Meyerson, Emile

views updated


MEYERSON, EMILE (1859–1933), French chemist, historian, and philosopher of science; son of Malvina Meyerson, Polish novelist. Born in Lublin, Poland, Meyerson studied in Germany, mainly in Heidelberg with the noted chemist R.W. Bunsen. He later immigrated to Paris where he worked as an industrial chemist, editor, and administrator of the Jewish colonization association (ica). Although never appointed to a university post, Meyerson came to be recognized as an unusually erudite scholar of the interrelationships among the natural sciences, the history of philosophy, and cultural developments, particularly since the rise of modern science in the 16th century. His knowledge embraced the most recent work on Einstein's theory of relativity and the early quantum theory of Max Planck and Niels Bohr. Meyerson wished to understand the nature of explanation both in the natural sciences and elsewhere. He believed that the philosopher of science has to have a thorough knowledge of the history of science, and of how scientists themselves conceived of their own work. His own philosophy, though abstract, was based on vast scholarly research which led him to conclude that rational understanding consisted of the discovery of those factors of permanence underlying processes of change, and the search for those identities found within the evident flux of experience or the incompletely rationalized world of most scientific work. Reality nevertheless seemed to Meyerson to be only partially open to rational understanding. Its sensual factors, for instance, which are so important for epistemological theory, remain unexplained. A complete understanding of nature thus seems to elude the grasp of a reasoned science. Meyerson's works include Identité et Réalité (1908; Identity and Reality, 1930), De l'explication dans les Sciences (2 vols., 1921), and various essays.


T.R. Kely, Explanation and Reality in the Philosophy of Emile Meyerson (1937), incl. bibl.; G. Boas, A Critical Analysis of the Philosophy of Emile Meyerson (1930); L. de Broglie et al., in: Bulletin de la Société francaise de Philosophie, 55:2 (1961), 55–105, issue devoted to Meyerson and Milhaud.

[Robert S. Cohen]

About this article

Meyerson, Emile

Updated About content Print Article