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le Senne, René

LE SENNE, RENÉ

French philosopher; b. Elbeuf-sur-Seine, July 8, 1882; d. Paris, Oct. 1, 1954. He was a student at the École Normale Supérieure in 1903 and agrégé at the University of Paris in 1906; he defended his dissertation for a doctorate of letters in 1930. He then taught at the Lycée Louisle-Grand, was named professor at the Sorbonne in 1942, and was admitted to the Académie des Sciences morales et politiques in 1948. With Louis lavelle he established the collection Philosophie de l'Esprit in 1934; he also directed the Logos and Caractères collections of the Presses Universitaires de France and presided at the International Institute of Philosophy in 1952 and 1953.

His thought is dialectical, like that of O. Hamelin (18561907), whose method he reformed and enlarged. It begins with relation and not with being, as does Lavelle's, and seeks not so much an explanation of the world as salvation of the person. The privileged relation for Le Senne is duty, to which he devoted his doctoral dissertation (Le Devoir, Paris 1930); dialectic itself is a duty, as duty is a dialectic. Duty encroaches upon intelligence, but man must allow himself to be stimulated by contradiction everywhere and surmount it. "At the provocation of the irrational," he writes, "the self answers with courage." This courage must be inventive, for the work of awareness never ends; it cannot establish itself alongside Infinity, which unceasingly moves reflection and makes it pass alternately from an obstacle to a value (Obstacle el Valeur, Paris 1934). This is why the moral treatise he published presents both exemplary lives, such as those of Socrates and Jesus, and analyses of concepts (Traité de morale générale, Paris 1942).

Le Senne opposed reasoning to lived experience; yet the opposition he referred to as "the ideo-existential relation" is a call to live thought and to think life. Value thus reaches man from two directions, each of which preserves the image of the other. A sort of refraction, or diffraction, of value into life follows this; it is manifested by a "double cogito "reflection, surpassing its given determinations, centers itself in the self and in God. There is no self without God and no God without self, except asymptotically.

Le Senne's vision of the world is harsher than that of Lavelle; he insists on the interhuman bond, but on condition of seeing in it a work in common rather than a mystical intimacy. The opacity and the conflicts of nature contaminate value itself, as one sees in the example of war, where hostility rests on the devotion of each belligerent to one same value, that of country. There is no solution to this aporia except an increasing fidelity to the solidarity itself of values. Thence the condemnation of all fanaticisms, not because they are intense but because they are exclusive; thence also the refusal to give privilege to any particular value, not even charity. God alone is the perfectly determining and indeterminable value for all determined values. Even in future life Le Senne seemed to await a sort of perpetual purgatory that made him say: "To die is to move one's furniture."

Besides his philosophical work, Le Senne is noteworthy for his interest in characterology (Traité de caractérologie, Paris 1946). He conceived of character as the mental skeleton of man and not as a bundle of virtualities that could be equated with his person. He also rethought and deepened the distinction G. Heymans (18571930) proposed between primary character, which is changeable, and secondary character, which retains all the reverberation that goes on within it.

Bibliography: c. rosso, Enciclopedia filosofica, 4 v. (Venice-Rome 1957) 2:18911894. g. berger, Notice sur la vie et les travaux de René Le Senne, 18821954 (Paris 1956). j. paumen, Le Spiritualisme existentiel de René Le Senne (Paris 1949).

[m. nÉdoncelle]

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