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Brunschvicg, Leon


BRUNSCHVICG, LEON (1869–1944), French philosopher. In 1909 he was appointed professor of philosophy at the Sorbonne, and in 1920 a member of the Académie des Sciences Morales. Brunschvicg, who was a spokesman of the idealistic school of thought in France, published many books, best known of which are La modalité du jugement (1897); Introduction à la vie de l'esprit (1900); the valuable historical work Les étapes de la philosophie mathématique (1912); another historical work Le progrès de la conscience dans la philosophie occidentale (1927); La Raison et la Religion (1939); Spinoza et ses contemporains (1923); and Descartes et Pascal, lecteurs de Montaigne (1944). Brunschvicg published the standard edition of Pascal's writings (1897–1904) and for many years he was also editor of the Revue de métaphysique et de morale. In 1945 a memorial collection of essays was published by this journal. Brunschvicg advocated an idealism of consciousness and did not admit any existence outside the realm of consciousness. The irrational, which consciousness confronts and which appears to consciousness to exist independently, is nothing but the limits of consciousness itself, confronted by consciousness with astonishment and pain. As the spirit develops, the limits of consciousness expand – but only in consciousness itself are both truth and existence present together. God is but the "word" – the force which sets consciousness in motion and gives life to it. The development of consciousness in Brunschvicg's conception is very close to Hegel's "spirit of the absolute," though contrary to Hegel, it does not follow an inevitable course; rather it splits into various directions, which are sometimes determined by chance, as an expression of absolute freedom. What Brunschvicg thus attempted was the integration of Hegel's view with Bergson's. Brunschvicg's doctrine is an immanent, monistic philosophy, sometimes reminiscent of Spinoza's. He believed that with the development of consciousness and the elevation of man to higher stages, humanity would reach a "third covenant," which would be able to replace the "second covenant" ("the New Testament"). Brunschvicg saw 20th-century religion as at a crossroad. Religion's past weighs down on it and may smother it. According to him, only a brave decision between its past and future can save it. Religion's past is the religion of personification, which enslaved itself to the selfish aspirations and hopes of man, whereas the future of religion is the pure religion which would free itself from anthropomorphism – a religion of the heart, a pure spiritual religion, a philosophical religion. At a meeting of the French Philosophical Society on March 24, 1928, Blondel, Gilson, and Le Roy debated with Brunschvicg and defended traditional religion. Brunschvicg defended himself against the accusation of atheism. The protocol of this convention was published in Brunschvicg's book De la vraie et de la fausse conversion, suivi de la querelle de l'athéisme (1951). His Ecrits philosophiques, edited by A.R. Weill-Brunschvicg and C. Lehec, were published in two volumes (1951–54).


Bergman in: Haaretz (April 22, 1940); M. Deschoux, La philosophie de Léon Brunschvicg (1949); A. Etcheverry, L'idéalisme français contemporain (1934); Grenier, in: Logos, 15 (1925), 178–96; Vernaux, in: Revue de philosophie, 4 (1934), 73–104.

[Pepita Haezrahi]

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