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Maine de Biran, Pierre-François (1766–1824)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DB005-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 12, 2024, from

Article Summary

Maine de Biran claimed that the starting point for our understanding of human beings lay in introspective psychology: it was the awareness of willed effort. A proper understanding of the will should be the foundation of all work in psychology, including empirical psychology, as well as in the human sciences in general, which should work together towards a coordinated ‘anthropology’. Contrary to the assumptions of associationist psychology, mental facts were essentially relational, and language was a constitutive feature of them, rather than being a secondary device intended to represent them. But conscious mental life arose from and was influenced by a subconscious underlayer which could be studied only by the joint use of physiological and introspective methods. Biran rejected the view that mental states can be reduced to, or are nothing other than, physical states. There was a partial ‘symbolic’ correspondence between them, which meant that physical accounts and mental accounts could not be translated into each other without loss. Later in his life, though still maintaining the belief that psychology was primary, he held that it was necessary to accommodate questions of metaphysics, morality and religion. He published very little during his lifetime, and many of the ‘works’ found in editions are (sometimes conjectural) editorial restitutions made from a jumbled mass of much corrected manuscripts. His failure to complete a single work on what the eighteenth century had called the ‘Science of Man’ (which he said was the greatest interest of his entire life) reflects the times: this eighteenth-century project was fragmenting into the multiplicity of human sciences which were emerging as the nineteenth century came. But his insistence on the primacy of the will remains a major challenge for the human sciences of today.

Citing this article:
Moore, F.C.T.. Maine de Biran, Pierre-François (1766–1824), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DB005-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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