what it signifies; now, this additional element is to effect, that is, practically bring about (practicare) and enact (operari) that which it signifies.  Thus, it is necessary that a practical sign bring about what it signifies, for otherwise it is not clear what the notion of “practical” involves in such signs (Cursus theologicus, vol. 9 [Vivès], q. 60, disp. 22, a. 2, no. 116).

To this Poinsot responds, retaining the notion of practical sign for all sacraments, whether of the “law of nature” (outside of the Mosaic Covenant), the “Old Law,” or the “New Law”:

That a practical sign brings about what it signifies must not be understood as referring to physical and productive efficacy in esse (for this is not required for the notion of that which is practical) but rather refers to a quasi-moral efficacy—that is, a causality directing and ordering to an end.   And thus, the fact that a practical sign brings about what it signifies cannot involve something different than what holds true for the practical intellect.  Now, just as the practical intellect does not need to productively bring about something in order that it be practical but, rather, does so, as it were, by ordering and directing (and according to a moral ratio), the same holds true for the sign derived from practical intellection.  Thus, when a given sign is practical, this consists in the fact that it signifies, though not having representation as its end but, rather, sanctification or a holy work (opus sanctitatis).  However, that it bring about what it signifies and have [this] as its end is not of the essence of precisely what it is to be practical sign (non est de essential practice ut practicum est), though it is possible that such causality be found with it (ibid., no. 117).

Pushing the point, however, the objector says that such moral causality must, nonetheless, be in the genus of efficient causality:

A moral cause is truly efficacious.  Now, the practical intellect is concerned with deeds as its end, precisely as a moral cause, for it morally brings about what it signifies.  Therefore, by being practical, it is to be placed in the genus of efficient causality, at least morally.   Thus, just as it is of the essence of the sacrament to be a practical sign, it will also be of the essence of a sacrament to be a cause, and thus placed in the genus of efficient causality, at least moral efficient causality (ibid., no. 118).

In response to this:

Absolutely speaking, it does not belong to the nature of that which is practical that it be the moral cause of its object.  For as St. Thomas says in ST I, q. 14, a. 16, God has, simply speaking, practical knowledge of evils, but is not said to be the moral cause of evil.  Therefore, it suffices that the practical intellect order its object to a given work and not come to its end in knowledge of a reality, having it as its end.  However, it does not require that such ordering function as a cause in the manner of an efficient-causal principal but, rather, as ordering to an end that is a work, whether or not from this fact it is said to cause the latter (ibid. no. 119).

Thus, by way of summary, we might take his remarks earlier in the disputation in question:

The ratio of practical sign merely requires that it signify its significate as something to be given in practice, not by the causality of the sign itself but by the causality of another cause, though signified by this sign. For the ratio of sign merely requires the signifying of causation, not the causing of that which is signified. In other words, it suffices that it signify a reality not precisely so that it be represented or precisely as it is representable [as would be the case in speculative signs] but, instead, as it is caused and given [through practical agency] (ibid., no. 83).


The ratio of practical sign does not come from the fact it would exercise efficacy precisely because of its very nature as a sign (ex ipsa ratione signi), as though it had in itself the power of effecting but, rather, that is ordered to a work as to its principal end, whether this work is brought about by means of a power communicated to the sign itself, or joined to it from without, that is, by means of a disposition by the one who uses it, or something similar, as was explained earlier, especially since it is not of the nature of the practical intellect that it should have efficiency in the external object itself (ibid., no. 43; on the last point, cf. nos. 119–120).

Therefore, the point is clear: efficient causality is one thing, signifying causality is another.  And no matter how much one increases the force of the vicarious objective causality of signs, one will not get, from the causality of signs precisely as signs, a causality belonging to a different genus of causality. Although someone like Louis Billot, SJ had much of interest to indicate regarding the way that practical signs can, for example, bestow particular ranks and functions upon those designated by those signs (cf. Billot, De ecclesiae sacramentis [1914], 66ff), nonetheless, his solution, which posits a kind of half-way house of “intentional” causality seems to buy its sacramental causality on the sly, by trying to fuse together aspects of vicarious objective causality and efficient causality into a kind of hybrid. (On this topic, see Maquart, “De la causalité du signe: Réflexions sur la valeur philosophique d’une explication théologique.”)

Now, all that has been said here is summarized well by Maritain in “Sign and Symbol”:

In order to be practical, the intellect does not need to be drawn outside its proper limits as intellect.  It is within these limits, remaining intellect and without passing over to nervous motor influx that the intellect exercises its practical functions and deserves to be practical.

So also, in order to be practical the sign does not need to be drawn outside its proper limits as sign and thus become an efficient cause.  It is by remaining within the genus proper to signs (formal causality) that it exercises a practical function and deserves to be called practical: as making manifesting not precisely a thing but an intention and a direction of the practical intellect.  It is not as itself causing or operating something that the sign is active; it is as conducting or directing the operation by which the thing signified is produced or caused (Maritain, “Sign and Symbol,” 197).

For the purposes of this “article”, I will leave things here. As I keep writing, I will put together the various sources that are implicit in much of what I have said. There are a number of exegetical, historical, and philosophically speculative issues involved in these matters. They are of pivotal importance for articulating the nature of cultural realities. It is a great disappointment that the topic has not been discussed in any significant detail in the Thomist mainstream. Let us at least hope that those of us who take John Deely as a kind of master will do him the homage of filling out this important aspect of our day-to-day life amid the activity of the semiotic animal that is man.

Note from Dr. Kemple: if you are interested in John Poinsot’s semiotic, sign up for this seminar!

[2022 Summer] An Introduction to the Philosophy of Culture

As the world grew into and through modernity, and technology shrank the distances between centers of civilization, the very nature of culture itself became an explicit philosophical question: most especially when technology produced in the wider reaches of communication something akin to a “global consciousness”: an awareness of people and their cultures all across the world. But all too often, this awareness of culture has not resulted in an understanding of culture—and thus, this has extended into a mistreatment of cultural goods.

A new civilisation is always being made: the state of affairs that we enjoy today illustrates what happens to the aspirations of each age for a better one. The most important question that we can ask, is whether there is any permanent standard, by which we can compare one civilisation with another, and by which we can make some guess at the improvement or decline of our own. We have to admit, in comparing one civilisation with another, and in comparing the different stages of our own, that no one society and no one age of it realises all the values of civilisation. Not all of these values may be compatible with each other: what is at least as certain is that in realising some we lose the appreciation of others. Nevertheless, we can distinguish between higher and lower cultures; we can distinguish between advance and retrogression. We can assert with some confidence that our own period is one of decline; that the standards of culture are lower than they were fifty years ago; and that the evidences of this decline are visible in every department of human activity. I see no reason why the decay of culture should not proceed much further, and why we may not even anticipate a period, of some duration, of which it is possible to say that it will have no culture.

T.S. Eliot 1948: Notes Toward a Definition of Culture.

In this seminar, we shall introduce the philosophy of culture, defining what culture is and where the study of culture fits into philosophy. We will then explore how there exists a speculative dimension to the philosophy of culture (i.e., explaining how culture exists in reality through human subjectivity and how it is determined by human nature), as well as a practical dimension (i.e., cultural values). After establishing the principles of this study, we will then look to its application to Western culture, in particular, the transition between the three major epochs of antiquity, the Middle Ages, and modernity. We will then analyze modern culture in particular with an eye toward its trajectory into the next age. Finally, we shall conclude with a practical examination of what the philosophy of culture (as we have studied throughout the course) tells us about the present age and our expectations in this life.

June 4—30 July
Saturdays, 2:00-3:00pm ET /
6:00-7:00pm UTC

Lyceum Institute digital platform run on Microsoft Teams

In this seminar, lasting 8 weeks (with a break at the halfway point—see here for more information on all Lyceum Institute seminars), we will engage a broad range of literature discussing the nature, praxis, and historical epochs of culture in the Western world as well as cast an eye toward its future. The instructor for this seminar is Francisco Plaza, PhD, Faculty Fellow of the Lyceum Institute. You can read more about Dr. Plaza here.

Lyceum Institute seminar costs are structured on a principle of financial subsidiarity. There are three payment levels, priced according to likely levels of income. If you wish to take a seminar but cannot afford the suggested rate, it is acceptable to sign up at a less-expensive level. The idea is: pay what you can. Those who can pay more, should, so that those who cannot pay as much, need not. Lyceum Institute members receive a further discount (see here for details).

One payment covers all 8 weeks.

[2022Su-A] Philosophy of Culture – Participant

Recommended for those who are currently students or with part-time employment.


[2022Su-A] Philosophy of Culture – Patron

Recommended for those in professions that do not pay as well as they ought and for whom continued education is especially important (including professors and clergy).


[2022Su-A] Philosophy of Culture – Benefactor

Recommended for those with fulltime employment in well-paying professions and sufficient resources to provide a little more.


The Problem of Christian Philosophy

In the second of the Lyceum Institute Colloquia in 2022, we present Dr. James Capehart, who brings us discussion of Christian Philosophy as it has been viewed in the Christian Middle Ages as well as transmitted through the debates of the 20th century.

How in fact is Christian philosophy a problem? The wording itself has proven to be the most problematic. Can there be a philosophy that is truly Christian? Does “Christian” specifically differentiate “philosophy”? Does that turn it into a theology? Given the existence of numerous volumes of Christian works of theology, can we say that any of their contents should be called philosophical? Is any of that content unique to Christian thinkers?

The Problem of Christian Philosophy – Preview

Dr. Capehart’s lecture is now available at the Lyceum Institute. The live question and answer session will be held on 14 May 2022 (Saturday) at 6:00pm ET. Colloquia lectures are released the year after publication at the Lyceum, and Q&A sessions are reserved for members. For information on signing up for the Lyceum, see here.

How to be a Contemporary Thomist: The Case of Marshall McLuhan

The colloquium lecture delivered in November 2020 by Adam Pugen, PhD “How to be a Contemporary Thomist: The Case of Marshall McLuhan” is now available to the public. You can listen or download below (full lecture at the bottom). Please consider supporting the Lyceum Institute if you enjoy this lecture! The Lyceum Institute is currently fundraising for 2022 to support the pursuit of philosophy and dedicated thinkers like Dr. Pugen in their research, teaching, and publications.

How to be a Contemporary Thomist: The Case of Marshall McLuhan

Dr. Adam Pugen

Preview – Dr. Adam Pugen: How to be a Contemporary Thomist: The Case of Marshall McLuahn

In the fifth of the Lyceum Institute Colloquia, we present our own Adam Pugen, PhD, who brings us a discussion of Marshall McLuhan–who, despite his popularity as a “media guru”, was more fundamentally and consciously a Thomist–a discussion ranging through the influences of Chesterton, New Criticism, Jacques Maritain, analogy and metaphor, the Trivium (especially the deepening and expansion of grammar), and all this aimed at the meaning of what it is to truly be a Thomist in our own times. Not merely incidental but integral to true contemporary Thomism is the wrestling with our techno-media environments–and conversely, to understand in depth McLuhan’s own “medium is the message”, we must understand the Thomistic roots of his thinking.

Full Lecture

If you enjoyed this lecture, please consider supporting the Lyceum Institute with a small donation.

Fall Seminars

The Lyceum Institute Fall Seminars will begin the first week of October. Brief descriptions and links with more details and enrollment options are below below.

More than Aesthetics: Ens Artificiale & the Philosophy of Art [REGISTER]

Matthew Minerd

What is the being of a work of art?  What is the nature of “poetic” knowledge, the experience of the artisan and the artist?  How should a Thomist speak about these matters?  This lecture series is devoted to these questions, taking as their principal guide, Jacques Maritain, who probed these questions in his works Art and Scholasticism, Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry, and Art and Poetry.  Other thinkers will be consulted along the way, presenting a synthesis which, however, uses Maritain’s texts as the primary guiding thread of the lecture discussion. [REGISTER]

Thomistic Psychology: The Meaning of Evil [REGISTER]

Kirk Kanzelberger

Every human being has some notion of evil, vague though it may be, as that which is opposed to a good:  the good that one desires, the good that one honors – or, perhaps, the good that one wishes one honored or desired more than one does.  Even those who lack an inclination to deeper questioning concerning the matter and the meaning of evil can nevertheless find themselves possessed with anger at states of affairs, ideas, and other persons they clearly judge to be evil.  Might there be some relation of dependence between the lack of deeper questioning and the frenzy of the anger, as well as the lack of humility it evinces?  For if we are honest, we must admit that, despite every good intention, we ourselves have some share in, and make some concrete contribution to, the mysterious reality of evil in the world.  This seminar aims to deepen our questioning concerning the meaning, that is, the intelligible reality signified by the term evil. [REGISTER HERE]

Metaphysics: God [REGISTER]

Brian Kemple

In the second Metaphysics seminar, we will engage in a deep Thomistic discussion of the intelligible discovery of the existence of God and the justifiable inferences which may be made concerning the Divine Nature.  This stands in corresponding opposition to the via resolutionis secundum rationem discussed in the first Metaphysics seminar, concerning the discovery of ens inquantum ens, as the via resolutionis secundum rem—according to the thing, according to the existential cause.  This will unfold further into a consideration of the attributes of the Divine which may be justly inferred from the resolution to a First Cause.  Thus, the primary reading for the course will be from the Prima pars of the Summa theologiae. [REGISTER HERE]

Lyceum Schedule [9/5-9/11]

Quaestiones Disputatae – Inquirere & Defensio

There are two available September sessions for Inquirere & Defensio in the Quaestiones Disputatae program. Members are encouraged to participate as Observers, Inquirers, or Defenders.

Fall Seminars

Fall 2021 Seminars are now available to sign up (follow the link for Syllabi).  Hard to believe we’re already approaching the last quarter of the year! Announcing our Fall Seminars, discussion sessions starting from October 2 and running until November 20. Members of the Lyceum Institute are free to participate for the first week (the enrollment period for members will be from September 25–9 October). Non-members can enroll from now until October 6.

[2021 Fall] Thomistic Psychology: The Meaning of Evil – Dr. Kirk Kanzelberger

Every human being has some notion of evil as that which is opposed to a good: the good that one desires, the good that one honors – or, perhaps, the good that one wishes one honored or desired more than one does. Even persons who might consider themselves at quite home with the official or trendy relativisms of the day frequently find themselves possessed with anger at states of affairs, ideas, and other persons they clearly judge to be evil. Might not the frenzy of the anger, as well as the lack of humility it evinces, suggest a deeper questioning? For if we are honest, we must admit that, despite every good intention, we ourselves have some share in the mysterious reality of evil in the world.

[2021 Fall] Metaphysics: The Existence, Nature, and Intelligibility of God – Dr. Brian Kemple

“In my opinion,” Umberto Eco once said, “it’s religion that produces God, not the other way around.” Once the sentiment of the purportedly rebellious thinker, today such is a commonplace. But for all Eco’s learning, for as much as he may have read St. Thomas Aquinas (and even admired his mind), it seems that the novelist did not understand the doctor: for having seized the truths of the divine so articulately explicated by Aquinas, one could not help but wish to create a religion around the being thereby revealed, were the Divine not to have already revealed Itself and given us the right means for worship.

[2021 Fall] More than Aesthetics: Ens Artificiale and the Philosophy of Art – Dr. Matthew Minerd

Human experience is filled with beings which are often considered a sort of “non-being” or, perhaps, “diminished” being by many scholastics: artifacts. Sometimes, we are told by this tradition that a door threshold is really just an accidental conjunction of a given shape with the substance of dead wood. However, a cursory glance around the world reveals the a host of realities which are structurally dependent upon human ingenuity and the long history of human exploration and creativity.

Exploring its topic from a broadly Aristotelian-Thomistic perspective, this course will use the work of Jacques Maritain to probe the broader set of philosophical issues involved in the “philosophy of art”…

Weekly Schedule of Events

9/6 Monday

  • Exercitium Linguae Latinae (2:00-2:30pm ET). Legemus ex Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata ut melioremus nostrum locutionem et augeamus familiaritatem vocabulis.

9/7 Tuesday

  • Ex Sancto Thoma Legimus (9:30-10:00am ET).  Legemus ex Sancto Thoma et convertit in linguam Anglicam; practicum bonum et utile est!
  • Philosophical Happy Hour (5:45-7:15pm ET). Join us for drinks, conversation, lively debates, and get to know the Lyceum Institute and its members!  Open to the public: use the “Send Us a Message” form here (write “Happy Hour” in the message box) and we’ll see you on Teams!

9/8 Wednesday

  • Exercitium Linguae Latinae (2:00-2:30pm ET). Legemus ex Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata ut melioremus nostrum locutionem et augeamus familiaritatem vocabulis.

9/9 Thursday

  • Ex Sancto Thoma Legimus (9:30-10:00am ET).  Legemus ex Sancto Thoma et convertit in linguam Anglicam; practicum bonum et utile est!
  • Elementary Latin Class (6:00-7:00pm ET).  Discimus de pastoribus, ovibus, canibus, lupis, nubibus, et multis aliis!  Legimus et convertimus ex capitulo IX!

9/10 Friday

  • Open Chat (9:30-10:30am ET). Our regular Friday-morning open chat, allowing conversation between those in the West and those in the East–bridging the international community of the Lyceum Institute.
  • Exercitium in Lingua Latina (11pm-12am ET).  Etiam exercitium in Lingua Latina!  Ista hora conveniens Orientalibus est (11am Manila time).

9/11 Saturday

  • Intermediate Latin Class(10-11am ET).  In hac septimana, de praedonibus et classibus Romanis discemus!  Reddimus ad fabulam Lydiae et Medii.  Legemus et convertemus ex capitulo XXXII.

[2021 Fall] More than Aesthetics: Ens Artificiale and the Philosophy of Art

Exploring its topic from a broadly Aristotelian-Thomistic perspective, this course will use the work of Jacques Maritain to probe the broader set of philosophical issues involved in the “philosophy of art”: ens artificiale, the nature of practical reason, the metaphysics of art-craft, and topics pertaining to philosophical aesthetics, considered primarily from the perspective of this metaphysical consideration of the domain of ens artificiale.  Throughout our course, we will discover how questions of philosophical anthropology are in fact pivotally important for fashioning a metaphysics that is broad enough to account for the phenomenon of “being of art.”


In this seminar, lasting 8 weeks (see here for more information on all Lyceum Institute seminars), we will study the nature of the artificial, its relation to the natural, morality, beauty, and more. The instructor for this seminar is Matthew Minerd, PhD, Faculty Fellow 2020. You can read more about Dr. Minerd here and download the syllabus here.

October 2–20 November
Saturdays, 1:15-2:15pm ET/5:15-7:15pm UTC [6:15-7:15pm UTC after Nov.7]

Lyceum Institute digital platform run on Microsoft Teams

Lyceum Institute seminar costs are structured on a principle of financial subsidiarity. There are three payment levels, with discounts for those who are professors and clergy (whose continuing education is not sufficiently prioritized by their institutions) and for students (who are already taxed excessively by the educational system). However, if you are part of the working world and wish to take a seminar but cannot afford the “standard” rate, it is acceptable to sign up at one of these discounted prices. The idea is: pay what you can. Those who can pay more, should, so that those who cannot pay as much, need not. Lyceum Institute members receive a further discount (see here for details).

The Breakdown of Secular Democracy and the Need for a Christian Order

The colloquium lecture delivered in July 2020 by Prof. Francisco Plaza, PhD Candidate (UST, Houston TX), “The Breakdown of Secular Democracy and the Need for a Christian Order” is now available to the public. You can listen or download below. Please consider supporting the Lyceum Institute if you enjoy this lecture! Your donations allow us to support talented academics like Prof. in their research, teaching, and publications.

The Breakdown of Secular Democracy and the Need for a Christian Order

Francisco Plaza, PhD Candidate

The question has been raised as to whether or not secular liberalism can sustain itself, especially as it seems to be breaking down in our present time, both from the perspective of anti-modernists who uphold tradition, but also from modernists themselves who have fallen into totalitarian ideologies, Marxism being the most common among them.

In this lecture, we shall begin by addressing the current state of culture, considering the nature of modernity and its crisis of meaning. For our purposes, we shall focus mostly on its political dimension. After providing a summary account of modernism and its crisis, we shall consider two responses from Catholic political thought that look to creating a truly post-modern order. The first of these is that of integralism, a revivalist type movement that looks to the past before modernity as the way beyond the modern problem. We shall consider the integralist response to modern politics, then consider where it is correct and where it may fall short. Finally, we shall conclude by considering Maritain’s defense of a “Christian Democracy” and “integral humanism” as the true way beyond modernity.

Preview – Prof. Francisco Plaza: The Breakdown of Secular Democracy and the Need for a Christian Order

If you enjoyed this lecture, please consider supporting the Lyceum Institute with a small donation.