In this article, Ong's primary purpose is to review the new edition of
Jacques Maritain's The Degrees of Knowledge, but he also places
Maritain's work within his own understanding of the "history of ideas,"
something he develops in his writing over the course of the 1940s and 1950s.
This article starts out as a fairly traditional review, noting the dates
of earlier editions and the advantages and disadvantages of the new edition,
but then Ong moves quickly into his analysis of Maritain in the history
of ideas. He asserts that Maritain's thought is more closely allied
with that of the Neo-Scholastics (who, Ong points out in articles such
as "Renaissance Ideas and the American
Catholic Mind," do not really express the accurate state of medieval
scholasticism but the ideas of select medieval theologians such as St.
Thomas Aquinas, who really were not part of the medieval scholastic curriculum)
than other twentieth century movements. Yet Maritain's thought is
typical of the twentieth century in other ways: he tends to express
"hushed contentment in the unsolved mystery," which is typical of the post-Romantic
world, and he possesses the self-awareness in terms of time and pluralism
that twentieth century thinkers have (but earlier thinkers did not).
Still, Ong expresses some reservations about the ability of Maritain's
book to hold its ground at the end of the 1950s, given new developments
in the history of ideas. For example, new ideas about person and
personality make some of Maritain's ideas out of date. Nevertheless,
Ong thinks that Maritain's impact on twentieth century intellectuals is
extremely important (a point he has made in earlier articles, such as "The