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Cousin, Victor (1792–1867)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC018-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2022
Retrieved July 15, 2024, from

Article Summary

Victor Cousin’s intention was to institute a ‘twofold reform in philosophy’ ([1828] 1991: 349) – namely, a spiritualist reform in psychology and an eclectic reform in the history of philosophy. The warrant for these reforms, he avers, is their timeliness: on the one hand, spiritualist method ‘constitutes the unity of the [nineteenth] century’ (1826: 9) and, on the other, ‘the spirit of the nineteenth century has come to recognize itself in eclecticism’ (1833: lvii). And what is more, his philosophy followed the trajectory of all timely philosophies: feted during his lifetime, it quickly fell out of favour in the 1860s as intellectual fashions moved on. And yet, Cousin has nevertheless remained influential; his institutional legacy has come to overshadow his conceptual one – as Macherey (1999: 197) has written on behalf of French philosophers, ‘We must be brave enough to say: Cousin haunts our philosophical spirit as… something unthought which precedes all our thoughts and guides them.’ As Chair of Modern History of Philosophy at the Sorbonne, President of the Agrégation Jury, Director of the Ecole Normale, Minister of Public Instruction, Counsellor of State and Pair de France, Cousin determined what it meant to do philosophy in post-revolutionary France.

The decline of Cousinianism after Cousin’s death was the result of a fundamental tendency within his philosophy too. According to Cousin, truth has already come into existence, and so the philosopher’s task is neither to invent nor to facilitate new truths, but solely to record old ones. This view is evident in his refusal to contribute a substantial treatise or system of his own, limiting himself instead to fragmentary interventions, to introductory lectures and to editions of historical texts. Indeed, Cousin’s publication legacy is felt most strongly in his editions of Proclus, Plato, Descartes, Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Abelard, de Biran and Pascal.

Citing this article:
Whistler, Daniel. Cousin, Victor (1792–1867), 2022, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC018-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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