Lequier, (Joseph Louis) Jules (1814–1862)

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(Joseph Louis) Jules Lequier, or Léquyer, the French philosopher, was born at Quintin in Brittany. He was educated there and in Paris at the collège of St. Stanislas and the École Polytechnique. An intensely religious though extremely heterodox Roman Catholic, Lequier devoured the literatures of philosophy and theology, and although none of his own work was published during his lifetime, he wrote voluminously and also translated Sir Humphry Davy's autobiography. Jean Wahl has made interesting comparisons between certain aspects of the thought of Lequier and Søren Kierkegaard, although neither could actually have influenced the other. However, Lequier directly influenced Charles Renouvier, who always considered him his "master in philosophy," and through Renouvier he attracted the attention of William James. Renouvier later published Lequier's book, La recherche d'une première vérité (Paris, 1865).

Lequier's philosophy aimed at but never achieved systematic wholeness; its essential theses, however, may be restated in four interrelated doctrines. First, Cartesian methodological doubt must be genuine, not feigned, and unless it is employed in good faith, one is likely to err in doubting real evidence, just as, without methodological doubt one is likely to err in allowing unwarranted belief. Accordingly, doubt has no privileged status over belief. Ability to attain truth as well as falsehood must underlie the quest for truth, and freedom is thus a condition of the possibility of knowing truth as well as of being mistaken.

Second, freedom is a "double dilemma." Either causal necessity or freedom is a fundamental truth, and each doctrine must be asserted either necessarily or freely. If necessity is the true doctrine, my affirmation thereof is eo ipso necessary, but since neither doubt nor belief relative to evidence would function in that determination, doubt results. If necessity is true but I affirm freedom, then in addition to my inconsistency (for my affirmation is made necessarily), there is only a subjective foundation for knowledge and morality. Given the truth of determinism, erroneous as well as true judgments are necessary, and any supposed distinction between them is illusory. According to the hypothesis of freedom, if I freely affirm global necessity I am fundamentally inconsistent. Finally, if I affirm freedom under the same hypothesis, not only is my affirmation consistent with the hypothesis but I have a foundation for knowledge and morality. Under the double dilemma, the only satisfactory alternative is freely to affirm freedomLequier's "first truth." Freedom is essentially the power to add some novel reality to the existing world. Causality must be explained through freedom and not vice versa.

Third, the data that are present to a given event of consciousness arise out of the past relative to that event; they are past actualities but present potentialities for the internal character of that event of consciousness out of which a determining decision is made. Human consciousness is a succession of self-creative events, each of which is given its ancestor selves as well as other data, and each of which is partially causa sui, a "dependent independence." Thus, the totality of causal conditions of any human experience does not make this experience necessary, but only possible, while internal decision makes it contingently actual. All choice-making contains some arbitrary element.

Fourth, in extending these doctrines to theology, and taking as axiomatic the concept that freedom, responsibility, and moral and religious values depend upon choice-decisions, Lequier holds that an omniscient God need not know future contingents, since, in relation to any divine experience, they are not yet existent. To be knowable is to be determinate, and if all were known "from eternity," then all would be eternally determinate, and time and choice-making would be illusions. Also, since contingents are unequivocally in part causa sui, they are not wholly dependent on divine power. Far from viewing divine power as absolute total control, Lequier insists that the only power worthy of God is the far greater one of creating self-creators. Real choice in the world is incompatible with all-embracing necessity, and it is neither metaphysically requisite nor religiously desirable that God be wholly immutable and eternal. God must have a temporal aspect in order to come to know contingents as they are realized; thus he remains always omniscient in knowing all there is to know. Lequier's theology is thus that of an eternal-temporal being, his omniscience and omnipotence being relative to the irreducible contingency and self-creativity in the world.

Lequier's philosophy bears various striking resemblances to themes in Samuel Alexander, Henri Bergson, Nikolai Berdyaev, Émile Boutroux, William James, Kierkegaard, C. S. Peirce, and A. N. Whitehead.

See also Alexander, Samuel; Berdyaev, Nikolai Aleksandrovich; Bergson, Henri; Boutroux, Émile; Cartesianism; Consciousness; Freedom; James, William; Kierkegaard, Søren; Peirce, Charles Sanders; Renouvier, Charles Bernard; Whitehead, Alfred North.


For works by Lequier, see Oeuvres complètes, edited by Jean Grenier (Neuchâtel: Baconnière, 1952).

Literature on Lequier includes Émile Callot, Propos sur Jules Lequier (Paris: Rivière, 1962); Jean Grenier, La philosophie de Jules Lequier (Paris: Société d'édition "Les Belles lettres," 1936); Charles Hartshorne and William L. Reese, eds. Philosophers Speak of God (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), the only material by Lequier now available in English; Adolphe Lazareff, Vie et connaissance (Paris: Vrin, 1948); Xavier Tilliette, Jules Lequier ou le tourment de la liberté (Paris, 1964); and Jean Wahl, Jules Lequier (Paris, 1948), which contains an introduction and selections.

Harvey H. Brimmer II (1967)