Jouffroy, Théodore Simon (1796–1842)

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Théodore Simon Jouffroy, a French commonsense and spiritualist philosopher, was born at Pontets, near Pontarlier, in the department of Doubs. After his preliminary schooling he entered the École Normale in Paris in 1814 and began teaching there three years later. He was attracted to the study of philosophy by Pierre Paul Royer-Collard and Victor Cousin, who were lecturing on the Scottish school. In 1826, Jouffroy published a translation of Dugald Stewart's Outlines of Moral Philosophy, and in 1828 he prepared a six-volume translation of the works of Thomas Reid. Jouffroy's rise in the academic hierarchy was rapid; by 1828 he was lecturing at both the École Normale and the Collège de France, where he was appointed professor of Greek and Roman philosophy in 1833. In the same year he was made a member of the Academy of Science.

Jouffroy's interests were varied, covering psychology, aesthetics, legal philosophy, and epistemology, yet he published very little. He is best known for two volumes of miscellaneous essays, Mélanges philosophiques, published in 1833, and Nouveaux Mélanges philosophiques, which appeared the year of his death.

Jouffroy's ambition was to found a science of psychology based on Scottish philosophy. A survey of the soul's activity revealed to him six different faculties; basic to each of these is a fusion of love of power, curiosity, and sympathy. Upon this foundation rest sensitivity to pleasure and pain, intelligence, "expression," movement, and volition. The soul is thus a community of faculties, all of which must cooperate if the truth is ever to be discovered. It reproduces in the individual that fusion of human souls which is known in the Scottish philosophy as common sense.

It is common sense that alone possesses absolute truth, access to which is denied individuals. Each of us, Jouffroy believed, should attempt to reach the truth by the use of reasoning, but we must accept its conclusions by "a blind act of faith." For none of our faculties is capable of acting in the name of the collective wisdom of the race. Jouffroy held so strongly to this idea that he regarded individual philosophers as mere mouthpieces for the societies and cultures in which they live. As early as 1827 he showed an interest in society as a being having its peculiar influence on the individuals who compose it, but he was never clear about the nature of this being. Jouffroy maintained that if people understood their dependence on the totality of individuals, they would cease to fight with one another and would form a unified fraternal community. This community would be the explicit embodiment of common sense, which already exists implicitly in all human beings.

Common sense expresses itself in self-evident principles that appear in logic and in the dictates of the moral conscience. They are the source of an all-inclusive philosophy illustrated in natural law, which is that system of moral and political principles that underlies the statutes of all nations. Since this system is always consistent, it can act as a test for all truths. What William James, in his Varieties of Religious Experience, called Jouffroy's conversion to skepticism stemmed from this idea. For what man other than a mystic could transcend the limits of his individuality to grasp ideas that were overindividual?

In spite of this, Jouffroy maintained that intelligence can apprehend these self-evident principles, just as conscience can apprehend the difference between right and wrong. Here he departed from his theory that men express the ideas of periods and societies and insisted instead that each man's conscience is his sole guide to the good. For the good turns out to be the accomplishment of a man's destiny and evil the failure to accomplish it. A man's destiny is incorporated in his individuality, no two men having precisely the same goals. In general, however, pleasure and pain indicate to a man whether he is fulfilling his destiny, which is apparently the reason men are pleased by different experiences. Unfortunately, Jouffroy's conclusions on this point are lost. And, indeed, he may not have drawn any conclusions, for he was more given to preparatory analyses than to inferences.

Aesthetics, according to Jouffroy, deals exclusively with the nature of beauty. Just as truth is not the possession of any individual, neither is beauty. Beauty does not reflect the character of our life; it is the sublime that takes beauty's place in experience. "The ideas of our present life," Jouffroy said in his Cours d'esthétique, "are more familiar to us than the ideas of a more perfect life, and we are consequently less sensitive to beauty than to the sublime." Though the Cours d'esthétique consists of notes taken by his pupils and hence cannot be regarded as wholly his, it is clear that the metaphor of the whole of which we know but limited parts dominated Jouffroy's thought. Whether the problem was that of truth, goodness, or beauty, he believed it is the nature of the whole that contains the answer and men are condemned never to possess the answer.

See also Beauty; Common Sense; Cousin, Victor; James, William; Psychology; Reid, Thomas; Royer-Collard, Pierre Paul; Skepticism, History of; Stewart, Dugald.


works by jouffroy

Mélanges philosophiques. Paris: Paulin, 1833.

Cours de droit naturel. 1st ed., 2 vols. Paris: Prévost-Crocius, 18341842. 2nd ed., with additional notes by Philibert Damiron, ed., 3 vols. Paris: Hachette, 1843.

Nouveaux Mélanges philosophiques. Paris, 1842.

Cours d'esthétique. Paris: Hachette, 1845.

works on jouffroy

Boas, George. French Philosophies of the Romantic Period, pp. 239250. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1925.

Mignet, F. A. "Notes sur Jouffroy." Memoires de l'Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques 25 (1853): 197.

Ollé-Laprune, Léon. Théodore Jouffroy. Paris: Perrin, 1899.

Taine, Hippolyte. Les philosophes classiques du XIXe siècle en France. Paris: Hachette, 1868.

George Boas (1967)

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Jouffroy, Théodore Simon (1796–1842)

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