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THIS work is the fruit of much reading and research done in Paris at the Sorbonne and Bibliothèque nationale. It is, substantially, a revised form of the thesis presented by the writer to the University of Liverpool for the degree of Doctor in Philosophy, obtained in 1921. The author is indebted, therefore, to the University for permission to publish. More especially must he record his deep gratitude to the French thinkers who gave both stimulus and encouragement to him during his sojourn in Paris. Foremost among these is M. Henri Bergson, upon whose rapport the Doctorate was conferred, and who has expressed his appreciation of the work by contributing a Foreword for publication.
Mention must also be made of the encouragement given by the late M. Emile Boutroux and by the eminent editor of the well-known Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale, M. Xavier Léon, a leading spirit in the Société de Philosophie, whose meetings the writer was privileged to attend by invitation. Then MM. Brunschvicg, Levy-Bruhl, Lalande, Rey and Lenoir, from time to time discussed the work with him and he must record his appreciation of their kindness.
To Professor Mair of Liverpool is due the initial suggestion, and it has been felt a fitting tribute to his supervision, criticism, encouragement and sympathy that this book should be respectfully dedicated to him by one of his grateful pupils. In the labour of dealing with the proofs, the writer has to acknowledge the co-operation of Miss M. Linn and Mr. J. E. Turner, M.A.
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The method adopted in this history has been deliberately chosen for its usefulness in emphasising the development of ideas. A purely chronological method has not been followed. The biographical system has likewise been rejected. The history of the development of thought centres round problems, and it progresses in relation to these problems. The particular manner in which the main problems presented themselves to the French thinkers of the second half of the nineteenth century was largely determined by the events and ideas which marked the period from 1789 to 1851. For this reason a chapter has been devoted to Antecedents. Between the Revolution and the coup d'état of Napoleon III., four distinct lines of thought are discernible. Then the main currents from the year 1851 down to 1921 are described, with special reference to the development of the main problems. The reconciliation of science and conscience proved to be the main general problem, which became more definitely that of Freedom. This in itself is intimately bound up with the doctrines of progress, of history, of ethics and religion. These topics are discussed in a manner which shows their bearing upon each other. The conclusion aims at displaying the characteristics of French thought which reveal themselves in the study of these great problems. Its vitality, concreteness, clearness, brilliance and precision are noted and a comparison made between French thought and German philosophy.
From a general philosophical standpoint few periods could be so fascinating. Few, if any, could show such a complete revolution of thought as that witnessed since the year 1851. To bring this out clearly is the main object of the present book. It is intended to serve a double purpose. Primarily, it aims at being a contribution to the history of thought which will provide a definite knowledge of the best that has been said and thought among philosophers in France during the last seventy years. Further, it is itself an appeal for serious attention to be given to French philosophy. This is a field which has been comparatively neglected by English students, so far as the nineteenth century is concerned, and this is especially true of our period, which is roughly that from Comte to Boutroux (who passed away last month) and Bergson (who has this year resigned his professorship). It is the earnest desire of the writer to draw both philosophical students and lovers of France and its literature to a closer study and appreciation of modern French philosophy. Emotion and sentiment are inadequate bases for an entente which is to be really cordiale between any two peoples. An understanding of their deepest thoughts is also necessary and desirable. Such an understanding is, after all, but a step towards that internationalisation of thought, that common fund of human culture and knowledge, which sets itself as an ideal before the nations of the world. La philosophie n'a pas de patrie! Les idées sont actuellement les forces internationales.
J. A. G.
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