Philosophic Thought in France and the United States: Essays Representing Major Trends in Contemporary French and American Philosophy

By Marvin Farber | Go to book overview

LA PHILOSOPHIE DE L'ESPRIT

René Le Senne*

It would require extensive analysis to study and clarify the relation between a people and its philosophy. France has been so fortunate as to have found, as early as the seventeenth century, an expression in which she has never ceased to recognize herself. To follow the development of French philosophy, from Malebranche to Hamelin, or even Bergson, is to realize the fecundity of Cartesianism. It would seem to be the fixed axis of a tradition which the thinkers of different epochs have been more anxious to adapt to the needs and conditions of their times than to replace. Even today, Cartesianism, more than any other doctrine, sets the pattern for the teaching of philosophy in French schools and colleges; and it could be argued that, were France to forget Cartesianism, her whole character would change.


I
THE CARTESIAN TRADITION

What do we mean by this term, Cartesianism, when we have divested the work of Descartes of the extraneous elements imposed upon it by his education and the period in which he lived? We mean essentially two theses.

1. The first is that of the cogito. For Descartes, the primary truth is not a principle from which, as a beginning, the structure of reality must be built by deduction. It is an experience or, rather, the experience, whose peculiar property is that it is to be found in every experience: the experience of thought in thinking. The genetic necessity of all philosophy is not the logical and propulsive force of an axiom, but the fact, impossible to deny, of a lived and living experience. I cannot doubt that I am, for, the

____________________
*
Born in 1882. Student of Rauh and Hamelin at the École Normale Supérieure. With Louis Lavelle, directs the "Philosophic de l'Esprit." Professor of ethics, Sorbonne. Member of the Institute of France. A moralist, he endeavors to connect the concrete study of man with a metaphysic of values. Author of Introduction ὰ la Philosophie, Le Devoir, and Traités de Morale générale et de Caractériologie.

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