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Léon Brunschvicg (1869-1944)

Along with Henri Bergson, Léon Brunschvicg was one of the major philosophical figures of Third Republic France. Born in Paris, Brunschvicg’s career would place him at the centre of French academic life. In 1893, he co-founded the Revue métaphysique et de la morale with Xavier Léon and Elie Halevy, and in 1909 he would become a Professor at the Sorbonne where he would remain until, during the Nazi Occupation, he was forced into internal exile in Aix-en-Provence as a result of his Jewish heritage. (He died in Aix-en-Provence in 1944). At the forefront of French ‘critical idealism’, Brunschvicg was, along with Hermann Cohen in Marburg, one of the key figures in European neo-Kantianism in the early twentieth century. Disparaging toward Hegelianism, and distrustful of logicism, Brunschvicg insisted that philosophy and science were intimately related disciplines, and that their relation could not be one of subsumption of the former under the latter (or vice versa). This was a thesis he developed in a series of comprehensive works on the history of ‘mathematical philosophy’, physics, and the ‘progress of consciousness’ in Western thought. In addition to Kant, from whom Brunschvicg took his central philosophical emphasis on ‘judgement’, Brunschvicg was also an authority on Spinoza, Descartes, and Pascal. Brunschvicg was a prime target in Paul Nizan’s Les Chiens de garde (The Watchdogs, 1932), a polemic which distilled the animosity toward ‘bourgeois’ idealism on the part of Nizan, Sartre, and many others of their generation. Brunschvicg’s legacy suffered as result, although today he is increasingly recognized, not only for his formative influence on Gaston Bachelard, Jean Cavaillès, and French philosophy of science and rationalist philosophy more generally (evident in François Regnault’s contribution to volume nine of the Cahiers pour l’Analyse), but also as an important thinker in his own right for the alternative he offered to the dominant trajectories of twentieth-century philosophy: phenomenology and logical positivism.

In the Cahiers pour l’Analyse

François Regnault, ‘Dialectique d’épistémologies’, CpA 9.4 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]

Select bibliography

  • La Modalité du jugement. Paris: Alcan, 1893.
  • Les Étapes de la philosophie mathématique. Paris: Alcan, 1912. (Re-published, with an introduction by Jean-Toussaint Desanti, Paris: Blanchard, 1993).
  • L’Éxpérience humaine et la causalité physique. Paris: Alcan, 1922.
  • Spinoze et ses contemporains. Paris: Alcan, 1923.
  • Le Progrès de la conscience dans la philosophie occidentale. Paris: Alcan, 1927.
  • Écrits philosophiques I: L’Humanisme de l’occident, Descartes, Spinoza, Kant. Paris: PUF, 1951.
  • Écrits philosophiques II: L’Orientation du rationalisme. Paris: PUF, 1954.
  • Écrits philosophiques III: Science – Religion. Paris: PUF, 1958.

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