Pierre Paul Royer-Collard

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Pierre Paul Royer-Collard, the French statesman and professor of philosophy, was born at Sompuis, a village in what is now the department of the Marne. He represented this department in the Chamber of Deputies from 1815 to 1839, usually in the opposition. He is best known as the leader of the Doctrinaires, a group whose members derived their political views from what they believed to be immutable and self-evident principles. These principles led to a compromise between absolute and constitutional monarchy, and though the principles were supported by Louis XVIII, they were rejected by his brother and successor, Charles X.

Royer-Collard had little, if any, philosophical training. Nevertheless, from 1811 to 1814 he was professor of philosophy and dean at the Sorbonne. He lectured first on Thomas Reid and later on his own views. Just as his political views were a compromise, so in philosophy he sought a compromise between the left wing of sensationalism and the right wing of authoritarian traditionalism. He found it in the philosophy of Reid. Royer-Collard rejected sensationalism on the ground that it could not account for judgment, which is always something contributed to sensory material by the active mind. Since the individual mind is active and capable of making judgments, there is no need of a supernatural authority to dictate to it. In place of such an authority he substituted common sense, which is a consolidation of the judgments of all men. But this did not imply a return to tradition except insofar as tradition itself is an expression of common sense. On the contrary, every man has within him the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, truth and falsity, by a power that resembles the natural light of medieval philosophy. If this faculty did not exist, he maintained, one would be stranded in solipsism, for there would be no reason to believe that one man's conclusions would be harmonious with another's.

Common sense, however, does not operate entirely without the guidance of reason. In reaching its decisions, reason uses two principles of argument, that of causality and that of induction. The search for causes is intrinsic to thinking itself and will inevitably lead back to the idea of a First Cause. For, following Isaac Newton, Royer-Collard believed that one must never accept more causes than are necessary to explain phenomena. However, he does not seem to have had any clear idea of the nature of a causal explanation.

The principle of induction is a necessary accompaniment to that of causality, for it is by induction that one discovers the essential similarities among phenomena that permit one to group them in a single class. It is man's nature to look for these similarities, as it is his nature to look for causes.

Following Reid, Royer-Collard maintained that the distinction between sensation and perception is all-important. Sensation is simply the pleasure found in experience and is purely subjective. Perception is the apprehension of an external object as external. The externality of the object is not proved by reasoning; it is judged by a spontaneous act of the human mind, as in the twentieth-century epistemology of G. E. Moore.

Though only fragments of Royer-Collard's philosophy exist, collected by his admirer Théodore Jouffroy, it is probable that he saw the philosophy of common sense as a support for his political views. Common sense is the basis of communal life; it provides stable theses of morality and religion; it has all the authority of natural law; and to those who accept it, it is incontrovertible. It is, however, generally admitted that the main contribution of Royer-Collard to French philosophy was the introduction into France of Scottish philosophy.

See also Common Sense; Induction; Jouffroy, Théodore Simon; Medieval Philosophy; Moore, George Edward; Newton, Isaac; Reid, Thomas; Sensationalism; Solipsism; Traditionalism.


works by royer-collard

Les fragments philosophiques de Royer-Collard, edited by André Schimberg. Paris, 1913.

Discours prononcé à l'ouverture du cours de l'histoire de le philosophie. A very rare pamphlet in the Bibliothèque de l'Institut.

works on royer-collard

Boas, George. French Philosophies of the Romantic Period, 157164. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1925.

Garnier, Adolphe. "Royer-Collard." In Dictionnaire des sciences philosophiques, edited by Adolphe Franck. Paris, 1875.

Spuller, Eugène. Royer-Collard. Paris: Hachette, 1895.

Taine, Hippolyte. Les philosophes classiques de XIXe siècle en France. Paris, 1857. To be read with caution.

George Boas (1967)