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While the positivist current of thought was working itself out through Vacherot, Taine and Renan to a position which forms a connecting link between Comte and the new spiritualism in which the reaction against positivism and eclecticism finally culminated, another influence was making itself felt independently in the neo-critical philosophy of Renouvier.
We must here note the work and influence of Cournot (1801-1877), which form a very definite link between the doctrines of Comte and those of Renouvier. He owed much to positivism, and he contributed to the formation of neo-criticism by his influence upon Renouvier. Cournot's Essai sur le Fondement de nos Connaissances appeared in 1851, three years before Renouvier gave to the world the first volume of his Essais de Critique générale. In 1861 Cournot published his Traité de l'Enchaînement des Idées, which was followed by his Considerations sur le Marche des Idées (1872) and Matérialisme, Vitalisme, Rationalisme (1875). These volumes form his contribution to philosophical thought, his remaining works being mainly concerned with political economy and mathematics, a science in which he won distinction.
Like Comte, Cournot opposed the spiritualism, the eclecticism and the psychology of Cousin, but he was possessed of a more philosophic mind than Comte; he certainly had greater philosophical knowledge, was better equipped in the history of philosophy and had much greater respect for metaphysical theory. He shared with Comte, however, an interest in social problems and biology; he also adopted his general attitude to knowledge, but the spirit of Cournot's work is much less dogmatic than that of the great positivist, and he made no pretensions to be a "pontiff" such as Comte aspired to be. Indeed his lack of pretensions may account partly for the lack of attention with which his work (which is shrewd, thoughtful and reserved) has been treated. He aimed at indicating the foundations of a sound philosophy rather than at offering a system of thought to the public. This temper was the product of his scientific attitude. It was by an examination of the sciences and particularly of the principles upon which they depend that he formulated his group of fundamental doctrines.
He avoided hasty generalisations or a priori constructions and, true to the scientific spirit, based his thought upon the data afforded by experience. He agreed heartily with Comte regarding the relativity of our knowledge. An investigation of this knowledge shows it to be based on three principles—order, chance, and probability. We find order existing in the universe and by scientific methods we try to grasp this order. This involves induction, a method which cannot give us absolute certainty, although it approximates to it. It gives us probability only. There is therefore a reality of chances, and contingency or chance must be admitted as a factor in evolution and in human history.
Cournot foreshadows many of the doctrines of the new spiritualists as well as those of the neo-critical school. Much in his work heralds a Bergson as well as a Renouvier. This is noticeable in his attitude to science and to the problem of contingency or freedom. It is further seen in his doctrine that the vivant is incapable of demonstration, in his view of the soul or higher instinct which he distinguished from the intelligence, in the biological interest displayed in his work (due partly to the work of Bichat*), and in his idea of a Travail de Création. Unlike Bergson, however, he admits a teleology, for he believed this inseparable from living beings, but he regards it as a hazardous finality, not rigid or inconsistent with freedom.
[Footnote * : Bichat (1771-1802) was a noted physiologist and anatomist. In 1800 appeared his Recherches physiologiques sur la Vie et la Mort, followed in 1801 by Anatomie générale, appliquée à la Physiologie et à la Médecine.]
The immediate influence of Cournot was felt by only a small circle, and his most notable affinity was with Renouvier, although Cournot was less strictly an intellectualist. Like Renouvier he looked upon philosophy as a "Critique générale." He was also concerned with the problem of the categories and with the compatibility of science and freedom, a problem which was now assuming a very central position in the thought of the period.
Renouvier, in the construction of his philosophy, was partly influenced by the work of Cournot. In this lone, stern, indefatigable worker we have one of the most powerful minds of the century. Charles Renouvier shares with Auguste Comte the first honours of the century in France so far as philosophical work is concerned. Curiously enough he came from Comte's birth-place, Montpellier. When Renouvier was born in 1815, seventeen years later than Comte, the great positivist was in his second year of study at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. To this great scientific and mathematical institution came Renouvier, to find Comte as Répétiteur of Higher Mathematics. He was not only a keen student of the mathematical sciences but also an ardent follower of Saint-Simon, and although in later life he lost many of the hopes of his youth the Saint-Simon spirit remained with him, and he retained a keen interest in social ethics and particularly in the ideas of Fourier, Proudhon and Blanc. At the Ecole he met as fellow-pupils Jules Lequier and Felix Ravaisson.
Instead of entering the civil service Renouvier then applied himself to philosophy and political science, influenced undoubtedly by Comte's work. The year 1848, which saw the second attempt to establish a republic, gave Renouvier, now a zealous republican, an opportunity, and he issued his Manuel républicain de l'Homme et du Citoyen. This volume, intended for schoolmasters, had the approval of Carnot, Minister of Education to the Provisionary Government. Its socialist doctrines were so criticised by the Chamber of 1849 that Carnot, and with him the Government, fell from power. Renouvier went further in his Gouvernement direct et Organisation communale et centrale de la République, in which he collaborated with his socialist friends in outlining a scheme of communism, making the canton a local power, a scheme which contained the germ-idea of the Soviet of Bolshevik Russia. Such ideas were, however, far too advanced for the France of that date and their proposal did more harm than good to the progressive party by producing a reaction in wavering minds. Renouvier, through the paper Liberté de penser, launched attacks upon the policy of the Presidency, and began in the Revue philosophique a serial Uchronie, a novel of a political and philosophical character. It was never finished. Suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, came, on December and, the coup d'état. The effect of this upon Renouvier was profound. Disgusted at the power of the monarchy, the shattering of the republican hopes, the suppression of liberty and the general reaction, he abandoned political life entirely. What politics lost, however, philosophy has gained, for he turned his acute mind with its tremendous energy to the study of the problems of the universe.
Three years after the coup d'état, in the same year in which Comte completed his Système de Politique positive, 1854, Renouvier published the first volume of his magnum opus, the Essais de Critique générale.* The appearance of this work is a notable date in the development of modern French philosophy. The problems therein discussed will concern us in later chapters. Here we must point out the indefatigable labour given to this work by Renouvier. The writing and revision of these essays covered almost the whole of the half century, concluding in 1897. In their first, briefer form they occupied the decade 1854-64, and consisted of four volumes only, which on revision became finally thirteen.* These Essays range over Logic, Psychology, the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Philosophy of History.
[Footnote * : It is interesting for the comparative study of the thought of the century to observe that the great work of Lotze in Germany, Mikrocosmos, was contemporaneous with the Essais of Renouvier. Lotze's three volumes appeared in 1856, 1858 and 1864. The Logik and Metaphysik of Lotze should also be compared with Renouvier's Essais. Further comparison or contrast may be made with reference to the Logic of both Bradley and Bosanquet in England.]
[Footnote * : Since 1912 the Essais de Critique générale are available in ten volumes, owing to the publications of new editions of the first three Essays by A. Colin in five volumes. For details of the original and revised publication of the work, see our Bibliography, under Renouvier (pp. 334-335).]
Having thus laid the foundations of his own throught, Renouvier, in conjunction with his scholarly friend Pillon, undertook the publication of a monthly periodical, L'Année philosophique, to encourage philosophic thought in France. This appeared first in 1867, the same year in which Ravaisson laid the foundations of the new spiritualism by his celebrated Rapport. In 1869 Renouvier published his noteworthy treatise upon Ethics, in two volumes, La Science de la Morale.
The war of 1870 brought his monthly periodical to an untimely end. The conclusion of the war in 1871 resulted in the establishment, for the third time, of a republic, which in spite of many vicissitudes has continued even to this day. With the restoration of peace and of a republic, Renouvier felt encouraged to undertake the ambitious scheme of publishing a weekly paper, not only philosophical in character but political, literary and religious. He desired ardently to address his countrymen at a time when they were rather intellectually and morally bewildered. He felt he had something constructive to offer, and hoped that the "new criticism," as he called it, might become the philosophy of the new republic. Thus was founded, in 1872, the famous Critique philosophique, which aimed primarily at the consolidation of the republic politically and morally,† This paper appeared as a weekly from its commencement until 1884,then continued for a further five years as a monthly. Renouvier and his friend Pillon were assisted by other contributors, A. Sabatier, L. Dauriac, R. Allier, who were more or less disciples of the neo-critical school. Various articles were contributed by William James, who had a great admiration for Renouvier. The two men, although widely different in temperament and method, had certain affinities in their doctrine of truth and certitude.*
[Footnote † : In the early numbers, political articles, as was natural in the years following 1871, were prominent. Among these early articles we may cite the one, "Is France morally obliged to carry out the terms of the Treaty imposed upon her by Prussia?"]
[Footnote * : On this relationship see James's Will to Believe, p. 143, 1897, and the dedications in his Some Problems of Philosophy (to Renouvier), and his Principles of Psychology (to Pillon), also Letters of William James, September i8th, 1892.]
Renouvier's enthusiasm for his periodical did not, however, abate his energy or ardour for more lasting work. He undertook the task of revising and augmenting his great work, the Essais de Critique générale, and added to the series another (fifth) Essay, in four volumes. He also issued in 1876 the curious work Uchronie, a history of "what might have been" (in his view) the development of European civilisation. Together with Pillon he translated Hume's Treatise on Human Nature.
Meanwhile the Critique philosophique continued to combat any symptoms of a further coup d'état, and "to uphold strictly republican principles and to fight all that savoured of Caesar or imperialism." In 1878 a quarterly supplement La Critique religieuse was added to attack the Roman Catholic Church and to diminish its power in France.†
[Footnote † : The significance of this effort is more fully dealt with in our last chapter.]
Articles which had appeared in this quarterly were published as Esquisse d'une Classification systématique des Doctrines philosophiques in 1885 in two volumes, the second of which contained the important Confession of Faith of Renouvier, entitled, How I arrived at this Conclusion.
His thought assumed a slightly new form towards the close of the century, at the end of which he published, in conjunction with his disciple Prat, a remarkable volume, which took a prize at the Académie des Sciences morales et politiques, to which rather late in the day he was admitted as a member at the age of eighty-five. In its title La Nouvelle Monadologie, and method it reveals the influence of Leibnitz.
The close of the century shows us Renouvier as an old man, still an enormous worker, celebrating his eighty-sixth birthday by planning and writing further volumes (Les Dilemmes de la Métaphysique pure and its sequel, Histoire et Solution des Problèmes métaphysiques). This "grand old man" of modern French philosophy lived on into the early years of the twentieth century, still publishing, still writing to the last. His final volume, Le Personnalisme, was a restatement of his philosophy, issued when he was in his eighty-ninth year. He died "in harness" in 1903, dictating to his friend Prat a résumé of his thought on important points and leaving an unpublished work on the philosophy of Kant.*
[Footnote * : The résumé was published by Prat a couple of years later as Derniers Entretiens, the volume on the Doctrine de Kant, followed in 1906.]
Renouvier's career is a striking one and we have sketched it somewhat fully here because of its showing more distinctly than that of Taine or Renan the reflections of contemporary history upon the thinking minds who lived through the years 1848-51 and 1870-71. Renouvier was a young spirit in the year of the revolution, 1848, and lived right on through the coup d'état, the Second Empire, the Franco-Prussian War, the Commune, the Third Republic, and he foresaw and perhaps influenced the Republic's attitude to the Roman Church. His career is the most significant and enlightening one to follow of all the thinkers who come within our period. Let us note that he never held any academic or public teaching appointment. His life was in the main a secluded one and, like Comte, he found the University a limited preserve closed against him and his philosophy, dominated by the declining eclecticism which drew its inspiration from Cousin. Only gradually did his influence make itself felt to such a degree that the University was compelled to take notice of it. Now his work is more appreciated, but not as much as it might be, and outside his own country he is little known. The student finds his writings somewhat difficult owing to the author's heavy style. He has none of the literary ease and brilliance of a Renan. But his work was great and noble, animated by a passion for truth and a hatred of philosophical "shams" and a current of deep moral earnestness colours all his work. He had considerable power as a critic, for the training of the Ecole Polytechnique produced a strictly logical temper in his work, which is that of a true philosopher, not that of a merely brilliant litterateur or dilettante, and he must be regarded as one of the intellectual giants of the century.
While we see in Positivism a system of thought which opposed itself to Eclecticism, we find in the philosophy of Renouvier a system of doctrine which is opposed to both Eclecticism and Positivism. Indeed Renouvier puts up a strong mental fight against both of these systems; the latter he regarded as an ambitious conceit. He agreed, however, with Comte and with Cournot upon the relativity of our knowledge. "I accept," he says, "one fundamental principle of the Positivist School—namely, the reduction of knowledge to the laws of phenomena."* The author of the Essais de Critique générale considered himself, however, to be the apostolic successor, not of Comte, but of Kant. The title of neo-criticisme† which he gave to his philosophy shows his affinity with the author of the Kritik der reinen Vernunft. This is very noticeable in his method of treating the problem of knowledge by criticising the human mind and especially in his giving a preference to moral considerations.* It would be, however, very erroneous to regard Renouvier as a disciple of Kant, for he amends and rejects many of the doctrines of the German philosopher. We have noted the fact that he translated Hume; we must observe also that Hume's influence is very strongly marked in Renouvier's "phenomenalism."† "Renouvier is connected with Hume," says Pillon, in the preface he contributed to the translation,‡ "as much as with Kant. . . . He reconciles Hume and Kant. . . . Something is lacking in Hume, the notion of law; something is superfluous in Kant, the notion of substance. It was necessary to unite the phenomenalism of Hume with the a priori teaching of Kant. This was the work accomplished by Renouvier."
[Footnote * : Preface to Essais de Critique générale.]
[Footnote † : The English word "criticism" is, it should be noted, translated in French by "critique" and not by the word "criticisme," a term which is used for the philosophy of the Kritik of Kant.]
[Footnote * : In recognising the primacy of the moral or practical reason in Kant, Renouvier resembles Fichte.]
[Footnote * : Renouvier's phenomenalism should be compared with that of Shadworth Hodgson, as set forth in the volumes of his large work on The Metaphysic of Experience, 1899. Hodgson has given his estimate of Renouvier and his relationship to him in Mind (volume for 1881).]
[Footnote ‡ : Psychologie de Hume : Traité de la Nature humaine, Renouvier Préface par Pillon, p. lxviii.]
It may be doubted whether Pillon's eulogy is altogether sound in its approval of the "reconciliation" of Hume and Kant, for such a reconciliation of opposites may well appear impossible. Renouvier himself faced this problem of the reconciliation of opposites when at an early age he inclined to follow the Hegelian philosophy, a doctrine which may very well be described as a "reconciliation of opposites," par excellence. Dissatisfied, however, with such a scheme Renouvier came round to the Kantian standpoint and then passed beyond it to a position absolutely contrary to that of Hegel. This position is frankly that opposites cannot be reconciled, one or the other must be rejected. Renouvier thus made the law of contradiction the basis of his philosophy, as it is the basis of our principles of thought or logic.
He rigorously applied this principle to that very interesting part of Kant's work, the antinomies, which he held should never have been formulated. The reasons put forward for this statement were two: the principle of contradiction and the law of number. Renouvier did not believe in what mathematicians call an "infinite number." He held it to be an absurd and contradictory notion, for to be a number at all it must be numerical and therefore not infinite. The application of this to the Kantian antinomies, as for example to the questions, "Is space infinite or finite? Had the world a beginning or not?" is interesting because it treats them as Alexander did the Gordian knot. The admission that space is infinite, or that the world had no beginning, involves the admission of an "infinite number," a contradiction and an absurdity. Since, therefore, such a number is a pure fiction we must logically conclude that space is finite,* that the world had a beginning and that the ascending series of causes has a first term, which admission involves freedom at the heart of things.
[Footnote: It is interesting to observe how the stress laid by Renouvier upon the finiteness of space and upon relativity has found expression in the scientific world by Einstein, long after it had been expressed philosophically.]
As Renouvier had treated the antinomies of Kant, so he makes short work of the Kantian conception of a world of noumena (Dinge an sich) of which we know nothing, but which is the foundation of the phenomena we know. Like Hume, he rejects all notion of substance, of which Kant's noumenon is a survival from ancient times. The idea of substance he abhors as leading to pantheism and to fatalism, doctrines which Renouvier energetically opposes, to uphold man's freedom and the dignity of human personality.
In the philosophy of Kant personality was not included among the categories. Renouvier draws up for himself a new list of categories differing from those of Kant. Beginning with Relation they culminate in Personality. These two categories indicate two of the strongholds of Renouvier's philosophy. Beginning from his fundamental thesis "All is relative," Renouvier points out that as nothing can possibly be known save by or in a relation of some sort it is evident that the most general law of all is that of Relation itself. Relation is therefore the first and fundamental category embracing all the others. Then follow, Number, Position, Succession, Quality. To these are added the important ones, Becoming, Causality, Finality proceeding from the simple to the composite, from the abstract to the concrete, from the elements most easily selected from our experience to that which embraces the experience itself, Renouvier comes to the final category in which they all find their consummation-Personality. The importance which he attaches to this category colours his entire thought and particularly determines his attitude to the various problems which we shall discuss in our following chapters.
As we can think of nothing save in relation to consciousness and consequently we cannot conceive the universe apart from personality, our knowledge of the universe, our philosophies, our beliefs are "personal" constructions. But they need not be on that account merely subjective and individualistic in character, for they refer to personality in its wide sense, a sense shared by other persons. This has important consequences for the problem of certitude in knowledge and Renouvier has here certain affinities to the pragmatist standpoint.
His discussion of certitude is very closely bound up with his treatment of the problem of freedom, but we may indicate here Renouvier's attitude to Belief and Knowledge, a problem in which he was aided by the work of his friend Jules Lequier,* whom he quotes in his second Essai de Critique générale. Renouvier considers it advisable to approach the problem of certitude by considering its opposite, doubt. In a famous passage in his second Essai he states the circumstances under which we do not doubt—namely, "when we see, when we know, when we believe." Owing to our liability to error (even seeing is not believing, and we frequently change our minds even about our "seeing"), it appears that belief is always involved, and more correctly "we believe that we see, we believe that we know." Belief is a state of consciousness involved in a certain affirmation of which the motives show themselves as adequate. Certitude arises when the possibility of an affirmation of the contrary is entirely rejected by the mind. Certitude thus appears as a kind of belief. All knowledge, Renouvier maintains, involves an affirmation of will. It is here we see the contrast so strongly marked between him and Renan, who wished us to "let things think themselves out in us." "Every affirmation in which consciousness is reflective is subordinated, in consciousness, to the determination to affirm." Our knowledge, our certitude, our belief, whatever we prefer to call it, is a construction not purely intellectual but involving elements of feeling and, above all, of will. Even the most logically incontrovertible truth are sometimes unconvincing. This is because certitude is not purely intellectual; it is une affaire passionnelle.* Renouvier here not only approaches the pragmatist position, but he recalls the attitude to will, assumed by Maine de Biran. For the Cartesian formula De Biran had suggested the substitution of Volo, ergo sum. The inadequacy of the the Cogito, ergo sum is remarked upon by Lequier, whose treatment of the question of certainty Renouvier follows. As all demonstration is deductive in character and so requires existing premises, we cannot expect the première vérité to be demonstrable. If, from the or certainty, we must turn to the will to create belief, or certainty, we must turn to the will to create beliefs*, for no evidence or previous truths exist for us. The Cogito, ergo sum really does not give us a starting point, as Descartes claimed for it, since there is no proper sequence from cogito to sum. Here we have merely two selves, moi-pensée and moi-objet. We need a live spark to bridge this gap to unite the two into one complete living self; this is found in moi-volonté, in a free act of will. This free act of will affirms the existence of the self by uniting in a synthetic judgment the thinking-self to the object-self. "I refuse," says Renouvier, quoting Lequier, "to follow the work of a knowledge which would not be mine. I accept the certainty of which I am the author." The première vérité is a free personal act of faith. Certainty in philosophy or in science reposes ultimately upon freedom and the consciousness of freedom.
[Footnote *: Jules Lequier was born in 1814 and entered the Ecole polytechnique in 1834, leaving two years later for a military staff appointment. This he abandoned in 1838. He died in 1862 after having destroyed most of his writings. Three Years after his death was published the volume, La Recherche d'une première Vérité, fragments posthumes de Jules Lequier. The reader should note the very interesting remarks by Renouvier at the end of the first volume of his Psychologie rationnelle, 1912 ed., pp. 369-393, on Lequier and his Philosophy, also the Fragments reprinted by Renouvier in that work, Comment trouver, comment chercher, vol. i., on Subject and Object (vol. ii.), and on Freedom.]
[Footnote *: Lotze employs a similar phrase, eine Gemüths-sache.]
Here again, as in the philosophy of Cournot, we find the main emphasis falling upon the double problem of the period. It is in reality one problem with two aspects—the relation of science to morality, or, in other words, the place and significance of freedom.
The general influence of Renouvier has led to the formation of a neo-critical "school" of thought, prominent members of which may be cited: Pillon and Prat, his intimate friends, Séailles and Darlu, who have contributed monographs upon their master's teaching, together with Hamelin, Liard and Brochard, eminent disciples. Hamelin (1856-1907), whose premature and accidental death deprived France of a keen thinker, is known for his Essai sur les Eléments principaux de la Représentation (1907), supplementing the doctrines of Renouvier by those of Hegel.
In the work of Liard (1846-1917), La Science positive et la Métaphysique (1879), we see a combination of the influence of Vacherot, Renouvier and Kant. He was also perplexed by the problem of efficient and final causes as was Lachelier, whose famous thesis De l'Induction appeared eight years earlier. While Lachelier was influenced by Kant, he, none the less, belongs to the current of the new spiritualism which we shall presently examine. Liard, however, by his adherence to many critical and neo-critical standpoints may be justly looked upon as belonging to that great current of which Renouvier is the prominent thinker.
Brochard (1848-1907) is mainly known by his treatise De l'Erreur (1879) and his volumes on Ethics, De la Responsabilité morale (1876), and De l'Universalité des Notions morales (1876), in all of which the primacy of moral considerations is advocated in a tone inspired by Renouvier's strong moral standpoint. The work De l'Erreur emphasises the importance of the problem of freedom as being the crux of the whole question involved in the relation of science and morality. Adhering to the neo-critical doctrines in general, and particularly to the value of the practical reason, Brochard, by his insistence upon action as a foundation for belief, has marked affinities with the doctrines of Blondel (and Olle-Laprune), the significance of whose work will appear at the end of our next section.
The phenomenalism of Renouvier was followed up by two thinkers, who cannot, however, be regarded as belonging to his neo-critical school. In 1888 Gourd published his work entitled Le Phénomène, which was followed six years later by the slightly more coherent attempt of Boirac to base a philosophy upon the phenomenalism which expresses itself so rigidly in Hume. In his book L'Idée du Phénomène (1894), he had, however, recourse to the Leibnitzian doctrines, which had finally exercised a considerable influence over Renouvier himself.
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