French philosopher; b. Saint-Martin-de-Villeréal (Lot-et-Garonne), July 15, 1883; d. there, Sept. 1, 1951. An agrégé in philosophy in 1909, he taught at the Lycée Fustel de Coulanges at Strasbourg and defended his thesis for the doctorate of letters in 1921. Shortly thereafter he started teaching at the Sorbonne, and in 1930 edited the philosophy chronicles of Le Temps. In 1934, with his friend René le senne, he founded the movement known as philosophy of the spirit, which aimed at a renewal of metaphysics in reaction to positivism and classical rationalism. Named inspector general of national education, then professor at the Collège de France in 1941, in 1947 he was elected to the Académie des Sciences morales et politiques. He profoundly influenced not only his students but also the general public; an architect of ideas, he added to the fullness and flexibility of his thought a purity of language and charm of style that are in the best tradition of malebranche and the French moralists. He lived in conformity with what he taught, closely uniting his spiritual with his intellectual life. One of his last writings ends on this characteristic note: "We should tremble with joy every morning at the thought that we have another day to love God."
The point of departure for Lavelle was an analysis of being, founded on an experience that includes and transfigures the sensible. From this he drew the title for his thesis, Dialectique du monde sensible (Strasbourg 1921). In his general ontology, being and reality were first identified; subsequently Lavelle discovered a pure act at the heart of being and finally divine love at the source of this act. More and more merging being with subjectivity, he later described the real as contained within the plenitude of being and as existing only for finite subjects. The real, in his thought, gradually merged with cosmicality and tended to reduce itself to objectifiable phenomena.
Being is participated; man is separated from it by an interval that God eternally crosses but that man finds inseparable from temporal ambiguity, from freedom of negation, and from the possibility of evil. Participated act does not merge with the participating act that gives rise to human freedoms. Although he relentlessly defended the univocity of being, Lavelle sought to avoid pantheism. "Participation," he wrote, "does not have the extinction of the part in the whole as an ideal, but the formation of a spiritual society from the parts with themselves and with the whole" [De l'Acte (Paris 1937) 165]. The endless fecundity of the divine act that invites man to renew himself in it shapes Lavelle's optimism.
Applied to the analysis of categories—specifically to that of time—and with its many kinds of values, this philosophy expresses itself as a highly developed system. Yet its very richness leaves one undecided over its final meaning; one wonders whether it is legitimate to establish such a complete equality between religion and philosophy and wishes that Lavelle had given a fuller analysis of intersubjective causality.
Bibliography: m. manno, Enciclopedia Filosofica 2:1820–26. p. levert, L'Être et le réel selon Louis Lavelle (Paris 1960). w. piersol, La Valeur dans la philosophie de Louis Lavelle (Paris 1959). j. École, La Métaphysique de l'être dans la philosophie de Louis Lavelle (Paris 1957).