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

THE PHILOSOPHY OF VALUES IN FRANCE

Raymond Polin*

Whereas, outside France, axiological research had been in full swing from the beginning of the century, French philosophers only began to devote themselves to the study of values, considered as such, at a very recent date. C. Bouglé looked like a forerunner, even in 1922, when he gave one of his books the title of Leçons de sociologie sur l'évolution des valeurs. So that, in a country where philosophic traditions have always had peculiar prestige and influence, the contemporary philosophy of values in France finds itself without any direct tradition and always seems to apply, more or less, for its source to doctrines imported from abroad.

No doubt, it might be said that literature has been, for a long time, open to widely axiological preoccupations. The immoralism of a writer like Gide, or the manifestations of surrealism are questioning values viewed as a whole, either by creating between them a vast osmosis, and stressing their specific originality, or by treating them all, whatsoever they may be, with the same destructive rage and the same nihilism.

It seems, on the other hand, that one has met, on the part of the philosophy experts, with a systematic refusal to think in terms of values for a much longer period than in any other country. The influence of Nietzsche's Umwertung aller Werte has proved to be negligible with all of them, to such an extent that his claim to be a philosopher is still sometimes questioned, and that he is acknowledged and praised merely as a poet.1 Even in 1938, E. Bréhier, in a well-known article strongly criticized the notion of value which, he thought, would lead to outdated, verbal, or indefinite solutions.2 Two essential reasons, though seemingly contradictory, concur to render traditional French spiritualism hostile to

____________________
*
Born in 1910. Student at the École Normale Supéricure. Agrégé de philosophie; docteur ès-lettres. Formerly professor of philosophy at the lycées Rollin and Condorcet, Paris. Professor of ethics, University of Lille. Author of works listed in the bibliography.
1
A. Lalande, La raison et les normes ( Paris, Librairie Hachette, 1948), p. 25.
2
E. Bréhier, "Doutes sur la philosophie des valeurs," in Revue de métaphysique et de morale, ( 1939).

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