Le Senne, René (1882–1954)

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René Le Senne, the French spiritualistic philosopher, was born in Elbeuf in Normandy. From 1903 to 1906 he was a pupil of Frédéric Rauh and Octave Hamelin at the École Normale Supérieure, where he passed the agrégation examination in philosophy in 1906. He obtained his doctorate in 1930 with a thesis titled Le devoir (Duty). After holding provincial teaching posts he was appointed to the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris and, in 1942, to a chair of moral philosophy at the University of Paris. He distinguished himself as joint editor, with Louis Lavelle, of the series of works published in the collection "Philosophie de l'esprit." In 1948 he was elected to the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques.

The conception of philosophy underlying the "Philosophie de l'esprit" was traced by Le Senne to the Cartesian tradition, which, he held, identified existence with the act of thought and regarded existence as dependent upon a transcendent and infinite being. This tradition, according to Le Senne, was threatened both by positivism, which discounts the self-creating principle that raises man above causally determined physical nature, and by an excessive modern subjectivism, which makes man the measure of all things. Against these threats to the French "psycho-metaphysical" tradition Le Senne and Lavelle launched their series, in what they conceived as a kind of philosophicomoral mission, a reassertion of metaphysical philosophy against antiphilosophy.

Like much of recent French thought, Le Senne's work evokes not so much René Descartes as Maine de Biran. The essence of the self is consciousness of action against the resistance and limitation of reality. This could be rendered: I will, or I strive, therefore I am. Thus, personality for Le Senne was "existence as it is formed by the double cogito: hindered by obstacles, elevating itself by and towards value." Man participates in absolute and transcendent value. Although value outruns him and is not wholly his creation, it is made determinate by him in a given, concrete situation.

Reality, then, is at once the organ of self-creation and an obstacle to it. In a sense it degrades value, yet it actualizes value by making it determinate. We are, moreover, called back to awareness of the value-creating source in which we participate. This is a spiritual flow, or upsurge (essor ). "Some obstacle has to break the continuity of the upsurge before the self, concentrating upon it the body's energy, begins to will." The willing self owes its being and consciousness to the obstacles it encounters. We participate in a world of absolute value and a world of brute reality and create ourselves unceasingly through them.

See also Cartesianism; Descartes, René; Essence and Existence; French Philosophy; Hamelin, Octave; Lavelle, Louis; Maine de Biran; Positivism.


works by le senne

Introduction à la philosophie. Paris, 1925.

Le devoir. Paris: Alcan, 1930.

Le mensonge et le caractère. Paris: Alcan, 1930.

Obstacle et valeur. Paris: Aubier, 1934.

Traité de morale générale. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1942.

Traité de caractérologie. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1945.

La destinée personnelle. Paris: Flammarion, 1951.

La découverte de Dieu. Paris, 1955.

works on le senne

Paumen, J. Le spiritualisme existentiel de René Le Senne. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1949.

Pirlot, J. Destinée et valeur. La philosophie de René Le Senne. Namur, Belgium: Secrétariat des Publications, Facultés Universitaires, 1953.

Vax, L. "Pensée souffrante et pensée triomphante chez René Le Senne." Critique 12 (1956): 142152.

Colin Smith (1967)