Armand Joseph Cuvillier was born in Paris in 1887. He entered the École Normale Supérieure in 1908 and became agrégé de philosophie in 1919. After holding positions at collèges in Montluçon, Bourges, Strasbourg, Laon, and Paris, he taught sociology at the Sorbonne from 1945 to 1953.
Cuvillier is primarily a historian of ideas. His interest in French socialism at the time of the revolution of 1848 goes back to 1919, when he published his thesis on L’Atelier, a workers’ periodical edited between 1840 and 1850 by followers of Philippe Buchez. In 1937 he wrote an essay on the differences between Proudhon and Marx (1937a), and in his article “Les antagonismes de classes dans la littérature sociale française de Saint-Simon a 1848” (1956b) he showed to what extent the notion that class antagonism is inherent in industrial society had developed prior to the earliest Marxist writings.
Another major concern of Cuvillier’s has been to introduce the work of Durkheim and his followers to a larger public. Anxious as he has been to preserve Durkheim’s heritage, Cuvillier has found it necessary to separate the properly scientific part of Durkheim’s work from what he has called his “sociologism”: thus, he has denounced Durkheim’s attempt to arrive at moral conclusions on the basis of the study of social facts, and he has accused Durkheim of transforming society itself into the fundamental value. In spite of such criticism, Cuvillier has defended Durkheim repeatedly against more extreme critics. In an article, “Durkheim et Marx” (1948a), he concluded that Durkheimism and Marxism cannot be simply opposed as conservative and revolutionary sociology, respectively, or as idealist and materialist conceptions: they have common elements, and both are forerunners of the sociology of knowledge.
Cuvillier has done useful work both as an editor and as a writer of teaching documents. He has edited the works of Proudhon, Spinoza, Roustan, Condillac, Malebranche, and Durkheim; particularly valuable is his reconstruction of Durkheim’s course on pragmatism and sociology from the notes of two students. His textbook, Introduction à la sociologie, was first published in 1936 and has since been revised six times and translated into several languages. A handbook of sociology in two volumes, Manuel de sociologie (1950), has become a useful tool for sociologists because of its great wealth of references.
In 1953 Cuvillier warned that the traditional French conception of sociology as an objective science based on empirical investigation was in danger (Où va la sociologie française?…). Asserting the importance of the formula attributed to Francois Simiand, “no facts without ideas, no ideas without facts,” he focused his attack on the work of Georges Gurvitch, whom he berated for having created an arbitrary, formalistic sociological typology, divorced from facts. Simultaneously, he deplored a tendency in French sociology to conduct empirical research without theoretical foundations.
(1919) 1954 Un journal d’ouvriers: L’Atelier (1840–1850). Paris: Éditions Ouvrières.
(1936) 1960 Introduction à la sociologie. 6th ed., rev. Paris: Colin.
(1937a) 1956 Marx et Proudhon. Pages 145–226 in Armand Cuvillier, Hommes et idéologies de 1840. Paris: Rivière.
1937b Proudhon. Paris: Éditions Sociales Internationales.
1948a Durkheim et Marx. Cahiers internationaux de sociologie 4:75–97.
1948b P. J. B. Buchez et les origines du socialisme chrétien. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
(1950) 1962–1963 Manuel de sociologie: Avec notices bibliographiques. 2 vols. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
1953 Où va la sociologie frangaise? Avec une étude d’Émile Durkheim sur la sociologie formaliste. Paris: Rivière.
1956a Partis pris sur I’art, la philosophic, I’histoire. Paris: Colin.
(1956b) 1961 Sociologie et histoire sociale: Les antagonismes de classes dans la littérature sociale française de Saint-Simon à 1848. Pages 108–156 in Armand Cuvillier, Sociologie et problèmes actuels. 2d ed., enl. Paris: Vrin.
1958 Trends Abroad: France. Pages 716–736 in Joseph S. Rouĉek (editor), Contemporary Sociology. New York: Philosophical Library.