Hamelin, Octave (1856–1907)

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Ernst Heinrich Haeckel, the French idealist philosopher, carried further the neocriticism of Charles Renouvier and Jules Lachelier. Renouvier had criticized the categories of Immanuel Kant, maintaining that the category of relation really included all the others. He had also criticized the fact that Kant had not included personality in the categories, though he should have, since the will determines thought no less than does speculative reason. Thought, according to Renouvier, manifests relation in two waysin the relations of its elements to each other, and in the relation of judgment to consciousness. The latter relation is always unique because consciousness displays its spontaneity in the synthesis of the objects which it posits.

Hamelin started from a similar position; in fact, he always declared himself a disciple of Renouvier. However, Renouvier had taken account of contingency and discontinuity, and for him the pursuit of truth involved a recurrent dilemma, in which a free choice or wager was presented to the seeker. Hamelin, by contrast, was much more intransigently rationalistic, and in this he was influenced by Lachelier. A priori thinking pervaded Hamelin's system, and he envisaged a reality made entirely transparent and intelligible by a process of rational deduction. "Knowledge will no longer be seen as the invasion of the subject by alien elements, but as a putting into action by the subject of his potentialities."

Such an idealistic system requires some principle that accounts for change yet allows change to remain compatible with the necessity of rational deduction. In Hamelin's system this principle is correlation, and following G. W. F. Hegel, Hamelin pictured a dialectical evolution of reality through the synthesis of complementary opposites. This movement is from abstract elements toward the constitution of concrete realitytoward the constitution, indeed, of conscious personalityand not, as in Hegel, toward the indefinite pursuit of an Absolute. Hamelin's philosophy was a highly ingenious, if perhaps unsuccessful attempt to do away with the dilemma that dogged nineteenth-century French philosophy, the dilemma of a necessary realm of thought and a contingent domain of occurrences. Hamelin brought contingency, freedom, and personal consciousness within his dialectical system, making them the necessary outcome of incomplete, abstract categories that invoke them. They make their appearance, moreover, as the product of the dialectical process and as the coming to fruition of a hitherto inchoate reality.

Hamelin deduced the categories, or elements of representation, according to this dialectical principle. Relation is the synthesis of being and nonbeing, as that which consists in interdependence. The antithesis of relation is what is essentially independent, number. Number and relation are synthesized in time. Space stands in antithesis to time since its parts, though separate, are also simultaneous and reversible. The space-time antithesis is transcended in motion, still a quantitative concept, which finds its opposite in what is unaffected by it, quality. Motion and quality are synthesized in modification (altération ), which is the movement of quality. Modification is contrasted with a kind of resistance to change that tends to perpetuate the initial state, and this is specification, or the notion of class or species. Out of the interaction of modification and specification comes causality, or change brought about in beings through their sharing the world with other beings. Opposed to causality is a principle of persistence within the self, which is finality. The ultimate synthesis is in independence and self-sufficiency, which is expressed as free becoming and is an active system, or conscious self.

The characteristic of Hamelin's philosophy is its strictly a priori derivation of the concrete and individual consciousness from general and abstract elements. There is a kind of dynamism of incomplete abstraction working toward its own fulfillment and specification as successive logical demands are met. The element of contingency, which is inescapable in reality, finds its way into the system in the freedom of the individual consciousness: "What provides the explanation of consciousness is the need to choose."

Hamelin proceeded as far as anyone could in the idealistic direction. His no longer fashionable metaphysical deduction of the world through a series of necessary relations has met with some criticism from more recent French philosophers, whose tendency has been rather to see meaningful experiences as involving a compromise between a world of brute facts, which is prereflective, and a mind that almost necessarily orders them, albeit according to its own requirements and in the light of its own tasks.

See also Appearance and Reality; A Priori and A Posteriori; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Idealism; Kant, Immanuel; Lachelier, Jules; Renouvier, Charles Bernard.


works by hamelin

Essai sur les éléments principaux de la représentation. Paris, 1907.

Le système de Descartes. Paris: F. Alcan, 1911.

Le système d'Aristote. Paris: F. Alcan, 1920.

Le système de Renouvier. Paris: J. Vrin, 1927.

works on hamelin

Parodi, Dominique. Du positivisme à l'idéalisme. Paris: J. Vrin, 1930.

Parodi, Dominique. La philosophie contemporaine en France. 3rd ed. Paris, 1925.

Colin Smith (1967)

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Hamelin, Octave (1856–1907)

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