Jankélévitch, Vladimir (1903–1985)

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Vladimir Jankélévitch, the French moral philosopher, was born in Bourges. He was educated at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand and the École Normale Supérieure. Having become an agrégé in philosophy in 1926, he took his doctorate in 1933. After teaching at the French Institute in Prague and at various lycées, he served as lecturer at Toulouse from 1936 to 1937 and at Lille from 1938 to 1939. He was dismissed by the Vichy government in 1940 but returned to academic life in 1945 as professor at Lille, going from there to the University of Paris as professor of morals and moral philosophy.

Jankélévitch's philosophy is highly individual, though it displays a sympathetic understanding of widely divergent philosophical traditions. In content it has affinities with Christian morality and with the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard. In expression it is idiosyncratic and always lively.

Jankélévitch's first notable work was Henri Bergson. On its first appearance, in 1931, it bore a prefatory note by Henri Bergson himself, praising its "intellectual sympathy." Jankélévitch's own philosophy made its first appearance in his main doctoral thesis, on Friedrich von Schelling's later philosophy, and even more clearly in his secondary thesis, on bad conscience (La mauvaise conscience ). Bad conscience is consciousness directed not unreflectingly forward but regretfully backward toward its own past, which is irremediable because time is irreversible. The problem posed is how to restore the flow of living that tends to be halted by retrospective brooding. How is consciousness freed and time unfrozen? Jankélévitch did not favor the detachment from one's predicament effected by irony, precisely because it intellectualizes and detemporalizes that predicament. Time alone, in its flow, frees us.

In two of his postwar works, Philosophie première and Traité des vertus, Jankélévitch was perhaps at his best. Just as he rejected intellectual recourse to irony or conceptualization as consolations for the discontent attendant upon self-consciousness, so he showed, in Philosophie première, that the concern of metaphysics is not with the world of ideas, eternal truths, or transcendent models, which are ultimately as contingent as the reality that they rationalize, but with the "entirely other Order" of radical contingency. Here, in effect, Jankélévitch suggested that "sufficient reason" is never really sufficient. The instant always brings novelty over and above the schemata that demonstrate its "necessity."

The real importance of this fact is moral and leads to the treatise on the virtues. In this work virtues are classified according to either their intellectual quality of equity or their "non-natural" quality of goodness, to use the language of G. E. Moore. For Jankélévitch the virtues of consistent conductthe "virtues of the interval," fidelity and justiceare inferior to the creative "virtues of the instant," courage and charity.

See also Bergson, Henri; Conscience; Ethics, History of; Kierkegaard, Søren Aabye; Moore, George Edward; Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von; Virtue and Vice.


works by jankÉlÉvitch

Henri Bergson. Paris: Alcan, 1931; rev. ed., Paris, 1959.

La mauvaise conscience. Paris: Alcan, 1933.

L'odyssée de la conscience dans la derniére philosophie de Schelling. Paris: Alcan, 1933.

L'ironie ou la bonne conscience. Paris: Alcan, 1936; 2nd rev. ed., Paris, 1950.

L'alternative. Paris: Alcan, 1938.

Du mensonge. Paris, 1943.

Le mal. Paris, 1947.

Traité des vertus. Paris: Bordas, 1949.

Philosophic première. Paris, 1954.

L'austérité et la vie morale. Paris: Flammarion, 1956.

Le je-ne-sais-quoi et le presque-rien. Paris, 1957; Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1980.

La mort. Paris: Flammarion, 1966.

Le pardon. Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1967.

Traité des vertus. Paris: Bordas, Mouton, 1968.

La vie et la mort dans la musique de Debussy. Neuchâtel: A la Baconnière, 1968.

Ravel. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1969.

L'ironie. Paris: Flammarion, 1972.

De la musique au silence. Paris: Plon, 1974.

L'irréversible et la nostalgie. Paris: Flammarion, 1974.

L'aventure, l'ennui, le sérieux. Paris: Aubier, 1976.

Le pur et l'impur. Paris: Flammarion, 1978.

Le paradoxe de la morale. Paris: Seuil, 1981.

Le sérieux de l'intention. Paris: Flammarion, 1983.

La musique et l'ineffable. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1983.

La présence lointaine: Albeniz, Séverac, Mompou. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1983.

Philosophie première: Introduction à une philosophie du "presque". 2nd ed. Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1986.

Les vertus et l'amour. Paris: Flammarion, 1986.

L'innocence et la méchanceté. Paris Flammarion, 1986.

L'imprescriptible: Pardonner?; Dans l'honneur et la dignité. Paris: Seuil, 1986.

La musique et les heures. Paris: Seuil, 1988.

Penser la mort?. Paris: Liana Levi, 1994.

Premières et dernières pages. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1994.

Liszt: Rhapsodie et improvisation. Paris: Flammarion, 1998.

Music and the Ineffable. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.

works on jankÉlÉvitch

Barthélemy-Madaule, Madeleine. "Autour du Bergson de M. V. Jankélévitch." Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale 65 (1960): 510524.

Smith, Colin. Contemporary French Philosophy. London: Methuen, 1964. See pp. 181201.

Suarès, Guy. Vladimir Jankélévitch. Lyon: La Manufacture, 1986.

Vax, L. "Du Bergsonisme à la philosophie première." Critique 11 (1955): 3652.

Colin Smith (1967)

Bibliography updated by Michael J. Farmer (2005)