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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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A perennial philosophy is, as its name implies, one
with qualities which assure its survival through time
and change, and therefore, by generalization, a perma-
nently significant philosophy. It must therefore be
universal and inclusive, internally coherent, fruitful of
new insights and applications, and reasoned so con-
clusively that attacks cannot refute, and written or
presented so convincingly that reasonable minds cannot
resist it.

It can be seen from this definition that a perennial
philosophy has never been formulated in complete
detail and with final perfection. But it has been an ideal
for many thinkers who have sought to state its basic
method and principles. This ideal is itself, therefore,
perennial, expressing the persistent hope for finality
in the philosophical task.

As such it is opposed to skepticism, to historicism
and other relativisms, to all intellectual sectarianism
and partisanship, and to all forms of what Berkeley
called appropriately “minute philosophizing,” or the
limiting of aim and method to the analysis of a plurality
of small, empirically graspable and unrelated problems.
A perennial philosophy must offer a unity which relates
the total plurality, in particular the unity of theoretical
and practical concerns, of knowledge, wisdom, and
piety; it must be theoretically complete and of suffi-
cient detail to guide to successful action. Charles
Sanders Peirce, in spite of his indeterminism and
fallibilism, expressed his commitment to the ideal of
a perennial philosophy for a scientific age in the
Preface to his Principles of Philosophy, reprinted in
Collected Papers (1931-35):

To outline a theory so comprehensive that, for a long time
to come, the entire work of human reason, in philosophy
of every school and kind, in mathematics, in psychology,
in physical science, in history, in sociology, and in whatever
other department there may be, shall appear as the filling
up of its details. The first step toward this is to find simple
concepts applicable to every subject

(I, vii, Sec. 1).

Traditionally, however, the ideal reaches beyond this
intellectual role to offer bases for a more personal value
of religious and moral wisdom, thus showing an affinity
with Platonism, Stoicism, and the theological appro-
priations of classical thought in general.


So far as can be discovered, the term “philosophia
” is modern, first appearing in the Renaissance.
But the ideal of such a philosophy is much older—as
old, indeed, as the hope for a definitive resolution of
human problems. Though the term “philosophia
” is widely associated with the philosopher
Leibniz, in whose writings it appears and whose
thought aims at many characteristics essential to it, he
himself found it in Augustinus Steuchius, a theologian
of the sixteenth century, librarian of the Vatican, and
Regular Canon of the Congregation of the Sacred
Savior, who in 1540 published the De philosophia
perenni sive veterum philosophorum cum theologia
christiana consensu libri X,
a work which quickly
passed through several editions, including that in the
Opera omnia in 1591. No evidence has been found that
Steuch found the term in earlier writers, though cog-
nate terms such as “perennious fountain of God's will”
and “perennial wisdom of God” were not uncommon,
and the term has been applied retroactively to the

Dedicated to the Farnese Pope, Paul III, initiator
of the Counter-Reformation, Steuch's work is an
apology for Christian orthodoxy as a return to an
originally revealed absolute truth made available to
man before his fall, completely forgotten in that lapse,
and only gradually regained in fragmentary form in
the subsequent history of human thought. Thus from
its first use, the term represented an attempt at a
perfect thought system, the unity of reason and revela-
tion, but present in the history of thought only as an
ideal which may be said to be “regulative” (in Kant's
sense) and directive of man's striving for intellectual

The history of the term since Steuch may be said
to be fortuitous and infrequent—useful but far from
indispensable in the justification of a certain philo-
sophical tradition. It came to Leibniz in the next cen-
tury only as the title of Steuch's book, and he used
it more generally only in the later years of his life as


a term for the type of philosophy he himself was
striving to formulate. In 1687 Simon Foucher, a Paris
friend who had revived the tradition of academic
skepticism, called Leibniz' attention to Steuch's book
in connection with a discussion of philosophic first
principles, saying that Steuch's design seemed to be
chiefly to adapt the ancients to Christianity, “which
is indeed very beautiful, rather than to order the
thoughts of philosophy in their places” (Gerhardt, I,
395). Leibniz had already known of Steuch, however;
in the reading notes of his early Mainz years he had
several times listed him and his book among “the
Christian writers of all times” (Academy ed. VI, i,
532-33; VI, ii, 137, where he quotes Steuch's statement
that God is intelligens intellectum et intellectionem,
“understanding, understood, and still understanding,”
i.e., as act, as object, and as process). But as in the
case of other terms which Leibniz read as a youth and
then forgot, only to recall them much later at an
opportune time in his own thinking, the term cannot
be found again until 26 August, 1714, when, in a letter
to Remond de Montmort, he used it in describing what
was needed to complete his own system, to which he
had referred in earlier correspondence as a hypothesis
(Gerhardt, III, 624-25). What was still needed was an
eclectic analysis of the truth and falsehood of all philos-
ophies, both ancient and modern. In this process “one
would draw the gold from the dross, the diamond from
its mine, the light from the shadows; and this would
be in effect a kind of perennial philosophy” (perennis
quaedam philosophia
). This is the locus classicus for
the term in Leibniz, who gives in the same passage
a brief sketch of the contributions of the major schools
and also makes a reference to the “Orientals, who have
beautiful and grand ideas of the Deity.”

After Leibniz the term seems to go underground,
only to reappear in different philosophical contexts;
sometimes in support of the conclusion that a certain
tradition—for example, Scholasticism—possesses the
quality of unity, adequacy, and time-transcendence
which the term implies. Thus it reappeared as the title
of a collection of papers on Scholasticism, with some
emphasis upon its new development after the Council
of Trent, edited by Fritz-Joachim von Rintelen, and
presented to Josef Geyser for his sixtieth birthday.
Sometimes the term has been used for an eclectic
combination of religious and philosophical ideas from
East and West, proposed as a way of spiritual revival
for modern man, as in Aldous Huxley's The Perennial
(1944). In all cases, the term stands for the
notion of a philosophy of philosophies, an enduring
set of intellectual and personal insights which is re-
peated in all variations of thought and conviction and
which serves as an ideal of unity for thought and life.


As has already been suggested, certain convictions
were traditionally regarded as essential to the ideal of
a perennial philosophy.

(1) Realism: that is, the view that the aim of philos-
ophy is the knowledge of an independent world, in-
cluding an order of ideas (universals, forms, laws) as
an important aspect of this real order.

(2) Harmony: that human experience in both its
cognitive and its practical aspects involves an underly-
ing unity in which all plurality is resolved, this unity
itself having an individual nature which makes it the
object of religious veneration.

(3) A philosophical method in which analysis is
completed in synthesis, but synthesis is itself a means
to direct apprehension, through dialectic, intuition,
revelation, or mystic vision; that therefore reason and
faith are coextensive and mutually supporting.

(4) In particular, an eclectic method which assures
this unity of being and truth through a quest for the
truths and errors of all historical sects, old and new,
seeking to synthesize their truths; thus eclecticism seeks
to resolve the conflict between tradition and innova-
tion, “ancients and moderns.”

(5) Dualism of the ideally real and the historically
real, historical philosophies being imperfect approxi-
mations, more or less adequate, to a perfect and com-
plete system of truth. Implicit in this is the eschato-
logical orientation which holds that the end and limit
of history must be sought in the complete and eternal.
This eschatological position is not utopian, however,
for utopias temporalize the eternal and are therefore
either philosophical heresies or metaphors.

These characteristic doctrines, of course, point to
Platonism as the tradition most adequate for a peren-
nial philosophy, though this Platonism may be that of
the negative theology suggested by Plotinus, the
Christian theism of Saint Augustine, or an eclectic
fusion of Platonism and Aristotelianism. Lovejoy's dis-
cussion of the two gods of Platonism (in the last lecture
of The Great Chain of Being, 1933; published in 1936)
is applicable as well to the two philosophies, historical
and eternal, implied by this tradition, which finds sup-
port also in such doctrines as the degrees of truth and
being, the negative or privative theory of error and
evil, and the macrocosm-microcosm relation. Though
the roots of the ideal of a perennial philosophy may
be found in the rise of philosophy itself, the clear
conception may be dated from the attempts to use
Greek philosophy to explicate the theological tradi-
tions of the theistic religions.

1. Ancient and Early Christian Concepts. The
eclectic interest shown by Plato in his dialogues, but


developed more fully in Aristotle, who built his thought
upon an evaluation of the insights and errors of his
predecessors, was expanded in the Hellenistic period
in opposition to skepticism and in support of the new
role of philosophy as handmaiden to religion. But the
historical beginnings of the ideal of perenniality in
philosophy may with much truth be ascribed to Philo
of Alexandria, who found Plato to be Moses speaking
Attic. The much looser eclecticism of the so-called
Hermetic Corpus, the alleged writings of Hermes
Trismegistus, was a collection of Platonic, Pythagorean,
and popular wisdom gathered in Egypt, which was
later considered an important source. Thus the Eastern
tradition of wisdom and mysteries came through the
cultural impact of Alexander's conquests to be absorbed
into the eclecticism of the West.

It was in the fusion of Greek with the Hebrew-
Christian tradition, however, that the redemptive and
the theoretical, the historical and the eternal, were
more firmly united and justified. The two Platonic
traditions—the mysticism of Plotinus with its hierarchy
of beings and its negative theology, and the conceptu-
alized and personalized theory of Augustine with its
trinity of modalities in God and its history of creation
and redemption, were eventually combined in a theol-
ogy which was at once the highest philosophy and the
justification of faith. The perennial philosophy was, for
Augustine, the rational Christian faith.

In Augustine, moreover, this religious metaphysics
was reinforced with a profound psychology of sin and
redemption, and what proved to be the orthodox
Christian conception of history as a record of the fall
of man, the conflict of good and evil, the successive
acts of revelation and redemption, and the culminating
judgment and end of time. This pattern of history itself
provided the intellectual foundation of the ideal of a
perennial philosophy.

2. Scholasticism. Although the late Retractations of
Augustine involve a surrender of reason to authority,
and therefore must have suggested to him that his
theology was not absolute and eternal, Christian
thought for centuries achieved a stability by discussing
the alternative interpretations involved in Augustine's
staunch rational fideism, and the Neo-Platonic tradition
of mystical vision.

It may therefore be with better reason that the
distinction of achieving the principles of a perennial
philosophy has been assigned to the great Scholastic
Summas and commentaries, in which the casuistic
work of qualifying, amplifying, and applying this phil-
osophical theology was continued with the aid of
Aristotle's logic and metaphysics.

3. The Renaissance and Steuch. The revival of an-
cient literature and learning in the West led to a criti
cism of the Scholastic tradition and a widespread de-
velopment of philosophical sects and controversies.
Petrarch humanized Augustine to confront man with
his freedom and powers; Nicholas of Cusa developed
Christian Platonism in a comprehensive way which
acknowledged skepticism but also revived great
cosmological and apologetic issues; Stoicism was
adapted in various ways to the courtly ideal of the
homo honestatis through the principles of natural law
and the virtue of obedience; Aristotelians, discovering
the “true” as opposed to the Scholastic Aristotle, con-
centrated on his logic and physics, and became fore-
runners of the new science and its methods. Not until
the religious controversies of the sixteenth century did
metaphysics have a vigorous revival, largely in Scho-
lastic terms. Meanwhile eclecticism was demanded by
the variety of sects, and Platonism undertook the role
of harmonizer of positions. In Florence, Ficino, Pico
della Mirandola, and others, influenced by Nicholas
of Cusa, undertook to reconcile Plato and Aristotle.

By the end of the sixteenth century, the humanistic,
creative period of the Renaissance was thus disciplined
and intellectualized, so that eclecticism flowered into
encyclopedism—an effort, not without eschatological
sanction, to exhaust the possibilities of knowledge and
to organize it in a logically structured way. Of this
encyclopedic movement Francis Bacon was the most
popular and influential representative.

For Augustine Steuch, to whom we owe the term
philosophia perennis,” metaphysics was still secondary
to the Christian history of creation, fall, and redemp-
tion; his idea of philosophy identifies it with revelation
(omnium sacrarum literarum philosophia). This peren-
nial philosophy requires not only wisdom but grace;
in a commentary to the first chapters of Genesis Steuch
writes, “There never was true philosophy without

Human wisdom, however, has been corrupted in the
long history of fallen man, Steuch continues, and the
history of God's redemption includes the long quest
for this saving wisdom. This historical development
itself involves three kinds of philosophy: a common
sense one diffused through oral transmission among all
peoples; a critical refinement of this “arising in the
speculation about the nature and causes of things”; and
(a third) the full radiance of truth dispelling darkness
everywhere; “this alone is worthy of the name of Wis-
dom.” The rest of Steuch's work is a wide-ranging
eclectic examination of the variety of traditions contrib-
uting to the chief doctrines of Christian theology,
beginning with the Trinity and ending with the end
of things and Last Judgment.

4. The Seventeenth Century and Leibniz. At the
beginning of the new century, three developments


which we have already noted became important in
affecting changes in philosophy, and therefore also in
the ideal of a perennial philosophy: the revival of
metaphysics and the critical examination of first prin-
ciples of “being as being,” which arose from theological
controversy; encyclopedism, the impulse, coming from
the new spirit of discovery, to exhaust the possibilities
of human knowledge and its ordering through a logical
method; and the success of a method combining expe-
rience and reason (particularly mathematical) in
achieving certainty in the new sciences of nature. The
total philosophical effect of these projects was to ren-
der plausible to the great minds of the century the
direct achievement of a complete, unified, and there-
fore time-transcending, perennial body of knowledge
and wisdom. The so-called “rationalists” of the century
sought this completion of the philosophical ideal.

The new encyclopedic spirit was widespread, but
that part of it which sought to attain its end through
a new method is most instructive. The pansophic
movement was associated with Amos Comenius but
also included, among others, his teacher John Henry
Alsted, author of the great Encyclopaedia of 1630, and
John Bisterfeld, whose many plans for a universal sci-
ence of characters or symbols and an encyclopedia
influenced Leibniz in his early youth. This movement
adopted principles of method from Bacon, Ramus, and
the revived interest in Raymond Lully's (or Lull) Ars
generalis sive magna
(ca. 1272) and applied them,
ineffectually but with a zeal inspired by the conviction
of Christ's imminent return.

Futile though their pretentious efforts were, the
platforms of these men (for example, Comenius'
Prodromus pansophiae, written in London in 1641)
popularized the ideal of a completed philosophy which
should go beyond the traditional fields of logic, meta-
physics and physics, ethics and political theory, to
embrace all possible knowledge, and which should do
this by a unitary and certain method. The sense of
urgency with which this method of combining empiri-
cal content with logical order was pursued, endured
throughout the century.

The historical study of philosophy in a critical sense
is closely related to the development of philosophical
eclecticism of a soberer and more disciplined kind than
that of Steuch. The crowning achievement of eclecti-
cism appeared only later in the Enlightenment in Jacob
Brucker's great Historia critica philosophiae a tempore
resuscitatarum in occidente literarum ad nostram tem-
(Leipzig, 1766), a work which Brucker argued
would restore to philosophy, through the eclecticism
of which Bacon was “parent,” the “God of truth which
it had until then neglected.” But eclecticism had borne
earlier fruit in such historical works as the Origines
historicae philosophiae et ecclesiasticae (Leipzig, 1665),
of Leibniz' teacher Jacob Thomasius, and Gerhard
Johann Voss's De philosophiae et philosophorum sectis
libri II
(The Hague, 1658). After describing eighteen
philosophical sects with Greek origins, Voss rejects
them all, passing over Plato, whose language he finds
unfit for philosophizing, but praising Aristotle, who
“stands out in sharpness of genius and variety of doc-
trine above all who preceded him as the light of the
sun stands out above that of the moon and lesser stars”
(Ch. 21, Sec. 1). Yet he urges acceptance of an eclecti-
cism “which founds no new doctrines but selects its
doctrines from others,” urging this course as the most
productive even though it is also the most difficult.
“In the examination of all sects we must first see what
is said, why it is said, what can be argued against it,
and whether the two sides can be reconciled” (Ch. 21,
Sec. 13).

Descartes repudiated the eclectic approach for the
supposed certainty of an original logical method, which
he nevertheless expected to result in a perennial
pattern of thought. Though the other great system-
atizers of the century rejected Descartes' repudiation
of the past as itself sectarian, they shared his confidence
in a method which should at last achieve the adequa-
tion of thought to things through an insistence upon
clear and distinct concepts, and should therefore bring
philosophy in its history into identity with eternal
truth. Unfortunately their disagreements merely
sharpened and boradened the dualism of the actual
and the ideal.

Of these thinkers, Leibniz was the most specific in
formulating the goal of perenniality, the most thorough
in his eclectic examination of historical philosophies,
and the clearest in his formulation of adequate method.
This method was analytic in its reduction of all experi-
ence and all questions to the primary notions and first
principles entailed in them. It was then synthetic in
its generalizing these principles and their application,
through the appropriate definitions, to the various fields
of knowledge and practice to be investigated. The
unity and harmony of the results were assured by the
simplicity and universal applicability of the principles.

Leibniz' development of a plan and program for a
perennial philosophy was gradual. Involved from the
beginning was a Neo-Platonic world view akin to that
of Nicholas of Cusa, of Bruno, and of the Italian
Platonists, in which the universal harmony of being
and truth is reflected in the greatest possible variety
in every created individual being, and man, possessed
of the quality of inwardness and created with a nature
compounded of the very attributes of God (in finite
measure), finds his good in obedience to the order of
law established in creation—natural, moral, and civil.


Within this general and incompletely defined theory,
Leibniz' early philosophical conceptions were loosely
eclectic. In physics he preferred the mechanistic inter-
pretations of the “moderns” to the dynamic forms of
the Scholastics, but deliberated on problems of motion,
following Suárez and the Cartesians in using motion
as a basic argument for the existence of God. In logic
(as in jurisprudence) he was strongly influenced by
Hobbes, but Leibniz' youthful nominalistic inclinations
did not keep him from a conceptualistic theory of
combinations, a connotative interpretation of logic, and
an Augustinian theology. His own work centered in
practical applications: a projected work in Christian
apologetics, proofs for the existence of God to refute
atheists, essays in education, problems of jurisprudence
and of theology as the highest jurisprudence, and in-
terest in the logical foundations of metaphysics and
the theory of knowledge. He studied the efforts being
made to reconcile Plato and Aristotle, Aristotle and
Euclid, Aristotle and the “moderns,” substantial forms
with mechanism. His inclusive motive may be stated
in terms of the phrase borrowed from Galen by Robert
Boyle (1626-91, whom Leibniz read in 1671-72): the
investigation of truth is the greatest of hymns to the

In the Paris years there emerged the intention to
construct a central, unifying philosophical work of
inclusive and exhaustive scope, based on an essential
unity of metaphysics and logic. Leibniz' synthesizing
efforts were stimulated by his intensive study of Plato,
Aristotle, and the papers of Pascal and Descartes, and
his contacts with thinkers like Boyle, Malebranche,
Foucher, and Christian Huygens.

In the early years at Hanover (from 1676 to 1684,
perhaps the most creative years of his life), many plans
and studies (Initia and Specimina) were written for
such an ultimate decoding and mastery of the whole
of truth. Various titles were tried. The papers of the
Paris period (1672-76) contain the tentative title
Elementa philosophiae arcanae de summa rerum. In
the years 1679 to 1682, such titles appear as Aurora
seu initia scientiae generalis a divina luce ad humanam
(in Gehardt, VII, 54) and Initia et
specimina scientiae novae generalis pro instauratione
et augmentis scientiarum ad publicam felicitatem
VII, 64ff., 124ff.), titles obviously influenced by Bacon,
Glanvill, or More. While the essays written to fit these
titles do not reflect any eschatological convictions, they
are impelled by a sense of urgency and show a convic-
tion that, given a universal science of symbols and a
combinatorial method (a logic and analysis and synthe-
sis), the end could be achieved within a lifetime. These
essays contain the most complete description of the
content and procedures of this General Science, in
cluding Leibniz' most detailed examination of the tra-
ditional sects of philosophy (ibid., 141-56). In this
period Leibniz' vision of the practicality of this peren-
nial philosophy seems to have been particularly clear
and strong.

The distractions of the years from 1684 to 1695
permitted time only for the perfection of Leibniz'
metaphysics and dynamics, with continuing studies in
logic and mathematics. The last two decades of his life
(1696-1716) were filled with controversies about his
opinions which served to clarify them but involved an
abandonment of his great projects; his philosophical
studies were aimed at winning support for his thought
from scholars and leaders of opinion. Although there
remain many reflections of his great enterprise in the
papers of this period, the distinction between his
achievement and the regulative ideal of a perennial
philosophy becomes clear. There are impressive brief
descriptions of the scope of his philosophical concerns,
including compact criticisms of earlier philosophical
traditions (for example, in the letters to Gabriel
Wagner in 1696, in Gerhardt, VII, 514-27; to Michael
Hansch on Platonic Enthusiasm, 1707, in G. W.
Leibniz, Opera omnia, ed. Louis Dutens, 6 vols. Geneva
[1768], II, 222-25; to Korthold, in Dutens, V, 320; to
Bouvet, 1697, in Erdmann, p. 146; to Remond in the
letters already mentioned; and in the response to the
second edition of Bayle's Dictionnaire, 1702, in
Gerhardt, IV, 554-710). Yet there is no claim of com-
pletion or of perenniality. To De Volder and others
Leibniz spoke of his philosophy as an hypothesis
(though one which had been proved). And in the letter
to Remond in which the term “perennial philosophy”
occurs, he ventured the remark that given the assist-
ance which he needed, the final system might yet be

Thus it may be said that although Leibniz' descrip-
tions of the General Science of the Secrets of the Uni-
involve all of the components essential to the
perennial philosophy, and his mature philosophy itself
gives a coherent account of the first principles and the
structure of disciplines involved in such a system, he
was unable to complete it, and never claimed to have
done so.

5. Perennial Philosophy since Kant. Although the
ideal of a perennial philosophy was still effective in
the Enlightenment, its role was gradually restricted to
the reasonable bringing of order into a narrower, more
nominalistic realm of experience and practice. Chris-
tian Wolff, it is true, claimed demonstrative certainty
for his eclectic union of Scholastic metaphysics with
Leibniz' pluralism and Newton's physics, reducing faith
to reason and claiming a philosophia certa et utilis. But
although certain vestiges of the ideal of a transcendent


and universal harmony remained in such concepts as
the law of nature, the absolutes of science, and moral
rights and duties, the acids of subjectivity, nominalism,
and skepticism corroded changeless concepts into as-
sociated experiences of a passing, atomic kind. Kant's
emphasis upon the universal and necessary, and the
architectonic which underlies his critiques, still pre-
suppose the ideal of perenniality. But in arguing for
the irresolvable antinomies of metaphysics and making
mind the key to the first principles of knowledge and
right action, Kant confronted philosophy with the
dilemma of abandoning the ideal of a perennial philos-
ophy or of forcing it to be sought not in what tran-
scends experience and history but in what is changeless
and abiding within them.

What Kant achieved with respect to the first princi-
ples of logic and truth, moreover, his idealistic follow-
ers, particularly Hegel, achieved for the relation of the
perennial to history. Seen critically, Hegel's philosophy
may be viewed as a remarkable account of the relation
between historical philosophies and the perennial ideal:
the absolute is seen in the development of its compo-
nents in history, and the completion of the historical
can be evaluated only in relation to the absolute. But
the ambiguities of this relationship led many of Hegel's
successors to the conclusion that the ideal of a peren-
nial philosophy is itself a delusion to be rejected (for
example, Kierkegaard and Dewey), or that it must be
found within the historical and changing rather than
in a realm transcending it (for example, Marx, Croce,
Jaspers, and followers of Dilthey).

The ideal of a perennial and complete philosophy
still haunts the minds of philosophers, probably of a
majority even in a positivistic and analytic age. The
total effect of the Kantian and Hegelian revolutions
of thought have stimulated later philosophers to assume
three distinct positions with regard to this ideal.

(1) There is the view of those who have held that
the perennial philosophy (in spite of Kant, or through
a realistic interpretation of him) is still valid and
effective; that its essential structure has been explicated
in the thought of many thinkers and constitutes the
firm structure, so to speak, about which Western
thought and much of Eastern thought has developed.
It is an ideal, but one actualized in part, and still in
the process of actualization in full.

The Neo-Scholastic movement has in general held
this position, as the essays in von Rintelen's work and
the dominant theme in Hirschberger's Geschichte der
clearly show.

As an early representative of the same position,
Adolf Trendelenberg deserves attention. A critic of
Hegel and interpreter of Aristotle, he undertook to
recall philosophy from “the humiliating position into
which it had been crowded” in his day, and to restore
“that philosophy which has been called to unite all
peoples and times in a universal human vision and in
the necessary task of the sciences, as Plato and Aristotle
once did.” He condemned the current philosophical
tradition in which “a new beginning must be made
and a new end reached in each head” (Logische
2nd ed., 1867, Preface; see also the
concluding chapters of the 1st ed., 1840). In a less
critical, more loosely eclectic way, the idea of an
eternal philosophical order, including a way of re-
demption, but uniting Western thought with related
traditions in the East is offered in Aldous Huxley's The
Perennial Philosophy

(2) A second post-Kantian position is that of positiv-
ists of a wide variety of types, who follow Hume and
Kant in their most empirical and analytic mood, and
who reject the entire ideal of a perennial philosophy
along with their repudiation of metaphysics. The list
of those who have done this, from Comte to Ayer and
his contemporaries, is a long one; it includes some of
William James's essays on pragmatism, and many
existentialists. But it is noteworthy that the internal
drive toward metaphysics within these modes of
thought (Comte's “unity of the sciences,” Spencer's
“first principles,” the “realms of being” of Santayana,
Heidegger's “Sein des Seienden,” and recent attempts
at “descriptive metaphysics”) indicate that the hope
of perenniality is not entirely dead, even in positivism.

(3) A third point of view about perennial compo-
nents in philosophy is that which finds the perennial
not beyond the history of thought but within it, either
as the historical process of thought itself, or as an
abstraction of a logical or metaphysical structure from
it. In the former group may be considered Dilthey and
such followers as Eduard Spranger and Arthur Liebert
(for whom philosophy is its history), Hegelian tem-
poralists like Benedetto Croce, and existentialists of the
Jaspers type, for whom das Umgreifende is unattain-
able, and the perennial philosophy has never been
achieved, “and yet such a philosophy always exists in
the idea of philosophical thought and in the general
picture of the truth of philosophy considered in its
history over three millennia which become a single
present” (The Perennial Scope of Philosophy, p. 25).

On the other hand, Jaspers may also be classed with
those recent philosophers who have found perenniality
of thought to be an abstraction from its history. “In
our temporal transience we know the actuality and
simultaneity of essential truth, of the philosophia
which at all times effaces time” (ibid., p. 169).
Perennial meaning is to be found in the dialogue of


the few great thinkers, carried on through time. Simi-
larly, Nicolai Hartmann argued more analytically that
it is the great problems which constitute the permanent
component in philosophy, since they involve the un-
folding of apories “without reference to their solv-
ability and without flirting with preconceived results”
(Deutsche Systematische Philosophie [1931], I, 281),
while the depth-psychologist Erich Rothacker finds it
in “the critical awareness of the eternal flood of dark
and light pictures which arise from the depths of the
soul.” Among these quests for the permanent (if not
the eternal) in the relative and changing, must also be
considered the metaphysical methods of process
philosophers as diverse as Paul Tillich and Alfred North
Whitehead, one reviving Schelling, the other Plato
himself, both of whom have sought an eternal through
abstraction from the facts of change.

The problem of clarifying a conception of a peren-
nial philosophy thus itself reflects thought about the
entire history of philosophy, with respect to the ques-
tion of the place of this history in the philosophic task


Jacques Barion, Philosophia Perennis als Problem und
(Munich, 1936). M. C. D'Arcy, The Meeting of Love
and Knowledge: Perennial Wisdom
(New York, 1957). Paul
Haeberlin, Philosophia Perennis: eine Zusammenfassung
(Berlin, 1952). Johannes Hirschberger, Geschichte der Philos-
4th ed. (Freiburg, 1960), esp. Vol. 2. Johannes
Hoffmeister, Wörterbuch der philosophischen Begriffe, 2nd
ed. (Hamburg, 1955), article on “philosophia perennis.”
Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy (New York, 1944).
Karl Jaspers, The Perennial Scope of Philosophy, trans. Ralph
Mannheim (London, 1950). André Lalande, Vocabulaire
technique et critique de la philosophie,
9th ed. (Paris, 1962),
article on “philosophia perennis.” Gottfried Wilhelm
Leibniz, Die philosophischen Schriften..., ed. C. I.
Gerhardt, 7 vols. (Berlin, 1875-90); idem, Leibnitii Opera
Philosophica quae extant Latina, Gallica, Germanica Omnia

..., ed. J. Erdmann (Berlin, 1840); idem, Sämtliche
Schriften und Briefe
..., ed. German Academy (Darmstadt
and Berlin, 1923-). F. Medicus, “Von der Zeit und vom
Ueberzeitlichen in der Philosophie,” Logos, 12 (1923).
Charles Sanders Peirce, Collected Papers, ed. C. Hartshorne
and Paul Weiss, 6 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., 1931-35). F. H.
von Rintelen, ed., Philosophia perennis: Abhandlungen zu
ihren Vergangenheit und Gegenwart
(Regensburg, 1930).
Augustinus Steuchius Eugubinus, De perenni Philosophia
..., Libri X (Paris, 1577). Adolf Trendelenberg, Logische
2nd ed. (Leipzig, 1867).


[See also Baconianism; God; Hegelian...; Neo-Plato-
Platonism; Ramism; Skepticism; Stoicism; Utopia.]