Léon Brunschvicg

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Léon Brunschvicg
Born(1869-11-10)10 November 1869
Died18 January 1944(1944-01-18) (aged 74)
Alma materÉcole Normale Supérieure
Spouse(s)Cécile Kahn
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolFrench Idealism
Critical philosophy[1]
French historical epistemology[2]
InstitutionsUniversity of Paris
ThesisLa Modalité du jugement (1897)
Doctoral studentsGaston Bachelard
Main interests
Philosophy of mathematics

Léon Brunschvicg (French: [leɔ̃ bʁœ̃svik]; 10 November 1869 – 18 January 1944) was a French Idealist philosopher. He co-founded the Revue de métaphysique et de morale with Xavier Leon and Élie Halévy in 1893.


He was born into a Jewish family.[4][5]

From 1895–1900 he taught at the Lycée Pierre Corneille in Rouen.[6] In 1897 he completed his thesis under the title La Modalité du jugement (The Modalities of Judgement). In 1909 he became professor of philosophy at the Sorbonne. He was married to Cécile Kahn,[7] a major campaigner for women's suffrage in France, with whom he had four children.

While at the Sorbonne, Brunschvicg was the supervisor for Simone de Beauvoir's masters thesis (on the ideas of Leibniz).

Forced to leave his position at the Sorbonne by the Nazis, Brunschvicg fled to the south of France, where he died at the age of 74. While in hiding, he wrote studies of Montaigne, Descartes, and Pascal that were printed in Switzerland. He composed a manual of philosophy dedicated to his teenage granddaughter entitled Héritage de Mots, Héritage d'Idées (Legacy of Words, Legacy of Ideas) which was published posthumously after the liberation of France. His reinterpretation of Descartes has become the foundation for a new idealism.

Brunschvicg defined philosophy as "the mind's methodical self-reflection" and gave a central role to judgement.

The publication of Brunschvicg's oeuvre has been recently completed after unpublished materials held in Russia were returned to his family in 2001.

Works (selective list)[edit]

  • La Modalité du jugement, Paris, Alcan, 1897.
  • Spinoza et ses contemporains, Paris, Alcan, 1923.
  • L'idéalisme contemporain, Paris, Alcan, 1905.
  • Les étapes de la philosophie mathématique, Paris, Alcan, 1912.
  • L'expérience humaine et la causalité physique, Paris, Alcan, 1922.
  • Le progrès de la conscience dans la philosophie occidentale, Paris, Alcan, 1927.
  • La Physique au vingtième siècle, Paris, Hermann, 1939.
  • La Raison et la religion, Paris, Alcan, 1939.
  • Descartes et Pascal, lecteurs de Montaigne, Paris, La Baconnière, 1942.
  • Héritage de mots, héritage d'idées, Paris, PUF, 1945.
  • Agenda retrouvé, 1892–1942, Paris, Minuit, 1948.
  • La philosophie de l'esprit seize lecons professées en Sorbonne 1921-1922, Paris, PUF, 1949.
  • De la vraie et de la fausse conversion, Paris, PUF, 1950.
  • Écrits philosophiques I: L'Humanisme de l'occident, Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Paris: PUF, 1951.
  • Écrits philosophiques II: L'Orientation du rationalisme, Paris: PUF, 1954.
  • Écrits philosophiques III: Science – Religion, Paris: PUF, 1958.
English translations
  • Lafrance, Jean-David: "Physics and Metaphysics" and "On the Relations of Intellectual Consciousness and Moral Consciousness" in The Philosophical Forum, 2006, Volume 37, Issue 1, pages 53–74.


  1. ^ Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy: Maine de Biran to Sartre, Paulist Press, 1975, p. 150.
  2. ^ E. Reck (ed.), The Historical Turn in Analytic Philosophy, Springer, 2016: ch. 2.1.
  3. ^ Joseph W. Dauben and Christoph J. Scriba (eds.), Writing the History of Mathematics – Its Historical Development, 2002, p. 33.
  4. ^ Susan Zuccotti, The Holocaust, the French, and the Jews, University of Nebraska Press (1999), p. 10
  5. ^ Venita Datta, Birth of a National Icon: The Literary Avant-Garde and the Origins of the Intellectual in France, SUNY Press (1999), p. 96
  6. ^ Lycée Pierre Corneille de Rouen - History
  7. ^ Visages du féminisme réformiste - C. Brunschvicg Archived 2005-10-16 at the Wayback Machine at bu.univ-angers.fr

Further reading[edit]

  • René Boirel, Brunschvicg. Sa vie, son œuvre avec un exposé de sa philosophie, Paris, PUF, 1964.
  • Marcel Deschoux, La philosophie de Léon Brunschvicg, Paris, PUF, 1949.
  • Gary Gutting, French Philosophy in the Twentieth Century, Cambridge University Press, 2001.

External links[edit]